When it comes to golf course marketing, most operators will think about email and social media. They are the undisputed favorites for golf courses to drive more business and for good reason. They are cost-effective and relatively easy to implement. However, these two channels aren’t the only strategies that can help bring more golfers to the course. In this article, we’re going to discuss 5 alternative, less popular marketing strategies that we believe golf courses should be implementing more often.
#1 - Defector Email Campaigns
There are a finite number of golfers in each market. While we’re always looking for new customers, it’s more important than ever to make sure your past and existing customers are getting the attention they deserve. Defector emails can be a great way to invite past customers back to your golf course after a period of absence. For example, you might send an offer for a “free bucket of balls and a beer with your next round” to past customers that haven’t played in 60 days or more. In some markets, there can be 10+ golf courses all competing for the golfer. This defector email could be all it takes to regain that golfer’s attention and get them back out to your course.
One strategy is to setup different defector email campaigns with varying offers based on the timespan that the golfer has been away from the course. Depending on how long it has been since that particular golfer has been to the facility, the offer attached to the defector email can be more aggressive. For example, let’s say we have defector email campaigns setup to go out to past customers after 30, 60, and 90 days. You might start out with no offer or discount at all at the 30-day mark, but then increasingly provide more value at the 60 and 90-day stages. This can help resurrect customers that have maybe been playing golf elsewhere or just haven’t picked up the clubs in a while. Sometimes golfers just need a good reason to play golf. Let’s not forget that.
#2 - Lead Capture Forms
Your website should work for you. It should provide you with leads for golf outings, lessons, weddings, as well as help build to email database. Lead capture forms should exist on most every page on your website. This is particularly true on pages where you’re encouraging the user to reach out for more information. While you may be tempted to just have a phone number saying, “Call John at 555-555-5555 for golf lesson information”, this is not enough. Many users are more comfortable filling out a form and communicating that way, rather than picking up the phone and having a discussion with someone at the golf course.
Lead capture forms can also be the cornerstone of a database growth strategy when partnered with a strong offer. For instance, we’ve seen golf courses offering a monthly drawing for a free foursome. To enter, the user must provide, first name, last name, and email address. This can add 50-100+ new contact to your database each month, during the golf season. That’s significant and take minimal effort to implement.
#3 - Local Search Engine Marketing
While it gets overlooked in the golf industry, search engines still provide more traffic to a golf course’s website than any other channel, on average. The fact is, when and where you show up on Google can make a huge impact on how much traffic your website gets. The most important aspect of search engines for golf courses is Local Rankings. This is where your business shows among the competition for terms like “golf courses in [your city’s name]” or the popular “golf courses near me”. These searches are performed by a valuable group of golfers: the golfers that don’t know where they’re playing yet. Every public golf course in the area aims to capture these golfers, but without a strong local search engine presence, this group won’t likely find you or what your course has to offer.
While it won’t guarantee you the top spot on Google or the other search engines, the first step to ranking more prominently on search engines is to claim your local listings. Primarily, your golf course’s Google My Business and Bing Places listings. By claiming these listings, completing them, and ensuring that their information is accurate, you’re already gaining an advantage over many of your competitors.
#4 - Earned Marketing
Earned Marketing can’t be bought or “set up” like some of the other marketing strategies mentioned in this article. Earned Marketing refers to the exposure your course receives through mentions, shares, reviews, articles written about your course, and just general word-of-mouth.
For a golf course, Earned Marketing comes from providing golfers with the best golf experience possible at the price point. While you might think that only high-end facilities benefit from Earned Marketing, that’s far from the truth. Even the most budget-friendly golf courses can provide exceptional customer service, an enjoyable golf course, and an inviting atmosphere that might cause a local blogger to write about their experience or a tourist to write a positive review on TripAdvisor.
Earned Marketing can be accelerated by going above and beyond standard operations. Getting involved with the community, volunteering your time or facility, and even something as simple as befriending your customers can help your golf course get exposure it would have not otherwise. Because of its organic nature, Earned Marketing is also incredibly powerful in the eyes of consumers.
#5 - Reputation Management
Reputation Management is actually a subset of Earned Marketing, as it has to do with online reviews and how the public might portray your golf course because of them. Online reviews have become increasingly more important over the last decade, with the popularity of websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, GolfAdvisor, Google, Facebook, and the like. It’s a fact, most consumers admit to reading reviews before making a purchase or visiting a business, which makes Reputation Management non-negotiable these days. However, you might be asking "What should I be doing to manage my facility's reputation?".
Reputation Management starts with getting a lay of the land, understanding where golfers are posting reviews and which platforms you should be monitoring. While you may have some niche or local review sites that are specific to your market, a good starting point is at least monitor your business's Google and Facebook reviews. These two platforms alone make up for the majority of the reviews being posted and get the most user interaction. Other review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and GolfAdvisor are certainly worth checking in on every couple of weeks as well.
The cornerstone of a strong Reputation Management effort is to respond to reviews, both good and bad. Good reviews can be responded to with a simple "We're thrilled to hear that you had a great time! See you soon!". However, negative reviews take a little more thought. A smart approach to responding to negative reviews is to make sure you aren't being combative or passive-aggressive. While crafting a snarky, point-proving response may feel like a "win", onlookers reading the exchange will likely take it the wrong way. Be polite. Be empathetic. Even if you don't agree with the user's feedback.
Finally, some golf courses fall victim to review spam, which can drastically hurt their online reputation. Review spam can be a competitor leaving multiple negative reviews from different accounts, someone leaving a review completely unrelated to your business at all (it happens), a review containing advertising, or any other inappropriate review. While it's not always easy, in most cases these review platforms offer some kind of way to report fake or inappropriate reviews. Truth be told, this isn't always effective, but it's a worthwhile effort to help keep your facility's reputation in check.
Try Something Different
Making your golf course stand out in a crowded digital landscape is becoming more and more difficult. A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy doesn't exist, which is why we are recommending that golf courses get out there and try less conventional approaches to digital marketing. Who knows? You might even find the secret recipe to help your golf course move the needle in 2019 and beyond.