Monday, August 23, 2010

Promoting Nightlife (and Other Businesses)

Last Saturday was my first real outing in NYC. I moved to DC before I turned 21, and every time I’ve visited since then I came for specific events. This time my plans fell through and I found some friends who were just hanging out in Greenwich Village (Bleecker Street area, to be precise).

By the time I met with my friends, they got out of a concert where a band they know had played and were deciding where to continue drinking. Turns out, it’s common for New York bars to have a live band and to charge an entrance fee. As we walked down the street, looking for the next place to hit, every doorman/promoter would say, “Yeah, we got cover but it’s a live band and they’re good”. You know, it’s marketing 101: you must differentiate yourself from competition otherwise the market becomes commoditized (i.e. lowest price wins customers).

Music is a matter of taste, and even if I like blues I will not go to any blues joint to listen to a random performer unless I know that either the performer is good or the venue has only good performers. Notice that both of the reasons require some existing intent to attend a live performance. However, if people want to do something else (aka get wasted) they could care less about the music. That’s still marketing 101: know your target market & adjust the message for the audience.

So what can these venues do in order to meet their targets on sales & filled seats? Here are some strategy examples (in no particular order) that require hard work but they bring huge returns:

  • Create & maintain a reputation. It doesn’t matter whether you are the place with the largest whisky selection, cheapest beers, best music, sophisticated crowd, or naked bartenders as long as you are unique. When you are known for something that draws people, you don’t have to make much effort to bring new customers from the street – word of mouth will do it for you as long as have that gem.
  • Delegate promotion to someone capable. Unless you have PR access to major outlets or your own Rolodex you won’t be able to reach many people. Instead, you can invite a performer with a large following or hire a promoter with a large contact list. If you so desire to do it yourself, the best ways to compensate is to run paid ads on any platform with demographic targeting or to do search engine marketing (aka paid search results).
  • If you do charge a cover fee, make sure to give something in return. Going out is expensive already in drinks, food, and transportation. Although a cover fee seems logical from the business perspective, it adds to the cost & prevents people from coming and spending the rest of their budget. The only way to justify it is to offer some additional benefits, such as lower prices, better entertainment, or anything else of value to your target visitors.
  • Know the public & adjust your message hourly. This is basic marketing. You can’t be selling shampoo to a bald guy. In the beginning of the night, it’s OK to advertise your live performance. As the time progresses, people’s needs & wants change. They become thirsty, hungry, or in need of the toilet. If you know the public, you can manipulate them easily. You are there every day as it is, so take advantage of that.

The funny thing is that these strategies are the same for all kinds of businesses. The difference is only in the execution because different target markets use different communication channels. So find those channels by talking to your existing customers & good luck brining the new ones!

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