Keeping Market Research in the Passenger Seat

By Steve McKee President, McKee Wallwork Cleveland | May 06, 2010

Research can be a hotel marketer's best friend or his worst enemy. It all depends on who's driving. I'd like to offer six thoughts that will help you keep research from grabbing the wheel and sending your brand over a cliff.

There are things you can measure and things you can't. Don't mix them up.

How much do you love your wife? What's the value of poetry? What is a life worth? Ask most people these questions and you'll either get a funny look or a metaphysical discussion. Some things just can't be quantified. Yet in marketing we often act as if everything can.

To be sure, given the proper methodology you can measure a great deal of marketing-related activity, particularly past behavior. Things like purchase patterns and visit frequency are historical, concrete events that are subject only to the laws of forgetting (I may not remember how I heard of your hotel) and deceit (I may not want you to know that I saw your ad in my wife's Glamour magazine). But by and large they can be reliably tracked.

It's when we try to quantify the future that we get into trouble. Simon Clift, Chief Marketing Officer at Unilever, puts it this way: "Consumers are not able to predict how they will feel in the future. If you ask a housewife if you'd like to pay more for your car, have a very big car that's hard to park, uses an enormous amount of gas and that you can't fit in your garage, they would say no to all of those questions, and you'd predict there's no market for SUVs."

The same principle holds true in advertising concept testing. Scott Bedbury, former Worldwide Advertising Director at Nike, says: "We never pre-tested anything we did at Nike, none of the ads. Wieden (Dan Wieden, founder of Wieden & Kennedy) and I had an agreement that as long as our hearts beat, we would never pretest a word of copy. It makes you dull. It makes you predictable. It makes you safe."

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.