Over the past two years I’ve traveled the United States visiting hundreds of hotels performing Assessments. The goal of these visits was to bring an experienced bar business eye to a hotel bar situation and deliver feedback to property GM’s and F&B leaders on observed opportunities and ideas on how to go after those opportunities.
We’ve found every property situation to be different. Opportunities are not consistent and the strategy to go after an opportunity is often driven by the specifics of a local situation. We don’t look at concept resets which translate into blowing everything up and starting from scratch. We are not fixated on the art of creating perfect cocktails and the world’s best Flatbread. We focus on what kinds of chess moves in a given situation will move revenues up and costs down.
In most, but not all situations a chess move that makes sense, but we have not had an ability to go after, is inbound marketing. The need for executing a bar inbound marketing program is dictated by several factors:
- Do you have a Living Room oriented concept? Its tough to compete against all of the bar options in your local market, but Living Room concept bars are proving to not only be preferred by your Hotel Guests, they are a unique and preferred choice of a whole lot of potential local and transient customers.
- Are there micro markets around you (non hotel / event guest potential customers) that you can pull into your business?
- Is your existing Digital Marketing program driven by the overall Hotel marketing mission? In other words is the bar just a tab on your hotel website and other digital portals such as Facebook and Instagram?
Living Room oriented bar venues are proving to be winners in the hotel segment. The idea that I can visit the bar, find a place to setup my laptop, watch TV, have a few small bites, and be comfortable leads to an extended visit in the venue. A visit which includes enjoying beverages and food over a 2-3 hour period. The idea that I can have an informal huddle with business associates or friends and not have the interruptive impact of a more traditional bar environment is also a visit magnet. That kind of experience is attractive to not only hotel guests (rooms and events), but also to a whole lot of people who are not guests. In some cases there is some work to be done to get to the right setup. Move a little furniture. Add some community tables. Modify the menu to have more small bites options. But the old adage that if you build it – they will come is not how it works anymore. You have to have an inbound marketing program to pull non hotel guests into that environment.
There are often micro markets all around a property that are likely to have those living room bar oriented customers. Happy Hour programs rarely produce the desired result and end up just cannibalizing margin. Your micros markets exist in residential, end of business day, or interest groups so shotgun blast marketing strategies will not get you the connection you need to create awareness of your bar as a perfect fit for what an outside guest is looking for. One downtown hotel client was right next to a dog walking park – a very rare commodity in a downtown setting. After setting up an outside area and a fun program for those customers, they were left with the challenge of creating awareness that their bar was a welcome place for pet lovers and their pets. A very unusual local strategy, but who cares if revenues double.
Over the last 2 years I have been asking GM’s and F&B managers whether their existing digital marketing program, often dictated by corporate marketing groups, is helping them grow their bar business, the most common answers are I don’t know or no. Less than 5% say they are getting bar business development impact from the hotel digital marketing program. Yet in 95+% of these situations the corporate hotel marketing program is world class and a key driver in the overall hotel business growth strategy. The reasons for this are:
- The primary driver for hotel marketing programs are – more hotel guests (rooms). In an industry which is focused on Occupancy and ADR growth, the goal of the bar marketing program is to highlight the bar as a great amenity in the effort to win the customer as a hotel guest – and there is nothing wrong with that strategy. The bar marketing program has to live on its own, outside the hotel marketing program and have its own digital identity. Yet because it is still an amenity it has to be executed with quality and in sync with overall identity standards. When property teams try to run their own social media programs for the bar, corporate marketing teams are driven crazy because of the standards conflicts and quality issues. This leads to a zero tolerance for independent local marketing programs culture.
- The kind of outreach messaging and targeting that you need to build a non hotel guest bar customer connection, is very different then what works to chase a hotel guest. In addition a bar digital marketing program is very different than a restaurant focused program. A program that effectively supports a great concept restaurant with its own identity, will not work when you go after a Living Room bar customer. And you can’t turn to the promoter world that is used in high volume active lounge / nightclub situations to drive customers into the venue, because a Living Room bar is not a nightclub. You have to partner with an expert who understands the digital market space and the business development environment to execute effective digital marketing strategies.
- Inbound marketing programs for hotel bars require work to be done. And there are no resources standing around in lean hotel management teams to take on that responsibility. In addition the key to success in any inbound marketing program is delivering quality content that is effectively distributed. Its not just about making Facebook posts like you do on your personal Facebook page. And corporate marketing teams are likewise fully consumed by the overall Hotel brand marketing objective. You need a partner who can execute locally with quality and who can stay in formation with the corporate marketing effort.
In my Assessment travels I often recommend to GM’s folks they can partner with whom I have confidence can execute against an opportunity in a given situation. But I have never found a partner who can effectively help with a bar digital marketing program. The net result is this opportunity withers on the vine of “no way to go after it.” That is why we have created SBS Inbound. It’s a program that we offer when a local GM, an owner and SBS recognize there is a 2 to 3x business growth impact opportunity in the bar/restaurant in a hotel situation. The program gets funded at the property level, so there is no carve out of limited corporate marketing budgets and the program is executed by SBS, so there is both consistency and quality assurance in the program. The great thing about digital marketing is the success of the program is easy to track and keep score on. In fact an effective program is constantly getting adjusted by the analytics inside the program. A popular television commercial which has a space shuttle changing colors and words and even mission in response to real-time analytics is not far from the truth of how a great program works.
So the question becomes – is it time to launch your bar digital marketing “space shuttle?” If it is SBS Inbound is the answer.