Why Singapore’s clubs are falling behind in marketing

Flashing lights, a thundering base line, and then bam! A bright white light that jolts you back to sanity as a way to politely usher you to the door of the club. It is 3:55 in the morning – time for you to get out. You face a slew of taxi cabs turning their lights from green to red and you rush to beat the lines as the clock slowly turns four.

You climb into the nearest cab, slump down on the seat and tell the friendly (or sometimes, not so friendly) taxi “uncles” where you wish to be. Within an hour, you are back in the comfort of your own home. This is your typical nightlife scene in Singapore.

Next week? Rinse and repeat – all stays the same, except maybe the club you end up in.

Singapore’s nightlife scene has over the years risen to prominence. The rise of well-known events and music festivals such as ZoukOut, along with Singapore’s reputation of having a strict and safe party environment, has led to the nation swiftly making a reputation for itself as a party hub.

Local tourism board STB promotes the nightlife scene in Singapore as having a “gamut” of offerings for everyone – “ranging from world-class brands” to “hidden gems of cocktail bars and live music pubs with local flavours”.

Singapore, it would seem, is heaven for the party animals out there.

But behind all the glitter and shine, competition is steep. Those living in Singapore have over the years seen the disappearance of many iconic nightlife names such as Zirca, Ministry of Sound, Avalon, Double O and others.

Just earlier this year, lifestyle company LifeBrandz announced the closure of five of its outlets in Clarke Quay, the heart of Singapore’s party scene. A report in local newspaper The Straits Times, showed that LifeBrandz’s annual reports, analysed upon previous media reports and public records on the SGX, portrayed the company to be running on million-dollar losses annually since 2006. In the past nine years, only in 2010 and 2013 did the company post any profits. Meanwhile, for the fiscal year ending July 2014, it posted a SG$6.77 million loss.

Nonetheless, the attraction of being in this business is insatiable, and when successful, it is a lucrative one.

According to an industry report by IBIS World, the revenue of the bar, tavern and nightclub industry in the United States alone was forecast to exceed US$24 billion in 2015. While easy to get in the game, survival is not for the weak.

Sara Paz, global PR and marketing director of Cé La Vi, explains that from a purely marketing perspective, the nightlife business in Singapore has not yet reached maturity.

Confident, charming and enthusiastic, she embodies everything one would expect from an entertainer.

Paz, who was last senior marketing director (head of marketing) of HTC, says that in comparison to a technology market where there is much more refined ambush marketing, guerrilla marketing and digital marketing strategies, the nightlife marketing scene falls rather flat.

Paz, a tech marketer by training, has also over the years worked on numerous big brands such as Intel, Dell and Nokia. To her, while the marketing aspect of the Singapore nightlife scene brings abundant potential, there is still a fair amount of potential for growth.

“I do not believe the nightlife scene in Singapore has become sophisticated enough to really be in the emerging area of marketing at all,” she says.

Giving a simple example of capturing consumer data, which many industries have already made a move into and are trying to actively monetise from, she is quick to note that many nightclub owners today are still not capturing any customer information. This ultimately works to hamper the brand in the long term because of a lack of contact with the club goers and ultimately a loss of relationship.

In a time where personalisation is a must, this lack of direct communication with the club goer can impact any club’s overall business strategy, she adds.

So what makes Ku De Ta, now Cé La Vi, so special?

“In our case, the reason why we’ve had the longevity is because of the end-to-end experience,” she says.

She explains that customers and loyal members of the brand know that when they wish to have a night out at Cé La Vi, they will be treated to a complete experience from drinks at the Skybar to an amazing dining experience, and ultimately hitting the club where they will be treated at the VIP area and have tables with their names on it.

All this makes the customer feel special.

For Cé La Vi, the proximity of having these different offerings close together also helps in a seamless transition of the experiences.

“Customers know that at every point in that experience through the night, the people attending to them are going to know who they are, what they like and things are consistently going to be served up to them at a level that hopefully will inspire, excite and surprise them,” she says.

She adds that while an end-to-end experience is necessary, there is a fair bit of trend spotting and planning that needs to be ensured for the survival of a nightclub. Many clubs, she explains, may be trendy for a short period of time, but do not have lasting power. This is because they do not have an entertainment programme to sustain the trendy image they have initially created.

A fair bit of creativity is also needed when it comes to stretching the marketing dollar. For example, to cut out the distance between regular clubbers and entertainers of the club, birthdays of the resident DJs are celebrated in house. This makes a perfect gateway to turn any other Friday or Saturday night into an exclusive event for the evening giving the illusion of added importance.

“Why many clubs haven’t had that staying power is because they haven’t had a strategy that promotes longevity,” she says.

Value your valuable customers

“When I first started and I looked at our member list, I said, ‘What are we doing for our most valuable customers?’ ” she says.

She explains that from then on, Cé La Vi has made sure that whenever there’s a birthday coming up, the company will deliver a bottle of champagne and birthday wishes from every element of the company, and even offer a birthday dinner. This helps drive home the message the consumer is important and he or she will know the brand is thinking about them.

To Paz, the criticism that the consumer attention span is getting shorter, is not of primary importance. She is of the view that when a club or brand is able to gain an iconic stature, consumer attention span is not an issue.

Ultimately to stand out today and cut through the club clutter, a brand needs to create an ultimate experience. It needs to create an illusion of exclusivity.

“Specifically when I talk about our business, I think the elements of success are offering a total experience and making sure that you have the right group of people. It’s really the customer experience behind the brand and making sure that they’re also excited to see other like minded people there as well.”