Imagine you had infinite resources to market a bar. What would you do? Blanket the market with ads? Hire Bruno Mars as your house band? Give away drinks all night long?
Thing is, even if the beer is free (your liquor liability policy issuer will love to hear that), someone’s got to let people know. How about hiring legions of people to go out and bring their friends to the bar?
In the real world of finite resources, the question is how to maximize the time and money you spend on marketing. Ideally, you need to get those legions of people promoting you without paying them. You need word of mouth.
A McKinsey report says word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions. And you don’t need the McKinsey consultants to know it’s true. You buy whatever sauce the cook thinks is good. You buy the drill your dad says is right. You go to that bar because your friend takes you.
But how does one friend say to another, let’s check out…. And how do you get your bar at the end of that sentence?
There are three avenues to increase word of mouth:
- Your customers
- Your employees
- Influencers. Influencers are trendsetters. Think Yelp reviewer, the drinking/dining columnist in your local paper, or even the friend who cares deeply about which places are good.
How about advertising? It’s less impactful and it costs more than good word of mouth. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Advertising allows you to both heighten the impact of your current customers and unlock new revenue sources. We’ll get to it after word of mouth.
This article focuses on promotions, but none of the following will matter if your bar isn’t a fun place to be or you have a bad location. Before you worry about anything below, make sure people love being at your place.
Word Of Mouth And Your Customers
Word of mouth starts with the customers in the bar. Treat them right and they’ll come back and bring a friend.
Andrew Jaffee is the proprietor at SportsTV Guide. His experiences include running a fine dining restaurant and a 20,000-square-foot sports bar. Regarding your customers, he believes, “80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. So if you are smart and care for your regulars, they will help you build your business. You use them as a resource. And there’s a lot of ways to do it.”
One great way is with social media. If it’s Facebook, give your customers a drink for liking your page or posting a picture of themselves at your bar. Then give people an incentive to share your posts so that their friends will see them.
Andrew continues, “Discounting is my least favorite way to market. Ask them to refer people. Ask them to spread the word. Ask them to give positive reviews on Yelp. You’re already talking to them. They’re in the building. They’re your friends. They like you. They feel good about your place. They come all the time. So they’re the most important resource you have because when they say, ‘I love Jerry’s Juke Joint. It’s the best. I go there three times a month. It’s my favorite place. He’s got this. He’s got that. I gotta go back every chance I get.’ People take that to heart.”
Nick Fosberg has two bars in the Chicagoland area and is the founder of Bar Owner Marketing Systems. He says, “The No. 1 most valuable asset that bar owners could ever have is a list of customers’ contact information. This is a very old-school technique.” The idea is that you reach out to the people on that list and convince them to come back, but Nick cautions, “Where most restaurant/bar owners go wrong with this is they don’t have a valuable offer, they don’t have a lead magnet that gets someone to say, ‘I want to do this.’”
Nick continues, “The other mistake is that they don’t build relationships with their customers consistently. What I do is we have a whole 90-day new customer to loyal customer marketing funnel where they’re getting one letter every 30 days for the next three months. They’re very personalized letters with another offer trying to get them back in the door. That’s where we start to build a relationship with a new customer to stand out from everybody else.”
Three promotions that Nick loves are prize giveaways, league events, and charity functions. You can read even more of his thoughts here.
Word Of Mouth And Your Employees
Andrew Jaffee discussed two ways your staff can help you create positive word of mouth.
He says, “With my staff members, especially key people, I give them business cards. It says the name of the bar and the name of the staff person. That might just be a first name, not a phone number because we’re not trying to put them in an awkward position. Just identifying them as being a part of the restaurant. I say to them when you’re out and you see a good looking person–doesn’t matter male or female, good looking people make places more successful–you hand them a card and say ‘Hey, I’m there on Tuesdays, come on and see me. I’ll buy you a drink or I’ll buy you an appetizer.’”
“That’s a way to use your staff to market your business. It’s extremely inexpensive. It’s also prestige points. You’re saying to your staff members you’re the most important people in this business. You’re the ones who are interacting with the customer. Who better to help us build the business than you? You empower them. You connect them to new business.”
