Marketing and promoting your nightclub or bar can be tricky. Especially when you've got a budget to keep in mind. Let Cluboid guide you through the top techniques to nailing your promotions and bringing in more customers this weekend.
If I’m honest, it’s probably my least favourite thing about running a bar, but it’s a necessary evil.
In an ideal world just running somewhere awesome would be enough of an incentive to get bums on seats, but as tends to be the case with life, things aren’t that straightforward.
I’ve found that the trick to marketing is to only (only - that’s the important bit) focus your energy on proven practices that have demonstrable return.
Of course marketing feels like a chore if you’re exerting massive effort and getting minuscule results. That seems like a terrible trade, right? It’s very unlikely you’d accept that in any other business exchange.
‘Here take all of my time and money, and give me absolutely nothing back,’ said no one ever.
So then, what qualifies as a ‘proven practise’?
I wanted to share with you 10 basic marketing ideas that made a huuuge impact on our booking and reservation numbers. The ‘demonstrable return’ bit is where I come in...
I cannot stress this one enough.
If you’re a small time bar, don’t seem it. It’s a bit like they say to ‘dress for the job you want, not the job that you have.’ Having a fake it til you make it attitude will only accelerate your growth.
If your bar or nightclub’s customer facing icon is sub-par, you will always be regarded as small time, and will find it difficult to expand your market. 90% of all information transmitted to the brain is visual so this is your opportunity to make a positive impression.
Look at this way, where would you prefer to go for a bunch of flowers for a gift?
Knowing where to invest your marketing budget is the first hurdle, and a professional graphic is not something you’ll be doing yourself any favours by skimping on.
A professional finish will legitimise your brand.
If your logo says ‘we couldn’t be bothered’, then that doesn’t say much for what you offer in the way of customer service.
Rebranding also gives you a great opportunity to do some customer outreach without looking spammy. We actually used the release of our new image to push the sale of new merchandise. T-shirts, hoodies, hats, keychains…
Anything that would continue to generate exposure for us.
Market studies show that men account for almost 81% of revenue produced in a venue, and it might sound pretty archaic but the fact still stands: where girls go, guys follow.
(I put this down to females generally being a little bit more vocal on social media about what they’re up to/where they’re going. Guys see this as social proofing, and follow suit.)
We noticed this trend so thought we’d see how effective taking advantage of it was.
Turns out, very.
For the purpose of sales, we went about tailoring a significant chunk of our marketing around specifically getting females through the door.
We started with the standard ‘free entry before 11pm’ and then gradually upped our game to ‘best dress’ contests, ‘ladies drink for free’ promotions and special incentives or discounts on drinks that polled well with our female followers on Twitter:
I would often chose to leave off ‘other’ as an option in these kinds of things, because people love to speak up when they’re an anomaly.
(i.e. If their favourite drink wasn’t mentioned, that just gave them more of an excuse to engage with us!)
By making ourselves somewhere that the ladies felt the need to tweet about, we were able to let one aspect of our marketing take care of itself.
Ladies were @-ing and hashtagging us all over the place, and we found that user generated content massively went up.
Not only that, but by targeting a group that males looked to for social proof we were able to lure in both males and females.
Similarly, influencers are fantastic PR.
Most people assume you need an A-lister to make any decent waves, but we actually found the effects were just as rewarding for smaller, more approachable names.
Perhaps because it’s more intimate, or because people assumed less people would turn up.
So, when we booked Spencer Matthews and Jamie Laing from Made in Chelsea, girls across the land went a bit mental:
We shelled out a bit for the privilege, of course, but we managed to keep it within reason when considering how much value the appearance would bring to the bar.
What was great about this was that the photos from the night then got retweeted a bunch of times, which saw our social reach go much much further.
It also meant we were able to get our name into a local newspaper, so in actuality, the appearance completely paid for itself in advertising.
If you’re a nightclub, you might even consider informing the press of the appearance beforehand so the paparazzi can get their notorious ‘taxi shot’ attending your event.
Twitter polls are a God send.
We used them to gauge interest before we invested in a big event.
