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Big City Burrito sees traffic from mobile coupons

August 21, 2009

borritoIn running a mobile coupon campaign, burrito restaurant chain Big City Burrito learned a valuable lesson: Be careful what you wish for.

The chain’s metropolitan Denver area mailed coupons to select residents offering a free burrito for texting in to a short code. What happened next at the three Big City Burrito restaurants is word of mouth at its best and mobile at its most enticing.

“Customers lining up to buy a burrito found out from others about the free offer, stepped out of line, texted and then stepped back into line,” said John Besley, owner of Money Mailer of Metro Denver.

“We had people broadcasting to their [mobile] address books,” he said.

Big City Burrito is a chain of 12 restaurants across Colorado, Hawaii, Nebraska and Wyoming selling burritos, quesadillas and tacos, tortillas, salsa and beverages. Brad Harris owns the three Denver area Big City Burrito franchises that ran the mobile offer.

Mr. Besley, whose company ran the shared-mailed and mobile coupon marketing for Big City Burrito, would not disclose how many offers were redeemed at checkout.

But he said Big City received 255 opt-ins in a week, leading to the launch of a mobile database.

These opted-in consumers have given permission to receive timely offers of discounted meals at Big City Burrito restaurants in the Aurora, Thornton and Westminster areas in the metro Denver.

Such was the effectiveness of this campaign that the offer had to be modified from a free burrito to buy-one, get-one free.

Biting curiosity
The mobile campaign kicked off mid-January. Money Mailer of Metro Denver mailed the insert as part of its shared mail drop to 20,000 homes in the three metro Denver areas.

The 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches mailer’s copy included dine-in or take-out offers.

Valid through Feb. 10, the coupons give a $5 discount on all burrito offers over $20 and another similar offer for takeout orders over $25. The third coupon is for a free burrito of equal or lesser value with the purchase of a regular burrito and two 22oz drinks.

A strip on top of that mailer was headlined: “Want a free burrito? Just text: BIGCITYB to 686868.”

Texting to that short code now returns this SMS confirmation: ‘Big City Burrito ThxU Free burrito w purchase of burrito at equal/greater value limit 1 Offer exp 2-10 Help: To opt out send, stop BIGCITYB to 686868.’

The 686868 short code belongs to Garden Grove, CA-based Money Mailer, one of the leading providers of coupons and inserts by direct mail.

Not surprisingly, the offer drew droves of customers to the three Big Burrito restaurants. And then people standing in lines to redeem the coupons with mobile phones in hand aroused curiosity from other customers not exposed to the offer.

“It went nuts, it went nuts,” Mr. Besley said.

Five days after the shared-mail piece dropped, the texted confirmation and offer was changed to a buy-one, get-one-free offer.

“It proved that for Big City Burrito, mobile marketing is extremely powerful,” Mr. Besley said. “Because there’s a lot of [Mr. Harris’] customer group that have mobile phones and use them for texting.”

There was no other publicity for this mobile offer other than the Money Mailer insert.

Mobile’s a wrap
What this program’s response proves is mobile’s role in giving legs to other channels. In this case, it was direct mail and retail.

“Our regional, local and national advertisers are all looking for multiple channels to communicate their offers through,” said Steven Gray, chief operating officer of Money Mailer.

“We’re having success by integrating mobile with our shared-mail platform or our one-to-one direct marketing solutions,” he said. “And the reason we’re successful is because we’re leveraging those channels to increase the opt-in rates for mobile.

“That’s enabling us to do more real-time marketing and reduce our advertisers’ cost while increasing ROI.”

Money Mailer has currently enrolled 100 local, regional and national advertisers in an integrated program involving mobile marketing, especially SMS text messaging.

“I think no matter what, there’s always going to be a consumer base looking for direct mail,” Mr. Gray said.

“From our perspective, there is an audience looking at mobile as a viable channel and it’s natural to let offline marketing to drive mobile adoption,” he said.

Money Mailer is pushing its advertisers to commit to a six-month program that involves mobile.

The idea with consistent marketing is to get the targeted consumers to become aware of the mobile offer and then build up a mobile database of opted-in customers over a period of time. With such permission, the mobile marketer can text offers at regular periods.

At Big City Burrito in the Denver area, mobile is now firmly entrenched as part of the marketing mix. A second mailing closed yesterday this time with a different text offer: Kids eat free on Sunday after church.

“Marketers suddenly have the ability to change the message over a short run,” Mr. Besley said.

“It’s really given a challenge to the business owner to be creative so that he can take advantage of what mobile can do,” he said.

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Mickey Alam Khan is editor in chief of Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer and Luxury Daily. Reach him at

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