There’s a very easy, powerful and effective way to market your business. Forget the rule of six (for this moment at least...) and think about the rule of three.
Once you’ve read this, everywhere you look you'll notice a triplet of reasons, ideas and thoughts. See what I just did?!
Humans can count five objects by just glancing at them. When there are six, we have to count them. We can absorb three ideas or words easily. When there are four, each becomes less memorable.
So if you want to make a point or write some compelling reasons to visit your business, three is the magic number.
Our brains just feel comfortable seeking out and absorbing a list of three. There’s a natural rhythm and pattern we instinctively like. Research has shown that a list of four makes the reader more cynical and less ready to believe. Perhaps it’s just overload. A list of just two things feels incomplete. A list of three can persuade.
Listing three things is an easy way to create a powerful and memorable message. You can do this either by putting them into a sentence e.g.
Here's a quick, easy, and powerful way to persuade.
Or you could use three bullet points e.g.
Here are some good ways to improve your marketing:
There are some examples of speeches that use this to great effect.
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen” was so good, we’re still repeating it hundreds of years after William Shakespeare wrote it.
Winston Churchill was really skilled, using similar but different sentences and related words about the Battle of Britain: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
If you’re a similar age to me, you might remember marketing slogans such as “Stop, Look & Listen” to help you cross the road. Or "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play". Australians "Slip-Slop-Slap" to guard against skin cancer.
Speaking of threes, VisitEngland's Escape the Everyday campaign launches this week. They're encouraging everyone - visitors and businesses - to tell everyone about your three favourite ways to #EscapetheEveryday. They are also using three themes: Discovery, Freedom to Explore and Treat Yourself. It's free and easy to join in - more details here.
Could you be saying the wrong thing on your website, in your social media, and other marketing activities? I doubt you're actually upsetting anyone, but potential customers may be ignoring you.
Why? Simply because you're saying the wrong things at the wrong time, or even the right things at the wrong time to the wrong people.
Most tourism businesses need to promote to three different kinds of people:
- people who are already customers
- people who have heard of you but not yet become customers, and
- people who have never heard of you or don't know what you do
Some marketing messages - whether by email, website, social media etc - will work regardless of who you're targeting. But many don't.
This used to be a problem. If your main marketing choices were paid advertising, posting out information or printing leaflets you had to choose limited messages as space was limited. There was a temptation to be all things to all people, to use bland and useless 'something for everyone' marketing.
Thanks to digital marketing, space isn't really an issue so you can use different messages at different times to appeal to different markets. Yet many don't take advantage of this free and easy marketing technique.
People who are already customers may just need to be reminded to buy from you or visit, perhaps through the right message on social media or through direct mail. An image of the view from your window, or something happening near by might act as a trigger for a repeat visit.
Those who have heard of you but not yet become a customer need several different types of message at different times:
If some one has never heard of you, or doesn't really understand what you do, then you need to go back to basics. For example, on social media you might need to use simple explanations (this could be through an image) about what you do from time to time, or to make information clearer. You're probably not stating the obvious, but you sometimes need to.
A quick example: let's say you offer accommodation. You might talk about the quality of your welcome, or show images of your rooms but potential guests need to know where you are and the benefits of your location. I often see accommodation providers posting on social media without ever mentioning their location, missing out on a valuable and easy selling point.
When you do this to attract new customers, you don't put off existing customers - you remind them about why they like you so there are double benefits.
So take a look at the marketing messages you use, consider the different types of people you need to reach and consider how you can 'layer' information and messages to cover more information, as persuasively as possible. Are you stating the obvious? Perhaps you need to?
There's a Japanese expression and approach that many Western business leaders have started to use: Kaizen*. I think it's also invaluable for small tourism business, especially those with tiny marketing budgets and no time.
The Kaizen approach is based on the idea that small continuous steps and tweaks build up to more substantial improvements over time.