This prevented us from running away with an idea before we established if anyone would come or not. This way, you’re letting people tell you what they want and not the other way around.
This played a massive part in saving time and resources marketing-wise, because we only ever invested energy into events and promotions that we could prove there was a market for.
We obviously did the leg work in the beginning by assessing which event themes were doable (factoring in the price of props, decorations, marketing materials, entertainment etc.)
Then we’d just put the top ones to a vote:
We made sure that people felt incentivised to vote by offering free merch and drinks tokens to lucky voters to be announced on the night.
That way they had even more invested, and were more likely to buy a ticket to the event itself.
In marketing, reciprocity is key. There is no such thing as a free lunch, so if you want return you must always consider it an exchange for mutual benefit.
Always broach things with reciprocity in mind.
As I’ve mentioned, merchandise is a great promotional tool.
We found the most success in sticking our logo onto items that were in high demand in certain seasons.
For example, in summer we’d push sunglasses and baseball caps. No one likes to sit in a beer garden with the sun in their eyes, right?
By keeping them at the bar people would often fork out for a pair of shades or a hat as a temporary measure, and then continue to wear them because they looked cool (again, a job for a professional!)
Winter and Fall were more about beanie hats and sweatshirts.
We kept a constant supply of the middle of the line stuff around (T-shirts, keychains etc.) but made the effort to have ‘seasonal stock’ on display.
It helped to keep the display fresh and changeable which meant people noticed it more.
More people noticed it, more people put their hands in their pockets.
It’s easy to assume that the bigger, more flashy venues have the upper hand purely because of the amount of money they can throw at an event, but what you should really be focusing on is originality.
Our most profitable nights were always the ones that we had some top notch entertainment lined up.
We never managed to throw a Kanye gig, but we did always strive for creative and unique entertainment. (We’ll get into some of our favourite themed nights a bit later!)
Obscure games tournaments, comedy showcases, swing bands, open-mics, wine/whisky/liquor tastings, themed karaoke, movie marathons...
The best bit? Most of these didn’t even require any seed money - just a bit of planning and sometimes outreach.
We often got in touch with local colleges to see if we could collaborate or host any projects, too.
We’d offer them the back portion of the bar and they would bring tonnes of friends and family along. That way we weren’t losing business by closing up shop, but we were upping bar sales significantly.
There is so much untapped potential in sourcing local, up-and-coming entertainment.
Our space was used for things like EP launches, fashion showcases, photography/art exhibitions and comedy festival previews by night, and writers workshops or acting master-classes by day.
It made the bar look absolutely packed out, and generated a fantastic buzz.
The bar/nightlife circuit is saturated with DJs, so take the opportunity to market something truly original.
Trust me, people will be intrigued and come along - even if just for the novelty.
Probably the biggest marketing tip I could offer you.
We decided to pinch the Starbucks idea and ask people their name when they placed an order.
It’s an unusual practise for a bar, so people would usually ask ‘why?’ or ‘what’s that about?’
It sounds so simple, but it often turned a simple transaction into a short conversation, which really helped myself and the rest of the bartenders pin a face to a name and get to know some of our customers.
I found it also really loosened people up, and they began to look much more at home. This also meant it was much easier to get to chatting about events we had in the pipeline.
‘Do you sing, John? I bet you’ve got some pipes in there. You know karaoke’s on Thursday, right?’
People felt personally invited to things. Because they were.
This really helped carve our social media personality too. Because we also took that approach online. We encouraged people to engage with us as if we weren’t a business, but a friend:
Many nightclubs and bars don’t take the time to get to know their customers any more, and that’s just the attitude that makes people feel like you won’t notice if they’re there or not. If there’s no relationship with your brand there is no loyalty to it. Simple as that.
In the bar biz, social media is a must. Most people know that much.
But what people don’t always consider is that the quality of what they’re sharing is equally important. A picture or video gives potential customers an insight into the kind of experience they would have if they came along to your bar.
From solely seeing a photo, they’ll either feel like they’re missing out, or that they’re glad they stayed home.
So when I see smaller bars uploading pixelated rubbish directly from a mobile, I just despair.
