Direct marketing is hardly anything new to the bar and club operator. From the classic flier to the e-mail blast, ink and electronic marketing tools are familiar to every promotions director who has ever needed to fill the house for a special live music event or generate some buzz among potential patrons to spark a slow night.
As the primary tool for staying in sync with the well-connected customers who comprise the prime club demographic today, direct marketing has come of age. With more moving parts than ever before, it now encompasses e-mail invites delivered at the speed of light, text messages as near and dear to customers as their private cell phone inbox, and social networking via Web 2.0-enhanced Internet sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
A diverse portfolio of marketing and technology is certainly in play, and with each new addition to the fold comes the question of where it fits in the overall marketing strategy of a venue. These days, the cutting edge is not only measured in the latest technology, but in a well-honed strategy to determine just the right mix of direct marketing tools to deploy in order to achieve a particular goal, whether it’s attracting new patrons for the weekend crowd or building on a club’s core group of patrons. Simply put, the same suite of tactics and technologies won’t work from club to club or bar to bar, or in some cases event to event.
Venue concept and demographics, of course, figure into determining the right combination of direct marketing tools, as does the goal of the effort.
“The sum of all of these parts is far more productive than any one of the parts,” explains Roseburg, Ore.-based Media Dog Marketing president Ray Ford of this emerging direct marketing paradigm. “If you learn how it all works, the reward is a very effective program that can lower costs, change your client demos, develop customer loyalty and create traffic and sales.”
Formerly director of marketing and entertainment at Phoenix, Ariz.-based Bobby McGee’s Restaurants, Ford combines that experience with that of his own clients throughout the United States. He’s observed that the gap between what is possible in the realm of direct marketing and what is actually being achieved is still wide indeed.
Most operators fail to take advantage of the full range of technology available to them because they don’t understand completely how to use the various parts of the process — i.e. Web site, e-mail and text marketing — let alone how to combine them into one cohesive program, Ford explains.
“To most, cyberspace is this heavy cloud that hovers around us, but we know nothing about it,” he says. “We just know that if we send an e-mail or a text, it gets to who we send it to.” In particular, operators can significantly increase their direct marketing reach and effectiveness through a better understanding of the nexus among Web sites, e-mail and text messaging.
“Those three are especially important in creating a marketing plan that can be melded into one cohesive campaign,” Ford advises.
Of those tools, Ford says venue Web sites tend to be the most underutilized as direct marketing mechanisms, with many operators employing them more like static billboards.
“What they should do is look at it like a daily newspaper, with new stories and new headlines added all the time,” he explains. “And every three to six months, the site should have a completely different look. You will find that your Web site can become an active member of your direct marketing strategy.”
For its part, e-mail in the form of an electronic newsletter is well suited to do the heavy lifting in keeping patrons informed about promotions and special events that change on a regular basis, Ford says. And text messaging, too, adds to the successful marketing mix by making it possible for venues to turn on a dime in terms of their promotional strategy.
Still, with traditional communications avenues such as television, radio and print advertising now cost-prohibitive in many markets, and with the economy becoming more and more of a factor influencing available marketing dollars, Ford warns against taking any of the direct marketing weapons in the arsenal off the table. Rather, he advises considering the role each can play in the marketing strategy and then choose carefully.
For example, a direct mailer sent to a list of patrons and a promotional card distributed by a street team each has strengths and weaknesses.
“For a grand opening, a direct mailer is still one of the best means available to reach a VIP list. Sooner or later, in the livelihood of a club owner or operator, they all come in handy.”
One owner that Ford worked with through his Media Dog Marketing in 2008 was on the verge of going out of business, in large part because the predominately Top 40 radio station he bought time on each week attracted a hip-hop crowd to the club.
“The crowd got younger, and the patrons who liked that style of music did not have the discretionary income to make the nightclub profitable,” Ford says. “It also went from a high-energy club to one with very low energy.”
At Ford’s suggestion, the club owner replaced radio advertising with an comprehensive, interactive direct marketing strategy.
“We created an interactive Web presence, and we went out and acquired e-mail lists from chambers of commerce and realtors,” Ford says. “We started a newsletter, and we got people’s cell phone numbers so that we could text message them about the house specials and other activities.”
Over a period of time, the average age of the club patrons increased seven or eight years, going from 22 to 29 or 30 year olds, Ford says.
As a result, the venue sold less cola and beer and more mixed drinks and Martinis, and remains in business today.
Sugar and Spice and Promotional Nights
Other operators are also finding success with a comprehensive approach to utilizing direct marketing tools. Brian Swanson, one of the owners of two distinct clubs — Spice, Sugar Bar and Park Street Patio — in Columbus, Ohio, is always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to use his portfolio of direct marketing widgets to pack his venues and slay the competition.
“We are constantly analyzing what does and does not work,” Swanson says. “One of our more recent discoveries is that direct mailers and flyers do not work any longer for us. They are not cost-effective. Everything is moving in the direction of electronic technology, with text messaging, mass e-mails and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.”
For Swanson, it’s much easier to target a particular customer with a text message or an e-mail as opposed to a flyer.
“How do I know that the person who is handed one of my flyers is not some 90-year-old lady with no interest in coming to a club? I know that when I send something to my database, they are interested in getting the material, because they sign up to get it either by e-mail or text.”
Yet if Swanson could only choose one form of direct marketing to move the marketing mountain for his venues, he is sure that it would be social networking.
“It is the way to go,” he says. “It is free, and you have no doubt that your message is going to be seen by the people that you want in your club.”
At Pacha NYC in New York City, marketing director Andrew Inomata also makes extensive use of Web-based social networking sites to attract customers in one of the most competitive club markets in the country. Within a two-week period, Inomata saw the club’s Facebook fan list swell from 9,000 names to more than 19,000.
“There are few avenues where you get that much exposure so quickly,” he says.
Yet his love of Facebook and MySpace does not come at the expense of other direct marketing mainstays.
”We use the full list of direct marketing tools, starting with e-mail. That is a fundamental with our club. Even in a day and age when e-mail is becoming less and less important, and people are more involved in social networking and text messaging, we still believe it is an important part of direct marketing.
“At the end of the day, e-mail allows you to do so much,” Inomata asserts. “You can add graphics, and compared to social networking, you have a lot more control when you send out an e-mail.”
Text messaging, too, is integral to the direct marketing strategy guiding Pacha.
“You can reach someone instantly through text messaging, and you don’t have to worry whether someone is going to read it. People are always by their phones. We can send them a comp admission pass to get in before midnight by phone. And the person just shows it at the door.” NCB