KaizenGood news for all of us for three reasons:
1. Small steps are easier, especially when you don't have a lot of time;
2. It costs practically nothing to make small changes and tweaks to your marketing;
3. If you'd like your business to be around for a long time, you need marketing activities with longer term impact.
Over the years I've seen so many flashy, expensive marketing campaigns that may grab attention for a short while but once the advertising disappears so does most of the impact. I've seen some businesses be really 'shouty' and pushy and they might grab the limelight for a short while but then don't follow through. Others waste large amounts of marketing money by splashing their cash on all sorts of scatter-gun activity.
When you run a small business it's easy to feel a bit inadequate watching these flashier activities, wondering if you should do the same. Sometimes the step-by-step, one tweak-at-a-time approach feels lonely and insubstantial. 'Plodding along' isn't seen as a particularly positive thing to do. And yet...
I'm often asked 'what one marketing tool can I use, or what one thing should I do to make my business better?' The answer is that there isn't one. Tourism marketing is about building a profile, building understanding of your visitors' needs, building their awareness of what you do, building activities and experiences that please people, building a reputation. It's about small reminders, frequent little steps and activities that you need to repeat and repeat to get attention and build credibility.
It's about being consistent and just moving forward. You might think that marketing is something only larger organisations can do, and that larger companies are the only ones that can gain traction but that's not true. Small simple steps, constant little improvements eventually build a business. Each action layers over the one before, layer upon layer of experience, knowledge and small activities that lead to a more successful future.
When you think that you're not doing 'enough' or taking big enough steps forward or not being loud enough when your competitors seem to be constantly shouting 'look at me', remember Kaizen. It's the small constant actions that make the difference in the long run.
Think about how children learn and develop. They don't go into school one day and come out the next as rounded adults ready for the world. They take tiny steps forward, tripping up and making mistakes along the way. And gradually, step-by-step improvements add up to a strong foundation ready for the future. Most sustainable businesses aren't so different from children.
*Kaizen is a bit more complex than this, but taking the Kaizen approach, this simplistic explanation is just a start..and is something I'll come back to in more detail in a later blog.
The air is damp, the news is full of school's going back. It's easy to feel that Winter will soon be on its way, together with that sense of hibernation and endings.
But after such a slow start to the 2020 season, I'm not sure we're ready to retreat quite yet. It's been a difficult year so I think it's time to pick out some positive news.
The season is not yet over, and there may be some better times ahead, despite the weather and Covid.
I hope some of these positives will spur you on to thinking about how you can extend the season, ad consider some new ideas and ways to market your business.
People want to book trips when times are hard to cheer them up. They want to book trips when times are are good, to celebrate.
I really don't want to dismiss the struggles that many have faced during Covid-19. It would be very easy to feel downhearted about the state of the economy. However, there are some pieces of good news and if we want to steer our businesses in the right direction it's going to be up to us to seize on the positives and decide how we can thrive. While I'm on the subject of positive news and being optimistic, you might want to read this post too.
Do you know why visitors often go to a review site after they've been to your website?
Some do it because they want to know what others say about you. Many do it because they lack reassurance and want to feel more confident they're making the right decision. Others do it because they want more information than you have on your website. I often look at review sites to find more photos because people often don't have many on their website, or to find out more about the area.
Even if you have fantastic reviews, there's always the chance that visitors will get side-tracked and forget to come back to your site.
So it's essential to provide all the essential info on your own website.
There are 3 things every visitor wants. Have you got them all on your website?
Obviously the first priority is to talk about your own business, but whether you're targeting staying or day visitors, at some point everyone wants:
Whether you offer accommodation as a base to do all these, or can offer any of these directly, adding information about them all to your website will only enhance your offering, make your potential visitors even happier and position you as a local expert.
There's no need to add masses of different places - just think about your favourites and the places you'd really recommend. Visitors are very keen on 'insider tips' and that's exactly what these are. You could add them to your website, create a new blog about them, or do several different social media posts about them.
You could increase the impact of all this by contacting your recommended places in advance and asking if they'd like to join you in some collaborative marketing? It won't cost anyone anything but could be really powerful.
