BrainTrust Query: How Much Does a Free Cone from Baskin-Robbins Really Cost?

Discussion
Feb 24, 2010
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Commentary by Marc Gordon, President, Fourword
Marketing

Nothing says happy birthday like ice cream.
Especially when that ice cream comes free from Baskin-Robbins. That’s right.
America’s largest ice cream chain sent me an email on my birthday for a
free ice cream cone.

Wait a sec. Was it really free? Let’s take
a closer look.

Despite the fact it cost me nothing in the
way of cash, I still had to give in order to get. Here’s a list of the
items I had to provide in order to get my “free cone”:

  • My
    full name
  • My
    e-mail address
  • My
    gender
  • My
    date of birth
  • My
    full mailing address
  • The
    option of adding a family member with all their contact information
  • My
    favorite flavor of ice cream
  • My
    favorite Baskin-Robbins product
  • The
    option to receive additional coupons and promotions by e-mail

What would all that information be worth
to a company? Better yet, what is all that information worth to me?

With privacy concerns at an all time high,
getting people to share any amount of personal information can be a challenge
at best. For many retailers, loyalty programs have proved to be the best
method of capturing consumer information. However the initial infrastructure
cost is high. The only hope for ROI is through bigger baskets and more
return visits.

Baskin-Robbins, on the other hand, only pays
for what they get. And with a minimal infrastructure cost, there’s less
pressure to hit quotas. But is this a classic case of getting what you
pay for when it comes to data mining?

“Sophisticated loyalty programs tend to bring
more reliable information,” said Doron Levy of Captus Retail Consulting.
“The customer views these programs as more formal and are willing to share
more information in a more honest way.”

How much reliable information can you get
for the cost of an ice cream cone? When I asked the media representative
for Baskin-Robbins about their concern regarding the accuracy of information
gathered, he would not share details with me. Nor would he comment on the
success of the program, only to say it plays a part of their overall marketing.

So with my ice cream in hand, I have to wonder
who got the better end of the deal. As I had to show ID along with the
coupon in order to get my ice cream, meaning — I had to give my real name,
age, and e-mail — perhaps them. Combine that with the fact that I brought
my kids and ended up spending almost 8 bucks, all of a sudden my free ice
cream seems to come with a hefty price tag.

Discussion Questions:
What do you think of Baskin-Robbins’ free-cone-on-your-birthday promotion,
given its requirements? How great do you think consumer privacy concerns
are relative to such promotions? Are the limits to the reliability of
the information a significant drawback?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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25 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How Much Does a Free Cone from Baskin-Robbins Really Cost?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I want one on my birthday, and I’m happy to tell B-R who I am and where I live. What a great way to get me to go one extra time to B-R. I’m even happy to tell them that Rocky Road is my favorite. If you are concerned about the privacy of your info, don’t sign up.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I think people give this kind of information away every day and don’t get an ice cream for their efforts. Look at the kinds of information people put on social networking sites.

My guess? They are going to be giving away a lot of cones.

Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

It’s a heck of a bargain for Baskin-Robbins if they can get people to do it. I recall being at a Kmart recently where everyone was turning down $10-off coupons for just providing their e-mail address. Not being judgmental, because everyone is entitled to their own choice, but I’d certainly never give out all that info just for an ice cream cone. Data has a habit of slipping out all over the place, no matter what anybody says.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

If Baskin-Robbins can capture a customer’s name, age, gender and email address, the program is a success. Many businesses would give up far more than the cost of an ice cream cone to get that verifiable information.

Consumers seem willing to part with information to get something they like from a company they trust. If BR does not abuse that trust, they can use the information to engage in a dialogue with the consumers, which in turn can build loyalty and sales.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

They can keep their free ice cream! Who has the patience, time and willingness to fill in and give up all this information? There’s a small burger chain near me that gives you a free cone on your birthday and you just have to flash any type of ID in the store to get it.

Clearly driven by marketing’s desires, and missing the boat on really delighting their customer.

Nice try, but focus on the customer experience, not data mining.

