Marketing to the Nth Degree

By inviting patrons to take ownership in a club’s brand and sharing that brand with a pool of fans and followers numbering more than one hundred million worldwide, social networking makes it possible for operators to target and engage vast numbers of prime club goers, 24/7, practically free of charge.

Almost overnight, Web-2.0-enhanced sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have become critical components of broad-based club marketing strategies designed to build brand awareness, generate excitement and drive traffic around a venue’s weekly promotional line-up.

Social networking forums constitute just one element of the marketing strategy for Crobar Chicago, a 2009 Top 100 venue. Marketing director Gustavo Espinosa continues to explore the ever-expanding Web-wired platforms, not only to identify new opportunities to reach regular and potential patrons, but also to remain relevant.

“It is so current and so active,” Espinosa says. “It’s not like you have a phone list or a database that is outdated. These people are present and at attention, and they are being updated constantly.”

To track the effectiveness of the marketing initiative, Crobar’s door personnel ask entering patrons how they heard about the event; notes on their answers go into a report Espinosa reviews each Monday. Out of 1,200 to 1,500 visitors per night, Espinosa says that on average one to three percent of guests found out about a given event by being “fans” of Crobar on Facebook. While these numbers may not seem earth-shaking in the club promotion universe, the reach of those Facebook fans indeed is significant, especially in a large city such as Chicago, he says. The value lies in those Facebook friends “telling” their friends about the event when the fact that each fan is attending appears on his or her “wall” on Facebook — a notification of which goes to each of his or her friends.

“We are able to touch people who go out every Saturday, and then the network builds on friends adding friends,” he says, “kind of like the six degrees of separation idea.”

The primary cost of marketing via social networking sites is time and creativity. After all, someone has to maintain the site, keeping it fresh and constantly engaging new fans. Service staff at LAX in Las Vegas each have a MySpace page where they keep friends up-to-date on events at the club, which is owned by Pure Management Group. General manager of the 2009 Top 100 club Jonathan Spadafora says the staff’s social networking efforts are the second most effective traffic driver, right behind the club’s host.

Mutant Marketing
In addition to being both viral and contagious, club marketing on any of these social networking constructs is also very mutant. Even in its still fledgling stage of development, the technology platform tempts more and more marketing minds to search for new ways to field test its applications to their own unique operational settings.

“It is highly innovative right now, and it is going to be in an innovative stage forever,” predicts Jeff Moisey, a principal in West Hazleton, Pa.-based JumpFrog Marketing, which helps numerous venues and clients negotiate the quickly evolving marketing terrain around social networking. “If you look at the application today, as opposed to three years ago, the transformation is amazing.”

Basic tactics might include developing comment threads around a picture post of an attractive girl at an event, but Moisey says club marketing managers are mining promotional gold in posting video contests wherein patrons win VIP access or dinner and drinks for the best clips of themselves having a great time at a club event.

The benefits can go well beyond generating excitement among the club’s existing patrons.

“All it takes is one video that makes it to YouTube,” Moisey says. “The exposure can be measured in hundreds of thousands of impressions if a video post gets picked by CNN or MSNBC as the most viral video of the week.”

As magical as the free marketing ops that come with a fan page on Twitter or Facebook can be, Moisey says paid advertising and keyword bids on social networking sites allow the house to target would-be patrons as never before –– for pennies on the dollar compared to other marketing options such as e-mail, radio or television advertising.

“The search engine capability of MySpace and Facebook allows club owners to target 22-year-old females who are kayaking, dancing and making spaghetti,” he says.

Leveraging an existing database of customer e-mails can help an operator who perhaps previously hasn’t staked a claim on Facebook or another site yet to connect patrons to a venue’s online networking community.

Any number of bars and restaurants are making use of free gift certificate campaigns launched online via Facebook, MySpace or other web links. One of the most successful to date is the “Who Do You Love?” party promotion offered by Qdoba Mexican Grill, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo., with 481 restaurants in 40 states. The promotion involved sending customers in Qdoba’s e-mail database a call to action to visit a promotional web site to nominate a friend or a family member to win “the party of a lifetime.” In a single day after launching the viral promotion, Qdoba added almost 10,000 email addresses to its database.

Flood Insurance

With more and more clubs, restaurants and businesses latching onto the technology as a means to reach the highly desirable demographic that signs on to the sites religiously, Crobar’s Espinosa says social media marketing, like e-mail and text messaging, runs the risk of becoming both redundant and irrelevant as a marketing tool.

“To me, it has a lifespan,” he says. “Customers may not mind receiving updates, but after a certain amount of time, they are overwhelmed.”

While many club marketing professionals tend to use their MySpace and Facebook pages to inundate potential guests with information about upcoming promotions, Espinosa takes a less-is-more approach while bringing customers close to the Crobar brand itself. After all, if a user is annoyed by the high number of messages from a venue in his or her in-box, he or she can simply de-friend the venue with the click of a mouse, thus blocking any future marketing messages.

“We are never going to overwhelm our fan page members with a barrage of promotional messages that can become harassment,” Espinosa explains. “If we are reaching out to you, it is with something compelling.”

Club marketers must also take care not to open their fans up to unwanted communications from other sources. Espinosa no longer uses the popular MySpace social networking platform for Crobar Chicago because of concerns about hackers spamming his paying customers.

What often is overlooked by many of those who have embraced social media marketing, Espinosa says, is the branding potential of the social networking trend. The key to the success of such endeavors is involving the patrons in the brand, something not possible with other media.

“The thing that I like most to do with our fan page is to create a personality for the club on it,” he says, noting that it’s often accomplished by singling out a club patron, often a regular, with a photo and a caption on the page.

“I like to make up a nickname for someone I see every week and post it with their picture on the site. That rapport and borderline blogging gives us personality. We become much more than just whiskey and drink specials.”

Social networking does provide ample opportunity to call out drink specials and special events, however. Most recently, Espinosa created a Saturday Night Fan Page on Facebook that touts Crobar’s highly popular weekly DJ event.

“We are personalizing each night, beginning with Saturday, and reaching out to people who like to go to nightclubs on weekends, and to the music-driven community, as well.”

Employees Only
While club connectivity through sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter was an afterthought of the social networking phenomenon first developed by a Harvard student back in the 1990s, and many club operators are just now tapping into it, the club connection was built into the Biteclub social networking platform from the very beginning, says Biteclub creator Sonny Mayugba.

“The primary audience is service industry employees,” Mayugba says of the site founded in 2007. “Our membership is 6,500 registered members, and the site is growing by the day.

”More of a hybrid destination in cyberspace, Biteclub is both a social and a professional networking site that enables members to interact through the posting of comments and photos as well as resumes targeting prospective employers.
The starting point for Biteclub members is very similar to Facebook and MySpace: Clubs post profiles with photos and their addresses and create their own little web sites. Members take it from there.

“If you are William’s Sports Bar, you can connect with chefs, foodies and cocktail connoisseurs in your area,” Mayugba explains, “and as you connect with them, you are creating a walled garden that facilitates direct marketing to them inside the network.” From there, many operators are finding, anything can happen. NCB

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