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Marketing

Bars Go Mobile

October 11, 2010 By: Alissa Ponchione Night Club and Bar Magazine

Marketing to Guests via Mobile Devices Takes Off — Here’s How To Make it Work for Your Business


With technology evolving every day, bar and nightclub operators need to constantly experiment and embrace what’s new, and ever more important on the menu is mobile marketing. Facebook and Twitter are proving successful as guests take to their smartphones to keep up with what’s happening at their favorite bars, and with emerging options like QR codes, mobile marketing is evolving. And yet, not every mobile marketing strategy is right for every establishment; some aren’t cost-effective while others might be too complicated right now. But when the right technology strategies are used, the result benefits your business exponentially: You’re building loyal customers who follow you wherever they go, who are up-to-date on what’s happening at your place and who come through your door because of your mobile marketing effort.

iPhone on bar

Back to the Basics

Though mobile marketing is still in its infancy, it just might be the beacon of hope for businesses looking to grow a loyal fan base and deliver it to their barstools.

Before you delve into the wide world of mobile opportunities, the first thing every establishment must do is spend plenty of time — and perhaps money — on its website, updating it regularly and making it easy to navigate and mobile-friendly. Sameer Mungur, CEO of Zipscene, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based investment and promotion company that provides local entertainment information, says people regularly use smartphones to search for local bars, clubs or restaurants, especially on a whim. “That means your own website is a viable avenue for you to market yourself.”

Note, however, that a high-tech, graphic website isn’t always mobile-friendly; these sites often run on Adobe Flash Player, which is usually unreadable on smartphone devices. If people can’t view your website from their smartphones, you’ve lost business. “Most users will exit the site without spending the time on it,” Mungur warns.

He suggests updating your site with your latest news by adding Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or blog RSS feeds to your site.

Getting on Board

When it comes to mobile marketing, unfortunately, most bars and nightclubs aren’t taking advantage of opportunities due to associated costs for things like apps and also because the ROI isn’t always easy to determine, says David Sribnik, manager of trends and technology for MarkeTeam Inc., a Mission Viejo, Calif., food and beverage sales promotion agency. Big chain restaurants have yet to fully embrace the various social media outlets out there, whereas independent operators don’t usually have the cash to invest in anything beyond the free sites, such as apps. What’s more, it’s still hard to gauge how successful mobile marketing is because there aren’t many true experts on the subject or examples of repeated success.

“The biggest thing is that still today there isn’t any real way to formally measure the success of all these types of marketing, and without measurement it’s much harder to get a budget to put toward it,” Sribnik says.

This fear of the unknown shouldn’t deter you from entering into the game, however. Sribnik says larger companies should have a dedicated employee in the marketing department that specifically handles the brand’s mobile marketing. The biggest mistake bars make is handing off these duties to an individual in each respective location or a few different employees within an independent bar. “They don’t know what they’re doing, and they don’t know how to represent the brand correctly,” he explains.

Sribnik says, however, there are ways for operators to determine the success of their marketing efforts if they focus on the quality of what the numbers mean rather than the quantity of the users. Are your followers/fans in the right demographic, geographical region, socio-economic class, age, etc. for your establishment? “The goal is to get qualified and opt-in leads these days, especially when it comes to high-technology marketing.” He recommends setting target actions and strategy, making sure that getting followers or fans actually leads guests to follow your call to action.

Bob Deck, owner and president of Four Entertainment Group in Cincinnati, Ohio, believes he’s achieved mobile marketing success: The mobile versions of the websites for his eight venues in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area — The Mt. Adams Pavilion, The Righteous Room, The Keystone Bar and Grill, aliveOne, The Tap & Go, The Stand, The Sandbar and The Lackman Bar — get about 30 to 40 percent of the traffic his regular websites get.

Although Deck can’t say for certain if his mobile marketing efforts contribute to more foot traffic in the door, he does know all his establishments were up in sales in 2010 versus 2009.

This kind of optimism builds success, and Deck rewards his database members for jumping on board, offering his mobile followers value — a free cover charge or discounted food offer.