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

When we conduct a survey and ask participants to share their opinions and some demographic information, we preface our request with an explanation of why we are doing the research. It encourages consumers to be part of the study because they know their opinions will help formulate a new product, for example.

So why wouldn’t Baskin-Robbins share their “hidden agenda” as part of the motivation along with the ice cream cone? In this instance full disclosure could increase the participation rate and enhance the brand’s image. Consumers are savvy and most often understand why marketers need the information.

Spell it out and get consumers to support the brand directly rather than take a convoluted route that can cause frustration, distrust and fewer “takers.” Just a thought.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 2 months ago

Looks like Baskin got what they needed from Mr Gordon. They got all his info and his 8 bucks. Sounds to me like this campaign is pretty successful so far. The words free and ice and cream hold a lot of weight in a down economy.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Most franchisees willingly give away product 24/7 as part of the local booster’s club, silent auction, what have you. I have used Fishbowl marketing service for years with clients and it has really paid off because they were able to capture all that information. As a marketer, I’m glad they’re doing it so they can build their own list. Privacy in my view is way overrated–especially as seen through the younger generations.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I don’t think it’s such a big deal. And who says you have to give them all of the correct information? I agree with Kevin, giving a free ice cream cone on your birthday is a terrific way for them to delight their customers with a little “thank you” that will, hopefully, keep them coming back.

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Enjoy the ice cream, and don’t sweat the small stuff of “who got the better deal.” Both the retailer and the consumer are winners in this proposition.

The consumer gave up very little. The retailer is making a significant investment, not in product, but in operations, IT, Loyalty program development, staying current with consumer interests/demand, etc.

Make mine strawberry.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 2 months ago

Wow! Some serious opinions here. Glad we can all get so pumped just for an ice cream cone. I think Doron hit the nail on the head. BR got all my info and 8 bucks. That would make it a success in any marketing manual.

David Rich
Guest
David Rich
11 years 2 months ago

I echo Roger’s comments…a “win-win” deal.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

This is a worthwhile tactic to gain consumer insights. Too many retailers, in fact, MOST retailers with “loyalty” programs give unwarranted discounts with little or no additional value gained on subsequent transactions. This program gets some usable information for the retailer, and generates an obviously (based upon the comments here so far) compelling offer for the customer.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

No one is forcing anyone to take the free ice cream! This sounds like a great promotion. Customers can self-select out if they are anxious about privacy. As others have pointed out, BR made money, at least in this anecdotal example. Tell me again…what’s the problem?

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 2 months ago
The B-R free ice-cream loyalty program is interesting, but they may be asking for too much without explaining why. One thought would be to simply share with the consumer the reasons for each question. Honesty and value go a long way. 1) Birthday – We want to send you a free cone every year. 2) Email – We want to send you Free offers and coupons via email to save trees. 3) Gender – Any suggestions on why they need this? 4) Mailing address – We may still need to send some coupons and free cones via mail. 5) Adding a family member – We want to give as many of your family and friends Free cones on their birthday. Best of all, the coupon will say it is from you if you want. 6)Favorite flavor – We want your feedback on what flavors should stay. 7) Favorite product – We want to know if you like other items in our store like Ice cream cakes. This helps us put together great offers that mean… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

“Giving something away and earning money on the periphery…” is a line from a current Atlantic Monthly report on the shrewd business practices of The Grateful Dead, from decades ago. I haven’t read the book cited, but the report brings this up to date with the note that this “…is the same idea proffered by Wired editor Chris Anderson in his recent best-selling book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

In the in-store market which is offering tens of thousands of items, from which the shopper will select only a few, the shopper’s skill set is geared to filtering out what they don’t want, as the necessary precursor to finding what they do want. There are many triggers that can break through that filter, but “free” strikes me as possibly of at least as much value as “new.” As discussed by the other commentators here, “free” can be done right, or otherwise. The same is true of “new.”

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
11 years 2 months ago

I am on the Win-Win side of this discussion, and agree with a number of the posts (especially those of Joan Treistman, Doron Levy, Jonathan Marek, and John Boccuzzi).

