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Winning the inbox at every location

A live Q&A with Firehouse Subs




Join Matt Olsen, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Firehouse Subs, for a webinar all about winning the inbox across all of their franchise’s locations. We chat about everything from their expert use of segmentation to how they average an 83% open rate with smart automation. And, as a bonus, we answer your questions about all things email for franchises, like:

• Brainstorming and planning vs. on-the-fly promotions and emails
• Dealing with the constant struggle of staying relevant
• How to scale your email strategy during rapid expansion

Jamie: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for our presentation, “Winning the Inbox At Every Location,” a live Q&A with Firehouse Subs. I am Jamie Bradley. I’m gonna be your host today. I’m a content marketing strategist here at Emma. And I am really excited. I have Matt Olson joining us today. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about him here in a moment. But first some housekeeping. If you are just joining us or if this is your first time, we will send out a recording of this. So do not fret, you will definitely get that from us. And also, you can follow along on Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @emmaemail.

And you can use the hashtag, #askMattOlson. And you can see the spelling of his name there. And we’ll also throw that back up at the end when we start to actually take your questions. And we are also gonna be monitoring these questions. So you can tweet at us, you can also type them into the chat modal in the GoToWebinar control panel. That’s an easy way to do it. And we also got a lot of really great questions just from the registration page. So we’ll start with some of those once we get to that portion. But to get rolling, if you’re unfamiliar with Firehouse or you just wanna learn some tasty tidbits, we’re gonna jump right in.

So Firehouse Subs. They’ve got 950 locations across the U.S. and Canada. They actually in October just opened their very first international location in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. But they are based in Jacksonville, Florida. That is where Matt is joining us from today. Also, actually founded by fireman. So it’s not just a fun gimmick. That is the truth. They go through 66 million sub rolls a year, which I thought was astounding and also makes me hungry and 7.75 million pounds of turkey annually. That’s a lot. So yeah, pretty exciting stuff there. And then I actually will kick it over to Matt just briefly to explain this next bullet point, which he is very proud of which is that the Firehouse Public Safety Foundation has donated over 18 million to public safety organizations. So, Matt, do you wanna kind of tell us a little bit more about that?

Matt: Yeah, thanks, Jamie. The foundation was actually founded in 2005 after our co-founders who, as you mentioned, our firefighters, they went to Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to feed fellow first responders. After leaving, they’re like, “Man, we should and we could do so much more to help people.” And the foundation was born. It’s a nonprofit, it’s dedicated to helping first responders and their communities by donating a lot of things, like lifesaving equipment, help with prevention education. We support members of the military and assistance with disaster relief.

Jamie: Awesome.

Matt: We like to say it’s the heart of Firehouse Subs. And it’s definitely one of the things we’re most proud of.

Jamie: Oh, that’s amazing. Well, that is absolutely lovely. So it’s not just a delicious place to eat. It’s actually you’re giving back by supporting them. So to kind of kick it over, that was Matt, as you just heard, Matt Olson. So a little bit about him. Matt is the Senior Manager of Digital Marketing for Firehouse Subs, which is one of the nation’s top fast casual restaurant chains. You’ve probably eaten there before. And if you haven’t, you should go immediately because it is very good. He oversees digital and mobile strategy and guest experience and provides leadership for new connected technologies.

Matt has harnessed the big data with engaging digital campaigns, lead an award-winning website redesign, and it is beautiful, and launched a loyalty program and app to the 950 plus Firehouse Subs locations across the U.S. and now one in Canada which is awesome. So when you know you lead the team, can you tell me a little bit more about, just for the audience here, what that team looks like, members, sort of how many people it takes sort of at HQ to get this ship running?

Matt: Sure. So here at our HQ office in Jacksonville, there’s actually there’s four of us on the digital team. And that covers things like our mobile app, email marketing, and social marketing, social monitoring, that kind of stuff.

Jamie: Yeah, perfect. And we actually, it’s funny had several people ask, what ESP you use already. And fun fact, they use Emma. You guys have been customers, I think, for about three years here. And you work directly with Claire Burns, who’s your account manager. And we have a really great, you know, pretty close relationship with you guys and love strategizing with you. And you’re one of our favorites, so we’re glad to have you on the webinar and also in our Emma family.

So before we sort of kick it off to the live Q&A portion, I do want just for all of you, you know, they do a lot of really fantastic things with their email marketing. As we just said, Matt heads that up. And so I do wanna show a few examples, because I know that we’ve mentioned automation, segmentation, things of that nature in some of our invitation materials. And I thought it would be a really good place to start if we just sort of look at a few key pieces of content that you guys send out, have you say a few words about them, and then hop into sort of the Q&A part.

So I’m going to show you that now. So they do a lot of things really, really well. Obviously, we just talked about Matt helping with the website redesign. But when we’re talking about email and sort of that digital strategy, this is sort of one of the first opening lines. This is the gate. So, Matt, if you would kind of talk us through your registration process. Aside from this kind of portal or place of entry, what does it look like to actually get people on the list at Firehouse?

