Many of the finest operators of music and games take a quiet pride in ... well, keeping quiet. Years ago, they may have taken a modest ad in the Yellow Pages. Today it might be a basic website -- that isn't aligned with social media or bolstered by a search engine optimization program.
How do these quiet guys survive? "Word of mouth," they say proudly. "Our service and equipment are the best. Eventually, locations hear about it and call us."
This may explain why typical American operators have traditionally been stronger on service than on promotions. Frankly, many operators don't even like the word "marketing"; others claim they don't know what it means.
Fresh evidence of the American operator's aversion to marketing came to light with a survey conducted earlier this year on behalf of the Amusement and Music Operators Association by Circone + Associates, a marketing firm.
Based on responses from more than 70 operators in 26 states, the picture that emerged was dispiriting at best, frightening at worst, when it came to onsite promotions by amusement operators.
Eight of 10 locations served by these operators have no active promotions, said the survey respondents. And remember, the operators who took this survey were among the industry's best.
So why aren't there any leagues, contests or other promos in place? The surveyed operators largely avoided taking the blame. The biggest proportion, 34%, said the problem was "location apathy."
This excuse won't wash. As any successful league operator can tell you, locations don't get excited about promotions all by themselves. Operators have to take the lead, get out there and sell the concept, launch the promotion and enlist the location's support.
Even then, 99% of locations won't get enthusiastic until they see the increases in traffic and revenues that result from vigorous promotional campaigns.
The next-largest group of operators represented in the survey, 31%, said their locations lack promotions because there is no dedicated staff to handle the job.
Again, locations certainly aren't going to hire league coordinators or marketing pros to administer jukebox promotions or videogame contests. Operators have to do it themselves. Sure, it's hard work. But operators have never been afraid of that.
Another 18% of responding operators said they just weren't sure how to get started running promotions. (At least they weren't blaming somebody else.)
But considering the years of seminars ... the hundreds of trade magazine columns, features and interviews ... and the countless offers of help from marketing groups like the industry's dart and pool leagues that have been offered to operators during the past 20 years ... it seems likely that any operator who isn't sure how to get started with promotions has simply not been paying attention.
The man whose company ran the national operator survey for AMOA was Brad Circone. His diplomatic comment on operator attitudes toward marketing: "Operators say they want to promote," he noted. "But it's not necessarily that we don't know how; as an industry we don't understand the importance of why."
Amusement and music operators may have good reasons for wanting to be "the quiet company" in their region ... the guys who don't blow their own horn, but somehow wind up with all the best accounts.
But we live in an age of relentless self-promotion. If you don't constantly remind your current (and potential) customers how great you are, then you don't own the crucial "mental real estate" that eventually leads to trust and sales.
Many business people probably remember the years-long ad campaign for Northwestern Mutual, which for years prided itself on being "the quiet company." Leaving aside the irony of a company paying millions for TV campaigns to call itself "the quiet company," it's worth noting that in 2011 Northwestern's chief executive told his team that their quiet days are over.
Get out there and tell your story, the chief executive said. Result: even the formerly "quiet" Northwestern is out there with an unprecedented blaze of print, Internet, TV and telemarketing promotion.
Small operators don't have millions to spend on ad campaigns, but they don't need them. One super-successful CEO of a small mom and pop, location-based, service company told me that for 20 years his most successful marketing tool was a refrigerator magnet with his company's name and phone number on it.
The good news is that AMOA is gearing up to do more operator education on the subject of marketing. Let's hope the curriculum includes some pointers on the why of it all. It is high time for the quiet operators to go loud.