We’ve heard people say “we don’t need a strategy we’ve had exponential growth over the past few years by just taking it as it comes”. Some people like to live their life by chance, but we prefer to know what’s going to happen. It avoids sleepless nights, it gives you answers and most importantly the scientific approach in a strategy allows you to see what works best and do more of that. A strategy is outlining a way to optimise a company’s marketing and subsequently their bottom line.
The difficulty when preparing a strategy for a venue is that available advice tends to be about marketing a tangible product rather than an intangible service. It tends to focus on creating demand and need for that product as much as it does on brand awareness and lead generation. The trouble in the venue industry is that it’s competitive, you can’t create demand or need for event space (that’s the job of the industry associations) but you can create a demand and a need for your event space instead of your competitors’ when the need for an event already exists. The aim in the venue industry is to be there when a buyer needs you. It requires a complex mix of brand awareness and lead generation but ultimately boils down to being in the right place at the right time.
The guide below is a step-by-step approach to prepare an effective venue marketing strategy.
If you would like any advice preparing your marketing strategy, or on a single marketing channel, don’t hesitate to contact our team.
What goes into a marketing strategy?
This guide is understandably quite long so if you’d like to jump to a certain section just hit one of these links!
An overview of your products and their value propositions
This is more than a brochure, this is an overview of every type of product and service you have: event types you host, days and times you open and ancillary services. Already you will start to see opportunities to maximise revenue; it could be realising you have the potential to fill your underused space on a weekend (experience tells us it’s possible!) or identifying an opportunity to increase catering revenue by offering a more premium option. It allows you to marry your revenue streams to your financial targets which allows you to identify opportunities and areas where there is both need and potential for growth.
Your value propositions are simply what’s in it for a client to use you (relaxing atmosphere, traditional décor, good service). It isn’t your USPs (Unique Selling Points), those are features you have that your competitors don’t. Your value propositions are quite simply an outline of why a client would use your venue in the first place, regardless of what features it has. Reflecting on this, and having it written down, helps you and everyone in your team to understand the value propositions and ensure they are conveyed throughout your messaging. If you can’t define your value propositions how do you expect potential clients to understand them?
Competitor analysis, identifying USPs and finding your edge
It’s important to understand what makes you different or better than your competitors so you can focus on this. There is no use boasting about your car park if you’re an out of town venue and every venue in the area has a car park and it’s expected as a standard. However, in a busy city centre it could be a huge USP. It’s all about focussing on what makes you better, not what you do. Every venue offers meeting space, what makes yours better and worth remembering?
As part of this process it’s worth having your sales team keep a log of which competitors you’re losing clients to. You will see a pattern and this will mean one of two things:
- They have a feature/service/facility you don’t and you should consider installing it to stop losing the business
- You are attracting the wrong prospective client for your product and while they make enquiries they are more suited to your competitors – your messaging could be ‘off product’ and you’re attracting the wrong people.
You’re already starting to see a picture of smart marketing and product development: Defining what improvements you need to make to win the market you don’t currently have and which market is right for your product as it is now.
Define your position in the market place and how you promote yourself
Many people we tell this to say it sounds silly, they say ‘we’re a business and we’re in it to make money’, but consumers increasingly think of businesses as people: What’s their personality? What are their morals and values? Are they good or bad people? Friendly or stern? Generous or fair? Now you start to see personality matters. There is a distinct difference between Devere and ETC Venues and it’s no accident. Someone has defined their personalities and they have developed fans. Define yours and communicate it to your staff, through your branding and product to reach your customers and prospects. Only when you have a personality can people begin to create a relationship.
If you don’t already have an established brand, or if you’re re-branding, this is the time to look at your branding and how it suits your personality and product offering.
This part of your strategy will heavily influence your content schedule. We knew a venue who during this process found they had no defining features, no real unique selling points and were in a very crowded location, but who still grew their revenue 21% YOY because through their marketing activity they positioned themselves as the event experts. This was their edge, it was their personality, it’s how they got prospective clients to see them and how they got new and existing clients to like them and come back.
Define your target clients
This has to be more in depth than ‘people who hold events’. This is an opportunity to define the sort of people that should (usually based on your current client base and/or market research) use your venue so throughout your strategy you can make sure your messaging and promotional positions are targeting the correct people with the correct messages in the correct place. It’s useful to identify what percentage of your total product offering is filled by what kind of people and companies, a simple example is:
- 75% of our space/revenue is from meetings and training and the clients are corporate PAs & EAs, venue finding agents booking corporate events and training companies
- 25% of our space/revenue is for parties and live events and the clients are party organisers and event management companies working on product launches
From here you then reflect on the buying behaviour of those markets and how hard they are to reach and convert into clients, average event spend by segment and how easy they are to retain / likely to repeat events. Analysing your past marketing performance data and sales data will reveal this, if you don’t have past performance data an agency that knows the industry in depth can advise you.
You may find you spend 75% of your marketing budget attracting 25% of your clients but if those clients have a retention rate 100 times better than the others, and a higher spend per event, in the longer term they offer a better ROI. This is where it begins to get scientific and your approach depends on your long and short term goals.
Outline seasonal highs and lows
Another easy one for most people. Summer is quiet and winter is full of Christmas parties but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you could reflect on this you might think of innovative ways to fill the lulls, for example; thousands of foreign students (of all socio-economic backgrounds so a 5 star venue isn’t ruled out) visit the UK every summer to learn English. And guess what? They learn in venue meeting space! There is no such thing as a quiet period but a ‘different period’. Outlining your seasonal highs and lows (We prefer to call them business changes) will also help you to stay on track to change your messaging and execute your marketing activity at the right time (no more Christmas marketing in November).
Define ways to reach the your target market segments at all levels of the marketing funnel
This is the first step towards planning your marketing activity. It’s an exercise to ensure you are considering appropriate activity at every stage of the marketing funnel to keep people moving down to become clients. It’s simply identifying the best ways to reach and engage with your prospective clients at every stage of the funnel and the activity you will employ to move them to the next stage. It’s an ongoing process and no stage of the funnel should be ignored as what goes in the top today pays dividends in the future.
Analyse your data
Now you’ve defined how you’re going to reach each stage of the marketing funnel it’s time to analyse your data and see a picture of your current funnel, this activity will help you to see where you are data strong and data weak and enable you to develop a suitable data acquisition strategy as well as helping you to decide how and where to apportion your budget.
You should develop rules of thumb (complying with legislation) for when data has passed its expiry date and needs to be refreshed or no longer used and other rules (also complying with legislation) for what data can be used for marketing (email, direct mail and telephone calls). Hopefully you will have a picture of your data and the interaction with your company so you can begin to split it up into the following categories and see the strength of your funnel:
- They have received some marketing materials from you or maybe they have seen you at an event (awareness)
- They have interacted with your company – maybe downloaded a brochure or followed you on social media (familiarity)
- They have made an enquiry (consideration)
- They are holding space/or have previously held space but not confirmed (evaluation/intent)
- They have held an event at your venue (purchase)
- They have held more than one event at your venue/are a returning customer (loyalty)
From here you begin to get an idea of where people are in your funnel and where you need to show extra attention and grow the prospect pool. In an ordinary marketing approach the tier at the top should be the largest and the bottom the smallest but if the funnel is upside down and 90% are repeat clients I doubt many business owners would complain. The problem would only come if all loyal clients were lost overnight and the business owner woke up to no clients and no marketing funnel.
If you develop this approach you could go one step further and begin to see the funnel strength by product type (a basic approach would be to split up the funnel for your meeting rooms and function rooms as you may find an unhealthy product specific funnel is the reason why you struggle to fill a certain room type).
Develop an overview approach for each channel/activity and market segment
It’s another one of those exercises that helps you define yourself but for the sake of consistency across your team’s activities (and to define boundaries for yourself) you should develop an approach for each channel. It’s your commandments of marketing. Some examples are below to get you started.
