Being an independently operated establishment means marketing dollars are limited. And competing with the big brands down the street is daunting on smaller business. However, there are ways to market big while being small, ultimately maximizing your return on investment.
“The bars and nightclubs that thrive over time are those who have found their ideal customers and stay true to what those customers want over time,” explains Gerry O’Brion, a professional speaker, author and business coach, who uses big business strategies to grow businesses of all sizes through his Business Blueprint at www.WhatBigBrandsKnow.com. “These days customer's preferences are changing quickly, and the only way to stay ahead of the trends is to actively seek information from your customers, and then act on what you learn.”
Here are five of O’Brion’s foolproof marketing tactics to grow your bar's business, no matter what the size:
1. Find Your Niche. O’Brion says that one of the biggest mistakes a business can make is being too many things. “A big mistake that is made by lots of businesses is trying to be everything to everyone,” he explains. “Whether you’re a bar or an auto repair shop, customers want to patronize a place that is for them.” He says, first and foremost, a business owner needs to figure out what niche they want to fill.
2. Use Your Customers. The best marketing comes from your loyal clientele, he says. “As with many independent businesses, your customers are your best marketing tool. Your current customer can be both inexpensive and highly effective in bringing more business to your establishment.”
The first thing you want to do, O’Brion says, is “build strong, personal relationships with your customers—this is the foundation of any service business.” Once you do that, you can ask your customers questions to understand what they want and need. Don’t be afraid to ask the personal question: “Why do your current customers come to your place? When do they choose you versus a competitor? Do they actively tell others about you and what do they say?” O’Brion gives as examples. "Once you do that, you can leverage what you learn… It certainly could improve your social-media skills.”
3. Community Building. Big brands can seem to be omnipotent, but small bars and clubs “have a distinct advantage over the big guys—they can be very personal.” Customers like to feel like VIPs when they go out, and as an owner, it’s your job to make them feel special. “Many business owners underestimate the power of being the go-to person in their business. Customers feel special when they are known,” he says. “Think of the power of walking in the door with several friends, and the owner/manager/bartender saying hi to you by name—very high on the cool-factor scale.”
4. Don’t be Afraid to be Different. O’Brion says that one of the biggest challenges for independent businesses yet one of the most important things is to be true to your brand. “If you try to be everything to everybody, you end up standing for nothing to anyone,” he says. “The first step to creating effective differentiation is having a deep understanding of your ideal customers.” O’Brion uses the example of understanding the demographic in your area and what they’re looking for in a local establishment. If you're in an area with mostly 30-something young professionals, think about operating a small, intimate bar with boutique cocktails and craft beers. That demand can help you identify what your bar or club needs to be to stand out. “Creating differentiation where there is demand is better than having a big marketing budget any day.”
5. Over-deliver on Value. Think about what the customers want. If you can determine what they value, “then over-deliver on that value so much that they tell others who are like them,” he says. Being in constant communication with customers, will help you create value. “It’s always important to remember that price isn’t always the most important factor in customer’s decisions on what they purchase,” O'Brion says.
O’Brion also emphasizes the power of social media, noting that many independent businesses make the mistake of using social media to promote their specials. “The smarter way to use your Facebook page is to ask questions to your customers and get their input and feedback,” he explains. “This helps you build that relationship as well as uncovering ways to create value."