Text messaging puts pub in touch with customers

12 Aug 2003

A bar and restaurant in Dublin’s city centre has turned to text messaging and internet marketing to foster stronger customer relations and boost revenues. The move by The Vaults comes at an interesting time for the young company. At an embryonic stage in its development, the company is working hard to develop a loyal customer base at a time when a changing economic climate and an impending smoking ban threaten the entire hospitality industry in Ireland.

Nestled beneath Connolly Station and on the edge of the capital’s thriving IFSC business district, The Vaults are located in a large, atmospheric 19th century network of cellars that play host to a heady mix of regular Irish pub, wine and cocktail bar, trendy city restaurant and, at the weekends, a pulsating range of nightclubs and events aimed at Dublin’s growing dance and RnB generation.

While its city centre location and proximity to one of Europe’s most buzzing financial districts might spell strategic advantage to most entrepreneurs, as far as The Vaults’ manager Michael Martin (pictured) is concerned, it can also be its Achilles heel. “The fact is that by 8pm most evenings and the weekends, the professional crowd we cater to during the day have gone home or to the gym. For a city-based bar and restaurant that can be fatal for business so we needed to come up with new ways to ensure that we are at optimum capacity and by virtue of our location, it means creating a fresh community for the evenings and weekends.

“This has meant creating the right kind of entertainment and services that would attract business from different sets of people. The idea was to foster the idea of communities based around interests such as music and sport and to do that we decided that marketing through text messaging and the internet was the way forward,” Martin explained.

The growth in SMS marketing among practitioners of club culture was one that Martin was quick to realise. Text messaging is responsible for almost two-thirds of the voting on the recent Big Brother series and Cadburys recently claimed that a recent 12pc rise in pre-tax profits was due to an SMS marketing campaign on its chocolate bars.

Martin turned to Rathfarnham-based text message marketing company Text Us to implement technology that would enable The Vaults to build up audiences and evaluate the effectiveness of its various advertising campaigns. Text Us manages the text campaigns for The Star, TV3, Bank of Ireland, Vodafone and Procter and Gamble and the company has offices in Dublin, Sweden, Spain, South Africa and the US.

According to Paul Byrne, operations manager of Text Us: “Everything we do is opt-in; people have to give permission if they want to be targeted by SMS marketing. Basically we break it down to mobile promotions and processes. For example with Ryanair, people provide their profile on the website and are made aware in advance of special deals on Ryanair’s website. We are also working with a coach company to enable people to buy their tickets over their mobile phones and show their ticket to the driver as a text message. Champion Sports has built up a text club to give special deals to regular customers.

“The Vaults have adapted to SMS marketing quite successfully in terms of getting people to join clubs by profiling themselves online and allowing them to avail of special offers to attract them in,” Byrne says.

In place less than a year, the system at The Vaults runs off an Excel spreadsheet in The Vaults’ offices and is used to drive audiences to the venue’s two weekend nightclub events, Mobo on Friday night and Urban on Saturday nights as well as a host of other events featuring prominent and well-known DJs. “All clubbers text! It’s the best way of communicating with people who like this kind of music. People who come to our events can register online and give us an outline of the kind of music and bands they enjoy. Every week we put new information out to the people on what DJs will be playing as well as promotions by companies like Red Bull. We also use it to monitor our advertising campaigns on Spin 103.8FM in terms of how many people respond to text offers.

“Other novel uses we have found for the system have been our Text & Flirt nights where we make it easier for twentysomethings to meet each other on the night using a mixture of premium text and six plasma screens located around the venue. Messages pop up on the screen and the flirting begins.

“We use the technology to remove any smutty content,” Martin deadpans.

Apart from music-focused events, Martin explains that The Vaults have put text messaging to good effect to market to audiences around sport. “We basically keep a calendar of sporting events in the realms of the Premiership, Formula1 racing, tennis, Gaelic football, hurling, golf, rugby and horse racing and text details of live screen action that will take place at The Vaults to interested customers who want to watch them.

“As part of our community-building efforts, we host a Wine Club and Cocktail Club every week with around 100 members in each club and we co-ordinate their activities through text messaging. We also use text messaging to market The Vaults. For example, with people who register with us, two weeks before their birthday we would inform them of offers for parties. It’s a good way of drumming up business. We send out texts on what is planned for the weekend in terms of sporting events and nightclubs and some 600 people use the service.

“Another good use is market research. We encourage people to take part in feedback surveys by offering them free tickets to events and champagne tables for four.”

Asked whether such methods define the future of the Irish pub as we know it in terms of fostering a regular clientele, Martin cautioned that the use of SMS marketing has as many disadvantages as it does advantages. “It’s full of pros and cons. It is not cheap, but it does reap the business so we view it as a good investment. The aim for us is to establish community in what is a very displaced market right now. The most important thing is to allow people the right to opt out. As well as this, because you are dealing with people and basing your services around their personal choices, you have to be very careful how you use it. We manage our database very carefully in terms of what is relevant to each user, whether they are wine aficionados or simply love RnB. We regard it as an investment, an incurred cost that was necessary to grow the company.

“But it is also hard work in terms of getting it right. You’ve got to feed the beast. We update the system manually onto an Excel spreadhseet and every message you send can be no more than 160 characters. It’s very careful work but has helped us build up business across a number of niche business segments,” Martin concludes.

By John Kennedy