Matt: So yeah, aside from this, because this is really the main place that we send people to, we also will run signup campaigns. You know, Facebook is a great place for that, because you can target people who look like your customers. So that’s a great place to go. And then when we do different promotions, sweepstakes or anything like that, we always tie in an email signup, not just to communicate about whatever that promotion is but also to get some added signups for long-term communication.

Jamie: Fantastic.

Matt: And then when people sign up for our loyalty program, they’re also enrolled. They had the option to enroll in marketing messages like this.

Jamie: And I think something that I’ve seen in a lot of franchises is sort of, you know, the in-store sign-up. Do you guys do any anything of that nature?

Matt: We don’t. Especially with, you know, over 950 locations, the idea of someone writing down their information on a piece of paper and then a franchisee entering that, I mean, that’s just a recipe for problems and misunderstandings. So we do try to have our franchisees send people to this webpage. In fact, we even have physical handout cards that our franchisees can give to our customers to tell them the benefits of signing up and how to sign up.

Jamie: Absolutely. And I think it’s interesting to note to just from a sort of workflow perspective, and we’ll chat about it a little bit more later, but the franchisees, they are not sending the emails out necessarily themselves, correct? Those are coming from you guys centrally. Like so you oversee those efforts for all 950.

Matt: Correct.

Jamie: Cool.

Matt: Yes. Everything we handle at the corporate level.

Jamie: Perfect. So if I do sign up for this awesome email list, I get something that looks like this. This is actually from my inbox. So can you explain…I know that you guys…you know, I received this email but what is this process look like? Are there multiple welcome sort of notes or series or things of that nature based on the point of entry? And kind of talk us through how you do this because from our perspective at Emma, you know, we know that we have all these statistics like welcome notes increase long-term brand engagement by 33%, 74% of people are expecting an immediate welcome, that it’s a really crucial part of our automation sort of story. But tell me a little more about what that looks like a Firehouse.

Matt: Yeah. And actually what you said about people making or having that expectation for immediate welcome, that’s one reason why we don’t do that, you know, stick your business card in a fishbowl to sign up for our list. You know, you don’t want someone to get a welcome email five days later and they think it’s spam because they forgot. But, you know, this is our standard welcome email. But we will change it and customize it depending on if we’re maybe doing a certain signup campaign. And we want to up the ante as far as what that offer is when they sign up. Or if it’s in the context of a promotion about our foundation that I just spoke about, we might include more information about the foundation. So we always wanna be relevant to the context that we’re getting people into the program.

Jamie: That’s awesome. Do you have a general framework for this and you change out the offerings or do they have different looks and looks and feels and that sort of thing?

Matt: You know, certainly the branding stays the same. Emma actually created some templates for us and we definitely utilized those. But as far as what’s in the body, anything’s game really to just whatever we can do to make it relevant and perform well.

Jamie: Perfect. Well, you saw it here, folks, they do a very good job. Another piece and sort of what I like to call a table stake kind of in the automated game is the birthday email. And we’ve all…my birthday is actually coming up and I’m already starting to get promotions of this nature. So can you tell us a little bit about what that looks like at Firehouse and what’s…you know, do you have more than one, are there different types, and so on?

Matt: Yes, so our birthday sub program for adults are for people 13 or over. It’s integrated into our app into our loyalty program. But because of certain child laws, we can’t have someone who’s on or someone who’s under 13 signing up for apps. So we actually have parents sign up their child on their behalf for an email offers, as you can see here. And so that sends out automatically the day before their birthday and gives them all the details. And we actually use…for the expiration date, Emma created some nice little personalization that allows us to dynamically insert a date in the future for the expiration date. So that’s a really cool feature.

Jamie: Very cool. Well, I love it. I’m and also I’m not gonna be able to make it through this without getting incredibly hungry. All of the sandwiches look so good, I know. So, you know, those were sort of some of the first steps in your automation game. But, you know, you did just touch on a really nice point, which is the content relevancy is so important. And it’s something that we preach here at Emma, you know, pretty hard. And so one thing that I wanna do is just sort of run through a few examples of different ways that you guys are using content that is both broad communication and also really hyper-focused on different locations. And again, winning the inbox at every relocation. So starting out, so we kind of have this email here that is clearly for grads or for grad parties, which is a nice timely message. And I just basically wanna bring up like, how many parts of your process are messages like this and what specifically, you know, what informed you guys putting together I guess an email program around this time of year or this event?

Matt: Sure. Well, it’s a combination of factors. We definitely try to maintain open dialogue with franchisees. So we did have some suggestions about, okay, this is a great time of year to sell gift cards. It’s a great time of year to promote catering as well. So we’re like, all right, well, let’s do that. Let’s do an email. You know, we don’t always have to send out a coupon or a special offer. You know, especially in a franchised organization, if you send out a coupon, that means all your franchisees are redeeming that coupon. So you always wanna be cautious about what you’re sort of passing on to them. So this is just an example of we took something that we already had and made it relevant to people.

