Marketing's Four Aces
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | October 09, 2016
I really learned marketing at my dad's knee. Even though he only had an eighth grade education, he instinctively knew that the most important real estate in marketing is the four inches between the consumer's ears. He would often tell me that marketing has nothing to do with our store itself, but had everything to do with how people think about our store. Little did either of us know that Al Ries and Jack Trout would encapsulate what my dad always believed in their benchmark book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Their revolutionary approach said that a business's marketing strategy has to create a "position" in the consumer's mind that reflects the brand's strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors. Or as the 1944 song says," You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-Between."
Developing a positioning strategy may seem like a daunting task. After all, there are countless how-to books written about it. Industry magazines are awash with articles about how this hotel did it or that hotel did it. And then there are the presentations at industry conferences, corporate meetings, seminars, webinars, ad infinitum. Not to mention the many consultants out there. All of these sources are valuable and can provide significant insights into marketing your hotel. But the sheer numbers of resources that are available make the whole thing seem mind boggling and complicated. It's not. It's not because there are basically four – and only four -- positioning strategies any hotel can adopt. Think of them as your marketing's Four Strategic Aces. Your challenge is to identify which one of the four strategies will yield your property's most effective marketing efforts and then build on it.
These four strategies are built around the intersection of two reliance axes, both of which influence how any hotel can sell more rooms to more guests more often for more money. The horizontal axis is anchored at one end by how early the brand was established – i.e. when it entered its market area. The other end of the horizontal axis is anchored by the how dependent the brand is on its attributes and image to distinguish it. The vertical axis is anchored at one end by how succinctly the brand meets customers' needs and, at the other end, by its credibility for consistently providing top quality over time. The intersection of these axes forms the four quadrants, giving us the four basic positioning strategies: Original, Biggest, Best, Different.
Strategy #1 is to position your hotel brand as the first in your segment in your area. Being first in a category simply means that the brand is the earliest one in the market seen to fulfill member's needs. This strategy communicates originality and expertise in the category. There is no substitute for being "the real thing;" all others become merely derivatives. By being the original, you delegate competitors to a copycat position; i.e. akin to being a reproduction of a masterpiece. The classic example of this strategy is, of course, Coca-Cola. Born in Atlanta, Georgia on May 8, 1886, pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton created the syrup that would be teamed with carbonated water to produce the first drink giving consumers "a moment of refreshment for a very small amount of money." This simple strategy launched a global identity that operates in more than 200 countries. Coca-Cola positions itself as the "real thing."
If your hotel's strategy is to be positioned as the original, it becomes seen as the real thing; all others in your competitive area must be copies. How cool! The beauty of being defined as the original is that, by definition, there can only be one brand with this standing. Remember, there can only be one St. Andrews, the home of golf.
If you are not really the original hotel in a category, you can still be perceived as being first. The key is staking your claim on a specific attribute of your property. Consider Spike TV. Building on the perception that it is the first television network developed specifically for men, it relegated earlier networks with significant male programming to other positions – ESPN, MTV, and USA Network, for example. Maybe your property can lay claim to being the first to be certified as totally "green", or maybe it is the original pet-friendly property, or maybe your building is listed on the historic register because of its innovative architecture. In each of these cases, you have an attribute on which you can build a marketing strategy as the original.