Marketing Your Haunted Attraction
Halloween Marketing as a Year-Round Mentality
October has finally arrived. And for many of us, it's the most wonderful time of the year. The stores are full of Halloween merchandise, jack-o-lanterns are popping up on porch steps and haunted attractions are scaring up business throughout the country. For a haunted attraction owner, the focus is now on making sure the actors show up, the scares are well-timed and a thousand other details are managed every night. For the most part, the marketing efforts for this year are already in place - and that means one less thing to think about till next July, right?
Not so fast.
Unless you're one of the lucky few that own a haunted attraction doing more business than it can handle, you want to continually grow your business every year. More ticket sales mean more cool props you can buy, more actors you can hire, and heck, even pay yourself a decent wage. In order to grow your business over the next year, there are steps you can do right now and into the off-season, that will mean more ticket sales down the road. Of course, these tips mentioned in this article are in addition to your traditional marketing and advertising efforts.
Data Collection During Season
During the height of the season, your haunt is open and crowds are showing up. Now is the time to collect information that you can use in your marketing efforts for years to come. One of the easiest ways for patrons to give you their information is to ask for it. Set up a table at the end of the attraction and have people sign up for your newsletter (more on that later). Or have them sign up for a contest in exchange for their email address. Give away some t-shirts or other swag and a lot of people will be willing to give you their information.
This type of strategy is called permission marketing, because people are giving their information willingly in order to get something from you (prize contest, newsletter, etc). This information should always be handled with care and never sold or given to anyone else.
The key is to ask for just enough information without getting too personal. Usually, name, email address, zip code, sex, and age are plenty. That info will give you some much-needed demographics about who is attending your haunt (the stats may surprise you too). Date of birth can be asked if you plan to send a birthday greeting. People will resist if you ask for home addresses and phone numbers.
While you're at it, ask a few questions about your haunted attraction. This information can help you make your haunt better next year and possibly even this year if there's a majority of people saying the exact same thing. This is a great opportunity to get invaluable feedback about what your customers really think about your product. It's always best to make it as fast and easy as possible for your customers to complete the info card. Multiple choice answers are a good idea with space available for those that may want to write further details.
Prepare individual cards ahead of time with plenty of cheap pencils (many will disappear) and a container or two where your customers can drop them off with ease. And remember, people are not mind readers. Hang a legible banner over the table so that patrons can easily read it. If the area is dark, shine a spotlight on the banner to attract attention.
Giving out cards is an easy way for people to sign up, but inputting all of the names and email addresses into a spreadsheet later is time-consuming for you or your staff. We live in a digital world and there are other ways of capturing information. Your patrons can enter their own information from their smartphones via services like SurveyMonkey and Polldaddy. If you have the extra staff or volunteers, equip them with some cheap tablets (with a wifi connection) and they can enter the information from your customers quickly and efficiently as well.
Let people know beforehand that they have a chance to enter the contest. A couple of signs placed near the entrance will have people looking for the table when they finish your haunt. It's possible to have hundreds, if not thousands, of names by the time your haunt has completed its run this year.
Right After You Close
The grueling season has come to an end. The walls have come down and your props have been securely tucked away in storage (unless you're lucky to have a year-round location). You're physically and mentally exhausted - and all you want to do is unwind. But before you enjoy your downtime, there's a couple of things you need to do.
If you held a contest, now is the time to contact the winners and promptly mail their prizes to the address they give you. Don't delay in doing this. The longer you put it off, the less likely you'll do it. There's nothing worse than being contacted about winning a prize and never getting it.
Now, send out your first email blast/newsletter to all of the email addresses that you've collected. This is just a sincere thank you for attending your haunt this year and that you and the entire staff greatly appreciate their business (everyone loves to be appreciated). This newsletter can also be a blog post on your website.
Let them know that they can follow you on your social media networks and include links so they easily find you. If you're planning to change rooms or themes next year, this is a great time to let them know about some awesome surprises planned for 2015. Whet their appetite and leave them wanting more.
NOTE: Generally, one email per month is sufficient. More than one or two a month will be viewed as spam.
During the Holidays
Yes, the holidays are on everyone's mind. Images of Santa have replaced evil pumpkins and zombies, but there are still opportunities to keep your haunt in the minds of your customers. Try sending out a holiday email with a photo of some of your haunt's creepiest characters wearing Santa hats. Maybe they are holding a stocking with a severed leg sticking out. Get creative. Just avoid religious images, you don't want to entertain your customers, not offend them.
Contests are always a great idea and most haunts underutilize this powerful marketing tool. Promote a contest through your newsletter, your website's blog, and your social media network. Give away a bloody stocking filled with your haunt's swag or other goodies. Again, the more creative you are, the better the participation and the more potential customers you'll gain.