Jamie: That’s fantastic. And it looks again, delicious. This one, I love this example. Can you explain to me what’s going on here? We’ve got this limited time delicious sandwich on Hawaiian bread. So yeah, kind of explain to me a little bit who the audience was for this, why this message, and the role that email played in this promotion.

Matt: Absolutely. So this, I believe, was the third year that we had this limited time only sandwich. It’s amazing. I love it. And what we wanted to do was to kind of build up some hype and get people really excited about it. We wanna give people just come in a day early and you can get the sandwich before anyone else. What we actually did within Emma is one of the ways that we segmented was we looked at people who had opened and clicked on previous emails from previous years about this same sandwich. So we knew we had groups of people that were fans of the sandwich who liked it. We also promoted it on Facebook. But that was one of the ways we segmented within Emma. It was a great success. There actually wasn’t an offer associated with it. You just come in, buy it full price a day early and thousands of people did that.

Jamie: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s absolutely fantastic. And again, I need to stop looking at it because it looks so good. And like when is it coming back actually? Is it making a making a reappearance?

Matt: It won’t be coming back this summer, I’m sorry to say.

Jamie: That’s all right. All right. Well, a girl can dream. However, so we look at this one and I loved this story because as I was sort of looking for great examples I realized that the segment that this was sent to I found to be really unique. And so I wanted to highlight this example so you can kind of talk through the segment of the audience that received this and sort of how you conceived this content play and really how that’ll shake out for you guys?

Matt: Sure. So this was an another one again that was based on our franchisee feedback. This was actually sent out around the time of Lent, which was dietary restrictions for some people and tuna salad is one of the things that they can eat. And in the past, our franchisees had asked for in restaurant materials to help promote the sub during that time. And we said, “Hey, well it makes sense to do an email as well to our subscribers and let them know that we had this,” because this isn’t always at the top of people’s minds when they think of Firehouse Subs but it’s an awesome recipe. So we send it out and it works.

Jamie: Absolutely. Well, and I think that’s a really good point to ask a question about how you are gathering that feedback because I think that’s something that I know several people asked on the registration form and really is just, you know, since it all does run out of really your department for such a large and growing organization, what does that sort of feedback channel look like between you and the franchisees and how do you sort of promote that that’s open?

Matt: Sure. So we actually created a single email address that goes to our entire digital team. So that way if a franchisee has any questions or any ideas, like we always say just whatever you’re thinking, even if it’s a half idea, send it to us and we can help grow it. So we really try to make sure that dialogue is open. So for example if a franchisee has an idea for a local Facebook post that they wanna do, well, that might make a really good email too. So the whole team is on the email. We can say, “Hey, let’s…we recommend this as an additional tactic. Let’s get it going. Let’s layer this up in multiple places.”

Jamie: Fantastic. And before…we are getting close to the Q&A, so many good ones are coming in. But I do wanna look at one final example because I think it’s just another fantastic example, basically, of you doing what you just said, which is keeping it open lines of communication. So we see this email. This was sent out. This is “Cold Day Meet Hot Subs.” Can you talk through a little bit the origins of this, the groups that you targeted, and sort of what this looks like and the impact that it had?

Matt: Yeah, so proactively reaching out to our franchisees with email marketing opportunities that can be localized, that really helps ensure guidelines and processes are set up front. It makes it faster, and then we don’t have to worry about a long approval process. So for this past winter, we actually put together a handful of pre-made email campaigns designed to help restaurants bounce back after winter storms and closures. It’s always up north, lots of closures due to snow, that kind of stuff. So we proactively reached out with examples and created a real simple Google request form. And so since these were pre-approved, a turnaround time from request to send was very fast, which let us better serve our franchisees’ needs.

Jamie: Fantastic. Well, love it. You guys do so many things really well. We’re gonna hop immediately into questions and get started. So the very first one that we have is from Robin. And this question is, you know, when it comes to engagement, what metrics or data points are important for the email marketing strategy and how do those results basically affect what you do next? And you’ve kind of hinted at it but specifically, what are you guys looking at to inform how you pivot and transform your program and grow it?

Matt: Sure. And so I think it’s important to keep context in mind with these because not every email has a strong call to action or is meant to have a call to action. So when we’re looking at metrics certainly opens and clicks are important. But we always look at it as kind of a versus the rolling average because as our list grows, you know, you tend to maybe have some older users who are dropping off. So you don’t wanna necessarily compare against an industry average, you got to compare against yourself, of course. But, you know, I think conversions are really hard to measure at any retail level without a coupon code and that kind of stuff. So if our goal is to get people to open and read content, we’re gonna look at the clicks on that specific content. If our goal is awareness, we look at opens. So it really just depends on context of what we’re doing. But ultimately, again, we’re comparing it against our own past performance.

