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Bar Marketing: What it Means to Sell Your Bar and Have Lines Out the Door

Bar marketing is one of the more critical aspects of starting a bar with any hopes of it being successful. Bars and restaurants are a success specifically because they bring people in… over and over again. If you can’t do that, you can’t have a successful bar.

So, what does this mean for you, the current or suture bar owner? It means that you need to bring your customers in with a combination of attractive marketing, accurate branding, and killer service so that once they leave, they tell all their friends what a wonderful time they had.

Remember: people go to bars and restaurants because the want fun and leisure. If you don’t provide that, then they won’t stay. But if you can’t convince them that you provide it in the first place, they won’t show up at all.

In this article, we’ll talk about bar marketing. First, we start with a discussion of branding and market planning. Since no two bars are the same, there will always be some exceptions to our discussion here. For the most part, however, you’ll find the information helpful.

After that, we break down local and digital marketing as well as specialized approaches for specific niche bars. By the end of the article, you’ll have a good grasp on the beginnings of bar marketing and how it can work for you.

Bar Marketing Ideas: Theme, Brand, Clientele

One of the key aspects of marketing your bar, or any business, is having a brand. A “brand” is all the media content that you use to set yourself apart, tell your audience who you are, and develop a coherent voice for your product.

When it comes to bars and bar marketing, you’re dealing with a specific kind of branding based on nightlife, fun, and leisure. Now, what that means depends on your intended clientele, so don’t take for granted that different audiences will have different ideas of what constitutes “fun” or “relaxing”:

  • A wine bar is a place of class and conversation, of slowing down and enjoying the finer things. A wine bar marketing plan will consider that your brand will probably speak to clients that enjoy just that: slowing down, sipping wine, talking with friends, or sharing romantic time with a loved one.

  • A sports bar is going to get a little rowdier. Here, we’re talking beer, food, and TVs… probably lots of TVs. Your brand is going to reflect that kind of fun Sunday-afternoon football atmosphere through sports-related imagery and tons of media illustrating customers enjoying the game.

  • A nightclub is all about the party. Lights, dancing, drinks, and music should be at the front and center of your brand.

But those are just the basics. Your brand is going to determine how you stand out from the crowd of sports bars or nightclubs, so you need a specific approach to how you sell yourself.

For example, The Post is a sports bar in St. Louis that gives their audience exactly what they want: Cardinals baseball and food. Customers in the STL go to sports bars to talk about baseball, watching baseball, and eat big portions of bar food. More importantly, The Post positions themselves as a comfortable and down-home place, so anyone who is into any of those things can come in knowing they will fit in.

Robust Wine Bar provides what you’d expect from a wine bar. Just by looking at the website, you can see the elegance and the delicate approach to marketing that they provide. But they let themselves sit apart from competitors by making sure you know that this is a more rustic and well-lit bar. Instead of imagining dark corners and quiet talk, this wine bar looks like a place where you can have a relaxing business lunch as well.

As you can see, there are several ways to build a brand. But the keys to building a successful brand are:

  1. Have a theme. Whether it is a down-home sports bar or a rustic wine bar, have an idea of what you want your bar to be.
  2. Link that ideal to your intended customer base. Without a dedicated clientele, your bar will never be a success. You have to find where they are at. Do some research on competitors, read their reviews, and see what works for them and what doesn’t.
  3. Present a coherent brand. Logos, pictures, digital media, advertising… all of these should have a unified look and message that catches that audience no matter where you are advertising.

The first step toward marketing a bar is knowing what that bar is and putting together a brand identity that can reach out to an audience.

Define Your Marketing Goals

It isn’t enough to have a great idea. You have to have a goal for your business.

  • Financial: Sure, you want to make money. Maybe even more money. But you should understand how much you want to make, in what period of time. This should also include an understanding of what kind of growth you want to see over three months, six months, and a year.

  • Logistical: In order to make money, you need to bring people in. This means that you should have an idea of how many people need to come in, and what they need to spend to signal growth.

  • Site Growth and Web Traffic: With your digital marketing efforts, there should be a clear metric for what constitutes success. More visitors, more links, more shares on social media… all of these should be measured to show how much growth and revenue you are seeing with your marketing investments.

