Radical Departure From Destination Marketing Norms - ‘Embrace the ones who love you’
By Ragsdale Hendrie
- Economically, on a global basis, we are in a downturn which will last through 2009 and well into 2010, at minimum.
- Fewer people will travel, disposable income has declined, and price point and service reputation will be the differentiator for Destination choice (both area and hotel).
- Your Marketing Budgets have been reduced.
- If you are targeting New Visitors and Guests, you and every other competitor will be trying to lure visitors from a smaller pool of Traveling Consumers. Perform a Pareto Analysis. This is a simple statistical technique for decision making, used to select a limited number of tasks (tactics) to produce significant overall effect. Your results may demonstrate maximum Marketing dollars for minimum return.
- Back to the Drawing Board.
Our Strategy sessions always began with an interpretation of the Marketplace, particularly focusing upon the Visitor numbers. Our results were captured by a variety of means, not particularly sophisticated or reliable, but they were tracked. Lodgings are in far better position to support a changing Marketing message, for they have better data. Yet, they are also a member of the Destination community, and the Visitor Experience is a reflection of all parties and stakeholders. Make no mistake, unless you know what your Visitor or Guest says about their experience with your hotel, restaurant, convenience store, taxi service or museum, any marketing initiative is flawed. “Feedback” is the crucible!
Typically, the number we would watch the most is “New Visitors” to the area. Then, we would slap up those marketing ideas on the wall, and whichever ones were the slowest to slide, we crowned as new tactics. And, we threw money at those sexy Marketing Strategies and high priced Marketing gurus.
Even more so today, the public is wary, and the vagaries of Tourism are incalculable. We may have forgotten two maxims and one reality, which those who deliver the goods (our Hospitality Businesses) know very well:
- It is easier to retain an existing Customer than recruit a new one.
- The most effective referral is by word of mouth.
- Revisit the earlier four points!
So, what have we learned and what will we do differently? Why spend millions of dollars every year seeking that elusive “New Visitor”, when currently you have throngs of satisfied and exuberant “Fans”, who already think you are great. They are ready, willing and able to carry your message to their friends, neighbors and associates? What a great idea! But, some of our attitude is colored by “business as usual”, wrapped in bureaucratic ennui or lack of decisive leadership. In other cases, we are swayed by the Marketing Professionals, who own the stage, waxing and emoting our message with that bag of tricks – smoke, mirrors and dreams. Let’s not forget that marketing is as close as we can get to theater. (Remember the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.)
We want our message to be distinct and differentiate ourselves from our competition. Yet, every year, we go to the usual sources, “tickle” the words and hope for the best. Some Destinations are absolutely marvelous. You need to relish Las Vegas’ success with the naughty, suggestive messages. Others are quite sad. Several years ago, the great State of Maine basically wanted to target (the local media said “steal”) Visitors from their neighbor – New Hampshire. That was a strategy. It makes you wince.
The Tourism Landscape has changed, and, unless you adapt and are innovative, your future is marked. What to do? You have finite resources and specific budgeted monies. Your mission has not changed, but you must. It is time to look inwards, rather than externally.
Your existing Fans are the answer. Show your love, demonstrate your thanks, make them feel special. Honor them, those Ambassadors, and they will deliver the message you have crafted. New Visitors will travel to your Destination, new Guests and Groups to our lodgings. Perhaps not in droves, but they will come, as will your Fans. This is a guarantee, and this is how you do it!
The initial step is to gather information on your Visitor, and what better a spot than the major entry points: highway installations (tolls or Welcome Centers), airports and train stations. No innovative Marketing plan will work without this Visitor data – who they are, where they are from, why are they visiting, where they are going, and most importantly, may we have your e-mail address. Information is power, and it can be gathered both coming and going. Do not forget to thank them, too.
Now, you have some workable data on your Fans and potential boosters. The next step is to create a Program which makes them feel special, where they become part of the Destination or Hotel Experience. Many Lodgings already have a Loyalty Program; expand upon this. Most Destination areas do not; create one.
For the Destination Market, create a name: Down Easterner, Grand Strander or Teton, Longhorns or Matterhorns, Parrot Heads or Coconuts) – you get the idea. Establish some protocols for inclusion and administration. The Program should include collaterals (decals, wallet cards, documents suitable for framing), displaying the exclusivity of membership. Goodness, you can even offer tee shirts, pens, belt buckles and coffee cups (for purchase, of course). There can be a minimal annual fee for continuation of membership with a portion going to an established charity or cause – Maine, Lake Placid and the Caribbean have the environment, for example. What makes your location unique? What is meaningful to your community? (The remaining funds support the Program). Everyone enjoys affiliation and supporting a cause. Identify special events, festivals or activities which become the exclusive purview of membership. It makes one (your Fan) proud, creates a swagger! It works!
What have we accomplished here? We have met the earlier mentioned Maxims and kept the realities in front of us. We have identified our greatest Fans (existing Visitors/Guests), we have recognized them (brought them into our family), we have tied our Destination to a meaningful cause (rather than just lucre), and we have identified an annual gala to celebrate our Fan Base, their dedication, support, and their love. They will happily promote our Destination (word of mouth with a bit of exclusivity). They become the most effective Ambassador of your Destination. If you plan and execute this properly, the Program will be self-sustaining, and you can use your Marketing dollars to add further value for your current Visitors (much like a Frequent Flyer program). You will make history!
Innovation moves the world. How frequently we overlook the obvious. Consider! What would move you as a Consumer? Flashy marketing has its domain, but most of us give far more credence to someone we know, extolling the virtues of a product or place. Put your Marketing dollars to work creatively, harness that vigorous and connected Ambassador, who already thinks you are great, and enjoy the success. The old marketing paradigm is whacked; the “bus has left” for business as usual.
The Author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the extraordinary Guest Experience. Seek solutions at:
John R. Hendrie