Jamie: Exactly. Well, and I was gonna say to, I mean, I think this is, you know, speaking of pivoting and performance and all that good stuff, I know that in previous conversations we’ve had, you’ve mentioned the, you know, the role that email and social play together. And so we naturally had a lot of questions about that because I think that that’s something especially at a franchise level is probably, you know, a complex sort of or could be complex or seem that way. So, Gary, specifically phrased it really well. What does the social strategy look like at Firehouse and how does it run alongside your email program, and specifically, I guess, for all of those franchisees and in corporate?

Matt: Yes. So really, it boils down to making sure that we don’t have any siloed teams, you know, we don’t want the social team over here and the email team over there and then we’re not aware of what the other is doing. So certainly the email address I talked about that we created, that helps us all stay focused. But we really just wanna make sure franchisees know about opportunity. Some stuff is great for email, some stuff is more immediate, and we need to get it right on social. So there’s different tactics that work better. So keeping that line of communication open, making sure the whole team is on all these conversations allows us to make recommendations that are best.

You know, we like to keep that dialogue open again but we wanna keep the franchisees involved as well to make sure they’re happy with an email or post before it goes out. Nothing gets sent with without our approval, you know, that’s our quality control, if you will, which is really important. But we wanna keep the franchisees involved. And so we like to practically say, “Hey, don’t forget that the things are available to you.” We’ve created playbooks, seasonal things, and we’ll just communicate those out from time to time to make sure everyone knows what’s available.

Jamie: Absolutely. Well, and that’s a good transition to a question that came in from Jenna, “What are some of the best ways to use digital marketing to drive sales and store visits without offering a sale or a discount?” So, you know, obviously, I’m sure that a lot of the stuff that you’re doing on social and we saw some great examples of us just doing some general awareness. But outside of, you know, having a special exclusive sandwich offering or having a winter store, you know, it’s some sort of event, what are just day to day some of the ways that you specifically try to drive traffic to the different locations?

Matt: That’s a real really good question. And we ask ourselves what’s the best way to do this all the time. In short, we’re trying to make people care. I don’t mean like, “Oh, wow, those shoes are cool looking,” care. But like, “Oh, wow, they’re involved in this community organization and I’m helping create benefits for others.” We try to communicate the good and the heart in our company and that makes people care. But I think every company even if you’re not involved in the community, necessarily, you have a brand story. And giving sort of exclusive looks into that brand, that creates connected as well. So you don’t necessarily need discounts and offers for people to kind of grow loyalty to your brand.

Jamie: That’s fantastic. And we’ve had some people, let’s look here. Oh, so we had a ton of questions come in, you know, about you guys are talking about the content and the relevancy and making people care. Obviously, a challenge for all email marketers is, you know, you can only do so much with an email. It’s, you know, people, they’re not opening it. You know, it doesn’t matter how great the copy was in the email. So Lauren has a question saying, “What’s your single best tip for increasing open rates?” And then we can sort of parlay that with a ton of questions about subject line. So can you kind of talk through what that looks like at Firehouse how, you know, what you have tested, are you testing? All that good stuff.

Matt: Sure. See for open rates, it’s 100% about your subject line and in your preheader. And if you’re not adding any preheader text, you really need to because that’s like an extra subject line. It’s great. If it’s not a super time sensitive email, I’d say my top tip is to A/B test the subject line for every email. Especially within Emma, what’s cool is you can do multiple subject lines to a portion of your list and then the winner gets sent to the balance. So if you’re not doing a time sensitive email, A/B test the subject line every time and you will always get a better open rate.

Jamie: Fantastic. And actually, Joyce has a great question about content testing. So Joyce just says, “What are your tips for maintaining relevant content, A/B testing, and nurturing these leads or these sort of perspective sandwich buyers out there?” Besides the subject line, I guess a better way to phrase it would be do you guys test content and what does that look like?

Matt: Yeah, somewhat. You know, it’s difficult when all we have is an email address to kind of know what someone is into. But you know, you can poll your users on if you’ve got any behavioral data from a customer purchase program, you can bring that into Emma. So there’s a lot of things you can use to kind of guess at and get closer to what people care about. You can certainly A/B test content. But I think the key with that and what bogs people down is you really only have to test one variable at a time. A lot of people wanna test multiple things and they test two very different emails. And then you don’t know exactly why one email performed better than the other. So make smaller tweaks for your A/B tests, and then you can you can make better, smarter changes over time.

Jamie: Absolutely. And we did have lot of people ask and I think we saw a couple of examples. But, you know, you guys are using dynamic content, or at least pulling in, you know, some of those variables. What do those look like? Or is it mainly promos or codes? Or is it are you testing variables with dynamic content beyond just promotions and things of that nature?

