Is there any point in marketing right now? There’s so much confusion, frustration, uncertainty.
The answer is ‘yes’ but a different kind of marketing is needed.
I was thinking about this as I watched one of my favourite TV series. It’s sponsored by a travel company. Of course, they’d have booked the slots a long time ago but it initially seems like a waste of money, paying huge sums for sponsorship during Covid when none of us can go anywhere.
Or is it? The company is mentioned after every ad break and showcasess beautiful places overseas. That repetition means those images start to get lodged in the mind.
Now I can’t help but think of those locations and want to go there one day. I know I can’t do it now, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming…
Even in a ‘normal’ year, many rural tourism businesses close or slow down for the winter. They often limit their social media and some stop sending out mailings.
This is a mistake: it means far more work to gear up for the next busy season.
Before anyone makes a booking or buys anything, they have to know about it. They have to understand what you have to offer, want what you offer. That all starts with awareness. Those TV ads work - even if only subconsciously - by raising awareness through repetition.
You might not be able to afford TV ads but you can use the same techniques. Social media and direct mail work in a similar way – micro messages and reminders that layer to raise awareness.
Social media works best when you have high engagement levels, with followers commenting, liking and sharing your posts. If you stop posting for a while, the algorithms mean that your posts won’t even be shown to everyone and your engagement will definitely dip. So you have to keep going. You might want to think about different kinds of message at different times of year.
I normally talk a lot about ‘calls to action’ and not forgetting to sell. This might not be the time for that though.
It’s more about ‘maintenance marketing’, just keeping people interested, helping them to dream and plan for later. Any marketing you do now is an investment for later.
So what sort of marketing can you do? What messages will work well right now?
Through all the fear, confusion and frustration, there’s one type of message or story that stands out. There’s one thing everyone wants: positive, upbeat, good news and anything that helps us feel better.
Some ideas for posts – keep them relevant to your business and your local area:
Use this as opportunity to show without selling. You’ll reap the rewards later. People remember those who make them feel good.
Keep posting, keep communicating to maintain and raise awareness, be ready for better times.
Do you ever feel like your potential guests and visitors are just not 'getting it'?
That maybe people just don't realise how good you are, that you have the most fantastic x,y,z?
Perhaps they keep asking the same questions over and over again, or miss the point on what you have to say?
Does any of this feel familiar?
Or maybe you're sometimes downhearted because you know you're offering a brilliant service or experience and yet you just don't seem to be able to charge the prices you'd like, or attract the visitors you want?
There could be a very simple solution to all these issues.
You're not telling people.
Yes, I know.
You've put information on your home page, on your social media. You've made an effort to put together a mailing list or write a blog. And people are still not 'getting it', or you're not getting the marketing traction you think your efforts deserve?
The answer is still the same.
One of the most common marketing mistakes I see is beautifully summed up by George Bernard Shaw:
'The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.'
You feel you're repeating yourself and being 'bloomin' obvious but for some reason people aren't listening.
First of all, ask yourself - are you being real clear and straight-forward about what you are trying to say?
Don't just answer that in your head. Take a look at all your marketing.
Have you really said, or written it, in every obvious place?
Do your potential guests or visitors want to hear what you're saying?
Have you seen things from their perspective? Here's a blog I wrote a while ago about this.
Are you boldly conveying the information or just mumbling - hiding the most essential points somewhere that isn't obvious?
Have you decided on one clear, strong message, one clear selling point and are now finding every way possible to convey that - through images, headlines, text, social media posts, website, blogs, mailings, examples, information, inspiration?
It might be worth taking a quick look at your marketing through the eyes of your most cynical friend.
I pretty much guarantee you'll find at least one place in your marketing you're not being as obvious as you think.
I'm off to take a look at what I do. Every time I do, I find something that makes me cringe!
Hibernation or regeneration?