Many businesses tell me they'd like to do more local promotion and collaborations but it's hard to get started. This is the ideal way - start small and see how the idea grows.
You're probably (hopefully) too busy to do much marketing right now, yet there are a few things you can do very quickly that will be a great investment for future marketing activity.
With more visitors around, it's a good time to ask some important questions and get valuable information you can use for your website, social media and other promotional activity.
This is a good opportunity to learn from visitors.
Take every chance you can get to ask questions, and make a note of the responses.
Ask the right questions to get the right answers
Try to focus on questions with a specific purpose, such as those that might help you work out what improvements you can make, or how you can create more effective promotions.
Ask open questions - those to which the answer isn't just 'yes' or 'no'.
Try to avoid the obvious ones like 'how did you hear about us?' Many people will give vague answers like 'the internet' which don't really help.
Some examples of questions you might ask:
Every single one of these questions will lead to some interesting answers that you can use to improve what you do. I find it helpful to make a note of what I'll do, as soon as I've found out new information. The responses often spark immediate ideas that can be harder to spot if you're just reading through a list of answers later.
What if you don't usually meet your guests, for example in a self-catering property?
Leave a short and simple form with the questions in your property. Don't ask too many and leave plenty of blank space for the responses. Explain why you'd like to read their answers. Now's a really good time to do this because people are aware of the impact of Covid-19 on tourism businesses and are more willing to help. Leave the form (and pen) next to a bowl of fruit, bottle of wine or some biscuits and you'll notice response rates go up, and answers become even more helpful!
When it's mid-season and you're (hopefully) busy, it's hard to find any time to do any marketing. Yet this is the time when you can stimulate recommendations and repeat business.
If they've had a good time, most people want to talk about it, and will tell others. But... they often forget. Or they get busy and only tell a couple of people.
That's where 'talk triggers' come in. Small gestures, or things that remind people to talk about you. Memories are wonderful, and I keep saying that people value experiences more than 'stuff' but small physical reminders are still very useful talk triggers.
Here are a couple of examples, followed by some other ideas you might use for your own business.
I took my mum out for afternoon tea at the splendid Grantley Hall yesterday. As we left, she was given a doggy bag containing the remaining scones and pastries. She would have probably told others about the excellent afternoon tea anyway, but the doggy bag meant she had something to show as well. It was a simple cardboard box, but printed on shiny green with the hotel's crest on it - all very much on brand, looking smarter than the average doggy bag. We'd already paid for the cakes and the box would cost little to print but it had a huge impact.
By the evening my mother had invited a friend to sample the left over treats, decided to invite some other friends to go for afternoon tea another day (using her smart doggy bag to show them why). She sent a photo of it to my daughter who declared it looked very 'instagramable' which of course means she now wants to go too. I told some friends about our afternoon tea, showed them the doggy bag and its contents and we all decided we'd like to try lunch there another day. That's a lot of additional business stimulated by just one cardboard box.
Speaking of doggy boxes, I hit on a very simple way to get repeat businesses for my dog-friendly holiday cottage. Lots of people say they 'accept dogs' but dog-lovers don't want their doggy darlings to just be tolerated. Genuinely welcoming dogs can have a big impact. The first times I 'accepted' dogs in the cottage I offered a couple of items to off-set potential damage: dog bowls so guests didn't just use my 'human' dishes, large towel to encourage owners to clean their canines, a couple of dog chews to distract any furniture nibblers, and some poo bags. It was funny how many dog owners left me thank you cards written by their dogs. When I added some suggestions for dogs-off-the-lead walks as well, they were ecstatic. And most dog owners know plenty of other dog owners...
Another example comes from a long time ago when I worked for a small tour operator. When visitors arrived in England from overseas we used to give them small welcome packs including a pre-stamped postcard to encourage them to write home about the destination. Postcards are now even more of a novelty so perhaps that's something you could offer? Adding a stamp puts up the cost but is much appreciated.
