Get Smart

Immersing yourself in the limitless digital world — Facebook, Twitter, apps, blogs, coupon sites — can feel overwhelming, especially when new social media outlets pop up almost daily. If you feel like you can barely keep your head above water, start small — as in the palm of your patrons’ hands.

Smartphones are a must-have accessory — a constant companion for the patrons at your bar or club — and if you’re not capitalizing on all of their various abilities, your business will devolve, giving more attuned bars and clubs a distinct advantage. Although going digital with your marketing often is perceived as a harrowing experience, myriad opportunities can help you master your mobile universe with ease. Remember, as long as you understand your customers and your brand, entering this social realm will be a boon rather than a burden.

Before engaging in outside mobile trends, it’s imperative you create a mobile-friendly Website for your business; regular sites aren’t built for smartphones. More and more people are using smartphones to seek out restaurants, bars and clubs in Digital marketingtheir area, mostly on a whim, and if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’ll lose potential customers.

A mobile site should highlight important information about your bar or club, such as the menu, reservations, photos or recipes.

“It doesn’t need to be too much information, but it should be services, items or specials you have right then,” explains Michael Francesconi, platform director for CityGrid, a West Hollywood, Calif.-based online-media company that connects Web and mobile publishers with local advertising organizations. “Plus, it’s going to be easier for the user. It makes it so links work better, and it’s optimizing for the size of the device.”

Mobile-optimized Web pages are an inexpensive way to put your business on the digital map. From there, you can grow your mobile database and expand your presence by using text-message and email marketing to cultivate a larger and more loyal following.

At times, these forms can seem invasive to your customers, explains David Sribnik, manager of trends and technology for MarkeTeam Inc., a Mission Viejo, Calif.-based beverage-promotions development firm.

“It’s coming right to their face, at real time, on their phone,” Sribnik says. “They see it immediately, so you have to ensure you have something of value that they don’t mind getting on their phone.”

Be inventive when it comes to text-message marketing, he advises. Make your promotions so desirable, exclusive and “one-time only” that people will drop everything to be there, meaning only text a customer when you have a “timely, pertinent and evocative” deal.

Source Code
Smartphones allow you to be engaging in other ways, as well. Last month, Gerber Groups’ Whiskey Blue in New York City introduced Quick Response (QR) codes — specific matrix barcodes readable by smartphones — to its mobile strategy. Using a smartphone camera, Whiskey Blue patrons can snap a photo of a QR code printed on the establishment’s drink coasters, which sends guests to a Whiskey Blue video on YouTube.

At that moment, guests are fully immersed in all things Whiskey Blue: They’re at Whiskey Blue, drinking a cocktail from the Whiskey Blue menu and conversing with Whiskey Blue staff members while engaging with Whiskey Blue’s brand, once again, online.

QR codes — as well as other similar types of barcodes, such as Microsoft Tags — are an important trend to implement in your marketing strategy. Creating a code is simple: Many QR-code Websites will create your tag for free. Plus, because multiple code-reading apps, such as the downloadable Microsoft Tag reader app, are available, your greatest expense comes from printing coded materials. Coasters work for Whiskey Blue, but the options are endless: table tents, napkins, posters, etc. After a tag is built, all you have to do is change its associated landing Website (a video, mobile site, Facebook page, etc.). The codes never change, remaining versatile for your marketing needs.

Essentially, codes allow customers to participate with your brand effortlessly and help create better rapport between guests and staff.

“It strikes up conversation with customers that we may not have so easily,” Whiskey Blue’s Manager Sherry Cabral explains. “It does help speed up the process and break the ice.”

When using unfamiliar technology such as QR codes, Gerber Group Public Relations Manager Celia Atassi claims working out the technical kinks and tweaking Web pages is a learning experience.

“People are impatient when it comes to this new technology,” she says.

Initially, Whiskey Blue’s QR code sent patrons to a Web page where they were asked for information to update the bar’s database; if customers submitted the required information, they were given a 10% discount toward their next visit. Although providing an incentive was smart, Atassi found it didn’t work.

“People have a short attention span, they don’t want to fill [a questionnaire] out,” Atassi explains. “The more creative you are, the better [off] you are.”

Featuring videos, mixology segments or photos are effective ways to engage customers with your brand while expanding their world beyond the perimeters of your bar.

“It sparks interest. It’s more than just coming and having a drink casually,” Cabral offers.

Social Systems
Because smartphones are such a pervasive part of our lives, social etiquette is changing. Upon being seated, patrons instinctively place their phones on the table, checking them constantly, even if they’re sharing a drink with friends. Although this can be frustrating for servers, it also can get patrons involved.

For example, TouchTunes, an interactive out-of-home entertainment network, recently introduced a free mobile app, myTouchTunes, to its members. The app identifies bars in the vicinity that feature mobile-enabled TouchTunes systems. Users inside can access their TouchTunes accounts via their smartphones and select music on the venue’s TouchTunes jukebox without having to leave the comfort of their bar stools; users purchase songs through the credit-card information associated with their TouchTunes account.

Marc Felsen, vice president of corporate marketing at TouchTunes, explains that using myTouchTunes makes selecting songs a private and intimate experience, creating a more welcoming atmosphere for your guests. This means no one can point fingers when the ’80s power ballads start playing.

The app also connects to Facebook and Foursquare, letting your friends know “where you are, what you’re doing and what songs you’re playing.” Since its launch on the iPhone in September and the Android in March, the app has been enabled in 15,000 locations.
Plus, the new app is an even bigger revelation to bar staff.

“Bartenders and bar staff are big enthusiasts of the jukebox, but they’re working and can’t always run across the room to play the next song,” Felsen notes.

Yet staff can call up the app on a smartphone and choose a song at any time, no matter where they are in the establishment.

NTN Buzztime, a company that develops and distributes interactive gaming entertainment, recently launched an app for the iPhone and Android. For avid gamers, the Buzztime app is free to download and features a GPS device that finds locations equipped with Buzztime systems. Once inside a Buzztime-enabled bar or club, patrons choose the game they want to play, and questions appear on the establishment’s TV screen while answers pop up on a player’s smartphone.

“Bars and restaurants were encouraging us to supply a smartphone application,” because they often run out of playmakers, Michelle Hincks, vice president of operations marketing at NTN Buzztime, says. With the app, patrons with smartphones also can play. From a marketing perspective, this type of app is a coup for your business. Guests will stay longer and spend more money on drinks and food if they’re playing games.

“It’s about keeping people in their seats and spending more,” Hincks explains.

Because these kinds of apps are becoming more ubiquitous, smartphones are transforming the way staff interacts with guests. As technology evolves and more nuanced gadgets are developed, marketing and promotional opportunities increase: You can add QR codes to your jukebox, use QR codes to profile direct advertising, or have customers show their downloaded music or gaming app and receive a discount.

Any change in strategy can seem like a risky maneuver in an ever-changing digital landscape. One hesitation or misstep can trigger a setback. Yet, excitement over these new marketing devices should outweigh the danger.

“One of the cool things about mobile marketing technology is that everything ties together really well,” Sribnik explains.

If you’re creative and patient with these new technologies, guests will jump on board and your investment in the digital world will pay off. NCB

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