Matt: Not so much right now. Well, ultimately we’re working with the API within Emma to bring in more behavioral data from our loyalty program. We’d love to base campaigns based on a user’s behavior in the restaurant and how often they purchase. Right now the behavior that we use is really how they react to emails, whether they open up, whether they click, which links they click on. But even that, I mean, that’s extremely robust information and you could…it’s almost more data than you can act on. So there’s plenty of ways to be customized and relevant.

Jamie: Perfect. Well, and when we talk about testing and customizing, Susanna actually has a great question which is, “Do you think the from name effects open rates? Has Firehouse ever tested this? There are lots of different theories out there about that.” So explain and also what is the from name? Is it different by location, etc.?

Matt: We use the same from name for all of our emails. This is mostly just to help avoid emails going into people’s junk mail. Ideally, people can…or at least they have the option to whitelist, and then Gmail and other email providers are smart enough to know that if you open an email and click on it, it’s kind of automatically added to a sort of a whitelist. So we like to keep it pretty consistent for that reason.

Jamie: I think that’s perfect. So then we have…oh, and this goes back to the social media. I think you answered this but just to clarify. Ann asks, “Do the franchise locations have their own social media pages?” You guys obviously run that out of the corporate office but I think a different way to phrase that would be do you have people out there who try to start their own, you know, their rogue pages and how do you kind of keep that stuff under control?

Matt: Yeah, certainly our preference is to keep things centralized. We have one main brand page that monitors. This is where most of the posts and the comments and engagement happens. Certainly, people are expecting a response on social almost immediately so we wanna make sure we see it. But we do have Facebook location pages for people when they’re doing location searches and for checking in, leaving reviews, that kind of stuff. We use a third party service that helps get our location pages out there on the internet and that helps us monitor. But, you know, there’s always someone who wants to create that rogue page. And it’s certainly not difficult to just explain what the policy is and help work with them. You know, a lot of times a franchisee just really wants to engage with their audience and we can help them with that in a lot of ways.

Jamie: That’s fantastic. So we also have had a question. Ben wants to know…well, first, he said, “What ESP do you use?” We’ve said it. It uses Emma. “But what other tools do you recommend and what are your best resources? What learning resources do you recommend for others that might be, you know, in your position out there? Who do you look to?”

Matt: You know, that’s a really great question. One thing that I like to do is I like to sign up for emails from other brands that I admire. You know, Starbucks is one that I really love to be on their email list. But, yeah, sign up for emails from brands that you like, brands that you don’t like, competitive brands. Sign up for their emails and just look at what they’re doing. And it doesn’t mean if your competitor is doing something you should do it too or you should try to counteract it. I mean, they might be doing the wrong thing. But, you know, sign up for other people’s emails and just as a person who’s, you know, I guess trying to take your email marketing hat off and just try to look at it as just a regular person and say, you know, what is this? Is it is easy to read? Do I understand where the call to action is? And, you know, ask your friends sometimes too. I mean, I get the best feedback from my wife, you know, who’s not in marketing and I get excellent feedback from her. It’s so hard to put yourself outside of marketing sometimes but it’s valuable to do that.

Jamie: Absolutely. No, that’s something we encourage a lot. It’s like you’re still in consumer. You don’t take off your customer hat just because you’re going to work in others outside of our world or, you know, they’re the people we want. So that’s great advice. Jonathan asks, this is actually a great question and honestly I wanna know the answer too. “Do you have an in-house graphic artist? And specifically for your email marketing is that…you know, how many people does it take to sort of make that all happen?” And I know that we’ve done some designs for you guys. We do custom graphic design for clients if they need it. But how much of that is in-house? How much of that is do we help with? And really just in general, you know, does that all live in house or do you guys work with outside, you know, agencies or things of that nature to kind of get that all going?

Matt: Yeah. So we definitely utilized Emma’s services to create the templates because we wanted those to be locked in and working great with the drag and drop editor. But aside from that, a lot of the graphic design we do is in-house. I mean, we’ve all got Photoshop on our computers. We’re not all necessarily Photoshop wizards, but it’s enough that we can take existing assets, put some stuff together, make some collages, the gift card email you showed earlier, you know, I just kind of layered it and made it to a fan. You know, there’s kind of basic things you can do with some basic Photoshop classes. And then we also will utilize assets that our agency of record has created for in restaurant point of purchase materials. We’ll kind of take the native files and repurpose that. So if you’ve got kind of a start and you’ve got a lot of assets, you can do a lot with them without having to create stuff from scratch.

Jamie: That is fantastic. Well, and speaking of creating things from scratch, Leisha wants to know, and this is a question that we get I feel often here and so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Leisha is asking, “After I’ve grown an email database without segmentation in mind, what’s the best place to start organizing it to start, you know, creating awesome targeted campaigns like you guys do?” Did you find yourself ever in that position? Or what would you recommend for folks faced with this?