The key to getting more recommendations is to be remarkable, or offer a physical memento. Travel mints or sweets with the name of the accommodation and website on the lid is a good touch. I know of accommodation owners who use small touches like cleaning guest car windscreens before they leave to make themselves more memorable. Actions can be small and cost-free but must be remarkable to ensure word of mouth recommendations.
It's worth thinking about any niches you target to consider what might be most appropriate for your markets. For example, walkers might appreciate maps or small guide books (make sure you stamp them with your business name), parents will love little pocket puzzles for children to enjoy on the journey home.
Activity providers might offer ideas for post-experience exercises or more activity suggestions for another time. Many accommodation providers offer cake on arrival which is a lovely touch - is there something you could offer to make a lasting impression on departure? One B&B I stayed in had a novel touch in their room - they had a tray with two glasses, a cocktail shaker, small bottles and recipe to make a cocktail on arrival. They'd thought of every detail including a tiny jar containing the two blackberries to garnish the cocktails. They'd cleverly not mentioned this on their website or in any of the booking information so it was a complete surprise. I couldn't help but take a photo and post about that place on social media...
Many restaurants serve homemade fudge and chocolates with coffee at the end of every meal, but by that time most diners are already full. Offering a tiny box (bearing the restaurants name and number) of chocolates after the bill has been paid will have more impact and memorability.
Do you already offer some kind of 'talk trigger' or have your got an idea for one? I'd be interested to hear your ideas, and how they work for you.
If you wanted to kill ants, would you buy 'Ant Killer' or 'Insect Spray'?
If you wanted to enjoy paddle boarding, would you get lessons from 'Peter the Paddle Boarding Expert' or the 'Outdoor Centre'?
If you wanted to stay somewhere cosy in Masham with an open fire would you google 'cottage in Masham with an open fire' or 'places to stay in Yorkshire'?
If you're a normal human being, your answer to each of those questions will have been the first, the most specific description.
Years ago everyone bought Insect Spray and hoped it would do its job, regardless of the creepy crawly species. Then the chemical companies realised that with the right packaging and description they could sell not just one product but several, each with a defined 'job'. Consumers felt more confident, not just choosing between different brands of Insect Spray but being able to pick up the bottle that promised to do exactly the job they were looking for. Sales of all these exterminators grew. That might not sound instantly relevant to the tourism industry but the lesson is important.
Money and time are both valuable so when we spend either we want to know we're doing the right thing. As I've often said before, reassurance is really important. One way of doing that is to use exactly the right words, and to target niches. Reading words describing what you're actually looking for is instantly reassuring.
If you've never been on a paddle board before, being able to book Peter the Paddle-Boarder makes you feel more confident he'll show you what to do. It just feels easier and less hassle, so you might even be willing to spend a little more?
If you want to go to a cafe but have a dog, you could tentatively ask the owner if they accept dogs. But that's not the same as being able to google 'dog-friendly cafes' and instantly find a place that actively welcomes them. For a dog-lover, finding somewhere that loves dogs as much as you do is a delight, not just a place you'll sit for a little while gulping down a coffee trying to make sure your St. Bernard is as inconspicuous as possible. And if you're a dog lover, chances are you'll know lots of other dog people and tell others...
If you were about to open a hotel with 65 rooms in a seaside location with loads of competition, you might try to please everyone in an attempt to make sure you get plenty of chances to fill the place. But would that work? A bland hotel might not upset anyone but it wouldn't be very memorable either. 65 rooms is a lot to fill, particularly in Winter. What if you were a little daring and decided to target a niche? Or even a couple of niches that belong together - dog-friendly walkers, cyclists and surfers. That's what the new Bike and Boot Inn in Scarborough has done. It seems brave at first. What about the people who hate dogs? Or the ones who just want to relax and don't want an eyeful of bulging middle-aged man in lycra at breakfast? Obviously they won't like it. But the niches they're targeting are large enough to be really big business. What's more, it's targeting people who'll visit year round, usually a major challenge for a seaside hotel.
