Your bar might be called a tavern, lounge, gastropub, nightclub, gin mill, dive or other synonym for a place that serves alcohol. Regardless of name, your bar is a place where people gather to socialize, drink, dance and even find romance. Unfortunately, the classic bar now competes with upscale hotel lounges, raves, restaurants, pop-up nightclubs and privately hosted parties. If you want to attract, engage and keep customers today, change the way you advertise and promote your business to embrace mobile marketing, social media and digitally savvy promotions.
Focus on Your Audience
Bars survive on returning customers, so your promotions must appeal to your core customers and newcomers who appreciate the kind of operation you’re running. Hospitality is a service industry, but owners and managers often mistakenly target people who are out of their leagues. Your neighborhood bar probably won’t appeal to multimillionaire entrepreneurs unless they’re local eccentrics. By the same token, local factory workers aren’t likely to respond to upscale promotions that feature drinks made from pricey, top-shelf liquors and exotic ingredients.
If you’re targeting corporate crowds, your marketing strategy might focus on menu-driven promotions, social media-promoted meet-and-greets, theme nights, wine tastings and games that attract a range of business customers including those who might not want to drink but want to network with friends and associates.
Define Your Goals
Holding promotions with just a general sense of increasing business is a recipe for failure. You need to set some measurable goals to make bar promotions worthwhile. What do you want to achieve? The answers to that question might include the following goals:
- Creating buzz among the members of targeted groups — corporate types, hipsters, club kids, neighborhood sports fans and other demographic targets
- Topping what your competitors are doing
- Getting people to arrive earlier leave later
- Convincing people to spend more money on food or branded spirits
- Celebrating occasions and milestones at your bar
- Fostering a lively, convivial atmosphere
- Giving customers a way to give back to the community
- Introducing new drinks, foods or entertainment options
Once you define your goals, you’re ready to assess marketing ideas based on whether they can accomplish the goals that you want to reach while remaining affordable and doable.
Get Ideas from Customers
Your existing customers are your best resource when planning promotions, so ask your best customers for promotional ideas that they’d enjoy. If you have a neighborhood bar, your customers might enjoy a budget beer night or gaming tournament. Depending on your customers, you might host a pool tournament, trivia contest or social media game, such as a scavenger hunt or treasure quest.
Attract the Foursquare Crowd
Foursquare is challenging Yelp’s supremacy as the leading social application for the hospitality industry. Engaging Foursquare members is particularly effective for bars. The platform’s typical demographic profile includes college-educated, media-savvy young people who actively engage their friends and invite them to meet in nightspots to see and be seen. Getting reviews and photos posted on Foursquare can provide steady bar business.
Another way to excite and engage your regular customers and attract new business from the social media is to feature a celebrity bartender. The celeb can be a sports figure, author, actor, news anchor, famous chef, national figure or person of local fame. Featuring celebrity bartenders is a great way to jumpstart your marketing across all advertising channels.
If you want to reach larger audiences and compete with bigger bars and nightclubs, using marketing automation is a great way to connect. A social media campaign can include attention-getting hashtags, provide discounts for intimate gatherings and promote drink and food specials that keep people returning regularly.
Sports Marketing Ideas for Your Bar
Sports marketing ideas for your bar include supporting local professional, college and even high school team teams and alumni. Athletes strive to set new records of performance, so try these promotional ideas to set records of your own:
- Name drinks and beverages after athletes.
- Host replays of classic games during slow periods when local teams aren’t competing.
- Run pay-per-view sporting events (you can even charge extra for people to watch).
- Host live events where athletes appear and hang out with your customers.
- Decorate the bar in team colors.
- Use clothing with team logos as a reward in sports trivia or prediction contests.
- Offer drink and food specials during classic athletic rivalries and playoff games.
Social Media and Bar Games
Video games attract large followings, and you can host video game nights to capitalize on this trend. Other social media and bar games that can attract customers include:
- Classic tournaments like pinball, video games, darts, board games and 8-ball
- Hosting karaoke, bingo or trivia contests
- Interactive social media games
- Poker nights
- Dancing games and contests
- Encouraging vintage dress for throwback nights
Bouncebacks and Beer Specials
Bouncebacks are a routine way to get bar customers to return. You can use digital marketing methods to automate bouncebacks for newcomers and provide rewards for regular customers. Depending on your prices, you might offer a voucher for $5, $10 or even $20 on the customer’s next visit. You can restrict vouchers to food or beverages if you want. You might also offer a special based on a signature cocktail that’s only available for a limited time.
Beer specials attract a wide following, and you can craft your promotion based on your customers. Host a craft beer tasting, or promote a “skunk beer” special for common domestic brands. Offer your customers beers from around the world. You can also hold wine tastings, birthday bashes and other special events where the focus is on beer, wine or creative cocktails. Host a contest for creating and naming a signature cocktail.
Fishbowl recently reported that hospitality companies are missing a big opportunity by failing to take advantage of BOGO promotions. Bar owners can offer buy-one-and-get-one-free promotions for signature beverages, gourmet food items or even merchandise that supports local sports teams or causes. They also reported that hospitality marketers typically offer free incentives to 49 percent of their clients while only offering BOGO deals to less than 3 percent of customers. That discrepancy in incentive offers generates a big opportunity for bars and restaurants.
Don’t Ignore Simple but Effective Promotions
Classic bar promotions like hosting ladies’ or singles’ nights, providing BOGO incentives, offering live entertainment, hiring a DJ, holding a dance contest, awarding drink tokens and broadcasting athletic contests never go out of style. Any simple promotion that keeps people returning is worthwhile, and you can take any promotion to the next level by using modern marketing tools,
Simple bar marketing strategies have long proven their worth — 8-ball, bumper pool and dart tournaments come to mind — but digital marketing helps you reach your targeted customers more efficiently and keeps them engaged. Whether you’re promoting beverages, culinary events, social games, contests or community events, stay connected with your loyal regulars and try to reach people who share your bar’s concept.
It’s all about establishing a unique identity and providing the types of promotions that resonate with your core customers. You can change the game in your favor without changing the simple attractions that keep people returning to bars for companionship, celebrations and good times. New Orleans residents say it best with the phrase “laissez le bon temps rouler” or “let the good times roll.”