You wouldn’t allow a meal out of the kitchen looking a right mess, so why would you allow shoddy photography to represent you?
It’s just quality-control. Which one of these makes you feel like you missed out?
Similar to what I said about a logo, some things just require the professional touch.
A photographer’s job is to make things look good, so you’re only doing yourself a disservice by allowing bad photography on your social feed.
Spend out a little and pay for a proper photographer or videographer.
We found that recruiting a professional massively increased the likelihood of our images being shared, tagged, reblogged and commented on, which then drew far more people back to our page.
Most people assume all marketing is outward. Sending emails, handing out flyers, tweeting...
That ignores one massive marketing opportunity, though.
By this we mean taking information from your customers so you’re able to send them appropriate promotional content, analyse trends, better cater to your customers’ needs etc.
I found that the trick to getting data without rubbing people up the wrong way was to be brief and fun. If it feels too much like admin then you just end up pestering people.
Initially we began offering printable vouchers and discounts to those that signed up to our mailing list, which worked to a certain extent, but not overwhelmingly.
We then started using a ‘data collection girl’ (you could just as easily use a guy, of course) to get out on the floor and take down some info using a specialised application for competitions:
Just the vital stuff though. Their name, email, mobile number, and date of birth…
Ask for much more and often people to clam up completely because it feels a bit intrusive.
Data collection provided us with tonnes more people to market to, and therefore helped us secure returned custom.
The next logical step to data collection - putting it to good use.
We would then use the collected data to construct epic SMS and email campaigns which would address each customer by name, reference an upcoming birthday or if we were having a promotion on their favourite drink.
Something a little like this…
As the emails were always customer appropriate, open rates were high and never compromised the personal approach we worked so hard to cultivate- but we could still send them out in bulk.
Each one would also include our contact details, and a call to action like ‘Give it a go now!’ or ‘Book here’ so they knew exactly what they needed to do next.
We would send these out 2-4 times a month, in order to stay in the forefront of the customer’s memory.
Just a little ‘remember us?’ that would offer them a personalised incentive to come back to us.*
(*We’d use Mailchimp to monitor how many people clicked through from our marketing emails, and turns out about 40% of the time - they did!)
Marketing also hugely comes down to engagement.
Making the most of certain social media features that did a lot of the heavy lifting for us meant we were able to reach out to more people, and maximise the bar’s exposure.
That then meant that even more people came across our site, and more people clicked that ‘book’ button.
Here are the 5 aspects of social media that helped us do just that:
We’d be updating our feeds around twice a day... minimum.
Tweets, posts, and pictures make a quick impression and are then forgotten about, so to be seen you have to be aggressive with your numbers.
Click-throughs are much higher at given times of day on different medias, so for maximum impact, we’d always make sure to post between 1-3pm on Facebook, 5-6pm on Twitter and 3-4pm on Instagram.
Personally I’m a huge HootSuite fan, but other apps like Buffer and Tweetdeck are also a great help for organising posts, and working on a proper social media strategy.
I used to hate having to sit with phone in hand, waiting to drop a post so scheduling meant I was able to do it all in one hit and get on with other tasks.
Every day I’d do a quick sweep of what people were saying about us and our competitors.
(Both mentions and keyword searches so I’d still find comments that hadn’t specifically @-ed anybody.)
This meant that I could do damage control if necessary.
It also meant I could redirect business from people that were venting about bad experiences elsewhere.
Sometimes they’d be slating a place saying ‘there are no vegan options’, so I’d quickly jump in and tell them that we have lots.
Sometimes they’d be voicing that they couldn’t find any alternative entertainment nearby, so I’d link them to a FB event of ours that they might enjoy.
In essence, I did everything I could to be the venue that filled the niches, jumping in at opportunities other places had missed.
A lot of loyalty is generated from direct engagement with your customers - and I’m not talking just about when they ask you questions.
We were aiming to spend at least half an hour reaching out to potential customers every day, as well as responding to any incoming messages, comments or mentions within the hour. No excuses.
‘Analytics’ as a word sounds pretty intimidating, especially if you’re not a big tech-user.
But every bit of content you put out is gathering data. You can either use it to grow, or ignore it and stay where you are.
