Lew Sims laughs when he thinks about how much simpler marketing used to be when filling a bowling alley. He recalled his first job in the business before he became the owner of Dynasty Lanes in Willard, OH.
"The owners would only offer open bowling every other Sunday because the rest of the schedule was so choked with leagues," Sims said. "We'd send out a postcard announcing new leagues. But apart from that, we'd only need a phone call to the regulars.” Times have certainly changed.
Enter the confusion of collecting and using data as the foundation of your marketing efforts. Collecting and using data is one of the more pressing and misunderstood issues facing every sector of American commerce. A Forbes study from earlier this year revealed that 95% of businesses cited the need to manage unstructured data as a problem for their business. So, if the topic of data has your head spinning, rest assured you're not alone.
Having quality data at your fingertips offers an easy way to reach people who are most likely to respond to your offers. "The pandemic and the closures it caused sparked thoughts of, ‘Wait a minute! We need to have some good data so we can market to people,’” said Carey Tosello, founder of digital marketing specialists eBowl.biz. "The centers with a great list didn't miss a beat when they could open the doors again; they reached out immediately and got business coming in. The centers who didn't have those lists struggled a lot more."
"Before we got serious about data collection, we only had one high school in the center," Sims said. "Now we have four high schools and two middle schools bowling out of our 12-lane center. Collecting that information, especially Kids Bowl Free data, was a big part of getting us there. I am not sure if we would have survived without getting to know the kids and families that data brought in. Many of the former children are now adult league bowlers."
“Think of data like this: if you have 5,000 families in your database and through various communications, you convince just 20% of them to come in just one more time throughout the year and spend $50 with you, you’re going to add $50,000 to your bottom line,” said
Bruce Davis, president of Bowling Business Builders International, whose popular Kids Bowl Free program is a dynamite data builder for participating centers.
Incentive-based approaches are powerful drivers for growing data and engaging with your list. This type of approach ensures that you not only get customer data but that it's legitimate. Tosello has found contests on Facebook to be effective. His company typically asks a center to give away something like a bowling party — two hours of bowling, shoes, and a pizza. To enter the contest, people are asked to share their names and email. “And you know you’ll get a good email from that because how else will they win the prize,” asked Tosello with a laugh. "We've got centers who'll get dozens to hundreds of emails each month from those contests alone. All for the cost of a party once a month for half a dozen people."
“After 20 years of collecting guest information, we’ve learned to pay attention to what people are responding to,” said Ashley Donohue, marketing manager for KingPins Family Entertainment Centers in Beaverton, OR. "We look at everything from the sorts of offers people are responding to, subject lines of our emails, and how incentivizing our leagues makes a difference.”
Donohue’s hard work is certainly paying off. “We have over 120,000 people in our rewards program alone, which we send emails about multiple times a week and has been very successful,” she says. KingPins boasts open rates typically ranging between 30-40%, well above the national average, which rarely exceeds 10%.
When extending offers to your list, Sims has some excellent advice. "Find where you benefit them," advises Sims. "Your messages should be personalized; think of yourself like you’re a friend trying to help them find something to do.”
"All business is about relationships," said Zach Boulanger, marketing manager at Bowling Leads. "Emails need to come from the owner or the manager and have them tell a story. That approach is considerably more effective than taking one of your flyers and turning it into an email."
Text Message with a Purpose
"We've found that automating a text message to a new customer after their first visit to say thank you for coming in has been great in establishing relationships," Boulanger said. "But not for sending out a wide blast to 5,000 people."
John Bailey, president of The WiFi Company, has also seen the rise of permissive text message marketing. His company specifically built that capability into their dashboard because they knew that text messages are the closest thing to a guaranteed open rate. If your target has opted in, most users don’t ignore it or put it aside for later. "But you have to be specific and benefit-driven with texting,” warns Bailey.
Tosello concurs and adds, “If it’s an email, people might let it sit and miss it later. But if your phone beeps, you'll always look right then. If you're going to text, you better make it something of value. If someone stopped whatever they're doing to read your message, it's just saying, 'Hey, it's Wednesday! It’s a great night for bowling,’ [potential clients] are going to be annoyed and likely opt out.”
Offering Value in Your Communications Is Key
"We're still big believers in direct mail," Boulanger said. "Too few centers send out birthday postcards. But people don't get as much mail as they used to, beyond junk mail, so something of value stands out."
"If I see that someone signed up for one of our programs and then a few minutes later started following us on one of our social channels, I take a little pride that something of value brought them in. They're willing to see us in their feeds, email, and text messages," Donohue said.
Consistency Is Important
Tosello recommends reaching out monthly at a minimum, to see who's responding and who's not. Boulanger agrees and adds, “Even if it’s just a monthly newsletter, make sure you’re doing something every month.” Donohue offers sage advice: do not wait until you’re ready to launch an offer to work on your list. "When we add our new Kids Bowl Free emails into our database, we don't just data dump a thousand and then go forward. We take it through our [integration] process. 'This person has a birthday coming up; this guest has been with us in this program since 2016; what else can we get them interested in?’”
If It Sounds Overwhelming, There’s Plenty of Help!
Leaning on an outside expert can alleviate headaches and maximize data use. Paying an outside company to help manage data flow can be an investment that pays off significantly, as opposed to having an in-house employee manage data who may not be a specialist in the field. Plus, the bonus of automation that many systems offer will optimize marketing efforts.
Converting data into dollars is essential to every business. Data can help us make better decisions, get premium marketing results, avoid pitfalls, and provide feedback to adjust our approach as needed. A thoughtful, deep dive into the data could mean a smoother and more profitable business for you.
If Collecting Data Hasn't Been Your Priority, Here's Some Good News!
There are more ways than ever to collect data:
- Free access to WiFi
- Online reservation systems
- Cashless payment kiosks
- Geographically targeted and other social media ads
- Loyalty programs
- QR codes on a piece of snail mail
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