Produce Big Marketing Results with a Small Budget

Hundred dollar bill with digital matrix
Image: SARINYAPINNGAM / iStock / Getty Images Plus

I get it: it’s hard to set aside your hard-earned money for marketing efforts. It seems like you’re blowing those dollars away and not knowing what you’re getting in return. And oftentimes, that’s exactly what happens. You put out messages and promotions as a necessary evil; just something you have to do to gain awareness. But do you know the impact those actions have on your business? If the answer is no, then it’s time to make some changes to see your marketing as an investment, and not an expense.

I believe that any marketing initiative—no matter the budget—has the opportunity to see big results. I’ve seen this to be true throughout my career in working with large corporations with infinite budgets, startups with no budgets, non-profits with limited budgets, and nightlife venues with budgets across that spectrum. And through it all, I’ve come to believe two truths:

  1. Data is the engine behind a successful marketing initiative.
  2. The best story wins.

Yet, I rarely see these two truths in action in our industry.

I see the same thing time and again: venues blasting out messages that aren’t enticing, aren’t actionable, aren’t geared toward a specific audience, and are nearly impossible to track. With this approach, there’s no way to connect the dots between what you’re pushing out there, how it engages your audience (the best story wins) and how it affects your business (data is your engine).

So how do you become savvy and flip your marketing from an expense to an investment? You take a step back and look at the big picture.

The Big Picture

This step is especially important when working with a small budget. Every action matters if we have limited cash to put toward marketing. Most of us narrow down the concept of marketing into promotions, or more specifically, communication/advertising, when in reality that’s only a subset of marketing. Marketing as a whole is comprised of four parts: product, price, place, and promotion.

Marketing mix graph by Whitney Larson - Produce Big Marketing Results with a Small Budget

If you send out promotions that aren’t backed by the rest of the marketing mix, they aren’t going to result in anything meaningful. It might work sometimes, but you’re unable to see how it works and what effect it truly has. When all your marketing works together, you’re able to make your campaigns as effective as possible. And once you have the big picture nailed down, you’re able to go a step further and tie your marketing into your overall business objectives.

With this in mind, it’s time to start your marketing efforts from the top down. It’s with this strategy that we start to see big results emerge from campaigns, even with the smallest of budgets.

1. Identify your business objective with a tangible goal.

The first step is to figure out what you want to achieve as a business. Marketing that isn’t backed by business objectives is almost always seen as a waste. More often than not, venues conduct marketing so that they can increase their revenue. That’s a solid business objective, and there are many others out there. The important part is to identify what you want out of your business.

Once you have your objective, you then need to understand at what level it would be deemed a success. So, you need a goal to tie along with your objective, which means a quantifiable number that can be measured within a given time range. For example, if increased revenue is your objective, then a goal may be to drive up total revenue by 10% within six months.

2. Uncover your data to help you find the right marketing mix.

Now that you have your goal ironed out and tied to your business objective, how do you make sure your efforts affect it? You need to understand what your starting point is. When you don’t have great insight into what factors make up your revenue, it’s hard to define what products to promote at what price point using which messages on which channels. This just puts you back in the bucket of doing blind marketing and hoping it does something.

But how do you uncover your data? You put the right tools in place so you can collect it and gain insights. The best way I’ve seen this done is to connect your point of sale system with an ID scanning system to uncover not only what your sales are and your product mix, but to also identify who it is that’s making up those sales. It gives you a more accurate look at your cost per person, average cost per transaction, and the demographic that’s behind it all. And when it’s all tied back to one central system, you’re able to humanize this data so that it becomes a buyer persona to work with. Companies like Vēmos automate this process for you, and provide insight into what your data points are telling you. This helps you identify what triggers to pull to affect your objective.

3. Define marketing strategies to reach your goal.

You have your objective tied to a goal, you have data that drives insights. Now it’s time to put marketing into action. Now’s the most important time to remember the entire marketing mix and ways you can use all of it to drive results.

Sticking with the revenue objective, we often think the solution is to get more bodies in the room. But what happens when you have nights that you’re at capacity, and more people isn’t a realistic solution? That’s where other areas of the marketing mix come into play. Now it’s about getting the same people to spend more money than they already are, getting different people who will spend more money, or increasing other nights that are slower.

Looking at the entire marketing mix, you could get the same people to spend more money by slightly increasing your drink prices. Remember, price is a fourth of the marketing mix, and is one you could easily dabble in. If you discover that the majority of people order rail drinks, you could increase your price by $.50. What would this do for you? Let’s say you have 10,000 guests who order 1 rail drink. If you increase the price by $.50, you now make $5,000 more, just on that action alone. What if all 10,000 guests got upsold to a signature cocktail or a better brand that’s $2 more? Now you’ve made $20,000 more with that action.

This is just one example using one section of the marketing mix. You can create a Facebook ad that targets the specific demographic you’d prefer to have attending your venue. You could identify a need in your market for a standing Tuesday event, and create promotions around it to increase a slower night. There are many different ways to go about achieving your objective. I always suggest starting small so you can try a few different things to see what works and what doesn’t before putting a ton of money behind it. Think of it as operating in a lab: always benchmark your efforts against your goals and iterate over time.

4. Track your efforts and stay agile.

How do you know your marketing strategies are working? You track every action every step of the way. Use systems at your door to account for each guest that walks through. Use lead generation tools on your website, like a guest list, reservation form, or pre-sale ticket to collect guest information ahead of time. Look at your dashboard to see how all your data points interact together and what story it’s telling you.

Remember, data is the engine behind a successful marketing campaign. Is a certain initiative not working for you? Stop doing it. Is something making a drastic and welcome difference? Fuel it by putting more money behind it. Measurement and agility are the two most important factors in ensuring continuous success with your efforts. Without data, you’re simply guessing and wasting all the energy you spent in the first three steps.