2016 is coming to a close and it’s time to start working on your marketing plan for 2017. As you decide on what to do in the coming year, which efforts are worth your while?

For bowling centers, marketing is crucial to keeping up with competitors, including other entertainment venues. From 1998-2013, the number of bowling alleys in the U.S. fell from 5,400 to 3,976, or by about 26%, but things are turning around. Between 30 and 50 new facilities featuring bowling have been built annually in the most recent few years — indicating a resurgence of bowling as a pastime. These new centers approach the bowling alley business model differently by offering a complete entertainment experience. To compete, existing bowling centers must offer and promote more than lanes and leagues. Visitors expect full bars with unique cocktails, great dining options, and quality gaming on top of well-maintained lanes.

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Marketing is also much more difficult, as consumers are inundated with competing options for their limited entertainment time and dollars.  This historic industry is in transition and ready for a turnaround with a younger, white-collar crowd adopting a type of happy hour, after-work bowling habit.

To cut through the noise, bowling alleys need to adopt and explore digital marketing trends that help them connect with their customers where they’re at, on whatever device they’re on, with personalized, targeted messaging.

With over five years’ experience working with successful bowling centers, we’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t).  Here are digital marketing tactics that you should add to your 2017 plan immediately.

Live Video

Live video is gaining in popularity and will surely reach its pinnacle in 2017. In the age of ‘right here, right now,’ nothing else brings it to life as much as live video.

Most will find the biggest success using Facebook Live, which is as easy as opening your page through the Facebook App on your phone, hitting publish, and selecting Live Video. After you’re done filming, you can save your live video as a post on your page. Instagram recently launched their version of Live Video, with the main difference being the videos disappear after you finish live streaming instead of being saved anywhere on your page.  Experiment with both; they garner different viewers but both are valuable.

With organic reach on Facebook at an all-time low, Facebook has made it clear that they prioritize video, and prioritize (and even publicize!) live video. Push to the top of your fan’s feeds while broadcasting. You can’t afford not to do this.

Takeaways:

  • Capture footage of cute kids and parties
  • Celebrate big league wins on film
  • Shoot birthday toasts at your bar or restaurant
  • Film food being prepared and served
  • Interview bowling guests (be silly; have fun!)
  • Experiment to see what posts get the most excitement!

Paid Social Advertising

Social is still a big game, but the way it’s played is changing. We’re seeing more in the moment posts (like Live Video), less sharing of articles, and more pay-to-play. With Facebook specifically, if you want promotional posts to be seen and shared you need to pay for ads.

Paid ads on social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat) can be useful when you want to promote something specific, say a holiday special or bowling deal, but they’re also incredibly valuable in maintaining awareness of bowling as an option. With as little as $5 for a single post (but we’d recommend starting closer to $20), you can make sure your published posts reach more people and have better interactions from a more specific audience.

Takeaways:

  • When an organic post gets some traction, always boost it
  • Create highly targeted audiences when you buy ads
  • Experiment and closely monitor ad performance
  • Use your existing email lists to build “lookalike” audiences on Facebook
  • Retarget visitors to your site

Mobile Optimization

Every year, Google becomes more strict about ranking mobile sites in search engines. If your website isn’t mobile optimized, the chances of your site being found for birthday party locations or where to host a corporate christmas party are dwindling.

We’ve been saying it for years, but this really is your last chance to make changes before your website is affected and pushed far out of the rankings.

Because mobile visitors are now the majority of website visitors, having a mobile-friendly (responsive) website is no longer enough. It also has to function properly on mobile devices and be an enjoyable experience. For example, make sure phone numbers and addresses are clickable so users can call you or open a map directly from your site on their phones.

Takeaways:

  • Audit your existing responsive website
  • Ensure that visitors can easily call your center or find you on a map
  • Make online reservations for parties and lanes mobile friendly
  • Consider mobile coupons

Online Reservations

As people start doing more and more from their devices, they also want to do things like reserve their lane or book their daughter’s birthday party online, perhaps also from their phone.

People hate picking up the phone to make a reservation. Now, your visitors want to be able to find out when they can do something and exactly how much it will cost right on your website.  And, if they don’t find it on your website, they’ll find it on your competitors.

So, develop pages specifically for parties to give parents and corporate party planners an idea of what to expect from a pricing perspective; tell casual bowlers how much they’ll shell out to bring their family bowling for the night, and by all means, let them reserve their party or a lane online.  Even if that’s through a simple form that emails directly to your front desk.

Takeaways:

  • Allow guests to book parties and groups online
  • Allow guests to reserve a lane online, and especially from their mobile devices
  • Consider giving guests the opportunity to buy gift certificates and bowling passes online

Targeted Ads & Emails

Today’s technology gives us an eerily extensive amount of insight to everyone online. There’s so much potential when it comes to targeting users. With Facebook, for example, you can choose to target those who have children with a message to bring their kids in during school breaks. You can let those with birthdays coming up know they receive a free game for bowling on their birthday.

Send emails based on users’ behavior through marketing automation software that tracks activity online. Emails should offer the right solution or offer at the right time, and add value to the recipient.

Takeaways:

  • Paid advertising must be more strategic than ever
  • Track user activity on your website to target ads to the right customer at the right time
  • Make sure every touchpoint has value to the consumer
  • Use marketing automation software to track and communicate with your visitors

Facebook Events

There’s not a parent in the country who doesn’t plan their spare weekend time around Facebook events they’ve marked as “Interested” in. If you want families to fill your centers on the weekends, millennials to enjoy your weeknight specials, or your even your regulars to show up for your special events, you need a healthy Facebook event feed.

Takeaways:

  • As your Facebook Page, create Facebook events
  • Link to specific landing pages for each event where visitors can register or reserve their lane
  • Only use Events for events that happen bimonthly or less frequently (not every Monday, for instance)

Need help?

Wondering how you find time to do everything you need to do to keep up?  Wondering if it’s worth it anyway?  Reach out to our bowling center marketing team at Perfect Game Marketing.  We’ll show you how we achieve a 650% ROI on digital marketing, year over year, for bowling centers.

Digital Marketing Tasks You Can't Afford to Skip