This was a purely voluntary exchange, and both sides gained. Telling the customer why you want the data–and why it benefits them–can increase the quality (and quantity) of the data you collect, because it will be perceived as both more transparent and more concrete.

The challenge is that now B-R actually has to deliver on the reasons they give for collecting the data. They want your birthday so they can give you a birthday present? Then the free cone is the right way to go. They want your email address to send you valuable targeted offers? Then they better not start spamming you with weekly, content-free ad blasts.

Transparency runs both ways–being open and honest wins points when you are acting in your customer’s interests, but the backlash will be that much stronger if you abuse your customers’ trust.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I love the frequent use of the word reliable in this commentary. A free ice cream cone is not worth a single bit of my personal data (although I’d flash my bus pass to prove name and birthday) but, in an alternative world, my alternative persona might be willing to make a trade. Now all I have to do is get her some real world ID for verification.

More seriously, the other big benefit of this promotion to Baskin-Robbins is that it gets rid of people like me who would only visit once a year for a freebie. If I’m willing to sacrifice one cone rather than my privacy, it remains my choice.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Normally I would say that the only thing that should have a string attached to it is a balloon, but in this case I would have to say “so?” Marc’s complaints seem a bit overboard, especially given that many of these “had to’s” are described as “optional.” As for the privacy concerns, I believe most of these bits on info are public record (though I know California stopped listing “favorite flavor” on its driver licenses several years ago.)

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 2 months ago

I recall filling out the “birthday card” when I was a kid. There was nothing better than receiving the postcard in the mail around the time of my birthday, and going to the store to get my free cone.

We had to give our information then; we give our information now. The difference is, today we live in a world of cynicism. Instead of saying, “thanks for the ice cream” and enjoying it, we ask the company “what’s in it for you.”

Don’t we miss the simpler times of just enjoying life for all of the little surprises like a free ice cream cone on our birthday?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I just signed up for my birthday coupon. I will add that one to the Haagan Daz and Starbucks. Obviously, I am not concerned by the privacy issue. These days the information they are asking for is hardly private.

With regard to the trade-off, I consider it very fair. Why should BR pay for database info about me when they can pay me? Am I being too easy?

t.j. reid
Guest
t.j. reid
11 years 2 months ago

I love John’s comments and how thoroughly he related and bulleted all his theories. I wish my small, specialty apparel retailers thought out things this well. Many offer a $5 coupon for an “e” address and sometimes it works. Again, it’s just ICE CREAM, but didn’t we all get excited over how much BR received for giving so little merchandise and effort? Congratulations to them! I just hope I am off my diet by my birthday so I can have some Butter Pecan!

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

I am just wondering if someone from RadioShack just went to work in the Baskin-Robbins marketing department….

Bill Hanifin
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

The basic tombstone data is already “loose” for most people and giving it up once more to Baskin-Robbins is more a reflection on the value proposition being offered than indication of privacy concerns.

I understand that many consumers would disagree, but I am answering from a marketer’s perspective.

I would not cheapen my data for an ice cream cone and would expect BR to work just a little harder to gain my details. Though many people criticize points-based loyalty programs, it is within this context that the value exchange for data can be made efficiently and with reliability on a “win-win” basis.

I went on a search for The Cost of Building a Database and found that in the case of a national coffee chain, the price was a mere $.50. If the average cone at BR is $2.00 or so, the coffee shop might have to up the ante!

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
11 years 2 months ago

Marc, if I missed someone else asking these questions, my apologies. But if BR emailed this offer to you on your birthday, didn’t they already have your name, date of birth, and email address? Why were they bothering to ask it again? (Updating their database? New internal team ignoring the previous work of others?) And besides the time it took to enter the information, what information were you really giving up that they didn’t already have besides your favorite ice cream flavor?

As for discussion of how much information one is giving up for one ice cream cone, I think we are thinking too much like marketers (who understand the potential value of reliable customer files) and not enough like the average consumer. Based on many posts I read on Facebook or Twitter, I think the majority have lost their concern for privacy in the digital world.

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