The Winter Months
The days are short, the nights are long and much of the country is in a deep freeze. After the new year, outdoor activity is limited and more people are inside surfing the net on their computers and phones. This is an important time of the year to keep your haunt on the mind of your customers. Sure, Halloween still seems light-years away, but there are a lot of people out there that crave Halloween throughout the year. These are the people that go to haunts multiple times and bring their friends for Halloween outings. It's easy to connect to these loyal patrons during the winter months because the other haunted attractions are still hibernating.
This is the time to start hinting at things to come. As you plan for your haunt in 2015, drop hints in your newsletter and on your social networks. Whet their appetite but keep them guessing. Continue to build anticipation throughout the year until you make your big announcement before the haunt opens.
Many haunts go months without updating their Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter feeds. Especially with Facebook, once the engagement is gone, it's hard to get back. Update your page daily or every other day. Don't let several days go by without activity. Make announcements, post photos of last year's haunt, etc. If you don't have time to create original posts every day, like and share other page's posts. A number of haunts and haunted related companies share pictures from Halloweenaholic's Facebook page which posts lots of Halloween images throughout the year.
There are horror conventions throughout the year. Check your local area and attend. Wear your haunt shirt and strike up conversations. Don't be a pushy salesman - you don't have to be. These are potential customers who love horror and Halloween and probably already think you're awesome just because you own a haunted house. Be kind and appreciative to everyone you meet. Give them a business card that has your website and social media info. Better yet, get their card (if they have one) and send them a follow-up email.
Bring a couple of extra t-shirts and swag to give out, you'll have a customer for life. Plus, if they've been to your haunt in the past, it's a great way to ask them what they like best or least. Personal feedback (whether it's positive or negative) is always valuable so you can make your haunt stronger.
In addition to horror conventions, tradeshows like HAuNTcon and Transworld have plenty of photo opportunities. If you will be attending, make sure you post lots of cool pictures to your website and social media networks.
Spring Into Action
By springtime, your marketing plan needs to be written out and your budget set for the upcoming season. But first, you need to review your marketing results from last year. Drop the marketing expenses that didn't give you the bang for your buck last year and concentrate on the areas that brought people through the ticket gates. Metrics are extremely important. If you're not tracking every marketing component, you may be throwing it away without knowing it.
Evaluate your entire marketing strategy for the new season and make sure it's rock solid. Now is the time to get everything squared away so that while you're planning and building your haunt in the summer months, you won't be making rushed decisions about something as critical as your marketing plan. Check around for advertising discounts, seek out sponsors early before your competition does and make sure your website is updated for the new season.
Now would be a great time to send out another newsletter revealing something new about your haunt. Don't give away all the details about your haunt just yet, but something to get your fan base excited. Maybe some new artwork or t-shirt design. Maybe photos of the haunt construction. You might ask your customers to vote on a new character design. It's important to engage your fan base and slowly build up anticipation so that it peaks just as your haunt opens.
The Summer Countdown
Construction on this year's haunt has commenced. Your marketing plan is in place, sponsorships are set and your website is updated with the proper dates. You feel good. You feel prepared. You have doubled the number of followers on your social network and there is a buzz starting to circulate about your haunt. Because of the interaction throughout the year, you are already getting lots of applications for people to work at your haunt this year. The pieces are already starting to fall into place.
Everything you've worked all year for is about ready to pay off - now isn't the time to ease off the gas. Your strategy for the summer months is just as, if not more important, than at any time in the off-season.
This is the time of year to make sure you update all of your internet guide info. There are lots of national websites such as Hauntworld and HauntedHouse, etc. that will list your haunt for free, as well as many state and local websites. Take advantage of these and submit your new times and dates early - some listing sites take longer than others to update, plus they are usually swamped with requests closer to October.
Your blog and social media posts should be building to a big reveal at some point of the summer, probably late August. Even if you aren't changing your theme, you can still reveal something. Maybe it's a giant contest, maybe a celebrity will be attending your haunt - whatever it is, this is the time of year to show the world that your haunted attraction cannot be missed!
This is another great time to hold a contest to increase excitement. The prizes could range from tickets to opening night to an advanced lights-on walk-through of the haunt and a meet and greet with some of the creatures. The more exclusive and original the prize, the greater the perceived value will be.
These extra marketing steps may sound daunting and time-consuming, but there are tools out there that help automate some of these tasks. For instance, some great tools to help manage and schedule posts across social media platforms are HootSuite, Spredfast, and Sprout Social. These tools can be a huge time saver and will help track your social media efforts.
Owning a haunted attraction is a risky business. There are just a few weeks of opportunity to generate revenue and you're competing with football games, baseball playoffs, county fairs, and a wealth of other local haunts. Get a head start on the competition by creating a year-round marketing strategy so you're on everyone's mind before October rolls around.
Captivation Agency is an interactive digital agency helping businesses achieve the next level of success. Whether you own a haunted attraction or a different type of company, contact us to see how we can help you grow your online presence.