Niches can be small or large. Sometimes it's worth using the impact of the long tail and targeting several smaller niches to avoid the competition. One of the reasons niches are now more powerful than ever is that they narrow down choice. That might sound counter-productive. Surely you need as broad a market as possible to get ahead? The reality is that most of us are busy, tired, and just want to make our life easier. If you offer something that caters for a niche market, you can write about that niche on your website. There'll be less competition, and when people type in those words to a search engine, hey presto, you'll be at the top of the search engine rankings. The more niche the better - you might even be able to create a situation where you're the 'only'...
When your marketing budget is limited, there's an easy way to add power to your promotions: piggyback. Piggyback marketing essentially means using someone else's marketing budget to benefit your business. Obviously I don't mean actually using their money. I do mean harnessing the power of their activity and piggybacking on the awareness they're able to create.
One way of doing this is to look at trends and what's happening in the wider world, and to create marketing around any emerging trends. Another option is to 'newsjack'. I think this latest term sounds a bit ominous so I still talk about piggyback marketing.
Here's how it can work.
Every day there are news stories that everyone notices, TV programmes that people talk about, attention-grabbing book launches. Newsjacking means taking a story or something that's getting a lot of interest, finding a connection to your business, and using it in your own marketing. Because people are already noticing that topic, they're more likely to connect with your story. So you're essentially able to benefit from their bigger promotional power and marketing budgets.
Finding a relevant news story isn't always easy so I like to use the same tactic but a different approach for tourism marketing: TV programmes, books and magazine articles.
Whether you want to use news stories, popular TV programmes (for example, a programme that highlights walks in your area) or other angles, the starting point is to find good angles and spot trends.
For an easy step-by-step guide to how to use piggyback marketing to save money and benefit your business, see the full article in the Tourism Network online community. It's free to join if you're not yet a member.
Let's assume your marketing budget is tiny... What can you do, without spending much money?
Social media is one activity, and great for raising awareness, but it's hard to control.
Email helps you nurture your visitors and create repeat business.
When lockdown ended, several businesses kindly emailed me to let me know that after taking my advice they'd used direct mail, resulting in great levels of bookings from previous visitors.
Let's take a closer look at the benefits of building a strong mailing list and using direct mail.
These are in addition to the fact that it costs very little to send out multiple emails.
1. Mailing lists give you more control over your communications. You're not just passively waiting for people to look at your website or social media - you're pro-actively targeting them.
2. Attention: you might think your inbox is overflowing with emails but compared to social media, we get far fewer messages by email. It’s easier to grab attention because email feels more personal, easier to see and retain. If some one signs up to get your emails, you’re not competing for their attention as much as on social media.
3. Email is less passive.
4. You can decide who sees what content. You can send different emails to different people. This means you can segment markets and send them really appropriate messages that get results.
5. You can easily personalise email messages. You can’t do that on social media which feels more mass-market.
6. You can get immediate feedback on the results of your emails. If you use the right software (don’t be scared – easier and cheaper than you might think) you can see who has opened your emails, who has clicked on a link etc.
7. You can test out emails to see what works. Known as A/B testing, you can send one email to a small group of people, a different one to others and then compare results to decide what to send to the rest of your mailing list.
8. You can remind people. On social media if you don’t get much of a response, you can repeat your message but the people who’ve already seen it will think you’re repeating yourself. With email you can choose to send a reminder mailing, just to the people who didn’t open it in the first place.
9. Email feels familiar, and more permanent. We all despair of the endless changes on facebook, snapchat, rise of tiktok or what-ever the latest social media tool. Email feels more constant and safer.
10. Perhaps most importantly – you own your email list. If you are over-reliant on social media or just blithely hope people will come to your website, you’re not in control of your business. Your mailing list is a direct route to people who have said they want to hear from you. You know they’re interested.
Want to know more about how to build a mailing list and write effective mailings? Take a look at the online marketing workshop.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs