Hotel Sales & Marketing: What Exactly Are You Selling?
By Conor Kenny Principal, Conor Kenny & Associates | June 20, 2021
My late Dad spent a life working with managers and was one of the founding fathers of the Irish Management Institute along the way.
In 1979, Pope John Paul was coming to Ireland. An event so big that over a third of the entire population packed into Dublin's Phoenix Park for Mass with The Pontiff. It would require huge organisation and who better than the Clergy and Army to arrange it. The Hierarchy contacted my father, they wanted some management training in advance.
The day came and Jacob, a Texan, adored the challenge and chemistry of training. He had a special interest in sales, and he jumped at the opportunity to work with the Irish priests.
Overflowing with energy on their first day, he burst into the serene atmosphere of the training room to be met by 20 priests dressed identically in their clerical dark, dull, sombre suits.
"Good Morning Fathers, and to start, tell me, what exactly are you guys selling?"
Though a smile making moment, it is also a clever question and one that often elicits a threadbare dull mechanical cliched response.
In a post pandemic world, that will not work.
What enticed us into a hotel and tickled our ears before the pandemic is forever lost. We will focus on different things, different messages and different answers. Marketing will need to be relevant, appropriate and honest and the sales strategy will have to follow that new path but only if it is true, realistic and deliverable.
Before you can sell successfully to a new set of demands and priorities, marketing must be reimagined and then rebooted. That means a deep understanding of what now connects, inspires and motivates a buying decision.
And yet, marketing remains the greatest opportunity for a fine hotel to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Because many hotels and hoteliers are not marketers and entrust this vital function into the willing arms of a 'social media expert' who believe effective communication is measured by volume and 'likes'. It is not. There is a noticeably big difference between PR, publicity, noise and real engagement. The platforms are simply the trucks carrying your product, but it is the content on the truck that matters, not the truck.
Going back to the Priest's story, there is an especially useful question to ask the person in your hotel, or hospitality business, who is responsible for your marketing. It is this; 'What do you understand to be the purpose of our marketing efforts?' I will wager that you will hear many answers along these lines; To sell more. To create awareness. To get publicity. To advertise. To create an image. To win new accounts. To stand out from the crowd.
Straight away, any of these answers suggest that you have a problem, and a costly one at that. These cover PR, sales, marketing components and the use of freely available tools but they do not show a deep understanding of what exactly the point of marketing is. If the understanding of marketing is wrong at the outset, then the strategy that follows will misdirect every single effort. A little like building the house foundations in the wrong place. It will lead to trouble down the road.
Marketing has only two specific functions or, if you like, desired outcomes.
- To make change.
- To create the desire to buy.
If your marketing does not achieve these then no amount of tedious academic strategy will add to your bank balance.
The first one is quite simple. If you want me to move from staying where I stay to staying with you, your marketing must make me change. If you want me to become a wine drinker from tea total, then you must make change happen. If I only ever stay in luxury camper vans and you want me to stay with you, then your marketing must inspire and provoke me to change. Think about it on a personal level, when you changed from one brand to another, what happened? Why did you do it?
Once you have created the argument for change then you need to create the desire to buy. If I have no desire, you will have no sale. Really good marketing does this overtly and subconsciously.
What's Your Brand?
But marketing must be based on something. If not, it is hollow, empty and meaningless. Effective marketing is embedded in your brand and that is the compass for every action and reaction that your business takes.
You will forever read definitions of what a brand means and if you google 'definition of a brand' then you will get millions of answers. There are 2 parts to a brand. The first is the visible representation of a brand – logo, symbols, icons and so forth. These are simply markers that distinguish one brand from the next. Think about the chrome logo on an automobile, that favoured department store, the preferred airline and so on.
However, the more important side of a brand is the emotional connection it makes with you and my interpretation is this. It is "A brand is what you think and feel about a business when you are not there". Instantly, if you think of a brand, you like and then one you dislike, you will see that you are reacting to a thought and that gives rise to the emotion. Of course, what you think I am thinking about your brand can be quite different to what you want me to think or even think I am thinking. Therein lies the danger and trap that will lead to disconnected sales efforts.
In other words, your promise needs to be real.
A few years back, I went into the vast lobby of a nice city centre hotel. I was meeting the General Manager. On that morning, I was the only one in the splendid lobby, me and the detached, disinterested Receptionist. I asked where I might find the GM as I had an appointment. "Over there" came the cold reply. I met the GM and work started. Early on, I asked him "What does your brand stand for?" With a certain pride and complete confidence, he said "Our warm and natural welcome".
I resisted the temptation to challenge it.
Once you understand the essence of your brand then it needs to be communicated to everyone who works with you and in a way that allows them to understand it and live it. If not, then remember Abu Bakr's quote.
"Without knowledge, action is useless and knowledge without action is futile".
Why Bother? Why Buy?
In a moment, we will consider what will change in a post pandemic sales world but first, there are a few obvious buying motivators that most salespeople do not consider, confuse or even know about.