  • Return on Investment: All of your marketing should be tied to a cap on how much you want to spend on advertising. Don’t dump an unknown about of money into content development or social media, especially if you are paying a third-party marketing team.

You should have clear goals set out in 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. This should include a comparison of what you spend on marketing and advertising versus your increase in digital or foot traffic.

Finally, if you work with a bar marketing company, then you should expect a clear outline of what they intend to do, how it will drive business, and what kinds of numbers and results you can expect. Marketing isn’t a science, so don’t get too hung up on numbers. Numbers are a guideline, not an absolute when it comes to advertising.

Do make sure, however, that any partner you work with can articulate what success looks like and can adjust strategies based on the results of what they do measure against your own goals.

Bar Marketing Strategies: Marketing Your Bar Locally

Obviously, you have to get people in your bar. Luckily, bars tend to sell themselves once people are in the area and know they want to visit. But you have to make sure that they know that you are there.

The first and most obvious approach to local marketing is to be visible. Everyone knows about the hole-in-the-wall their friend or grandad may have visited… but that’s probably not the kind of clientele you are looking for. Have a big, prominent signup and make sure that people feel welcome coming in.

As an addendum to that, make sure that folks can see exactly what you are from the street. If you are a club, they should see signs that point that out (and, ideally, hear the thump of music). If you serve food that you know is your big draw, have a big menu outside so that everyone can read it.

Make sure that you are easily found through digital channels too. Get your site listed on Google, and make sure your address is on Google maps. You’d be surprised how many people make plans based on what kind of places are near them when they Google on their smartphones.

Finally, localize. Make sure that your bar shows up in local online and print magazines, web listings, and radio and TV spots. Some of these works better than others… for example, local sports bars do extremely well in radio and TV, while clubs do well in radio and digital ads.

Bar Marketing Strategies: Marketing Your Bar Online

A bar should 100% have an online presence. Other than the old “so they can find you” line, here’s why all bars should have an active website:

  1. Your website gives you a place to set up your brand online. When people Google “nightclub” or “wine bar”, you want to pop up somewhere on their radar.
  2. You want to show the public exactly what you are about. You can literally post anything–pictures, videos, blogs–to demonstrate why your bar is the place that a visitor wants to be tonight.
  3. You can build an audience to support your bar through regular content. This way, you get a crowd of regulars, which means repeat business.

When setting up your site, you should most likely consult with a company that specialized in online marketing (bonus points if they specialize in bar or nightclub marketing). That’s because there are certain tips and tricks needed to get the most out of your website:

  • Building proper SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the reason to have a site. But professionals know how to build your content so that it gets the attention of Google and other search engines. What that means is that a properly optimized site will have:
    • Keywords that match the search terms your customers look for.
    • Videos and images with correct metadata to match those search terms.
    • A healthy site structure that Google likes.
    • Good metadata to signal to Google that you are who you say you are.
    • Content. Lots of content.
  • Did we say content? Yes. Lots of it. Don’t think that because you have a bar that you don’t have anything to say. Write blog posts about your niche, about your food, about your wines, whatever… make yourself a pro in your industry, and let your marketing company tweak it so that it maximizes its potential.
  • Content again. Consider building an email newsletter. This approach works best when you have things to update your customers with live music, food specials, special events, etc. Email is a super-effective marketing tool, and everyone uses it.

Finally, localize your content. In the above section, we “localized” by putting or business in local publications. Digitally, we’re talking about developing keywords that position your business as a local entity.

For example, if you try to compete for keywords like “wine bar” on Google using keywords like that, then you are competing with everyone in the country, if not the world. Not just wine bars, either… publications about wine, wine blogs, social media accounts about wine, etc.

But if you target content for “wine bars in St. Louis, MO” or “wine bar cafe California”, you will automatically put yourself in a better position to attract attention. You also don’t lose your competitive edge, because your clientele 9/10 will either be local to your business or will specify your city and state when they search.

Digital media should be the cornerstone of bar and restaurant marketing. So, don’t shortchange it.

Bar Marketing Strategies: Bar Marketing on Social Media

Social media marketing is in addition to your other digital efforts. In fact, it might be even more significant than having a website.

Your social media page is going to be an extension of your brand, in “real-time”. What that means is that the hottest social media platforms for young bar-goers are typically Twitter and Instagram. That means you need to get visual.

Take pictures, write posts, and make regular updates. If you are having a great special event, make sure to post pics as it happens. Make posts when you write blogs, or when you book a great musical guest. If you serve food, then you absolutely take mouth-watering pictures of that food.

The key to social media is two-fold:

  1. Get people to find you on social media, follow you, and want to come into your place. 60% of people visit a place because they saw something, they liked on social media. DO NOT MISS OUT ON THIS.
  2. Update people so that they read posts, sign up for your newsletter, and share links to your content.

You should also have a Facebook page as well, but that isn’t as absolutely necessary as it used to be. However, Facebook gives you a few critical advantages if you run a restaurant, because you can put your menu up for people to browse before they come in… something that is limited in other social media.

When you launch on social media, make sure that your brand is the same across all locations. Logos, images, voice, style, everything. If they visit you on Facebook or Instagram, they should be able to recognize your brand immediately.

Finally, make sure that you are vested in social media platforms on smartphones. These platforms typically provide geolocating searches so that when someone uses it to look for bars in your area, you should pop up.

Get Visual

We’ve spoken about this earlier, but we can’t emphasize enough the power of visual cues when it comes to bars and restaurants.

For bars, especially clubs, pictures give clients the visual stimuli they need to see how fun and fresh your place is. No one wants to read words about how fun it is to come to your club, they want to see it. Take great pictures of any live music, DJs, and dancers that you have. Make sure that all your visual media shows your club as a party.

Restaurants need to signal hunger and satisfaction to customers. Food bloggers have picked up the fact that beautiful pictures of food are things that people love to look at, whether they are hungry or not. Your Instagram, in particular, should be full of pictures of beautiful food that you serve every day.

But don’t forget that social media isn’t just about spamming pictures. Engage with people, show a great attitude and make people remember your account and your brand. As we’ve seen with Twitter accounts like the one for Wendy’s, having a sense of humor and difference can make you stand out from a boring crowd.

Hiring a Bar Marketing Group

Luckily, you don’t have to manage your marketing on your own. There are marketing companies that are dedicated to specifically marketing bars, clubs, and restaurants.

To pick out a great marketing company, keep the following in mind:

  • Find a company that specifically talks about your niche. If you run a restaurant, then find a restaurant marketer. The same with bars, nightclubs, etc. They will usually have some clients listed–if they are up to your alley, then they could work great with you.
  • See what kind of content they produce. Online marketers should be invested in online marketing, which means that they should regularly post blogs, maintain social media, and ranking well for their niche.
  • A marketing company should be able to point to success stories. Testimonials, client websites, and more should be part of their presentation.
  • They should offer a free consultation.

The thing about these kinds of marketing companies is some of them approach clients as a one-size-fits-all prospect. If you get the sense that a company you are working with is using cookie-cutter tactics and doesn’t really seem interested in your unique business, then they probably aren’t going to help you in the long run.

Sports Bar Marketing Ideas

Sports bars are a unique kind of bar that thrives on repeat business and seasonal peaks.

If you are running a sports bar, make sure that you are leveraging the following as part of your marketing strategy:

  1. Connect with local fans. Always proudly support local baseball, football, hockey, soccer, whatever. Fans should know that they can come in and watch local games whenever they are on.

  2. Buy expanded sports packages. Get a TV package that plays nationwide games even when the local team is not on. And make sure you advertise the fact that people can come in at any time to watch sports.

  3. Advertise specials based on the season. Baseball drink specials, football outdoor eating specials, or anything in between. People should know that they can come in and get a deal depending on who’s playing and how well they are doing.

  4. Serve great food. Bar food, like burgers, pizza, pretzels, craft beer, will sell a bar faster than anything else. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be satisfying (and, ideally, in big portions).

