It wasn’t so long ago that promoting a pub or a bar was a relatively simple task. If you were the manager of a business in the pub and bar sector throughout much of the 20th century, it didn’t take much more than a well-designed sign, a strategically-timed Happy Hour, and perhaps a trusty fruit machine to ensure a steady stream of local clientele.
As we’re all aware, however, things have changed somewhat dramatically. The hospitality sector in general has become more competitive than ever before, with a new generation of pub-goers and discerning drinks enthusiasts establishing an ever-changing set of notions for what a bar should be.
With pub closures at a perilous high in the post-pandemic hospitality landscape, it’s never been more important for savvy business owners to pull out all the stops in putting the spotlight on your establishment.
Bar promotion and marketing ideas that bring results don’t have to be unnecessarily complicated. There is a fantastic array of results-driven approaches to consider, many of which won’t just increase footfall to your bar, but may also boost the profit margins on your food and drinks sales, and ensure a long-term presence in your community.
The industry of pub marketing may have changed from the days of fruities and novelty glasses, but with our tips, tricks, and marketing strategies, you can attract new loyal customers to your bar who’ll keep the good times rolling.
Covering the Basics for Bar Marketing Strategies
Before we dive right into the ten marketing tips that can take your bar promotion to new heights, it’s important to ensure that some of the key strategic foundations are covered.
No single approach to marketing provides a blanket solution that will work for each and every establishment, and knowing the finer details of where your business is positioned can help you achieve the best results. Make sure that you:
- Have a crystal-clear understanding of your target demographic. Knowing the age range, social status, work-life habits, gender balance, and general preferences of your audience is going to pay dividends when it comes to fine-turning your strategy. After all, a country pub out in the countryside is going to require a different approach to an inner-city hipsterfied bar… and a million other iterations could apply.
- Make sure your prices reflect your current clientele and your target one, too. Setting prices for drinks is rarely an uncomplicated task, but it needs to be considered as part of any other strategy.
- Be sure to have a social media presence, and be extra sure to keep it updated, active, and dynamic. It’s the 21st century, and there’s simply no getting around this.
- Make sure your licences are in order. It’s all very well planning events, live music, and grandiose foodie experiences, but licensing laws are notoriously opaque, and you don’t want to end up with a fine on your hands while you’re trying to boost profits.
- Have a website. Seriously.
One of the simplest ways to boost engagement and elevate both your booking numbers and walk-ins is to post your menu online. Whether on your own website, a search engine site, or reviews hub (and preferably all three and more besides) this relatively easy step can bring about a real difference.
Why? Simply because pub and bar-goers, especially those on the lookout for some food or a range of cocktails or specialist drinks, are a lot more discerning than ever before. Indeed, recent industry research suggests that as many as 77% of customers will check out menus online before heading to a place to eat and drink, and just as potently, as many as 70% of drinkers and diners have been put off visiting an establishment as a result of their lack of online presence and information.
2. Put Your Bar on the Map
We’re talking literally rather than figuratively right now (although more about getting your pub noticed in different ways is coming right up). Make no mistake, your bar needs to be listed on Google Maps at the very least.
Google Maps and Google My Business have become essential tools for increasing visibility within the competitive hospitality industry. By ensuring all of your boxes are ticked when it comes to being on Google Maps and GMB, you’ll be encouraging a more rewarding customer journey for your clientele, boosting exposure, and receiving more traffic both to your online sites and to your door.
The best part? Getting on Google Maps and making the most of its suite of genuinely useful tools couldn’t be easier.
3. Reinvent Games Nights
Theme nights and events for pubs and bars are nothing new, but innovative and savvy pub owners are continually seeking out new ways to reinvent trusted formats, create new opportunities for engagement, and drum up excitement about upcoming happenings. After all, nothing brings a crowd like the chance to try something new, have fun with their friends, and maybe scoop a great prize at the end of it.
Your choice of games night event really comes down to the kind of vibe you feel will pull in new customers and your core audience alike. There’s an already well-established trend for board games nights that’s still in full swing - an affordable and proven option that’s great for keeping your clientele in for several hours - and retro arcade machine hire is also popular right now.
If you have the space, you could set up a shuffleboard, an indoor curling lane, or other interactive competitive game. Alternatively, quiz and trivia nights are still a hugely popular option, although you might want to look into ways to make your quiz stand out from the crowd. Try linking it in with another key trend, offer unusual prizes, or get an unmissable host to make your quiz a regular must-visit event.
4. Get Your Art On
Pub customers and members of your local community expect more than ever from bars, and there’s a real and pressing need in these uncertain times to re-establish pubs as community hubs offering a plethora of events and chances to bring people together.
The arts - as broad a category as that is - not only gives you the chance to hold both free and ticketed events at your venue, it also adds an air of sophistication that will bring in the culture vultures and add colour to your regular calendar. Poetry slams, open-mic nights, and gamified art events provide all kinds of opportunities to retain your customers until closing time, and help bring in people who perhaps wouldn’t have discovered your bar otherwise.
5. Give TikTok a Try
With user numbers edging towards the 80 million mark, and projected figures for 2022 hitting 1.5 billion, getting your pub or bar noticed on the latest social media phenomenon is a no-brainer.
