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Potbelly’s Tell-a-Friend (and some free prizes for readers)

I love this well-executed, simple tell-a-friend program from Potbelly.  When the Chicago-based chain was opening up in Philly, the sent out an email to existing customers, saying “Got a friend in Philly? Forward this email to send them a free sandwich.

It works because it’s simple:

  1. Email is easy to forward.  No forms, no complexity. Just pass it on.
  2. The offer is simple.  Forward the email, your friend gets a sandwich.
  3. The sender looks good. You’re a hero when you’re giving out free food. Who wouldn’t want to do it?
  4. It’s re-forwardable.  Like any truly-viral email, it can be passed on again and again.
  5. It’s generous.  A free sandwich is a good deal.  Real value always works better than silly content.

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Cimg3439Extra bonus:  Potbelly sent me some cool hats and shirts (and a visor!?).  Post a great comment and I’ll send one to you.

Email to a friend:

Privacy: We won't save or reuse these emails.


  1. Whitney Hoffman October 8, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    This is an awesome marketing strategy, and I am doubly excited since I live just outside Philly!
    Thanks so much, Andy, for tweeting about this- and happy to spread this through the Philly community as well- BarCamp is coming up soon, so this might be a fun promotion for them to get involved in as well.

  2. Mike Walsh October 8, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    Thanks for the post. I’m a huge fan of Potbelly. There’s a great case study about them in Mavericks at Work. I recommend the book.

  3. Jeff Larche October 8, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    Exchanging swag for comments. Why didn’t I think of that? LOL
    Seriously, though: You missed one huge point about these forward-to-a-friend offers. As long as the HTML-rich emails remain somewhat intact (and sometimes even when they don’t!), they’re fully trackable. So you get to see which offers are the most viral and have the best reach!

  4. Jean October 8, 2008 at 10:12 am #

    As a recent new Chicagoan…I was introduced to Potbelly via a co-worker who forwarded me a link to their website at lunchtime one day. Since my first chicken salad sandwich, I’ve been a huge fan!
    Your post is great – and truly reflects how viral and SIMPLE that word of mouth really is.
    I’ll be forwarding your post to all my friends and co-workers now!!!

  5. Tim Jahn October 8, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    Potbellys is great with their word of mouth marketing IMO. Here in Chicago, they send out free sandwich coupons in the mail quite often and people flock to their local Potbellys with them. Sorta funny actually…everyone in line has their coupon.

  6. Julia Hillegass October 8, 2008 at 4:11 pm #

    This is a great example of “pyro-marketing”, which is the premise of a book by Greg Stielstra. He even allows you to download his book for free!
    A great way to create champions for your cause or business on a low budget.

  7. Chris Yeh October 8, 2008 at 10:26 pm #

    The other key is that the promotion gives people a chance to do someone else a favor.
    Far too many companies focus on providing consumers with a direct incentive, or even worse, asking them to do a favor for the company.
    Give people a chance to be a hero–that’s far more effective marketing.

  8. Adam October 10, 2008 at 12:38 am #

    Hmmm. I’d love to post a comment but then I might come across as a mark just looking for a t-shirt. Oops. Too late.
    The lesson of this port – more than the content – is the fact that so many people posted comments just because Andy asked them to and offered them something they probably don’t need or care that much about.
    OK, now that I’m in, I may as well comment on the Potbelly thing. The best part about it for me is that it’s not gimmicky. It’s a real thing. They want people to try their food because they suppose once people try, they will come back. No dancing clown. No stupid poem. Just a free sandwich. I love it.

  9. Braden Kelley October 13, 2008 at 10:37 am #

    The only difference between many establishments that sell the same thing (like sandwich places) are whether or not the customer has any kind of emotional connection to the place or not.
    Companies that see marketing as a cost will always be commodity players competing on price or the deal.
    Companies that see marketing as an investment, and invest wisely, will develop loyal customers that keep coming back without a deal.
    Which one do you want to be?

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