Marketing Your Arcade in 2016
Reaching the Locals One Post, Event or Groupon Promo at a Time
by Adam Pratt, Game Grid Arcade & ArcadeHeroes.com
When I first opened my mall arcade back in the Summer of 2008, I was approached by a number of salespeople offering different services. Some offered data processing services; others marketing. From the beginning, I know that it was important to get the word out about my business in order to generate clientele, but going about it was not my strong suit.
In observing the market, I saw that some businesses would generate a strong online following before they even opened their doors or would get free TV news coverage. Neither of those happened for my arcade, despite some futile attempts on my part. Instead, marketing my arcade involved picking the best games I thought our locals would want to play, letting word of mouth spread from there. That’s only a small part of the marketing equation, however, and takes a long time to propagate. Of course, there’s also the chance that something goes wrong that you never hear about, and that word of mouth is actually spreading something negative instead.
The easy –– and essential –– thing to do was to take advantage of the “free” social media channels. I set everything up with Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, which were also tied to my company website. That way, the avenues were set up to keep in constant touch with my customers. The only problem was that I didn’t have many local customers to speak of who were actually following those sites.
Both Facebook and Twitter offer “Boost Post” features where you can target locals –– supposedly. After attempting to boost my posts locally numerous times (only to garner a zero-to-few likes), I’ve given up on throwing money away there. To this day, the majority of “likes,” “follows” and “subscriptions” tend to come from outside of my state, which doesn’t really help bring customers in on a daily basis. Even so, it would be foolish to drop the use of these channels. Just know going in that success here requires patience and consistent, clever postings to help keep the fans coming.
What I have discovered over the years is that to generate a fanbase on these channels, I need to show up at places beyond my store. Attending events like the Salt Lake Comic Con or sponsoring charity events like a local Lupus walk have actually been good for business. Of course, philanthropy is just good to do in general, and it’s often surprising how much one gets back when giving. (I would recommend the book The Go-Giver for an excellent look at that.)
When I “attend” events like these, I take games along with me. This gives me a chance to get my product out there; each game becomes an opportunity to market my brand. Each game that gets taken to an event gets a small tag we created. It has the company logo on it preceded by “Come play me @”; the other part of the tag has a QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone, instantly “likes” us on Facebook. Since a vast majority of players at events like these are going to be locals, any “likes” generated at that time are going to be easy to notice and more effective for our business. That effort produced much more interest and positive word-of-mouth marketing than any boosted post ever had. Granted, getting arcade games to different locations is no easy or inexpensive task, but just think of that as part of your overall marketing expenses.
Going back to the initial days of getting my arcade started (and an idea that didn’t work), I took one advertising “deal” that came my way. I ended up going for an offer to market my business on some pizza flyers that they claimed would be put on 10,000 Pizza Hut boxes from the location just around the corner from the mall. For about $1,200, it seemed like a good way to reach people in my area. Due to my naivete however, I didn’t demand proof of when the flyers would be placed on the boxes (I did get a flyer in hand at least). After a few months, I could never tell if it had any effect whatsoever as I never saw the flyer come in or have any customer mention it.
“And finally, a new idea came my way at the end of 2015, a marketing solution that has proven to work better at bringing in locals than anything else I have ever tried: the Groupon coupon!” We have done some internal marketing here at the mall, which helped draw attention to our location. Some people might not walk the whole mall, instead just come and stick to the movie theater or the food court, so they might not even know the arcade is here. Most locations don’t have this situation, but if you have neighboring businesses, it never hurts to talk with them to see if there is some cross promotion deal that can be worked out to your mutual benefit. And please note, if you do place flyers or ads anywhere, it’s very important to throw something on there like “mention this ad!” Otherwise, tracking ad effectiveness becomes quite difficult (if not impossible).
And finally, a new idea came my way at the end of 2015, a marketing solution that has proven to work better at bringing in locals than anything else I have ever tried: the Groupon coupon! Groupon users see a deal that interests them and buy their discount coupon from the website. Then, they either print it out to redeem (or redeem it using a virtual coupon on the phone). We’ve had a surprising number of new clients show up to play because of it.
I also just started to work with a local competitor of Groupon to see how that will perform. It’s too early to tell, but I’ve seen that providing good deals on a coupon platform used by locals has contributed to record-breaking months of earnings. This is certainly not something to be ignored!
Overall, when it comes to marketing, be creative and experiment within the means of your budget. Don’t skimp on the “free” avenues of social media either, but be patient with them and creative. And, don’t be afraid to give back!
Adam Pratt is the owner and operator of the Game Grid arcade near Salt Lake City, Utah. He also publishes the Arcade Heroes blog site and serves as an advisor for the web-based game supplier BMI Worldwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.