With a significant emphasis on funny, viral, and impactful content, TikTok provides an enormous amount of potential for businesses in the hospitality sector, demonstrating that your pub has its finger on the pulse of contemporary culture. Getting started on TikTok is - thankfully - very easy, and the platform’s impressive AI allows you to hit your target audience with relative ease.
Whether you want to create snappy original content - showcasing beautiful shots of what your bar does best - or get involved with viral video trends and partake in the ever-appearing TikTok challenges, TikTok has the ability to blend different types of marketing strategies with seamless ease. The audience demographic might err on the younger side of your target clientele, with most users being between 16-24 years of age, but savvy marketers know that your potential customers are using this platform, and they’re making choices about where to hang out based on what they see there.
6. Create an Air of Secrecy
OK - we’re going to go into fairly counterintuitive territory for a moment. Bar promotion is generally thought of as working best when exposure is at an all-time high. However, there are different types of exposure to consider, and one of its many forms has been explored with stunning effect in recent years by bars seeking to attract a more discerning - but undeniably loyal and influential - clientele: exclusivity.
In the last decade, there’s been a noted trend (primarily amongst cocktail bars) of creating secret venues, exclusive events, and speakeasy-style bar experiences which use secrecy and ‘hidden treasure’ status to contrarily drum up excitement and achieve marketing brilliance. Everyone loves to feel as though they’re part of a select group of exclusive invitees, and we’re all guilty of spreading word about best-kept secrets and hidden gems.
Holding secret events or adopting a more exclusive policy isn’t for every bar, but it can be something that works wonders for the right kind of venue in 2022. It doesn’t have to be an all-out reinvention, either. Starting a whisper campaign about secret menu items, or hosting movie nights, gigs, or other night events which are explicitly under-wraps will mark your bar out as the place to be… for those in the know.
We touched on this in a previous point, but it’s one that’s worth exploring more. Inclusivity is key when it comes to boosting customer numbers - especially during quiet hours or traditionally slower days - and the public seem eager for their favourite local bars and pubs to play an active role in community-building.
There are a million different ways to interpret this, and it once again comes down to the kind of establishment you run. For example, there are hugely popular social media groups which promote bars that are dog-friendly. You’d be amazed at how far word spreads among dog-owners about pubs which not only welcome their four-legged friends, but do the bare minimum to provide them with a bowl of water or a cookie! The same goes for young families, cyclists, freelance workers… The list goes on and on.
Hosting community-minded events, such as charity fundraisers, reading groups, language classes, or local activist meetings tap into the same strategic energy, and there is a rich vein of opportunities out there to explore, helping you put your bar at the heart of its location.
8. Provide Loyalty Programs with a Difference
Rewarding your loyal clientele is always a good idea. Not only does it keep your best customers coming time and time again, it encourages new individuals to join the fold and see your pub as a second home.
Lots of pubs which champion or are affiliated with independent local breweries have been resurrecting the ‘growler’ - a takeaway container which can be filled up with beer for a price closer to a wholesale rate; something which both keeps customers happy, but also strengthens the pub’s ties with local businesses. Certain drinks might be eligible for a more traditional loyalty card program, and you could explore ways to intertwine loyalty programs with branded merchandise, such as takeaway mugs, t-shirts, tote bags and hats.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to bring real results from loyalty programs. A recent Harvard study claimed that increasing customer loyalty by 5% can boost revenue by up to 95%. If that’s not enough of an incentive, well, what is?
9. Give Your Bar a Unique Voice
If hospitality marketing strategy over the past decade has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s customers and pub-goers want their favourite bars to feel unique, individual, and independent.
Once again, how this is interpreted and implemented comes down to a number of factors relating to your pub’s clientele, location, and USP. The key, essentially, is consistency. Make sure that your chosen ‘voice’ and mode of addressing your clientele is consistent across all platforms; it needs to be as present on your website and socials as it is on your menu, the names of your cocktails, and the design, decor, and visuals you implement.
Get it right, and it’s a surefire way to get your bar noticed and - more importantly - remembered.
10. Assemble Local Partnerships
No man is an island, they say, and no pub or bar exists in a vacuum. Establishing mutually-beneficial partnerships and relationships with other local businesses which share your core values, your target audience, and your aspirations is one of the most effective marketing strategies you can bring on board. The best part is that it really doesn’t have to be complicated or remotely long-term to bring about real results, and it can boost engagement and profits for everyone involved.
Maybe there’s a local food truck that’s a hit at your Sunday market, or an up-and-coming chef making waves on your community’s foodie scene. Get them to do a pop-up at your bar; they’ll bring in their own fans who’ll love the fact you’re on the same wavelength, and they’ll gain exposure to your loyal customers who value your discerning eye.
The same goes for a multitude of other businesses, from local retailers looking to promote their wares, to artists, educational establishments, charities, gyms… as long as there’s a tangible and logical link between your business and there’s, you’ll find benefits from joining forces and sharing customer bases.
Bar Marketing Success With Out-Of-The-Box Thinking
As we’ve seen, by implementing a number of different marketing strategies, boosting your bar’s visibility and impact needn’t be an uphill struggle. Across the globe, bar owners and businesspeople are pioneering new ideas and revisiting - and revitalising - tried-and-tested approaches, seeking out new ways to elevate engagement in today’s competitive industry populated by increasingly discerning customers.
With a bit of imagination, a willingness to listen to your target auience, and a few tweaks here and there, there’s no reason why you can’t maximise your pub’s potential through marketing that makes a difference.