FSD spoke to Tim Dietzler, director of dining at 6,400-student
Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., about the importance of
e-marketing. Dietzler speaks about how employing several of these new
techniques can help get dining services messages out.
How have you integrated e-marketing into your marketing plan?
Whenever possible we use the Internet, in addition to printed ads and messages, to help us connect with our students and campus community. Newswires have taken over the role of direct e-mails as the university has taken action to reduce the amount of spam going to student inboxes. We submit our ads to be included on the daily campus newswire, so now 50 departments can be linked in one e-mail instead of the students receiving 50 separate ones. These were very effective at first, but now a lot of the students just hit delete when they see the daily newswire. So we are working on some new strategies. Our Web site offers online comment cards, which are very popular with students. We try to respond within 24 hours. If you are consistent and they see a response and a correction, the use of this feedback card increases. We also use text messaging to let students know about special events and dining news. This service is voluntary and we have approximately 1,000 students on the service.
Which e-marketing techniques have proven most successful and why do you think that is?
Viral marketing is our most effective technique. Students with cell phones will text message and phone friends when they come across a special event they didn't know about and/or when they find a food item they love. The word of mouth/text spreads like a virus. I met with a student group last week that told me they have a text message chain for when we serve tomato soup. They love it so much that they use the Internet and technology to communicate when we have tomato soup. If you can get students to push your message through their personal channels of communication, you are going to see great results. Last week at our student town hall meeting, one of the students used Facebook and invited more than 400 students to the meeting. We can't accomplish this or bring in these types of results without engaging students. The most successful e-marketing technique is good old-fashioned table visits where we are meeting and greeting students. By asking students "what is the best way to communicate dining news to you?" we find out that if we sent out a newswire with a the headline “Tomato Soup now being served in the Belle Air Terrace,” they will come running.
What was the most challenging aspect of implementing your e-marketing?
The biggest challenge is being consistent in a rapidly changing environment and bringing it all together. Everything changes so quickly, but if you can stay consistent, you can build credibility and a following. Developing a fun logo is a big challenge that we have not yet met. Boston College has done an excellent job of this with their "Feed Your Mind" campaign.
What kind of promotions have you run through e-marketing? (coupons, etc)
Last year, we gave away a free meal plan to a random student. By using our e-marketing we were able to get students to sign up for a plan before they left for the summer. We also have run reduced-price coupons at our c-stores and video store. Smoothie discounts in the Energy Zone and Holy Grounds have also been effective.
What advice would you give other operators looking to increase their e-marketing?
Get started. E-marketing is cost effective. In the college and university market, we don’t have a traditional captive audience. I can't say we are all that savvy of all the different e-marketing techniques you could use to connect with customers. Our approach has been to incorporate all mediums to connect with our students—the school newspaper, table tents, napkin holder ads, oversized posters, newswires, the Web site and our student employees to communicate and push for that magic of viral marketing.