Restaurant.com: From the Verge of Bankruptcy and Back

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A Post by Fairy Godmother/Guest Blogger, Janet Meiners. Janet Meiners is an internet marketing specialist, she blogs at www.newspapergrl.wordpress.com.

MarketingSherpa reports on how Restaurant.com went from almost closing down to very good results (they’re staying open and the cash register is ringing).

Restaurant.com is a great domain name. Just by virtue of that they got traffic. But that’s not enough. People weren’t getting what they want. Restaurant.com wanted to sell gift certificates for restaurants. People who came to the site wanted information about restaurants.
My theme song for online marketing is “give them what they want”. Think Natalie Merchant. If you don’t they’ll leave and never return. Look for ways to first serve the customer and then to make money. Jumping into the sale too soon is a turnoff akin to asking someone to marry you who hardly knows you. Good luck. Business never happens unless people feel comfortable and it’s a win-win. Both sides have to benefit.

I fought this battle at Tahitian Noni. Everyone wanted us to sell a bunch of products on the front page of the web site. However, looking at our analytics I knew why people were coming — to buy Tahitian Noni Juice. So when we changed the entire focus to make it easy to do that, sales increased.

Back to Restaurant.com. They decided to focus on lead generation focus (usually a good idea). First they gave people what they came for: information about restaurants. So great, quality information and images. This is always a good idea. Then they decided to take online reservations. This was a large investment and probably a great risk when they were already short cash, but they must’ve realized it would provide a lot of value. Think: jobs on the line.
The Lead Generation System (notice it was hard to set up but once it was, it was almost autopilot from then on):

1. After looking at information about restaurants, invite people to make an online reservation.
2. Automatically send a voicemail to the restaurants to tell them of an online reservation.
3. Automatically send an auto email to the customer that their reservation was in process.
4. When the restaurant responded, they both emailed and left a voice message with the customer letting them know if the reservation was confirmed.
5. If they didn’t get the reservation the customer could use the phone to try another time or day.

The numbers? 6% of people coming to the site buy a gift certificate. These are people who were not searching for gift certificates at all (too bad they don’t own http://www.restaurantgiftcertificates.com). The catch is they went for the sale AFTER the reservation was made. They offered a gift certificate for the restaurant they just made reservations to. 25% said yes to a $25 gift certificate that saved them $15 (an irresistible offer at that point).

I think they’re out of the woods. Nice work!

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