Marketing lemons for my birthday courtesy of LongHorn Steakhouse - The Write Idea

Marketing lemons for my birthday courtesy of LongHorn Steakhouse

By Renae Gregoire

Email marketing lemons and rewards program lemons lead to a sour stomach on my birthday

LongHorn Steakhouse lured me into its restaurant for my birthday dinner with a "free dessert" email. I wound up with a crappy steak and headaches trying to access the code for my free dessert, which I unfortunately had to leave without -- a story I'll share with you here.

We have a tradition in our family that the birthday person gets a special dinner out at the restaurant of his or her choice. My birthday is coming up, and I was craving steak. There's a really good steakhouse here locally (Binions, if you're ever in the area), but I received an email coupon from LongHorn offering me free dessert for my birthday.

We're right in the midst of leaf season here in Western North Carolina, so we decided to take the trip up to Asheville to see the color and have my birthday dinner at LongHorn. We also used the opportunity to run over to Asheville Mall, both to walk off the dinner calories and to get some shopping done.

Marketing lemon #1 - The picture looks nothing like the product

Things started going wrong when my steak arrived. I ordered a filet mignon, my all-time favorite cut. So tender ... juicy ... delicious!

Here's what it looked like on the menu.

Filet mignon - the promise

I want to keep this part of the story short, so I'll just quickly say that my steak was flat, dry, and overdone. It looked something like this.

Crappy filet mignon

I ate it anyway, and, although he didn't have to, the manager took the steak off the bill. So that was nice.  

The real pain I want to talk about is what happened after dinner, when I tried to claim my "free dessert" -- the offer that convinced us to take the 40 minute drive to Asheville.

Marketing lemon #2 - Making it overly complex for customers to access a coupon

I pulled up the coupon on my phone. 

Longhorn promising a free dessert for my birthday

Look at that! They've got my name on it, and they obviously know my birthday.

I clicked the button claim my dessert. Simple, right?

No. Not so simple.

Next, a complicated form asked me to sign in.  

Longhorn complex registration form - required to "claim" an offered free dessert

The page presented three options: create a guest account, sign in with Facebook, or log in. 

The email used my name, so I obviously had an account. I tried to log in, but was unsuccessful ... apparently I signed up using a different password.

What's the next easiest thing? How about if I sign in with Facebook? 

Only ... that process actually required me to log in to Facebook! And I don't remember my Facebook password, because it's secure, meaning long and convoluted.

Next? How about resetting my password?

I entered my email address, but received an error message telling me that the system didn't recognize it ... that I DIDN'T have an account with that email address.

But ... that's the email address they used to send me the coupon?

At this point, the waitress came over and asked if we'd like dessert. My husband said to come back in a few minutes because I was trying to sign in to get my coupon for the free dessert.

Already frustrated, I asked her, "Can we do this without having me log in? I'm having all sorts of problems here." She said, "No, I need the code to enter it as a free dessert. I'll come back in a little bit."

My next attempt was to create an account, so I filled out the information.

SORRY. Naturally, LongHorn takes my security seriously; the password must be convoluted with a capital letter and numbers and the first 10 digits of pi.

I try again, carefully entering a password that would make the system smile -- and success! Now I'm registered, and can take advantage of the coupon, right?


Marketing lemon #3 - Making customers create TWO different accounts

I returned to the coupon in my inbox, clicked the button to claim my free dessert, and was brought to yet ANOTHER registration form! This one for the loyalty program!

By this time, my husband was encouraging me to give it up, but I didn't want to! I had come so far, and been through so much already, all for a sweet taste of that delicious caramel apple goldrush! I even passed on the bread appetizer to save carbs for the dessert!

caramel apple goldrush

I figured I was close now; all I had to do was register for the loyalty program, and that dessert would be here soon.

But then I was asked to select my location.

Longhorn loyalty program

Do you see Charlotte there, at the bottom of the screenshot? The list of cities is alphabetical.

There is no Asheville there. "A" comes before "C," right? I scrolled all the down just to be sure.

Nope. No Asheville.

Then I see the message the appears directly above the dropdown with North Carolina in it.

It says, "The LongHorn Steakhouse Rewards program is currently only available at select locations."

So it's NOT available in Asheville!

Then why did they send me the coupon?

I was feeling pretty lousy by this time. Crappy steak. Relentless irritation with the "claiming" of my free dessert, and then no dessert at the end.

The waitress came by and asked, and we said, "No, just bring the check; we couldn't get to the coupon."

Marketing lemon #4 - Not letting me have the promised dessert

Now, I have to say, the waitress could have made things all better by offering me the free dessert anyway. But she didn't.

We left, deciding to grab dessert elsewhere.

How to turn these marketing lemons into marketing lemonade?

The moral of the story? How can my experience help you be a better marketer? How can they help your business provide excellent in-store and online experiences? There are a few ways / morals within. 

  • If you plan to offer customers a meal that looks remarkably different from the norm, and from what's shown in the menu, you ought to say something about it to avoid customer disappointment. I wished I had gotten the sirloin instead.
  • If you send customers an email offering a free dessert, and if they have problems redeeming that offer, give it to them anyway. Don't make satisfaction dependent on the workings of the system.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify your log in and loyalty program experiences. There's no reason why the process should be so convoluted and difficult. 

I can tell you this: the next time I get an email from LongHorn, I'll be unsubscribing.  

And I will never visit that restaurant again.

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Renae Gregoire, a digital conversion expert improving the performance of digital marketing content, including websites, landing pages, sales pages, online courses, blogs, and email sequences. If you're a coach, consultant, or other expert having trouble getting people to click, sign up, subscribe, or buy, I can help. My work typically involves a blend of strategy, design guidance, and wordsmithing, with a heavy focus on how your materials look, sound, feel, and function—all from your reader's perspective. Contact me to see how I might be able to help improve your conversions.