Bar marketing

Marketing is simply letting people know what you’re doing and helping them understand it, says Ryan Chetiyawardana. Why wouldn’t you want to pay for that, he asks?

Why pay for PR or market your bar? The product should speak for itself, and bars that get coverage in media only do so as they’re paying for it via a marketing team. There have been several digs at us over the years from disgruntled industry peeps, but this one has been levelled at us most.

So, what does it mean to market your venue? In the simplest sense, you’re letting people know about it. An old mentor used to tell me that it’s pure vanity to create something that no one knows about, let alone experiences. But we all know margins in our industry are painfully thin, so why spend extra money on something that doesn’t return directly, or tangibly, particularly in the age of social media? All these things are true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other truths to consider.

Years ago, before White Lyan, I launched a project called Death by Burrito with a chef friend. We needed to drum up some noise around it – partly to drive footfall to a weird part of east London in 2011, but also to help people understand what the actual proposition was. And it was this second point that was always so crucial to me. Of course, no venue can operate without footfall, but you also shouldn’t rely on a PR or marketing team for this alone. But getting people to understand what you do is critical to any business. Iain [Griffiths], Alex [Lawrence] and I always talk to our staff about an elevator pitch – for the venues, for a drink, for yourself. You need to be able to convey the heart of what you or your product are about, and it needs to be succinct. I think this simplification of the message is why bartenders get disgruntled. Bartenders are storytellers – we want people to understand the full depth and complete picture of what we’re creating. It doesn’t feel natural to dumb it down to a single sentence, a buzz phrase or to draw facile comparisons. But I’ve come to realise this is self-serving. You have to find the element or the reference that the majority of consumers can engage with.

Engaging with and educating consumers is multifaceted. Our venues and staff are a big part of that but getting our message out successfully has also been made possible by a host of brands, journalists, commentators, bloggers, influencers and speakers. This is something we’re all in together. If you see value in this combined effort and its result, why wouldn’t you invest in it?


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So how much money should you assign to marketing, if any at all? The common rule is 3-6 % of revenue on marketing spend. But what this misses is the labour time you – the bar owner or manager – should assign. The priorities will always be getting people through the door, paying your team, your rent and your suppliers, and while you should spend most of your day on these fundamentals, at the same time you have to maintain your relevance to the customer. Complacency is an issue that dogs our industry and there’s a real danger that if we don’t continue to find new ways to connect with customers, the bubble could burst. This is where marketing comes in.

Marketing builds a healthy competition among bars, and gives context to what one bar is doing differently to another. This helps connect the dots for the consumer so they can understand the breadth of our industry’s offering, and helps them decide what bar is right for them. Marketing also refocuses our attention from what we’re doing to what we’re doing for the consumer. It helps us be clearer, to make things more relevant and to actually address the needs, desires and wants of the consumer. Without that dialogue – which is all marketing is – then we’re back to navel-gazing and wondering why no one understands what we’re doing. And I’m pretty sure we can all agree there’s enough of that going about. So talk to other sides of the industry, support them, and give them your time – and pay people for their time and skillsets. Not only will it help your business, it helps the greater good, and ensures a longevity to everything we’ve all been working towards.