Matt: You know, thankfully, since the start, we’ve always had a basic geolocation. So like the zip code. And that’s really the most common way that we segment. But any basic info you have, such as that it’s a great place to start. Or if you’ve got gender, think about that. You might think, you know, “But our product is the same for men and women.” That may be true, but for people to pay attention and ultimately convert, they kind of need relevance. So even if you do something as simple as like showing a smiling woman for female subscribers and smiling man for male subscribers, that seems like incredibly stupid and set simple but that can amazingly create relevance and people feel more and more connected to the content. So it doesn’t take much. And then once you start sending out these campaigns, look at how people react. How people click, what they click on, and kind of go from there segment people based on their behavior.

Jamie: Absolutely. And another thing that we like to say here is, you know, if there’s a crucial piece of data that you’re missing, also, you can ask. You could ask for it. I mean, don’t ask every single time. But if there’s something that you feel like it would just significantly improve your program, people do not mind giving that feed. People love giving them their feedback. So don’t be shy. Have you guys have ever done that? Do you send out surveys to, you know, to franchisees or to shoppers are perspective sandwich lovers?

Matt: Yeah. Yeah, we have polled our email several times in the past. And at the very least, even if you’re just getting kind of anonymized aggregated data, you still get really, really amazing feedback. But even beyond that, yeah, you can you can ask people to update their profiles, you can add a bunch of profile fields and just get additional information. If someone doesn’t fill it out, that’s okay. You don’t have to leave them out of the email but understanding what their interests are allow you to get a little tighter with the relevance when it’s appropriate. You know, I think people focus in a lot on segmenting and I wanna send this specific email to this specific group. But you don’t wanna segment yourself out of your audience. You know, it still might be relevant to your total audience. So always keep that in mind.

Jamie: Absolutely. Here’s a really great question and this is, you know, you guys I feel like your franchisees are very fortunate to have you guys. I mean, you care so much about the quality of the content and communicating with them and getting their feedback. But Vanessa says, “I’m a franchisee and our corporate office is definitely not as hands-on when it comes to our strategy as you seem to be. What would your tips be on where I could start or what tools are available to me?” If you can put yourself in her shoes and not have a you, what would you recommend?

Matt: That is a tough one. I mean, you know, without knowing the specifics as far as what’s allowed. “Can we send you an email?” Is that kind of stuff. Check out…you know, like I said earlier, what other brands are doing. You know, after you’ve been subscribed, and we’ll use Starbucks as an example, again, after you’ve been subscribed to their emails for a month, you start to see what they keep the same in the emails, what they change. Like, look at those best practices. Look at stuff that’s been kept consistent and see how you can do the same for yourself.

Another thing is, and this happens to us is, you know, a franchisee might send us an email with all these ideas that suddenly they have, and that kind of bumps us in and we’re like, “Oh, you know, holy cow, this guy obviously wants to do some stuff and he needs some help. Let’s get on it and let’s start helping.” Because we’re sorry we didn’t realize there was this need. So sometimes when you reach out to the franchisor, they would probably rather help guide you and do something that’s consistent and appropriate for the brand than let you go off and do your own thing. So sometimes just reaching out will kind of spark the realization that that need is there.

Jamie: Absolutely. That’s absolutely great feedback. There is a fantastic question from Sean asking for a specific example. He says, “Matt stated that if you’re not using pre-header text on mailings, you’re missing out. Can he provide an example of a preheader he’s used if you can remember?” And also, just to set it up really quickly, for anyone on the line who’s unaware, there is something called preheader text when you open especially on a mobile device, which over 54% of all emails now are opened first on a mobile device. And I would imagine, for a lot of franchisees, if you do have a brick and mortar store, you need to be highly aware and cognizant of that with your email marketing.

But the preheader text specifically, as Matt stated earlier, you have the bold subject line, and then you have a few lines of text right underneath that subject line. And depending on the device that people are using, that can be…you know, it can be two to three lines of additional text. So it’s a fantastic thing that Matt encouraged everyone to do earlier. And again, it shows up in a lot of different inbox settings but especially on mobile devices. So yeah, so a little bit of context for anyone who unaware of what that means. But yeah, can you explain how you use preheader text and what that looks like?

Matt: Yeah. So really, you know, even with just a subject line, you wanna use the I magnet words like new, now, introducing, free, you know, any opportunity to put in a personalized name, numbers over letters, questions over statements. Like these little things make a big difference. And really what we do with the preheader is instead of doing a subject line that’s the max length allowed for a subject line, we’ll just split in two. And so we’ll just take that subject line, make it half the length and put the other half in the preheader. So we’re not necessarily adding words but we’re making it so the words are more likely to be seen. What happens when you have a really long subject line is, you know, the second half gets cut off because someone’s looking at it on their phone. I mean, that’s it. You know, either those first, you know, six or seven words, got them or that’s it. So if we can kind of put that, if we can split it up and put it into the preheader, we’re likely for people to kind of see the whole preview if you will.