As the nights darken and temperatures drop I think we’re all starting to feel ready for hibernation. At this time of year many of us normally feel jaded and ready to retreat from the world for a little while. This year has been extra ‘special’.
There's no wonder so many of us feel tired, frustrated, confused, unsure what’s going to happen next.
Time to make a choice. Hibernate until Spring. Or use this time to regenerate. Retreat a little, but also plan exactly how you’ll bounce back when it’s time.
Like many I’ve started to mull over what might happen next, how Winter will feel when we can’t see our loved ones or work in the way we’d like.
It's easy to get down-hearted, but I’ve started to feel much better since I decided to expect the worse and plan what to do. That probably sounds counter-intuitive. It's based on a childhood lesson from my mum.
We used to have to walk about a mile up a very steep hill home from school each day. The kind of hill that’s so steep and long you can’t see the summit from the bottom. Standing at the bottom, our skinny little legs ached at the very thought of the climb. But our mum didn’t allow us to moan. Her answer to climbing a steep hill or facing any difficulty was always the same: get on with it and it’ll soon be over. That’s stuck with me. I still walk up hills as quickly as I can.
So, back to the present and Covid. Hibernation or regeneration?
I see a steep hill ahead: another lockdown, and months before we can welcome back visitors in any normal way. But I’m also trying to keep my eye on the hard-to-see summit. We’ll get there – we just need a plan.
I’m planning to combine the cosiness of hibernation – cosy fires, blankets, and a little retreating from the world – with some regeneration. Once again we’re going to have some time on our hands.
This is a really good time to do all those things we’ve not really got round to doing:
We might not be able to generate as much income as we’d like right now but all this activity will make it much easier to recoup later.
And if my mother’s advice isn’t enough for you, you might like to take additional inspiration from Isaac Newton. He retreated to his country home and garden during the 1665-66 Plague Year. Newton made pretty good use of his time there: he invented Calculus, discovered that white light is made up of every colour, and wrote his theory about gravity after seeing apples fall from the trees in his garden.
So who knows what incredible progress you might make between now and Spring? As my mum would tell you, you don't really have much choice so you might as well just get on with it...
After a few weeks when I felt like I was wading through treacle, doing all the 'right' things but coming across one frustration after another, I suddenly had a couple of days where everything felt better. Things went right.
It made me feel so upbeat and positive I shared a quick post on LinkedIn:
"Amazing how quickly things can change. Last week felt a bit lacklustre and plodding. Couldn't understand why I was procrastinating something I wanted to do, and eventually realised it was because I wanted it to work so much. So this week I tentatively launched a new tourism partnership (quietly, but got instant & fantastic response). Then the week got even better, with some good news on potential sponsorship from a brilliant & ethical company with wonderful people to work with, I took over as Head of Comms (voluntary) for Tourism Management Institute, and put in place plans to revolutionise business support in the tourism industry".
I wasn't sure how such a gushing post would go down, given that LinkedIn is currently full of so many negative stories of people struggling in business and losing their jobs.
The response was amazing - so many 'likes', comments, post views and a deluge of really positive emails and a couple of invitations to do some interesting work. Something else happened too - my subsequent posts on social media and articles elsewhere also got a good response, even on totally different topics.
I've thought about this a lot since, and started looking at the balance of positive and negative stories on social media, and the responses they receive.
My conclusion: share your small successes!
It's likely you'll get a good response that could have a real impact on your business.
I'd like to stress 'small' successes. It's the tiny triumphs, the little steps forward, the small obstacles overcome that people seem to like right now. It makes sense that during a time of such murky news and misery people want to read positive stories. I'm not sure if major successes would be so impactful - are we ready to believe in big 'wow' stories right now?
Is it perhaps the idea of small triumphs over mild adversity that we like?
Perhaps the reason why that particular post was so well-received was because it showed a small transformation - from feeling lacklustre and plodding to getting a fantastic response and receiving lots of good news?