First, there are only 2 types of sale – ever. Emotional and practical.
In the world of hotel sales, there is a perfect mix of both. A wedding reception is the perfect example of an emotional sale. A meeting room sale a typical practical sale, or even a cup of tea. Both sometimes overlap but one thing is for sure, if you do not know who you are talking to and you choose practical or emotional positioning when they want the opposite, then you are already destined for failure.
Secondly, there are generally 4 reasons to buy, and each reason needs a language, message and connection all of its own and that the guest can relate to.
- We buy on perceived value and that includes price.
- We buy on needs. These are things we must have, electricity, heat and so on.
- We buy on desire or wants. These are aspirational purchases or, if you like, indulgences.
- Finally, we buy because of an urgent need. Think medical treatments, or when your boiler is broken in mid-winter.
Each has a driver and each needs to have the ability to stand alone as an individual proposition that prompts me to respond to the marketing and then enter the sales process.
Whilst the motivators and drivers have not changed, the subject box and content for each, certainly will. What motivated me before a global pandemic will no longer be the same in a post pandemic world.
Standards Dear Boy, Standards!
It is a fine hotel with a big brand name and built to a remarkably high standard. A short work stay in between pandemic lockdowns beckoned. A welcome respite from it all. This time, my radar was tuning in to different stimuli. No longer was my focus on warm welcomes, quiet bedrooms and the standard facilities we all took for granted. No, this time it was different. Safety, cleanliness, Covid cleaning protocols, distance, speed, lack of chit-chat, space, sanitiser and on it went. This time, the things we used to look for are now fundamentals, this time, it is all about how you are going to protect me.
It was a well-known hotel with vigorous marketing. They were up to speed early and pumped out many well-tuned messages about care, standards, space and hygiene. It was slick, it was relevant. It gave me some comfort given the threat to all of us. I booked it and I checked in.
My room was on the 4th floor. Exiting the elevator, I turned right towards my room. As I got closer to my room, I could hear someone coughing. Nearer still and the coughing was louder and endless. I was almost afraid to turn the corner. I did. Two housekeepers stood face to face, no masks, chatting loudly in between the coughing. They had beautiful uniforms and face masks worn around their neck. I felt like I had walked into a fatal mist. Politely, I said "Would you mind wearing your masks please?" One did, the other showed complete disdain and could not have responded any slower.
Later, I went for something to eat. Coincidentally, I bumped into a manager who I had worked with before. We chatted briefly, both keeping our distance and minimum contact. He asked me how my stay was. Reluctantly, I told him about the coughing duo. He looked alarmed and acted on it immediately. I was insistent that it was information, not a complaint but it would not do the hotel much good with a wider less tolerant audience already terrified. He agreed and I was happy that the right balance was struck. He went up to meet them immediately. Of course, his frustration was magnified because these two housekeepers had just completed their Covid safety training the day before. They were lucky he had a kind soul.
A short time later, I went back to my room. This time, just outside the elevator, I had the pleasure of meeting the two housekeepers again. Both were maskless and as I faded fast from their view; I could hear the false laughter designed to make sure I knew their feelings. Sadly, this was after the intervention of the kind young manager.
It is a hotel that I will never stay in again. A hotel that had wonderful, on message marketing and a hotel that was ahead of the pack.
Unfortunately, vanity superseded health, wisdom and the brand promise but the price of that, in a pandemic, can be fatal.
Mind The Gap
There is always a temptation for a marketer to exaggerate and paint a picture that, although exceptionally beautiful, may not be an accurate image of what to expect. We have all experienced the perils of over promising. Today, that will not cut it. Messages, marketing and sales need to tune in to what guests now want, the 'magical experiences and exceptional service' will be replaced by an eagle-eyed focus on professionalism and trust. The soft filtered images will be discarded in favour of knowing I am safe. The smiling welcoming check in will be 'nice' but nothing compared to knowing my room really has been sanitised (by people wearing masks).
Yes, of course good service, a nice hotel and a cheerful atmosphere full of the necessary facilities will still be in demand but from now on, those messages will no longer be primary. Instead, they will be fundamental.
If the gap between your marketing and selling continues to widen and fails to reflect how guests have changed, then it will not be long before a small crack turns in to an impassable canyon. Too easily, your message and method will be outdated, irrelevant and those waiting for a return to 'the good old days' may end up with nobody to keep them company.
A Bad Habit
We are creatures that adapt to habits, and quickly too. Who would have thought that a handshake would look weird and a hug simply out of order?
Yes, of course, good days will return but the new good days will be different, fluid and evolving.
Naturally, we all have a choice, and this pandemic has created many new habits which, by default, execute many of their predecessors. But it is reality and smart leaders move with the tide rather than waiting for it to turn.
As an Irishman, let me close with a far wiser Irishman and his witty wisdom.
"To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul." ? Oscar Wilde
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