How does one build what is now one of the most popular music venues in New York City from scratch, while spending next to nothing on advertisement?
According to Creative Media Director Justin Bolognino, it’s pretty simple - focus on the customers and let them spread the word. When he was brought on board, Brooklyn Bowl was nothing more than an abandoned warehouse space in Williamsburg. When the lease was finalized in 2007, Bolognino had what was then a rather innovative idea, suggesting they spend little to no effort on traditional advertisement, but rather focus on building their brand and reputation across social media. In the five years since, the music venue/bowling alley/Blue Ribbon eatery has steadily grown. They now have more than 35,000 page likes on Facebook, 23,000 followers on Twitter and the Bowl is one of the hottest spots for late-night check-ins on Foursquare.
Bolognino appears somewhat flustered when he shows up at Toby’s Estate, an airy coffeeshop in Brooklyn. Running two companies at once, digital full service agency Learned Evolution, and The Meta Agency, representing interactive artists, he has a trademark hectic day ahead. He declines a cup of coffee and proceeds to explain how it was growing up watching his father and three uncles run a successful Italian imported food store in Upstate New York, that gave him the idea. “We never did a lot of advertising,” he said, adding that his father was instead a customer service obsessive. “That’s where I learned the importance of connecting with your customer.”
Because it took almost two years to launch Brooklyn Bowl, those involved in building it had time to carefully consider how it should all come together. The space is designed according to Bolognino’s view on how social media works - while each section is different, it is all part of one eco-system. The wall between the bowling alley and music venue was rebuilt once they discovered it wasn’t possible to see the screens above the lanes from the floor in front of the stage. Every decision was made with customer satisfaction in mind, down to the jackets for the security staff that read “Welcome” on the back. His theory is that customers who truly enjoy the experience will be more inclined to not only return, but also share the love online.
Another factor is the affordability. “We pride ourselves on keeping ticket prices way down,” says Bolognino, and although the price of attending a concert here rarely exceeds $15, some huge names have taken to the stage in the 600-capacity venue. One of his favorite nights was when Kanye West unexpectedly dropped by one late October evening and “brought down the house.” West is in the top 99th percentile of artists across most of the major networks, including Youtube subscribers, Pandora fans, Twitter followers and Wikipedia page views.
But considering that the venue hosts live shows seven nights a week, the size of the performers’ fan bases vary greatly. Just last Thursday Gossip performed, an indie rock band with more than 500,000 views on Vevo in the past week, and close to 400,000 page likes in total on Facebook. In contrast, this coming Thursday will see Snarky Puppy take the stage, an instrumental fusion band with less than 20,000 Facebook page likes.
The marketing team behind the Brooklyn Bowl maintain an active and consistent presence on every social network, from Facebook to Instagram (also known as “bowlstagr.am”), to Twitter and Pinterest. They regularly host competitions where guests are prompted to take photos and post with the appropriate hash tags in the hopes of winning free tickets to shows. All of this has resulted in getting the Brooklyn Bowl name out there - in 2011 it was 10th on the list of top Google searches in the New York area.
“Call it the “Apple/Steve Jobs” iOS strategy of complete and total integration across all channels, while always being ahead of the curve,” said Bolognino, emphasizing the need for custom design of each network, ensuring that the content is unique, yet consistent all at once.
Photo Credit: Adam Kane Macchia
Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Westchester Magazine and more.