I’ve just got back from our annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam and of course visited a couple of the old Dutch pubs which we do every year to say hello – would be rude not to, don’t you think?
Now, let me give you some background into the traditional Dutch pub – most of which go back to around the 1600s or 1700s. We’re talking dark, we’re talking sawdust on the floor – and we’re talking absolute goldmines.
The first case in point – Wynand Fockink. One of the few (and possibly the oldest, having opened in 1679) Dutch distilleries and tasting houses.
The lighting is dim, there’s the obligatory sawdust on the floor and, in the true tradition of such establishments, there’s nowhere to sit inside. No TV, no music, no mobile phone allowed. And yet, every day without exception, it’s packed to the brim with tourists, enjoying its ambiance and quirky tradition.
Manned by Hans, Mirjiam et al, this is a business with an exceptionally low staff turnover. Resembling a Harry Potter shop, there truly is something magical about the place. Be warned – although the staff know the products and the history of the place inside out and are always on hand to advise if it’s not too busy, exceptional behaviour is expected here. Only one drink may be served at a time, there’s no formal queue and no-one is expected to have more than around 3 drinks in total (given their potency, I can see why!) Fools aren’t suffered gladly, here. And yet…it feels like home, if only for a short while.
As a marketer, I’d be encouraging them to put in some seating to encourage customers to stay longer, perhaps take some samples into the street outside to attract more customers and spread the word. And yet… they need no help from me. They have that elusive balance just right and over 400 years, have developed an exceptionally strong brand which is unlikely to be eroded any time soon.
Wynand does of course carry out its own marketing – tours of the distillery, a website and even a Facebook page (which hasn’t been updated in ages). Frankly however, its reputation, word of mouth and tangible sense of history will ensure this place continues to be successful for at least a few more generations.
Cafe Pieper, also in Amsterdam, is another beautiful example of a bar that’s got it right. Opened in 1665, this is one of Amsterdam’s oldest bars and is said to feature the original stained glass windows. You’re positively encouraged to sit down here, with a plethora of tables inside (we always have the same seats at the bar) but most people take advantage of the limited outdoor seating. It has a sawdust floor and you need to take out health insurance to get down the stairs to the loo. It doesn’t serve meals and music is provided by the local radio station. Again, sarcasm is given out in abundance (a young French lad asked if he could take his beer outside – “Sure”, he was told. “Just go through the door, down the steps and turn left or right – that’s outside!”) but it’s all in good humour and makes for a fantastic, informal, family atmosphere.
I’d include a link here – but it doesn’t have a website. Doesn’t need to – the service is fast, personal and second to none. Mike, who co-owns the bar, knows what my husband and I like to drink – despite only visiting for a couple of days each year. Each time we go, we catch up on the various cats, house moves and social activity they all get up to – all in fluent English. There are no flyers, no social media activity and no advertising. And yet….everyone who has been to the bar, recognises it, remembers it and recommends it.
So this trip really got me thinking – what is it about these places that means they don’t need the advice of a marketer, to cope with changing consumer demand. Is it just their history? Surely not – there are many historic British buildings which are struggling to raise the funds to maintain themselves.
I think it’s all about the people and I’m calling it “personality-based marketing”. It costs nothing and you don’t need to be aware of the latest marketing techniques or technology. It’s about making yourself memorable. If a new customer comes into your bar and you serve a beer then simply walk away and leave them to it, then you’re unremarkable. Instead, YOU can create an ambiance, a welcoming feeling, a feeling of perhaps history or tradition. You literally have minutes to forge a connection with that person which could transform into repeat visits and/or recommendations.
Of course, we don’t all run bars – but why not think about how you can learn from the lessons of these business owners and incorporate personality-based marketing into your marketing strategy?