Those of You…

…who know me, know that I’m not strongly slanted in any direction politically, but I do like that these guys met over a beer.

* New theme?  Can the “Those of You” streak ever rival the “W” mania?


The Apple Brand is Sticky

apple_logoFollowing on to Friday’s post about my frustration with getting my daughter’s iPod up and running, I have to dish some mad props to the Apple marketing people.

Apple’s prowess at design is not anything new.  The iPod came in a beautiful little jewel case with a Set-up Guide that Garr Reynolds would be proud of: about 6 cms square, 16 pages, 2 – 8 words per page, simple graphics, and lots of white space.  The iPod itself is also lovely, as is its docking station.

But it was the other thing that came in the package that is marketing brilliance.  It was a small sheet with two cute-as-buttons Apple logo stickers.  As we all know, most Apple consumers are raving fans of the company and its products – who better to arm with instantly-deployable advertising content?

And it’s more than just advertising – when an iPod owner puts that sticker on their schoolbook or cubicle or bike or dorm room door, they’re identifying themselves as a proud member of a special tribe.  Of course, there are many other ways of doing this – someone can have a Ferrari key fob (even if they drive a Yugo, they are saying, “I belong to the group of people that admire fast cars”), or a Lost  t-shirt (which says to the world, I enjoy having my mind messed with every week).

You should do the same thing for your bar patrons.  Make available some kind of identification piece that lets them show other people that they come to (or even “belong to”) your establishment.  The type of item would vary depending on the type of joint you run, and the type of clientele.  Young people might like ball caps or t-shirts or bumper stickers; older folks might like nice pens or key chains or business card cases.  You can look at the types of tchotchkes given our at trade shows for more ideas – I’m not going to do ALL the work.

Work, Not Safe For


This video is hilarious, but extremely NSFW or people with children in the vicinity.  Or people who don’t like cussin’.

For those of you who chose not to watch it, it is a satirical news report about the release of an ambiguous TV add-on device that everyone is clamoring to buy, but which is so complicated and bug-ridden that it’s impossible to actually use.  As is the case with most satire, it is so funny because it is so true.  We as consumers have been trained by years of mass marketing that we MUST HAVE whatever everybody else wants/has.  I know that all of us will say, “Pas moi!  I am an individual and make my purchase decisions independently from what everyone else thinks.”  But the evidence of people lining up  to give their money to someone points to the contrary.  (Think iPhone, x-box, Harry Potter books, Cabbage Patch Kids, etc.)

Of course, the fact that nothing breeds success like success is nothing new.  But I think too much emphasis is placed on being a blockbuster or best-seller or smash hit or #1.  In bar terms, I would rather have a place where people don’t have to line up to get service.  A place where not everyone wants to go.  A place that caters to a certain kind of clientele, but really nails their specific preferences.  I’d rather be the best at doing one thing well for a small group of people than the best at doing many things poorly for a large group of people.


Watering Holes of the Future

It occurred to me today, as Windows behaved in yet another unexpected and inexplicable way, that my generation is probably the first to remember the days when we knew how stuff worked, and are now living with a bunch of everyday items that we don’t understand the workings of at all.

When I was a boy (now that I’m 45 I get to use that phrase from now until I die), I understood how everything worked, at least basically.  For instance, you could look at a car engine (cripes, you could practically climb into a car engine), and know what every part did, and how they all worked together.  You could take apart a telephone and clearly see how it worked.  I built a crystal radio, so I understood the rudimentaries of that, and, by extension, TV – the only difference was the cathode ray tube, which I also understood.  Tape recorders, refrigerators, airplanes, adding machines; even space flight technology was within my grasp.

I consider myself a fan of science, and I like understanding how all things (including living things) work.  For a while there, at McGill, where I took MIS and one of the courses taught us how computers work: from the individual electrons up through bits, bytes, assembler and higher programming languages; I even thought I knew how computers worked.

But now I’m falling way behind.  I have no idea how flash memory works, for example.  The computer I’m using now is so different from the one I “understood” in 1981, they’d be unrecognizable to each other.  My car engine is a solid block of aluminum with several computers in it.  My freakin’ cell phone has more technology in it than NASA did when I was born.

Right now, as we are learning to apply this incomprehensible technology, it’s fun.  Social experiments like Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter, and sending photos and videos from your phone are examples of how people are using these tools to become closer.  But this closeness is contrived.  It’s too easy.  I have “friends” on Facebook that I would never send a Christmas card to, for instance, even if people still did that sort of thing.  I am followed on Twitter and get comments on my blog by people I don’t even know – we just happen to have crossed paths on some topic of mutual interest.

I’m not against these “artificial” relationships – I just think there will come a time, fairly soon, when people will tire of virtual companionship and start to rediscover the pleasure of going down to the pub.  One of the driving forces of this will be the increasing trend towards working from home, and losing the face to face interpersonal relationships that work brings for most of us.  But the more that technology separates us physically, the higher the demand will be for places that bring us together.


Where Should Your Bar Be?

Here’s a link to a story about the importance of a bar’s location.  That’s all you’re getting today because I’m wall-to-wall work.


Weather Permitting…

mapAs happens frequently, the Weather Network was completely wrong about predicting the weather even 6 hours in advance last night.  I find it hilarious that they have a 2 week outlook when they can’t even do 2 days.  Actually, to give them credit, I tend to have a medium degree (get it?) of confidence in their 2 day predictions, but anything past that is flipping a coin.

Of course, it’s not their fault.  Weather is a hugely complicated phenomenon with trillions of influences affecting what conditions will be at any given place at any given time.  The more things that are in play, the less predictable something is.  So the rising of the sun tomorrow, with only one influence acting on it (gravity) is as close to 100% predictable as you can get.  The path of a billiard ball has only 3 or four influences, so it is highly predictable.  The airspeed velocity* of an unladen African Swallow has many dozens of influences, so it’s somewhat  predictable.

The point of all this is that the market in general, and whom you market to in particular, have millions of influences.  So it’s very unpredictable.  Sometimes it’s possible to grasp why things happened in hindsight, but it’s impossible to predict the future almost all the time.

So, given this unpredictability, there are two strategies to succeed: you can design your company and yourself to be as agile and reactive as possible to what the future brings; or you can try to create  your own future.  I’m not sure which is better, or which is easier, but the latter is definitely scarier.

* I know “airspeed velocity” is redundant, but one must not misquote Monty Python.


Winter Blues

Well, since it’s been 8 posts and 15 days since I wrote about anything remotely associated with bars or marketing, I am happy I chanced upon this topic the other day while listening to the radio.  It was the perennial discussion about how people get depressed in the winter months because there’s less daylight, and Xmas is over, and the bills are rolling in, blah, blah, blah.

They had on a psychiatrist who I thought had a surprisingly good idea for folks that are feeling down.  In December, before you get all bummed out, schedule some periodic activity – preferably exercise-related and preferably outdoors – that you have to commit to.  This breaks the vicious cycle of:  too tired/bummed to go out, so you stay in and marinade in your misery, which makes you sadder and less likely to go out, etc.

My first reaction to this was, what a great marketing angle for the Theatre!  Classes at the Theatre School would be a great weekly activity that would also be fun, energetic, and social.  Or simply take advantage of a seat sale or value pack and getting tix for one show every few weeks throughout the winter.  Wrap a dinner around that, and it’s a great night out for friends or lovers.  Call it the Winter Blues Beater combo or something.

Then I thought a bar would be an even better venue to promote that kind of periodic excuse to get out of the house.  Of course you’d have to get some of your patrons’ skin in the game.  I mean you could  say that having Monday Night Football on the big screen is a great weekly draw, but no-one is committed  to attending – they might not come because it’s snowing or whatever and the vicious cycle begins.

So make them “promise” in some way that they will come.  Perhaps you organize a bi-weekly ski-day package bus trip that begins and ends at the bar but requires a 50% deposit – that way everybody will show up (and après ski at your place!).  Or some kind of friendly team competition like darts or pool that team members will peer-pressure each other into coming out for.

And don’t even hide what you’re trying to accomplish:  come right out and say that this will help your winter depression.   Your customers might appreciate it.


What a Great Excuse for a Party!

nyeveWhen I worked the Montréal bar scene, the three highest revenue days of the year were, in order: Super Bowl Sunday; St. Patrick’s Parade day; and New Year’s Eve.  But New Year’s Eve was the most profitable, because we charged admission.  For the other two events, most bars actually offered freebies (like Irish Coffee or live music for St. Pat’s, or complimentary chili or pizza for the Super Bowl) to entice customers.  This cut into the margins, obviously.

It also made St Pat’s and Super Bowl bar-hopping  days, when you would visit several establishments in the course of the day.  This was for three reasons: they begin in the afternoon (unlike New Year’s), so there’s more time to move around; there are no cover charges; and these events don’t usually involve getting dressed up.

New Year’s is different.  You plan to go somewhere (and stay there) for the evening, usually with a crowd of friends.  You probably put on some fancy clothes, which might make it difficult to walk around Montréal sidewalks in December.  And it’s an evening-only affair, sometimes not starting until ten or later.

So on New Year’s, you can sell tickets to pay for the “freebies” like party hats and Champagne at midnight and snack food, etc.  But this creates competition:  if you are going to commit to spending the whole evening in one place, and pay money to do so, how do you pick the right place?

Here’s my free advice to bar owners:  have a “Leap Second” event.  2008 is going to be a Leap Second year, where an additional second is added to the world’s atomic clocks to make up for the gradual slowing of the earth’s spin.  A Leap Second is different than a Leap Year, where an extra day is added every four years to account for the fact that it actually takes about 365.25 days for the earth to orbit the sun.

So you can say your bar is having TWO New Year’s Eves – one at 23:59:60 (note that you don’t usually find a number higher than 59 in the seconds column) and one at 00:00:00.  Then again, maybe explaining it all will be too complicated.  Perhaps the good ol’ free jello shots would be easier.


Wiser Imbibers

drinkers1If you’re having a slow day at the bar, with only a few customers, there are a number of reasons to try and get them to sit together instead of singly.

The first is that, unless one or more of them is a real pain in the arse, they’ll probably have a better time together than they would have apart, simply because humans tend to be social animals.

The second is that if they end up making new friends, the most logical place to get together in the future will be where they first met, i.e. your bar.  And every time they enter your bar, they’re more likely to see friends already there.

The third is purely selfish: they’ll be easier to serve than if they were spread out.

The fourth is that they’ll probably drink more – whenever the fastest drinker finishes, the natural action will be for everyone to buy a new drink.

The fifth is that they’ll be theoretically smarter.  This study done by the Higher Education Center tested people’s cognitive prowess when they were sober and drunk, both alone and in groups of four.  The people who were on their own fared considerably worse when they were drunk, but the groups showed virtually no change in their ability to perform mental challenges.  So it turns out that the adage, “You shouldn’t drink alone,” is good advice for more than one reason.


Wired for 150

Primates have huge brains.  And one part of the brain, the neocortex, is remarkably larger in primates than in every other mammal.  The neocortex handles complex thought and reasoning.

The neocortex as a percent of total brain volume varies widely, even among primates.  For a while, it was thought that that was because some primates were just “smarter” than others, or the ones who had learned to use tools had developed that part of their brain.  It turns out that the proportionate size of the neocortex is most closely correlated with the number of other primates you know personally.

Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist postulates that because managing relationships is an extremely complex skill, the larger the group you live in, the larger the neocortex you require.  Think about it – if you are in a group of 4, you have 6 relationships to keep track of: the 3 you have with the others, and the 3 they have with each other.  If you live in a group of 20, there are 190.  So Mr. Dunbar crunched some numbers, and it turned out he’s right – for 38 types of primates, there is a high degree of alignment between the “neocortex ratio” and the size of communities those species tended to form.

So what happens when you run the neocortex ratio on Homo sapiens?  You get 147.8, which is commonly rounded to 150 and called, “Dunbar’s Number.”  There are plenty of examples where this has proven out – the size of prehistoric villages and primitive, remote villages today.  The Hutterites religious sect splits its communities when they reach 150.  Gore Associates, the company that makes Gore-Tex, always builds a new plant when the employees in one get to 150.  None of these things happen because they read about the Dunbar Number, it just “feels” right.

Up to 150 people, you can know everyone in the group, and even have a pretty good idea about how each of them feels about the others.  Beyond that, it’s too much, so people develop smaller groups — they become literally divisive.

So, shoot for 150 regular customers when you plan your bar.  If you start to get more than that, either make the club more exclusive, or open another location.