Sharing in the Escape Room enthusiasts groups on Facebook, I see queries coming up from time to time from owners regarding marketing, marketing strategy, ideas and best value options.  Marketing can most certainly be a nightmare.  And primarily that’s because its constant and unrelenting, and always pleading to be fresh, new and interesting.

The escape room industry has double the challenge, because customers are usually only one visit per room. That means the pressure is always on to get a continual flow of new incoming customers interested and booking. So I thought some insights that I’ve helped others with in the past might be useful.

Having lived the marketing ‘mare for 18 years in running my own small businesses, I have also spent many years helping business start-ups to get their systems and operations functioning.  And what becomes obvious very quickly to every business owner is that marketing is both a nightmare and the essential foundation upon which sales and business continue to flow.  You can have the best product or service in the world, but if no-one knows about it, or if word’s not spreading, then you will struggle with long term business prosperity.

Don’t confuse marketing with sales. They’re two different functions.

Marketing is about building presence and developing relationships with people. It’s about becoming known and trusted.  People buy from people they trust.

When you put your business model together, you should include a very healthy budget for pre-launch marketing, opening events, and a first push to get known in the first 3-6 months.  The stronger you make the pre-launch and launch, the more marketing momentum you start your business with. Then, your marketing efforts need to continue consistently, and every month a share of funds should be ploughed into improving, expanding and energising your marketing reach.

So many people are surprised and bewildered by the discovery that marketing is a beast that will eat time and resources like no other business function does.  It has to be continuous – daily.  Marketing isn’t something you can set aside a couple of hours a week for.  That’s because its power and effectiveness is dependent on maintaining flows of continuous cycles of output.  Marketing has to be a multi-stream function that is maintained every day.

To build presence, you have to actively be creating content and reaching out across multiple streams:

Marketing Action: Regularity:
Social Media (Twitter/Facebook, etc) Daily – and often, but not excessively.
Email Newsletters Monthly. (2-weekly if you have good interesting news or offers to share)
Customer Response/Monitoring (reviews/replies, etc) Daily
Direct mail/customer relations Every 2 Months
Special Promotion or Event Every 3 months
Annual calendar features (i.e. Valentines, Halloween) Whenever possible
Press & Media (including online) Every time something notable is happening
General Presence within your business community (networking, trade events) Every 2 Months
General Presence within your local community Every 2 Months
Affiliations/shared promotions with other businesses Every 6 Months

 
The key to stress-free, good quality marketing is to plan well in advance.  Some aspects, such as social media, by their very nature have to be daily and spontaneous.  But for all other promotions and events, I suggest you prepare a continuous rolling year calendar to work from to organise and schedule.  A yearly planner will show you clearly if there are any gaps or potential lapses in your marketing flow.  You don’t ever want gaps.  When there’s a gap, you won’t feel it at the time of the gap because there is always a backlog of incoming flow from marketing efforts.  It will impact about 2 months later, which will be the result of losing the momentum.  Once the momentum goes, it’s like starting again from scratch.  So, if your bookings are down in July – that’s not about July.  That’s most likely a result of marketing that didn’t take place in May.

With good planning you’ll remove the stress from the component parts of your marketing activity.  For each promotion, campaign or idea you create, gain focus by breaking it down into its component parts:

1. Purpose for creating the promotion Always be clear on your purpose, intended objective and hoped-for outcomes. Clarity of purpose will prevent you digressing from the core path of the promotion. Ultimately, you’ll save time, resources and money if you remain clear on the purpose. The intended objective will clarify and help you to zero-in on the target market sector.
2. Target Market Clearly define your target customer for any particular campaign/promotion. That will give you the initial visuals, content and delivery method for the next steps. Each marketing mini-project should be to a specific target sector. ‘Spread marketing’ is generally wasteful of time, resources and money.
3. Timing Always allow extra time – marketing is a creative process, and not every day is tuned in to creative wonderment. Expect the odd down-day. Don’t leave copywriting to the last minute – creative writing under deadline pressure is miserable!
4. Budget What funds are available will dictate how you move forward with all other components.
5. Method of Delivery What medium is this promotion – flyers, brochures, video, online, social media, mobile event set up, etc. If you can conceptualise the delivery of the message, it gives way to envisioning your design.
6. Design This gives life to your means of expression. The design has to attract and engage the customer in your intended message. Most importantly, the promotion should prompt people to act and respond to the message and the medium. Always design with your target customer in mind.
7. Production Tasks Organise well – who’s doing what, and when. Allocate tasks in accordance with your timing schedule, and project manage it carefully. If you miss or delay one component part it will create stress and pressure on the remaining parts.
8. Execution Enjoy your production. When the promotion runs, when the event is happening, you want high energy supporting it. Don’t let it happen around you… be in it.
9. Follow up and Measure Debrief and measure responses after every marketing promotion. How many enquiries, how many bookings, how many new leads/connections. Level of interest, level of engagement. Was it cost effective? And remember, most marketing drives don’t show instant response (unless they’re date specific and imminent). Response can often be a slow drip, even months later. So always uniquely code your leaflets and promos, so that you know later what the origin was of a booking.

 

It is possible to do marketing with very little effort, and in short time.  But that will bring in ‘trickles’ of custom.  If you really want good numbers at your event, high levels of response, and ensured future customer engagement, then put the time in and manage the process well.

And owners, remember, you have something that the players want – puzzles and fun and laughter and intrigue and just a little drama also.  Let us know what you’ve got… we really do want to know.