If you have some notoriety or clout in your area, reach out to local sports teams and see if players or coaches are willing or able to make special appearances for Q&A sessions or autograph signing. Or serve themed food and drinks based on the sports season it is.

Above all, make sure that you are advertising these specials on social media and on local media outlets (radio and TV) as much as possible.

Nightclub Marketing Ideas

Nightclub marketing isn’t a science. Your marketing plan should include Your nightclub will be successful if you have a real brand and are honest about the place you want to run. After that, put in the hard work to bring people in.

  1. Fun, fun, fun. Your marketing should be extremely visual. People dancing, people having fun, bands or DJs playing should all be the focus of your marketing.

  2. Attract women. This isn’t meant to be sexist. Just the opposite–many women avoid certain clubs and bars because they don’t feel safe. Sure, offer a lady’s night if you want, but also make sure that your club is safe and secure, and that you show that women can have fun without worrying about aggressive men. When you do that, you’ll get more female customers, and more male customers (the right kind).

  3. Social Media is Your Direct Marketing Channel. People should be able to see how fun your club is, so plaster images and stories all over so that they don’t forget it. Also, make sure that you are jumping on select hashtags so that people can pick you up even if they aren’t specifically looking for a club.

  4. Have a clear theme. Are you a Vegas club with an outdoor pool? What about a warehouse rave club? Customers should know what they are getting into before they step foot near your place.

Your marketing should be the starting point of your reputation-building. A club with a reputation will get word-of-mouth traffic, which is the lifeblood of successful clubs. Following that, make your club something fun and different. Even a slight change in theme or look can make your business stand out from all the other clubs in your area.

Restaurant Marketing Ideas

Restaurant marketing is a bit trickier. Many restaurants go out of business precisely because they can’t get attention early on, and never attract word-of-mouth attention they need to build momentum and be successful.

  1. Word-of-Mouth. Your advertising and social media are all about generating word-of-mouth. Get people in and get them to tell their friends how amazing your food or ambiance is.

  2. Brand and Be True to it. Whether you are a quiet restaurant or a classic diner, make sure that what you advertise is what you give your customers.

  3. Great Food. This seems obvious, but you need to make great food. More so, you need to showcase it through images on social media and your website. Pictures, videos, interviews with the chef can all go a long way towards bridging the gap between your intended customer base and your restaurant.

  4. Use Location-Based Marketing. People are looking for places to eat near them all the time, and smartphones facilitate that by using geolocation to automatically show them local food. Take advantage of that fact by localizing your marketing so you show up on local searches.

By focusing on great food and a clear brand, supported by word-of-mouth recommendations, you’ll get a clear return on your restaurant marketing investment. But you cannot generate that kind of advertising without a high-quality product. So that means pictures, images, and satisfied customers.

Conclusion: Marketing is Necessary for the Success of Your Bar

We’ve covered a few different types of bars and businesses in this article, so let’s recap.

First, you should focus on local advertising and online advertising. Developing a local strategy varies from business to business, but digital advertising usually includes a combination of SEO tactics, content development, and social media presence.

Bars and restaurants, in particular, need to leverage visual and location-based advertising. Social media platforms like Instagram can really let you showcase your food or your happy customers, and they give you a chance to tie your business to a location. Likewise, by localizing advertising, you can get your business on the Google map (literally) so that your one of the first places someone sees when they ask Siri where they can go to have some fun.

Second, you need to develop a brand in conjunction with your intended audience. Both of these are going to depend on the type of bar you run. Sports bars aren’t going to pull the exact same customer base that wine bars or nightclubs or diners will. You need to have a clear plan about what it is you want to be, and who you want to attract.

Third, study the competition. Once you have an idea about your brand, identify those in your niche (those who are successful and those who are not) and see what they are doing. Copy what works, drop what doesn’t, and see what’s effective for you.

Finally, find a professional marketing company that specializes in your niche. You can dream the dream, and they can help you put it into action.

Once you’ve followed all of these tips, you’ll have a better idea of what it means to engage in serious bar marketing. Once that happens, you’ll reap the rewards of more customers, more revenue, and a successful business.

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