Andrew also said it’s great if the staff is posting about your bar on social media. It’s a win-win. The staff will get more tips and you’ll get more business. He explains, “A typical restaurant probably has 20 employees. Those 20 employees probably each have 300 to 400 friends. 20 employees, 400 friends, that’s 8000 people. Everybody take out your phones during pre-shift. Post the specials. Great job! You want to work here you’ve got to participate. You’ve got to help us. You could email your staff a suggested post. Please post this today.”
Word Of Mouth And Influencers a.k.a. Trendsetters
Influencers figure out what’s good and then share that information for the simple pleasure of letting others know what’s good and what’s bad. In most cases, there are a few influencers pushing many people to go to or avoid your bar. Sure would be nice to have them on your side, right?
Let’s check out some influencers in action. Imagine you’ve just moved to Chicago and you’re looking for a good sports bar. You go to Yelp, zoom into your zip code, and start reading reviews. Here are two real ones:
Both of those are written by people who write a lot of reviews on Yelp. I’ll probably go to the first if I’m an NYC fan, the second if I have a dog. But how about the owners of these bars? What happens after you read an ad?
First up is to engage reviewers–especially the bad ones. Read that second review again. It’s so close to a five star review. The bar is dog friendly. The servers are nice. The beer selection was good. Just slow service on a hot day.
Here’s a helpful video from Yelp about how to engage reviewers.
Engaging reviewers is the first thing you can do. The second is to understand what matters to influencers in your segment. Reading the reviews above we get a pretty good idea about what Chicago sport bar reviewers like. But we can dig deeper. For instance, let’s say you have a sports bar in Seattle. What do you think matters most to people? I looked at the first three reviews for 30 sports bars in Seattle and counted how often various things were mentioned.
Bar Marketing Example: Sports Bars in Seattle
What do Yelp reviewers mention most?
Data from 30 Yelp Reviews of 10 Sports Bars in Seattle, Wa
So, if you have to fix one thing about your place in Seattle, best to start with your atmosphere. Whatever the data, leverage that knowledge to make your place a place influencers will love.
The third way to get influencers on your side is to stay on top of or even ahead of trends. Yelp gives you an interesting tool for that as well. You can see the popularity of search terms over the years if you go to yelp.com/trends. This chart might give San Francisco bar owners an idea about which beers to showcase.
The final way to understand what matters to influencers is to reach out to them. This section has focused on Yelp, but ask your customers and check out what bloggers have to say too. Learn where they see you in the grand scheme of the bar scene.
After you understand what’s important, get better at the things that matter most and advertise the important things you do well.
4 Important Tips for Bar Advertising
Here are four important tips for bar advertising:
1. Advertising won’t work if your fundamentals aren’t strong.
Before diving into advertising, take a beat and remember that advertising isn’t your first step. Andrew emphasizes that, “You get into media when you’ve built a really solid base and you’re trying to do something even more exciting. OK, we’ve never done live music before, I want to start live music, now we’re going to start to use some of this other media to reach out to people we wouldn’t be able to reach through our core customers.”
When your fundamentals are good, advertising can increase the impact of your current customers and get you new customers.
2. Think about your goals and message first.
Let’s say you have a new beer on tap that you’re motivated to sell. Take ten seconds to think about your strategy.
You were thinking about what you were going to tell the customers about that beer. Maybe you’d tell them the price is great. Maybe you’d tell them about the great taste.
What you weren’t thinking about is how you were going to tell people your message. You might put signs up around the bar or encourage your bartenders to push the new beer. Anything is OK as long as you get the message right.
That’s advertising a beer in a bar. Same idea goes for advertising a bar in a city. Everything works and the more the better. Advertising matters because you’re communicating with a wide swath of customers and potential customers at once. If you say the right thing, it’ll bring people through the door whether you say it on Facebook or the radio.