“Simply sending someone information on what is going on isn’t enough. There needs to be something attached to it that has value. And not cheap value that they feel is just a hook, but real value so that they not only want to continue to be on your list, but also will talk about it and attract others,” he says.

Cool vs. Capable

While you want to provide value to your customers, it’s still important to understand your clientele and exactly what they want from you. With the recent popularity of apps, it may seem like the perfect time to develop one of your own. However, Sribnik and Mungur think this is a fruitless effort — at least for now. Apps may be cool, but they take time and money to develop, and if you can’t offer anything interesting beyond a mobile version of your site, you’ll not only lose money but customers as well.

“A lot of companies create their own app, and they’re useless,” Sribnik explains. “They’re thousands of dollars, and why spend that money if your customers don’t want it? You have to offer them a unique capability to make it worth spending money and time to develop it. You need to know what your customers want.”

There’s no rush. In fact, Sribnik suggests identifying successful social and mobile networking platforms, like Foursquare, and working your business into those apps. Mungur agrees: “Your app strategy should be to get involved in these [other] apps and have a presence inside of those.”

Greg Barris, chief strategist at L’asso restaurant in New York City, knows this firsthand, noting part of L’asso’s mobile marketing campaign is to delve headfirst into popular public sites such as Tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare. Barris says he incorporates L’asso into popular apps like Foursquare and Facebook rather than creating one specifically for the venue. Developing an app, he explains, takes a lot of time and effort, and people will only use it a couple times if it doesn’t display any real value, leading to a waste of money for your bar.

Along with the restaurant’s presence on Foursquare, management is revamping L’asso’s website so it features more fresh and original content like a video interview series about the venue’s regular patrons. “Our restaurant is interesting because we’re involved with a lot of interesting people,” Barris says. “There’s sort of a community of these people, and we’re trying to use content that they’re providing.”

Mobile marketing is new, but if you’re smart about what you’re using and how you’re using it, it isn’t scary. “The key to success is a multi-channel marketing campaign: traditional marketing, POS marketing tied in with social media and with a call to action,” Sribnik says.

If you follow that credo, your guests will appreciate your technological savvy, and reward you with their patronage, while telling friends and acquaintances about your business. And that’s where you see the real ROI because, after all, word-of-mouth marketing, whether actual or virtual, is the most important marketing of all. NCB


What's Next?

The future of mobile marketing is exciting for bars and nightclubs. David Sribnik, manager, trends and technology for MarkeTeam Inc., a Mission Viejo, Calif., sales promotion agency, and Sameer Mungur, CEO of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Zipscene, see some innovative ideas that could sweep the nightlife market very soon:

Mobi-tagging: QR codes, or quick response codes, and Microsoft tags require an app and a smartphone with a camera feature. Using the camera, guests take a picture of a barcode that you print on a napkin, glassware or flier. Then, the app scans the barcode and automatically sends the guest to a website, video, etc. that offers deals and promotions at your establishment. The best part: It doesn’t cost anything, and you can keep the barcode number and change only the URL whenever you want to offer something new. Every hit is recorded directly in the backend of the system so measurability is built in.

Personalized URLs: These are the next step in text messaging and web capabilities: You can send your customer a customized URL that’s unique to her, thus personalizing the experience — for example, a personal greeting might welcome the patron when she visits her personalized URL. Sribnik says this contributes to better click-through and response rates, and it’s also easy to track because management knows exactly to whom they’re sending information and who is clicking on that personalized URL. It also extends to text messaging, sending the consumer a code unique to them.

Augmented Reality: This involves opening up the smartphone camera and looking at the screen. The GPS locator will then show guests what bars and nightclubs have specific happy hours, specials and promotions in that area. Real life overlaps with virtual life by literally putting your establishment on the map.

Couponing: Mungur likes a phone application that let’s you receive coupons virtually if you’re in the proximity of a business. He says he’s only seen it with retail stores but thinks an app that would send you coupons and codes for bars and nightclubs offering specials is a sure fire way to get people in the door.


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