Jamie: Absolutely. And one of our sort of cautionary tales, often you’ll get an email and that line of text will say, you know, “Can’t open this email, click here.” And there are lots of ways you can…you know, if you’re working with a designer, they can tweak that for you, you know, but as Matt said, that’s really valuable real estate. And in Emma, it’s really easy. You just type it into the editor. You don’t actually have to know how to code to get around that. So great tips. Great advice, preheader text is a big deal. Speaking of people opening these emails and receiving them, Rachel asks, “How often does a typical subscriber of Firehouse’s emails receive email communications and how much communication in the inbox is too much or not enough?” So what’s kind of the philosophy or the cadence of your mailings?

Matt: I guess it varies based on need, at least on a localized basis but just nationally. I mean, if anyone is a subscriber on our list, they would know we probably send out something once a month. And that just gives us room for any promos that we wanna sprinkle in or something that might be sent out locally. You know, I personally don’t think…I think two or three a week is max. You know, I think that’s okay for like a spurt of if you’re really focusing on of promotion. But typically we don’t wanna do more than one a week, you know, especially if there’s no offers. And if we’re not sending out coupons like people are gonna get sick of just getting text. No matter how much they really care about it, at some point they’re gonna get sick of it if you’re not giving them some additional value with it. So I guess long story short, we would say no more than one a week unless it’s a specific promo.

Jamie: Absolutely. And [inaudible 00:39:32] has a really good question. And I’ll probably give some context here too. She says, “CAN-SPAM does not require opt-in, however, it does require opt out. What do you suggest invite people to the mailing list to keep them from opting out?” And I will give a little bit of context there. So CAN-SPAM is a federal law and she’s correct. The law does not require an opt-in, but email marketing best practices. You know, obviously, as we saw, we looked at Matt signup process for Firehouse, also the sort of rules that govern how a system like Emma works, we actually require an opt-in.

But can you talk to us a little bit? I mean, obviously, we sort of preach the importance of people opting in to mailings but can you talk a little bit about is there a process for people opting out? Do you do reengagement campaigns? What’s kind of the philosophy, I guess, at Firehouse, trying to keep people beyond just sending great engagement content? Do you have any sort of strategies against, you know, mitigating, I guess, opt-outs, or things of that nature?

Matt: You know, we don’t really have any specific strategies. We’re really just trying to keep the content relevant. We understand that there’s always gonna be a churn. There’s always gonna be people opting out over time and there are, you know, basic reengagement campaigns that can be done just to ask people, “Hey, do you still wanna receive emails from us,” just to check. And one thing that you do have to be careful of is sort of monitor, I guess, like autoresponders, that kind of stuff, because all the email addresses will become spam traps over time. You don’t wanna fall into that. But yeah, even if we weren’t on Emma, we would still require everyone to explicitly opt-in because we really want subscribers for the long haul. And if you, you know, buy a list and you stick people in there, yeah, they might get that first email you send and then opt out. You know, but then that’s it. You don’t have them again, and chances are they hit the spam button. So you’re gonna get blacklisted eventually. So, you know, definitely stick with the best practices. Just because it’s not a legal requirement doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

Jamie: That’s a great answer. So let’s see, there’s so many questions. People love asking you stuff and you’re answering them so well. Let’s look here. So we’ve talked about subject lines. Let’s see what we got. Oh, yeah, this is a great one. Douglas asked, “How granular do you guys get with your automation?” So I know you guys I think do automation really well. We showed some examples of automated emails. But do you…what processes do you guys automate? Is it sort of across the board? Or do you just sort of stick with some of the basics that we saw?

Matt: Yeah, right now currently, we’re sticking with the basics. So welcome, automation, automation based on birthday, a date deck, that kind of thing. Certain promotions we do, we will take advantage of the Emma API. We might do some triggered messages, some triggered automations that are based on someone submitting a form or submitting a photo, that kind of stuff, but the basics we’re doing. But for the balance of the year, well, I think I mentioned earlier, we wanna bring in more behavioral based information. I would love to be able to automate based on people’s purchasing behaviors and not just their email opening and clicking behaviors.

Jamie: Absolutely. And this is actually the sort of transition a little bit. Sarah is asking, you know, we talked about automation, “How far in advance are you guys brainstorming and planning out promotions and emails sort of, I guess your content strategy or calendar behind it?” She tacks on to it, do you ever find that you’ve missed an important event that is happening and create an email or marketing piece on the fly? And I know that we talked earlier about, you know, you guys getting out ahead of winter storms and things of that nature. Is that a standard? Do you guys sit around and talk about, you know, emails two months from now or what does that typically look like on your end?

Matt: Yeah, we actually have weekly brainstorms and part of that is to get out ahead of any upcoming content. And that’s across the board, whether it’s social, whether it’s on our website, whether it’s an email, just to try and get out ahead of that. And the social team does a really good job at scheduling out content and kind of keeping a calendar of that. And we certainly at the start of the year, like to create a certain maybe not as fine-grained of a calendar but still get an idea of what we wanna do throughout the year.

