Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Club Branding in KC

A friend argued recently that The Phoenix, a KC jazz club in the listings on the right, is not really a jazz club, that it’s just a noisy neighborhood bar with music you can’t hear. I responded that it’s a jazz club because we need it to be a one, because without it KC claims just an embarrassingly paltry two instead of an embarrassingly paltry three jazz clubs.

Or maybe three instead of four, if you count The Majestic’s downstairs club and its weekend jazz trios. But it’s unlisted on the right because it offers no calendar. Daily Twitter and Facebook posts, yes, but those provide no opportunity to plan ahead. So maybe The Majestic desires to be just a steakhouse with ambient music?

But Jardine’s, that’s unquestionably a jazz club. They offer the best web calendar and push weekly emails, even have a Facebook page with over 3600 friends. Just think, an interested audience of over 3600 to which they can market and drive free messaging daily to build business. They do regularly use that page to push messages, right? Um, well….

But The Blue Room, everybody knows the Blue Room is KC’s jazziest jazz club. They maintain an online calendar. And other than scouring the web for that, the way they regularly inform a jazz fan of the acts they feature is, um, well, they, uh….

Welcome to jazz branding and marketing in Kansas City: from mixed messages to messaging too little.

Start with The Phoenix. They email a monthly schedule, host a Facebook page with nearly a thousand likes (here) and tweet almost daily to 600 (here). Not a bad start.

But what’s their brand? Featuring nightly jazz (or music somewhat related to the genre) amid framed jazz photos and a neon window sign shouting Live Jazz, does suggest jazz club. Yet on a recent Saturday night, I could barely hear the vocalist even while sitting at the piano bar. Still, the place was packed. So maybe there’s a market for a jazz club where you can’t actually hear the jazz?

More likely, there’s a market for people who like the idea of a jazz club. Nothing wrong with that if it’s a business model that works. But it’s not the business that The Phoenix once was: A jazz club, without question or doubt.

(In fairness, what The Phoenix once was, also, was a failed business. So the current operation could be taken as evidence that the audience for enjoying jazz in KC is indeed more limited than some of us are willing to admit.)

Next take The Majestic. I’m not entirely certain what they’re trying to be. They tweet daily to 300 (here) and their messages appear on the walls of nearly twice that many Facebook friends (here). Both are solid marketing techniques. I particularly like that they often tweet info a few times a day, more effectively breaking the Twitter clutter.

But who’s there next Friday night? Or Saturday? Other than awaiting a weekend tweet, or phoning the restaurant, I don’t know how to find out. Their web site (here) doesn’t help. There’s no published calendar. Some groups they’re featuring are worth seeking out. But by the time that tweet appears, seeking weekend entertainment is likely a deal long since done.

So maybe they don’t want to be a jazz club? Maybe they want the jazz to just be part of the ambiance? Maybe the reason to go to the The Majestic – their brand – is a steakhouse with the idea of a jazz club?

Or maybe they could draw more by making known in advance who’s there?

Like Jardine’s, with the most accessible and best maintained club calendar in town (linked at the right). They push emails at least once a week to those on their growing list (and do a good job of collecting email addresses from we who visit the club). You can tell when a big show is underselling by a rash of emails pushing it. But if that proves effective in building reservations, it’s good marketing.

Their Twitter feed is moribund, but their Facebook page (here) is a collection of over 3600 friends that competitors can only envy. Musicians and fans in far-away places are part, but also part is an avid group of potential patrons. Among the most effective marketing is repeat messaging, and here’s a chance to keep Jardine’s before those with an interest, by having a message pop up on Facebook walls daily. But Jardine’s use of that messaging is sporadic. Too often they don’t bother to poke. And every day their name doesn’t poke 3600 Facebook walls, an opportunity to promote is lost. The medium demands more frequent use.

It’s a lesson The Blue Room could stand to learn. Clearly the classiest of KC’s jazz clubs, and in one of the world’s most historic locations, marketing is where The Blue Room fails most. Their online calendar (linked at the right), a good one, and an ad in JAM (the local jazz magazine) seems their only efforts. Have they even printed calendars to hand out the last couple months? If so, I didn’t find them on my visits.

Tweets and Facebook postings are free (The American Jazz Museum, of which The Blue Room is a part, has a Facebook page here, but it’s rarely used to promote the club. In fact, it was last used to promote anything two-and-a-half months ago). Building a fan base on both Facebook and Twitter takes time. It takes repeated messaging. It takes promotion in the club. It’s work. But once done it’s a valuable base welcoming Blue Room news, promotions and messages with which the club can communicate daily. As The Blue Room’s competitors already know.

Let’s be clear: I’m not quite naive enough to suggest that were all this addressed, all would be well with jazz in KC. I’m not suggesting lines out the door would greet each club owner nightly.

But I’m naive enough to believe it would help.

4 comments:

  1. Clearly, the people that attend the shows at The Blue Room are there for the music. They do NOT talk and they are there to listen. There is no food there, so there is no need for long loud talking with the server.
    Most of the time, the same is true for Jardine's, although there are people that love to sit next to the bandstand and yell at one another. They talk at the bar, or in the back of the club.
    At The Phoenix they talk the entire time. They are clearly there to drink and talk loudly. They would do well with Dixieland. Lots of loud horns. You have to be louder than the people there. I sang there last weekend and had to turn the mic up as far as it would go before the loud squeal of feedback. In the first set, after two songs in, a local vocalist came up to tell me they couldn't hear me and I took 2 minutes to turn up my volume, at which time the bartender,decided that there was too much of a delay and so she cranked up the house music really loud. Also, no ballads are allowed, for obvious reasons. Jazz without ballads is like a bed with no pillow. Yes, it's a jazz club and there are tons of people there who could hear the music, if they would close their pie holes.

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  2. I love jazz in all its forms. Like you, I would LOVE to see more marketing for The Blue Room. Hubby and I wanted to go this weekend but didn't know they are closed on Sundays-LOL oh well.

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  3. Chewy - The Blue Room is open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. You can always find their calendar linked in the right hand column of this page. But what still sometimes throws me is remembering what time music starts each night.

    djjazziedeb - Thanks so much for the insight. Actually, I wish The Majestic would expand and promote their jazz offerings. Their club is the environment where I would enjoy having the opportunity to hear you perform sometime.

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  4. A very interesting post...I see the same problems, in some cases even worse, over here in St. Louis, so it's not just KC.

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Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.