4 Bar and Restaurant Marketing Myths Busted

"Myths" spelled in block letters
Image: gustavofrazao / iStock / Getty Images Plus

“Drive traffic.” “Get butts in seats.” “Be top of mind.” Do any of these marketing terms should familiar? They should, because the marketing gurus throw them out all day long attempting to get you to try their systems.

Marketing your restaurant or bar is not as complicated as they would like you to believe. Is it a challenge to stand out in a crowded market? Yes. Is there a secret combination that will turn your restaurant marketing into a gold mine? No.

The situation is similar to the diet gurus who all have “the secret” to losing weight. There really isn’t a secret at all. Eat less food, burn more calories each day. Get in some exercise. Be conscious of the crap you eat and drink. Not a big secret. Marketing is a lot like that.

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Let’s break down four common marketing myths and the truth behind them.

Myth #1: It takes a lot of money to market effectively.

This one comes from those marketing agencies that are trying to sell you their services. For a couple thousand dollars a month they’ll post to your social media accounts so traffic becomes a river carrying new guests to your door. If only that were true.

Throwing more money at a problem like lack of traffic doesn’t mean you’re going to get a return on that investment. Yes, posting consistently is a good move and they’ll make sure you have a steady stream of generic content floating around your social media pages. Just remember that even a broken watch is right twice a day. The shotgun marketing strategy is as outdated as ads in the Yellow Pages.

Read this: Produce Big Marketing Results with a Small Budget

Truth: While the Internet is a crowded place, you don’t need a lot of money to make noise. You just need to know how to make noise that will get people’s attention. That just requires you to be creative, courageous, and a little weird. Yes, being weird sells.

Example: You could post the standard (which means boring) stock photo of chicken wings and a pint of beer saying, “Come on down for $1.00 wings and $2.00 draft beers.”

Or you could make a fun video clip using time lapse of a person throwing down and eating two dozen wings with the pile of bones stacking up on the table. Caption the video, “Become a wing warrior!” 

Or how about a slow-motion video of a woman or man seductively eating a jumbo wing with sauce running down their fingers. They slowly lick the tip of each finger with an extended tongue like Gene Simmons from the iconic rock band KISS. All you would need to say is, “Come get some”.

Which do you think will get people in the door? There is one way to find out...try them both! Here’s the real bonus: No need to bribe people with discounts if your marketing is clever and a little edgy. How do you know you’re edgy? If it makes you feel a little outside your comfort zone you should be there. 

Myth #2: Marketing creates your brand.

Marketing does not create your brand any more than your logo or tagline does. It’s the biggest lie out there. Marketing is just a messenger for your brand. Sorry, but no amount of marketing will make up for a bad brand. Your brand is a combination of core values, purpose and emotions. Those things are translated through the products you offer on your menu and the hospitality conveyed through your crafted guest experience.

Read this: A Core Value Walks Into a Bar

Truth: Marketing (done correctly) accentuates your brand, it doesn’t replace your brand. If you don’t know what your brand stands for (a brand is just an extension of the founder’s values), why would anyone want to listen to your marketing message? They won’t, and that’s why most marketing fails. This concept can be seen in the work of Simon Sinek whose bestselling book Start with Why breaks down the essence of what all great brands know: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it! 

Most marketing focuses on the product or the “what.” Few ever come close to talking about people and emotions, the “why.” One simple change in your marketing content will be life changing for the direction and effectiveness of your marketing. Start with why you do it!

Myth #3: Market today, get business tomorrow.

If only it were that easy. Sadly, marketing is a lot like online dating—you’ll need to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess. Marketing is far from a get-traffic-fast system. The most common myth is, “If you post it, they will come.” Not exactly.

According to the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day. Ten thousand! Now combine that with the 60,000 thoughts that neuroscientists say float around your head each day. Do you still wonder why no one likes your boring posts on Facebook or jumps in their car immediately to head down for that special you just posted? (Note: If you still do wonder, please reread myth #1.)

Marketing needs to be thought of like planting seeds for the fall. You plant now, nurture and care for it every day, then reap the bounty later.

Plant: Post today and every day. Please don’t think that posting once a week is having any impact on your marketing efforts. That would be like going to the ocean, throwing in a pebble, and expecting a tidal wave to occur. It’s not going to happen.

Nurture: Engage and comment when people like your posts. People have a human need to be appreciated, so share some love in your marketing. The secret to social media is being social. I know—not really a big secret, yet it’s a component many leave out of their marketing plan.

Reap: Always look for returns on your marketing efforts today to pay off about 30 to 60 days later. Yeah, I know—it sucks. However, you need to build up some marketing equity in your market before people will start to respond to your efforts.

Is it fair? No. Is that the way it is? Yes. 

Myth #4: All you need is Facebook to market today.

To bust this myth allow me to throw out two words for you: Cambridge Analytics. That mishap changed the smooth sailing you’ve been experiencing with Facebook for the past several years. Yes, Facebook is still a great way to spread your brand message and market. However, they also have made (and will continue) to make rapid changes to show the public (that means shareholders) that your data is safe. They’re already putting restrictions on how third-party apps can access information. 

Should you worry? No. Should you be concerned? Yes.

If you’ve thrown all your proverbial marketing eggs into the Facebook basket, it’s time to take some out and diversify your marketing portfolio, so to speak. Instagram is hot (even though it’s owned by Facebook) and a great avenue for creative restaurant brands to share their messages through live streaming and stories. The new IGTV looks like a great way to showcase who your brand is through longer-format video.

Read this: Become an Instagram Hot Shot

Don’t forget the old-fashioned email blasts! Most modern point-of-sale systems today capture emails when guests place orders or make reservations at your restaurant. Is email as great as it once was? Sadly, no: too many people’s inboxes have become littered with spam. However, marketing emails still get through to some. If you’re clever with your headline writing you can get people to open your emails.

If you haven’t noticed the breadcrumbs dropped throughout this post...video is the only way to really grab the attention of today’s guest. People love video! Don’t believe it? Look at these facts:

The total number of people who use YouTube: 1,300,000,000.

  • 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day.
  • YouTube gets over 30 million visitors per day.

Damn, break out the smartphone and get going! Here are two tips to make you video content stand out:

  1. Be transparent. People want to see the real people behind the brand. Take them on a tour of how you use a cold-drip coffee system to infuse your signature vodka used in your award-winning martini. How about filming your trip to a local farm and your conversation with the farmer who you get your tomatoes from?
  2. Give away some good stuff. I’m not saying to give away all your secrets. However, share your famous Bolognese recipe that your great grandmother taught you with your followers. Sharing the story behind the recipe is more important than the recipe itself! People love a great story. Take comfort that most people will appreciate your openness to share recipes and don’t always have the time or ingredients to make it at home, so they’ll still come down to your business. And let’s be honest, some of your followers are just too lazy to try recreating your recipe at home. Marketing loves to exploit the duality of human behavior.

Becoming better at marketing your restaurant or bar starts with breaking free from the bullshit and heading for the truth. You now have four myths busted wide open and a few solutions to solve them. Are you the kind of person to take action or the kind who likes to keep doing the same things expecting different results?