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Hear Me Out: Talking & Listening to Your Current
Guests May Be The Best Way To Get More
Of Them Through the Door

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by Rick Hendrie, July 2005

According to conventional wisdom, the best way to get new customers is to go out and advertise to the consumers that you do not currently have. Guess what? It costs 3 to 5 times more to attract a new guest than it does to encourage a current customer to

  1. Come more often
  2. Spend more money
  3. Or, increase their party size
Serenade your current  guests and they will attract ‘Birds of a Feather’, who will flock to you. Does advertising have a place? Of course, in the same way that charcoal starter fluid does in getting briquettes to burn. But the most powerful, long-term form of marketing is to focus on current customers. Why? They know who you are and what you do and love you anyway. In many cases, they know far more than you think. Leverage that intimacy by creating Raving Fans.

Farming vs. hunting

To ‘Farm’ is to plant the seeds of a great harvest, one relationship at a time. IT promises the ability to feed whole year’s worth of business. The only stipulation is that you have to be patient. Not an easy thing to do in today’s “I gotta have it this minute” Id-centric style of management. The hunter shoots a blunderbuss of a media campaign, bags a bear and can eat for a couple of weeks. Hunters have to work much harder for much less reward over the long haul. 

Now, here’s the dirty little secret about media. It doesn’t work very well. In a recent Yankelovitch study, over 6 out of 10 consumers were overwhelmed and turned off by the amount of media and advertising being flung at them. In another study, less than 10% of consumers could actually name the brand whose television ad they had just witnessed. We are over marketed, over dosed and nauseous.

“Farming” posits that you cultivate with current guests relationships that, as they deepen, create both an unbreakable bond and unvarnished, enthusiastic "word- of-mouth" marketing. Is there a better, more compelling, more cost-effective form of advertising.

For those of you who still pine for the elusive guest you haven’t got, consider this: As a rule, 10 percent to 15 percent of your current guests are new. They never have been to your location before but have stumbled in by happenstance or some local contact.
We are a mobile society, in which populations not only grow but also change over time. Even if you are in a city where there is little net-population gain, consumers are still moving in and out because of job or life changes. That means the guest you don‘t have, you do have! So maximize the quality and quantity of interactions with people you already know. Orchestrate word-of-mouth marketing that self-perpetuates your business.

Focus on your core relationships. How well do you know your guests? If you have done your research, you know the breakout of first-time, light, medium and heavy users of your restaurant. That data allows you to calculate the total number of unique visits guests pay in an average year. I suggest, for most restaurants, the number will range in the thousands. Do you know each of the guest‘ names? Where they live? Where they work and what they do? If they are married, have kids, have significant others? In studying the concept, I have found that most restaurateurs know less than 10 percent of their guests in this intimate way, and I‘m being generous.

Why does it matter? We live in an age when Americans seek human community, authentic relationships and real connections with each other. Starbuck‘s appeal comes, in part, because the company has tapped into that longing for a “third place” between home and work or school. When you commit to a guest - relationship - marketing focus, you will be able to tap into the same lodestone.

Create conversations. WOW branding is a result of hundreds of relevant conversations between you and your staff and the guest. Your brand’s power comes from layer upon layer of interaction, each time adding (or subtracting) to your branded story’s credibility. No one conversation is a magic bullet designed to bring the masses in — although there are very effective promotional components to that concept. The guest gains trust in you and your sincerity over time. In the book “Engaging Customers in e-Business” authors Jeffery Farriss and Laura Langendorf stated, “Consumers will be less inclined to tune out sales information once they’ve grown to trust a brand or company.”

You need to create opportunities to converse with the guest that feel human and natural. See it as a 24-7 proposition. Here are some suggestions:

  • See every transaction as a platform to offer choice to the guest. In the Experience Era, choice and customization rule
  • Acknowledge every guest. Use Politeness as a strategic differentiator. Most people aren’t ever thanked for their patronage, so you can ‘Blow their minds’ through simple courtesy
  • View all guest conversations “as virtual.” And ongoing. Use technology to support you. Remember the example of a Ritz Carlton who remembered a guest who liked Guinness Stout in his mini-bar. They didn’t just get it the first time he requested it (normally, that would be the WOW), they had it waiting in his room the next time he returned. WOWWOWWOW.
  • Become the Feedback Champ. Respond to feedback quickly and solicit more. It’s not important to compile lists and reports. 
  • Take the guest’s temperature regularly. Use focus groups. Make it a regular feature of how you do business
We live in an age where anonymous communication just won’t cut it anymore. We want personal attention (Do a Google on Personal Coaches…You’ll see). We feel abused, ignored and otherwise furious at how more information is being thrown at us with less and less human connection. Don’t travel the Path Network TV, of Neilson and Arbitron. Reach out to your guest and make them part of your family.
 
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Contact:
Rick Hendrie
Chief Experience Officer
LINK Inc.
617-335-1011
rkhendrie@comcast.net
http://www.remarkablebranding.com/
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Also See: Winning Brand Loyalty; Discerning Your Guest’s Tribal Loyalties / Richard K. Hendrie / April 2005
The Why, What and How of WOW / Richard K. Hendrie / March 2005
Creating Customer Loyalty: Beyond Food and Bed, A Good Relationship Is Your Best Marketing / Richard K. Hendrie / March 2005
Ask What Makes You Great; Questions for Hospitality to Ask Itself / Richard K. Hendrie / February 2005
Great Service Grows From Great Praise / Richard K. Hendrie / February 2005
Is it ROI, Return On Investment or ROL, Return on Loyalty / Richard K. Hendrie / January 2005
Brand Enhancement: Invite Surprise and Delight Into Your Operation / Rick Hendrie / November 2004
Your Experience Is The Brand; Good Hospitality, Food and Service Are Merely Entry Points into Being Competitive / Rick Hendrie / November 2004

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