At TopGolf, a golf entertainment facility with locations in Virginia, Illinois, and Texas, regional marketing director Scott McMahon attracts customers in the 18- to 35-year-old demographic with a combination of social media outreach and Foursquare check-in specials. McMahon has noticed a gradual uptick in the number of Foursquare users checking-in at TopGolf’s four U.S. locations over time, and says he was able to boost the number of check-ins in 2011 by creating a ‘Grizzly’ Foursquare special that tied in with the company’s ‘Fun Doesn’t Hibernate’ marketing campaign.
What are some of the biggest marketing challenges you face at TopGolf?
There’s a number of challenges, the first of which is the title itself: TopGolf. People get this image in their heads when they hear the word ‘golf’ — they think of a country club or a white-collar type of a feel, and less about a social setting. TopGolf is the exact opposite of that. We encourage bringing out your friends in a social setting where it’s okay to be loud and it’s okay to eat and drink while you’re playing. More than 50% of our audience refers to themselves as non-golfers — people who play a traditional game of golf once or less per year. We really cater to those people who are just looking for an alternative to going out to a bar or a restaurant on the weekend.
So in general, what platforms do you use for marketing?
In the past we’ve done more traditional stuff, whether it’s print, or radio, or television spots. In terms of social media, we’re entering into the realm more and more each day. We have a very active Facebook and Twitter following, so we are constantly posting events, specials, and deals for our audience through those mediums. Foursquare is another one that’s growing, where we’re looking for more opportunities to push our message out there. Also, we do a ton of emails and e-blasts to our database, which currently has a few hundred thousand members. We are going in that particular direction because our core audience of 18 to 35 year-olds is getting the majority of their information through social media and through email these days.
How do you manage social media at the corporate level? Do you have a single person responsible for each location’s Facebook page, for example, or are managers at each location handling that?
We have our core corporate marketing team here in Chicago that does a lot of the national-level stuff, but each one of our sites has a marketing champion. It is basically their responsibility to handle all of the local marketing outreach. These marketing champions will also handle a lot of the [social media], whether it’s posting on Facebook, tweeting, or live reporting during events. They’re our “boots on the ground” if you will, to really work on that guest experience face-to-face with the people who come through the door.
As a company, how do you decide which marketing platforms are worth using?
We are constantly examining what new things are coming out, whether it’s Path or some new applications that are on the horizon. We look at our competitors. We look at upscale bowling alleys, the Dave & Buster-type places, and other restaurants that cater to our similar audience. We look to see what other companies are doing, and then we develop our own things to push out to our audiences. As of right now, we obviously stick to the more popular [platforms] because it gives the greatest penetration to our audience. We also work very closely with our creative agency, which is constantly coming up with ideas for different ways to reach out.
What initially drew you to Foursquare as a marketing platform?
Whatever system we can use to see who is coming through our doors, we always gravitate towards. We’ve been using Foursquare for a while now. I’ve been here for about a year and a half and we were using it even prior to me getting here, but with limited success. We’ve started to switch up our check-in specials and specifically tie them into our marketing campaigns. We’ve definitely seen an increase thanks to that. Like anything else, I think it’s about keeping the special fresh. If someone is constantly coming to TopGolf and seeing the [same] Foursquare check-in special over and over again, I think it can start to get stale. By keeping the offer fresh and keeping people on their toes, we’re almost forcing them to check-in when they come. That’s what’s worked to our advantage.
How have you tied your Foursquare specials in with your marketing campaigns?
For example, starting in the fall of 2011, we had a campaign called Fun Doesn’t Hibernate, which is more or less [about showing] that TopGolf is a year-round facility. We built up a bunch of food specials that were associated with it, including Game Day specials for people who come out and watch the NFL on Sundays. A number of those food specials, we put on Foursquare and gave an additional dollar figure off for actually checking-in and showing the check-in to an associate.
Have your associates had any trouble redeeming mobile deals?
For the past year or so, we’ve been building in more and more time for education for our associates before we launch our marketing campaigns. Obviously, we have things like pre-shift meetings where the marketing champions will have the opportunity to reinforce some of the marketing principles that we put together, and that includes instructing people about what Foursquare specials or Facebook or Twitter specials are currently available. We really reinforce those things. At the same time, we provide training on what happens if you see [a mobile special] or if a guest brings it to you, in terms of whether [the associate should] get a manager or whether they can go ahead and handle that on their own. It’s all about education.
Do you keep track of how many of these specials are actually redeemed?
We do. We get reports from Foursquare as to the number of people who’ve checked-in and the number of specials that were unlocked. I don’t actually have the number of [how many were] redeemed on-site, but I can see how the numbers really went in an upward direction when we switched over to campaign-related specials.
[We’ve run] a loyalty check-in special since October 19, 2010, and a campaign-specific check-in special called the “Grizzly” special since October 19, 2011— a total coincidence that they started on the same day a year apart. We had 1,024 unlocks in 477 active days for the loyalty special, and 3,191 unlocks in 112 active days for the Grizzly special. The Grizzly specials are available for each check-in, as opposed to every fourth check-in for the loyalty special. But, the [number of] views for the Grizzly special are nearly identical to the loyalty special — 2,531 for the loyalty versus 3,251 for the Grizzly — even though the [Grizzly special] has been running for one less year. We heavily promoted the Grizzly specials on our other social media outlets and marketing materials. TopGolf mainly uses Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare as our social media platforms, but we are evolving to make sure that our messaging is consistent across all the applications.
What are your goals when you’re setting up these specials? Is it about customer acquisition, or something else?
I think it’s less about customer acquisition because I don’t know how many people we’re necessarily bringing in through Foursquare. Maybe it’s a few, but I think it’s more along the lines of loyalty. We just want to keep TopGolf on top of people’s minds when they’re out and looking for something to do. If you’re in your mid-twenties and you’re looking for something to do on a Friday night, you’re very often going to turn to social media to come up with some ideas. We want to put TopGolf in as many places as possible where someone is looking for something to do. “Hey, why don’t we try TopGolf? I see there is a special going on, or there’s live music on a Friday night.” We’re trying to push that out through as many channels as possible.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.