Tuesday, March 20, 2007

There Is No Such Thing As A “free Lunch” how To Optomize Your Advertising Dollars | By J. Ragsdale Hendrie

An Advertising Executive with a significant Destination area Newspaper declared recently, “Business is soft, and I do not think our advertisers would be interested in any new products to enhance their business”. Well, this is of course bunk, because this is exactly when you need to differentiate your business and apply marketing clout. She forgot that business is all about competition and the means to share with the Consumer our distinction and attract their business. Tight times, flush times – it does not matter. We need to get the message out to our potential Guests and Visitors and get them in our doors.

Some smart saloon keeper figured this out years ago. Come on in and have some bread, sausage, and pickled eggs on the house. Want a beer (or two) with that pal? That has translated into the “Happy Hour” and marginal hors d’oeuvres. Gaming emporiums love to pour drinks, gratis, for now you are relaxed, tend to lose track of time, and everyone is festive. Lodgings started with Enjoy our Pool, moved to Free HBO, Kids Free, complimentary breakfast, water beds and blue movies. Other Retail operations jumped on the wagon, from the Barker promoting the Bearded Lady, to the sleaze, trumpeting Naked Coeds, to the Billboard announcing the Sale of the Day. Take a peak, take a swim, take a chance, but by all means enter our establishment! It still works, but we can do better!

The essential expectations from the Customer perspective are straight forward. They want to know that the Product is good, that the Service is reasonable, that they will be safe in a clean establishment, where what they pay represents value. The Hospitality operator wants to engage that customer, respond positively to their expectations, gain their loyalty and market that success, thereby increasing traffic, and, of course, revenue.

The above formula is just like a see-saw. Hospitality operators aim for that equilibrium, but frequently the balance board is askew, based either upon poor delivery or expectations not met. The variables affecting delivery are numerous: condition of the Guest Room, food quality and presentation, standards of service, ambiance - the realities of operating our businesses run to head and heart ache. Every day has an imperfection, regarding product, service or facility. Our customers understand this; there is no perfection in any industry. But, it is the Experience we wish to tell people about, the distinction we usually represent, and specifically the performance expectation they should anticipate. The Consumer is eager to know.

Sadly, there are limited means to successfully project this message to our Customers - the Distinction of our establishment. They are bombarded by data, pummeled by sensory images, and numbed by incessant messages.

It is easier to retain existing customers rather than recruit new ones. Those loyal "fans" must be courted, made to feel special, and recognized for their "good taste" and support all the time - they are our "bread and butter", the very foundation for any success we enjoy. Yet, the business must grow! What avenues do we have to promote what our current "fans" already know? Hospitality operators are, how can I say this nicely, penurious. Even with such a sensory product and environment we represent, we will settle for the quickest most inexpensive marketing turn. The psychology of our attention is wrapped around the idea of “build and they will come” not even at the level of that Saloon keeper. But, although the Advertising Budget may be meager, there are a number of ways to create the “Buzz”, broadcast your distinction, and deliver the Experience.

Testimonials are a prime means to "pass the word" and gain prominence. This works by "word of mouth", referrals, and, more and more through the Internet. The power of a statement by a satisfied Customer is extraordinary, but even these Patron Reviews can be uneven, sometimes even "stacked". For the potential customer, though, they do provide a means to gather information and appreciate the "flavor" of a lodging or restaurant, through the senses and descriptive words of someone who has "lived" the Guest Experience. Visitors new to the area rely upon these sources, whether portals such as Expedia, Hotel.com, We8There, guidebooks like Zagat, or unofficial Bulletin Boards on the Internet. Otherwise, they may depend upon hotel concierges, business associates, or friends. Hmm, I like what they say.

Your local Newspaper is an extraordinary resource. They are all moving towards electronic rendering of the news, products and services, and in many markets their Web Site gets huge traffic, more “hits” than any localized Hospitality site, such as a CVB or even Chamber. They actively pursue unique programs and events through special inserts and Weekend Guides in print, in addition to having vast potential with Hospitality portals on their web sites, driving business to your door. But, you still need to be distinct to gain my business.

Marketing Associations also can be effective. They establish some bona fides, but typically, only informational: a brief description of the Business, type, amenities, menu, price and the like. They do not describe the Experience, and sadly, promote the “cream” as well as the “whey”. There are other means as well, such as a "Phantom Gourmet" local program, write-ups/local reviews in the newspaper and underground news, State and City Lodging and Restaurant Associations and service guides, and area Attraction magazines. In many cases you pay for that coverage - advertising dollars perhaps spent well. Your potential customer may review these sources, but they are hardly definitive. But, my interest has been piqued.

Then, there are Rating/Assessment companies, either serving as consumer advocates and setting the "taste and style" landscape, such as Michelin or sometimes Mobil, and, others, similar to AAA, which may review your establishment, but they are more interested in you signing up for their many services and programs. There are other companies you can retain for an Assessment; they benchmark your performance as to Hospitality Standards and provide recommendations for Continuous Improvement. All of these can be invaluable, depending upon the level of expertise and professionalism of their review team; however you have no control over the outcome of their evaluation. But, the Consumer does pay attention to ratings and Seals of Approval. I am feeling more secure, though.

Lastly, a Hospitality Business should present their own story, describe the uniqueness of their establishment and passionately relate to the potential customer why they should visit, stay, dine, recreate and enjoy the Experience through their own Web Site. This is the opportunity to market directly your Distinction! The site must relate to all the senses, where the “flavors” and Experience Mosaic speak through the eyes. Wow, fish jumping at dusk, a signature chef, WiFi in the bathroom!

The ideal means for successful promotion of a Hospitality Business should embrace four facets: testimonials from satisfied patrons; the advantages of a media company, which provides vast exposure; an operations review by a professional, objective third party, certifying a certain level of performance; and a spectacular Web Site presence. You can influence the outcomes with Management and a Team, who believe in their product and the highest level of service. Harnessing the promotional power of Customer Reviews, and Quality Assurance Certification and proper media usage provides confidence and reliability for your Customer, which makes that “Booking” Decision easy. You establish Distinction, traffic increases, and revenues flow!