Andrew explains that you have three choices to make. First, you choose between segment marketing (e.g. lunch sales), community marketing (e.g. increasing your connection with families), and new initiative marketing (e.g. live music). Then you choose to go after new customers, to get your regulars coming in more, or to get your regulars to spend more. Only then do you choose your method: referral marketing, traditional media, or social media.
Step 1: Choose Your Impact Area
|Segment Marketing||Community Marketing||New Initiative Marketing|
Step 2: Choose Your Goal
|New Customers||Customers Come More||Customers Spend More|
Step 3: Choose Your Method
|Referral Marketing||Traditional Media||Social Media|
For example, you might decide you want to (1) increase lunch sales, by (2) bringing in new customers. Or you might decide you want to (1) start bringing in bands and thereby (2) get your customers to come more.
Only after those steps should you decide between referral marketing, traditional media, and social media.
3. Choose Your Marketing Message Carefully
There are numerous ways to approach choosing a message.
One model to consider when choosing your message is called The Hierarchy of Effects. It suggests that consumers go through stages before buying a product or service. (Or actively choosing to go to your bar.) These are: awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction, and purchase.
It means that people need to first be aware of you before they can know you. They have to know you before they can like you. They have to like you before they prefer you, before they have a conviction about you, before they’ll actively go buy your beers.
Depending on your goals, your advertising should be different. So if you want to increase your lunch sales with new customers, you need to figure out why they aren’t coming now. Your reviews online and current customers can help you figure that out. Let’s say the problem is that people like you, but they’re not actively choosing you.
Problem: People have fun at your bar and you’ve got a lot of Facebook likes, but you’re not seeing an impact on lunch sales.
Goal: Get people to prefer you to the competition.
Solution: Facebook ads announcing a special lunch event that are targeted at people who’ve liked your page.
Or let’s say you want to bring in a band to get your customers to come to your bar more.
Problem: Your clientele often stays home or goes to a movie instead of visiting you.
Goal: Develop a conviction amongst your clientele that you’re the best choice for their night.
Solution: Direct email campaign offering a great time with live music.
Those problems and goals might not be yours, the takeaway here is to first consider your problems and goals.
4. Make the best use of the marketing medium you choose
Experts and bar owners alike argue over which medium is best, but which is best for you really depends on your bar clientele and budget. Before spending loads of cash on tv, radio, or print ads, be sure that you’re maximizing lower-cost methods, like your Bar POS loyalty program and social marketing. Then you can look at more costly options.
Andrew has decades of experience in the bar industry and says, “TV is still the best method of getting people to come to your place.” For radio, he says, “I still think radio has a place if you have captive audiences. It becomes expensive if you’re trying to get prime time stuff, but there are really smart ways to buy radio that most people don’t even realize.”
Nick Fosberg is successful in Rockford, IL and swears by Facebook ads. He says, “The only thing I use is Facebook. The reason for it is you get a higher ROI with Facebook. There are more people on Facebook. When it comes down to making money with social media, Facebook ads is where it’s at. It’s by far the most profitable, reliable way to make money as far as advertising goes because of the targeting features and everything else that you can do with it.”
If you’ve considered your goals and message carefully, you can be successful with a variety of methods. Whatever you choose, study up to make sure you’re using it well. If you’re using Facebook ads, make sure you’re targeting people well. If you’re using radio, make sure you’re getting the right time slot.
How To Market A Bar Takeaways
- Marketing a bar begins with having a great place.
- The best marketing is word of mouth.
- Word of mouth can be spread through customers, employees, and influencers.
- Use advertising to expand your customer base, get your current customers to visit more, or get your current customers to spend more.
- Good advertising starts by defining your goals and message.
- Various media can get the job done. Just use your choice well.
Additional Bar Marketing Resources
Andrew Jaffee is the proprietor at SportsTV Guide where he helps nearly 5000 bars and restaurants keep up with everything they need to know in the sports world. His Sports Bar Marketing Exchange is full of great resources for bar owners.
Nick Fosberg is a bar owner and the founder of Bar Owner Marketing Systems. He offers wonderful and free information and case studies on how to get new paying customers into your bar.
The blog at Buzztime has hundreds of useful articles for bar owners.