Twitter actually lets you check your engagement rates directly under each tweet itself, so you can see exactly how many people clicked on them, how many people looked at your page because of that tweet- everything!
Once you know what you’re writing that people are responding to, you can do more of it!
Try these ideas on for size - they’ve all gone down a treat!
We asked guests to arrive in ball gowns and tuxes, hired a photographer and covered the entrance in red carpet. We then handed out trophies to the best dressed over the course of the evening.
UV Paint party
This one is super cheap - we managed to do it just by hooking up a few rented UV lamps and bulk ordering a load of washable UV paint.
A classic: discounted drinks to those with student IDs. Sure, they’re a rowdy crowd, but it certainly gave the place a buzz and even lead us to booking a few private parties.
I loved this one because it meant hardly any washing up. We asked our customers to arrive with their favourite standard issue mug, and said they if they did, they could have discounted refills for the night. Everyone was tweeting us pictures of their mugs beforehand, it was hilarious.
Beer pong/Flip Cup tournaments
We’d have everyone chip in a dollar to play, and winner takes all.
Usually we’d stipulate that the winner of the winning Flip Cup team was decided by Beer Pong death match - you can do any variation of the games though. All we needed to do was set up a rental tennis table. People loved it, and the bar return more than covered the rental fee.
Pre-dinners gave us the opportunity to get to chatting with our customers and encourage them to stick around for the evening. This obviously only really works for bars that have a kitchen - if not, you can’t go too wrong with ‘Happy Hour’!
We’d always run special drinks deals and food menus for big games and fights so people knew we took them seriously. We’d then screen the game/match on our big projector and throw a massive party afterwards.
Traffic light party
Traditional, but a load of fun. People wear a colour to signal if they’re single and looking, taken or on the fence - then mingle. You can buy buttons, but we found that red, green and orange stickers worked just as well, and only cost a few bucks. We’d leave them in a bowl at the door, and set up parts of the bar in the colour schemes for a bit of added fun. It was also an awesome opportunity to play around with our drinks menu.
21st century speed dating. Everyone signs in and sets their parameter to 0km and live matches with people at the bar. This was great as it meant that people would come to our Facebook page the morning after to look for people they met that night.
All things 80’s, music, outfits, dance moves. We’d set up karaoke and Wii ‘Just Dance 80s’ to get people in the spirit. People want to get involved, but are often a bit self-conscious so if you can make the atmosphere silly then people really start to loosen up. We’d also rename our cocktails after 80s icons for the night.
Again, channel everything from this era. Spice Girls, Platform Shoes, Lollipops, Dance Mats… We found this brought a completely different demographic to the 80s night, so provided us with lots of new people to get on side.
Colourful decorations and activities. We’d print a list of challenges and leave them on the tables, and each task would earn them a set of beads from a particular bartender. At the end of the night, they’d hand their beads in to be counted. The top 10 made our leaderboard, top 5 got a free drink, and the winner received a $50 drinks voucher. Since the beads had to be exchanged for points, we managed to get them all back to use again the following year.
We ordered a load of soft pillows, marshmallows and slumber party treats and told everyone to join us for a pyjama party. A home away from home.
Crazy hat party
Trust me, you’ll want to do this if only for the photos. All attendees must wear a crazy hat for the duration of the evening. Just because it’s funny, really! We actually rented a photo booth for the night for this one - but that’s not a deal-breaker.
No need to explain this one! Happy Hour lets you get people in early to have some proper facetime with you. We’d market it more like ‘pre-drinks’, so it sounded more casual hangout with buddies than an event.
All staff raided their garages for every inflatable they had, and we threw a huge spring break blowout. We said swimwear was ‘optional’, but were always surprised to see how many people would go for it! It’s a perfect one for the warm evenings.
A college favourite, and perfect for plugging a new wine because it’s so on theme. Hand out ivy garlands and encourage your guests to do as the Romans do!
We used to love to collaborate, as we mentioned! We’d grab every opportunity to show off just how great the bar was, so charity nights were a great opportunity to raise money for a noble cause and introduce the space to new people.