- On social media we should focus on our history and on some of the special events we’ve had and have a split of 30% sales driven and 70% interest area social posts…
- Email copy needs to be content-led, encourage audience engagement and focus on what’s interesting about the venues while tying sales calls to actions within the interesting topics from our content plan…
- Data acquisition will be achieved by issuing interesting content and asking people to complete a data capture form to receive it, we will also include newsletter sign up call-to-actions on all materials…
- Design should look modern yet traditional and follow our brand guidelines…
- For SEO we will focus on activity that attracts local business as well as people that are looking for a venue next to the motorway junction we are located near…
- We will target agencies with booking incentives and for agencies our email marketing will be written informally
Develop a 12-month content and marketing activity plan based on your budget, objectives, position and SWOT
Your decisions here are going to be heavily influenced by past exercises and your budget available: It’s a balance of what you need and what you can get. It is rarely worth completely closing down a channel but you could apportion a higher percentage of a tight budget to a channel that works better for your venue than an alternative channel that works but offers less return on investment (ROI).
Your content plan is what you are going to release, what is going to be the theme, the interesting topic, the thing that brings attention to your carefully intertwined promotional messages. This will go hand in hand with your campaign theme plan. Your campaign theme plan outlines the themes and overarching topics of the campaigns throughout the period (e.g. Christmas, the history of the building).
The next part of the plan is what should happen and when; where you are advertising, which directories you are going to be listed on, when your emails will be sent, time periods for content and campaign themes to cover social and other channels, where and how you will build links for SEO, which third parties will you disseminate your content to, when will you build landing pages for SEO and for which keywords, which keywords will you pay search engines for paid positions and when, who will you target through social media adverts and when, and so on. This is your plan for what you and your team will be doing day to day to achieve your goals.
It doesn’t have to be 12 months, even if you can start with three months that’s progress. When possible, we like to stay 12 months in advance with a malleable plan, milestones and regular litmus tests (like reanalysing the funnel) so it can be changed as things change.
Define ways to monitor the plan (set up KPIs)
Now you’ve done all of that work you want set up ways to monitor your plan and ensure it’s achieving its objectives so you can spot under-performance early and make necessary changes. This is different to litmus testing (which is tasks like checking your USPs are still unique or re-analysing your competitor landscape). Key performance indicators (KPIs) are targets on your activity, for example: We expect our database to grow by XYZ records per month, we expect XYZ additional followers across our social channels every month, we expect email open rates of XYZ%, we expect XYZ enquiries, we expect and XYZ% increase in web visitors. KPIs allow you to track the performance and condition of your business every step of the way to the bottom line. Over a period of time, with good campaign performance reporting, you can develop a picture of what a certain percentage increase in a particular metric could mean for the bottom line so you can begin planning activity and setting KPIs based around income expectations.
Set up a budget plan / spend tracker
This is so you have pre-planned all of your expenditure for the year (or the period you’re planning for) so you know exactly what’s going when. It also allows you to monitor the activity and spend as time progresses and from your KPIs begin to apportion an ROI percentage/score (on impressions, emails opened, any metric possible) to activity to provide insight for future spending decisions. We generally recommend a 10% contingency once you’ve planned your budget. You never know what will happen.
An easy life
For us this approach makes life easier because we know that targets will be reached, we know how we’re going to reach them and we know exactly what the team will be doing every day for the next 12 months to get there, we’ll know if something has gone wrong and we’ll be in a position to develop solutions before the bottom line is affected. Marketing has enough surprises without every day being one.
At Patch Media we look after marketing activity for venues and suppliers to the events industry. We cover everything from strategy creation, to providing an entirely outsourced marketing team, to managing a single channel. We become an extension of our clients’ teams and aim to save them time and money on their marketing activity. We can also provide technical skills which may not be available in-house. If you’d like to discuss anything about your media planning or marketing activity don’t hesitate to contact us.