Marketing3: Marketing to the 3rd Power

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | May 19, 2010

Okay. Take out a pencil and paper. Draw a horizontal line across the page. At the left end of the line, write the word advertising. At the right end of the line, write the phrase word-of mouth. Now ask yourself the following question: As a hotelier, if you have the choice between running an advertisement for your hotel in the newspaper, or having the newspaper run a story on your property as an article, which would you choose? Of course, you would go for the article. After all, it would be free, right? But there is a more important reason for choosing the article. It carries far more credibility than your ad.

This is the power of three for hotel marketing. It is called publicity or public relations (PR) and it falls along the continuum between advertising and word of mouth. We all know that the most powerful form of promotion is a recommendation from others we trust. This is how we may decide to visit a hotel for the first time, see a movie, or try a new supplier. But absent a personal good word from family or friends, we look for a third party to help us decide whether we stay at Hotel A or Hotel B, or whether we go here or go there.

I have heard it said that, compared to the power of publicity, advertising has almost zero credibility. While I may not totally agree with that viewpoint, it reminds me of a quote from advertising genius Regis McKenna: We are witnessing the obsolescence of advertising has proliferated and become more obnoxiously insistent, consumers have gotten fed up. The more advertising seeks to intrude, the more people try to shut it out..." About a third of the typical newspaper is articles and editorials, while the other two-thirds is advertisements. Which do you spend most of your time reading? Or, as another marketing genius, Al Ries, says: To the average person the editorial stories are islands of objectivity in a sea of prejudice. Enough said.

Do you remember when the automotive slogan boasted, It's not your father's Oldsmobile? Well, in the same vein, we can also hype the fact that it's not your father's public relations either. In the past, there seemed to be two common themes associated with public relations. This first was crisis management. Remember the Tailhook scandal? At the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, 83 women and 7 men were assaulted during the three-day aviators' convention, according to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense (DOD). The hotel's PR had to go into overdrive to counter-balance all the negative press resulting from that event. In fact, at the time of the Tylenol incident more than 20 years ago, which still represents one of the classic PR cases, public relations was still viewed a tool dedicated to managing damaging news about an organization. The second theme was a press release announcement about your business to the newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. Think about Starwood's Heavenly Bed or McDonald's I'm Lovin' It. In both cases, the media was all over these stories before one dollar was spent in advertising.

But public relations is a far different ballgame today than it was in the time of your father's Oldsmobile. It is far more involved, sophisticated, complex, and comprehensive. At its core, PR is a communication tool between your hotel brand and the public - your guests, your prospective guests, your employees, and your stockholders. The dictionary defines it as "the art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public." ( This is just a long winded way of saying PR is all about putting your best foot forward to build and maintain your hotel's reputation and trust by maximizing the power of third party credibility. Some successful non-hotel examples:

In 1984, the Apple Macintosh ran its "1984" commercial one time during the Super bowl. People still remember that commercial, not so much for the commercial itself, but for the countless stories that appeared in the media afterwards. The publicity made the advertising - and in turn the product - memorable.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.