But sort of the second question is, yes, stuff always gets missed. And it’s so frustrating and it’s just…there’s just no way. You’re always gonna miss something, which in retrospect seems so obvious. And that’s why we like to keep that open dialogue with our franchisees. We wanna make sure that they know we’re the experts at it and they’re coming to us off the bat anyways, if they have any ideas, so they’re kind of doing stuff on their own. But we also want that open dialogue so that any ideas that they have, they’re letting us know, “Hey, this is coming up in a week, can we do this?” “Yes, yes, yes, please. We would love to do that.” I mean, we’re always looking for ideas and our franchisees have the great ideas. So as long as you know that dialogues open, it’s harder to miss stuff.

Jamie: Absolutely. Well, and Jessica has a question, “How do you manage,” and maybe this isn’t a factor, but sounds like it is for her, “How do you manage when different franchisees wanna participate in an email marketing campaign with varying price points? Do you segment users based on their closest location?” I know you did talk a little bit about zip code and that you geo-target kind of based on that. So I know you guys are doing that, but are there ever sort of dynamic factors or do you even get that specific? Do you guys kind of avoid things like price points and, you know, that sort of thing?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, we typically don’t mention a specific price of a sub, for example, in an email just because we do, like she pointed out like, there are varying prices from region to region, franchisee to franchisee. But if, you know, an area or a franchisee or even a group of franchisees wanna do coupon, say it’s $2 off, we try as hard as we can using the zip code to stay tight around those restaurants that are participating. You know, we certainly want…if these franchisees have opted in to take on that discount, we wanna make sure they get it. We wanna make sure it doesn’t affect other franchisees who don’t want it.

But we also wanna make sure that a customer who’s coming in with that coupon is gonna be able to redeem it without a franchisee not really knowing or not expecting that coupon. So there’s a lot of factors at work there. And when in doubt, we will make sure everyone in the area is involved and say, “Hey, we should consider maybe expanding this,” or, “Just be aware there might be some spill into your area, please accept these coupons.” So there’s a lot of ways to go about it. But again, kind of goes back to having a really free open dialogue about it so everyone knows what’s going on.

Jamie: And to sort of piggyback on that, Tony says, “What have you found to be the best way to deliver coupons that connect?” And I guess that question is, is sort of about obviously the method in which people receive the coupon. Obviously, we’ve talked about email and social and that kind of thing. But is there specific, you know, content or offers that you via, you know, using an email program and looking at the data and that sort of thing have been able to sort of tweak over time? And does that happen? Does one inform the other?

Matt: I mean, certainly when in doubt, the less content the better. You know, what I don’t wanna do is have an offer and then all of this other content, because then it’s like, “Do we really want people to use this offer because we’re giving them a bunch of other stuff to do too.” So what I always recommend, if there is a coupon involved is like that’s the thing. Here’s, here’s, here’s the coupon and here’s where you can redeem and that’s what we sent them. And then the users always gonna say, “Okay, what’s in it for me.” They’re always gonna be reading the email saying, what’s the thing that that benefits me? Don’t make them look for it. Just this is, this is the thing. This is the thing that we want you to do. Here’s the benefit for you. Make it obvious in the subject line, obvious in the pre-header. You know, don’t dance around it.

Jamie: Absolutely. So as we sort of tie things up today, I do have a couple of fun questions that came in that are just Jason wants to know, have you ever tried scratch and sniff emails? And I think that’s kind of fun. But…

Matt: That’s a great idea. Someone will make a million dollars.

Jamie: I know. I’m like how do I harness this technology here at Emma? We’ll chat afterwards, Jason. We’ll see what we can do. I think we also have a lot of people ask us and I’m curious myself, What is your favorite sandwich at Firehouse?

Matt: You know, it’s not even hard for me. By far it is the smokehouse beef and cheddar brisket sub. I like to order it with double meat and double barbecue sauce. So it’s a really giant pile. But it’s the USDA choice beef brisket. It’s smoked over 16 hours. It’s smoky, it’s tender. I really think it’s one of the best subs in the business.

Jamie: Oh my gosh, well, that sounds absolutely delicious. So I think you know we’re gonna we’re gonna let out school a little bit early. Feel free again, I’m gonna go to this page. You can tweet at us. You can also…you see Matt’s Twitter handle there, #askmattolson if you do think of anything else that you want to say. But other than that, I mean, fantastic questions. You guys are….were lovely for joining us. And Matt, thank you so very much for sharing your expertise. You guys are doing some amazing things.

Matt: Thank you for having me.

Jamie: Yeah, awesome. Well, again, we will send out the recording to you guys. So just stay tuned, watch your inboxes for that. And go get a Firehouse sub. Go get that brisket and cheddar or the tuna if you’re a pescatarian. So have a lovely day and have a good weekend, guys.

Matt: Thank you, everyone. Thank you.

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