I think everyone needs to feel optimistic and believe life will get better. Sometimes this is hard. If you have a story of a small success to tell, please do share it - you'll help others feel more upbeat and believe that 'better' is possible.
It's motivating for everyone to hear how things have improved, how you've managed to achieve something, how things can turn around.
Sharing success - in whatever way works for you - has another effect too. Most people like to have a good positive story to tell, and they'll want to share it even more.
Confused by the constant Covid-related changes about what we can and can't do, who can visit, when and how? Frustrated by how difficult it's become to build your business or promote your destination?
You're not alone. No one knows what will happen next and it's become hard to plan for the future. Unfortunately, competition is going to get tougher. Some will still do well.
Businesses that succeed will offer something different or better than others. They'll be good at telling people what they do. They'll make a profit by offering what visitors want and by standing out from the competition. They'll attract visitors when others aren't managing to do so.
The good news
It's easy to think there's nothing you can do, yet there is a way to feel like you're more in control of what happens next. The successful route out of such a crisis is to focus on our businesses and destinations, give all marketing a good overhaul and make it stronger, so we're ready to grab every opportunity when it comes along. One good thing - it's never been easier or cheaper to reach huge yet targeted markets.
A missed opportunity
In a 'normal' year, most businesses experience peaks and troughs in demand, with much reduced business during off peak periods. 'Off peak' means different things to different businesses. For some it's the Winter months, for others it's Monday nights or midweek. Whatever the case, it has meant that for a large part of the year businesses and destinations have been emptier than we might want them to be. There are undoubtedly some times when it's simply harder to get business but I don't really think we've tried particularly hard to get it - we've given up too easily.
Have you left money on the table?
Until now, most off peak marketing has relied on desperate price-led promotions, vague 'it might be nicer than you might think' marketing campaigns, and a lot of wishful thinking without a great deal of impactful action. We've left money on the table.
Visitors travel because they want to relax, spend time together, have fun, enjoy a challenge, discover something new and different... and many other reasons. We just haven't shown them that they can do that all year round, made it easy and attractive to do so. Of course some people don't want to sunbathe in the snow or long distance walk in the rain but destinations with far worse weather than UK still manage to attract off peak visitors.
In a changing world, visitors are changing what they do - that could be good news for you
Post lockdown, people showed that they're ready to do things differently. Many visitors are ready to take a fresh look at destinations, when they visit, how they visit, and what they do. We have an opportunity to show them that off peak visits can enhance their life and make them feel good.
How can we attract more off-peak business?
I've worked in tourism marketing for thirty years and sat in too many meetings where people have bemoaned the lack of off peak business. I have never heard of anyone taking a really robust, step-by-step, considered approach that looks in real detail at the issues of off peak marketing and what can actually be done.
What are the barriers and misconceptions and how can they be overcome? When are the off peak times that could be filled, and when are the ones that are just too hard to fill (for now)? What would make people visit? Is it possible to get newer, different visitors? To get existing visitors to think differently? How?
These are the questions I'm trying to answer with businesses in the new Off Peak Action Programme. It takes a step-by-step look at these issues and how to deal with them. Businesses are given guidance and activities to complete so they can come up with their own tailored approach. They might be able to put these new ideas into practice immediately (government guidance permitting) or it might be the spur for action to attract more business before the next season starts. The solutions won't just work over the next year, they'll create a brighter future for businesses, equipping them with a different approach. Many of the areas we're looking at will spark ideas and improvements in their year-round marketing too.
Covid has shaken the world and turned it upside down. The only way forward now is to look at what lessons we can learn and to believe we can use this time to consider how we can do things differently in the future.
All businesses need to recoup some of their losses and build their revenue back again. If we continue to believe we can only get visitors during certain times of the year, we're ruling out a huge opportunity and leaving places empty when they don't need to be.
The next Off Peak Action Programme starts on 5th October - sign up here now, if you'd like to be part of it.
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.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs