Marketing an Escape Room

There are so many ways to market a product or service.  Knowing how to market your new escape room experience is tough, hopefully this post will save you time and money.  With internet marketing firms breaking geographical barriers that used to exist, everyone can reach everyone now.  In fact, that is part of the problem.  Every day it seems a new company is offering me clients and customers for a fee.  Every day I am told that their company can build my brand far beyond my reach.  But lets face it, building a brand far beyond my reach, while a lofty dream, isn’t really practical or my objective.

Think about it, if you operate an escape room business it is local.

That means your paying-clients are coming from the area, even if they are tourists just visiting.  While it is a destination entertainment venue, much like a movie theater, very few people are going to travel long distances just to visit your venue.  That means the people who can actually pay for the service you provide, have to come in to enjoy it.  So connecting people worldwide with my company is ultimately of little value to me.

So what is my demographic?

What is the difference between building my brand, and attaining paying customers?

What do I spend my marketing dollars on?

These three questions determine success in the first stage of marketing your escape room.  And knowing your customer base is crucial.  Your demographic is the group you plan to have enjoy your escape room.  You may say, “Well I want everyone to enjoy it from the oldest to the youngest person!”  That is a great attitude, and ambitious goal, but ultimately your entertainment venue serves a “type of person”.  There is no set demographic to every escape room.  Certainly people from all age enjoy the buzzwords we advertise with like:  “wonder”, “adventure”, “mystery”, “action”, “excitement”, and we capture the attention of almost every personality type.  But the truth is, escape rooms vary in their personality.

Some are dark and scary, some are bright and cheerful.  Some offer rooms that cater to thrills and shock-value, and spooky effects that make people jump.  Some offer mature themes, attached bars with alcoholic beverages, while some offer children’s birthday party rooms, kiddish themes, and almost silly whimsical gameplay.  Even though a single escape room location can offer various rooms, they are often in the same vein of personality.  The joy of not being a franchise corporation is that you develop a signature that comes through in all of the themed rooms you make.  As a designer, embrace that signature — whether it is tech-heavy, old-school, tactile, math-oriented, steampunk, spooky, sinister, dark, or if it is joyful, whimsical, fantasy-heavy, light-hearted, or comical.  Embracing the style and finding your identity as an escape room in a community will determine who your target-market is.  There is a big difference in the folks that enjoy the haunted-house feel of a high-tech escape room and the folks that enjoy an 80’s flashback, retro-style logic puzzle escape room.

The overall feel of a room isn’t what you make it- it is what other people tell you, so embrace the feedback and adjust it if you think you are creating the wrong community image.  Ultimately your demographic is the one that most often spends money at your establishment.  To best figure that out, toss in a few questions with your waiver to find out age, gender, occupation, status, and if they are on vacation.  Lace those questions into a digital sign-in or use paper a and with a few questions at digital sign-in, or simply the attendant asking how they heard about you, where they are from, and making notes on age, background etc.

Brand building helps paying customers aware of your presence in an industry, but it doesn’t outright bring in dollar spending people.  In an entertainment business that is just launching, you want to gear your marketing toward both escape room brand-building, and attract customers to spend real money at your establishment.  You have payroll, startup costs, and likely lease payments to make — so prioritize marketing that brings in actual customers.  An example of brand-building is getting people to like your Facebook page, boosting posts that create awareness of your presence in a market.  Creating Facebook posts that have a call to action for booking or drive them to a website designed for steering them toward purchasing an experience is money well spent in the initial months of launching.  Don’t pay for services that break even, increase your customer flow but do not generate more income.  Services like Groupon are great, but they take 50% of your income.  Don’t work 10x as hard for 10x as many people without being well-compensated.  So weigh the marketing options that “professionals” pitch your way.

Ask other local or nearby escape rooms that target the same demographic — ask them what they spend their advertising money on.  Ask them if it has been successful.  Normally if you politely email them, explain you want to be a referral partner in a referral business, then they understand your success benefits them directly.  I have been asked what I spend my marketing dollars on.

The first thing I spend my marketing money on is Facebook.  The key is launching simultaneous campaigns that boost the same post in very different target marketing groups.  After a few successes and fails with these low-budget marketing pushes you can identify who is behind the money spent at your location.  I wrote more about How to use Facebook Marketing for Escape Rooms before and encourage you to read it.  I also spend money on tools needed to remain in contact with the clients that walk through the door.  Integrating digital sign in with Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, and other communication and marketing email template designers allows you to create mailing lists electronically. These are crucial for advertising specials, new rooms, or drawing back repeat customers.  Those monthly services end up being crucial and paying for the enhanced features that allow you to create custom HTML emails is key to professional emails from your escape room.

The last thing I spend my money on is general brand building.  Putting thousands into a billboard campaign around town may let everyone who drives by know that you are operating an escape room, but if the people reading it are not interested in escape rooms, all you have done is created something new they will forget.   Be sure you target your audience.  Placing ads in local apps for tourism that charge a yearly subscription are risky, and their success is based on many factors out of your hands.  Yelp and Google PPC ads that put your company at the top of the list are great for driving traffic to your website — but they can become costly, so set your budget accordingly and spend more money developing your SEO and organic location in Google. Over time your rise in popularity and reliability will enhance your web presence for free.

Just remember, most marketing is hit or miss, and you won’t know how effective it is until you try it.  If it is broad like radio, billboard, or television marketing you want — be sure you try it in affordable amounts to measure the success for your business before purchasing yearly or bulk rate subscriptions.  Keep trying avenues of communicating with local establishments like hotels, restaurants, and those that are already serving the same people you are attracting.   A stack of flyers at a popular restaurant for your demographic is worth more than having a jingle designed by the local radio company.  Remember, your escape room is an extension of your personality and creativity — it will ultimately fit the market that you best fit.