When we talk about marketing, most of us think about websites, social media and so on - tools that aren't necessarily expensive but do take effort.
There's one marketing method that happens naturally, and is free. It's easy to trigger and amplify it, and it can stimulate masses of word of mouth publicity. Yet few use it. It's anticipation.
Go to the hairdressers, have a chat with friends, family and colleagues and there's one topic that often comes up in conversation. Got any plans for the weekend? Where are you going on holiday this year?
We love to look forward to our trips and happily discuss them with others, giving them ideas for their own leisure time and picking up recommendations for ourselves too.
During Covid-19 we can't use calls to action that ask people to visit us right now. But we can build anticipation for later, and it's never been more important to do so. Effort invested now will be rewarded later. Many people have more free time than usual so their minds are open to the small nuggets of pleasure you can provide.
Planning, research and looking forward to a trip are all part of the enjoyment. We love to anticipate. And because we love to anticipate, we're happy to talk to others about our anticipation. It doesn't stop with the trip itself. We continue to talk about our experiences afterwards and share our memories.
As tourism marketeers all we need to do is provide triggers for anticipation and our visitors will do some of our marketing for us. And then we can amplify their marketing activity, through social media and other channels. Anticipation is a natural form of marketing so it's not contrived, and therefore more authentic and credible.
NOW is the best time to start really thinking about anticipation and how to use it. Here are some tips, angles and ideas.
1. Ask questions to stimulate comment and engagement. What are they most looking forward to doing when lockdown ends? What are the activities they're missing? Who would they like to visit with? Which places will they visit first and why?
Show images of what visitors can expect, stressing 'when the time is right'
2. Think about what people need and what they enjoy, to consider what is most likely to pique their interest. Is it fun, or factual, images or words? What kind of images and words? Maybe now is the time for more restful images and information rather than exciting, urgent messages? It helps to know your own audience so you can get this right.
3. Paint a picture and help people to imagine being there. You might need to keep stressing that it's good that people are staying at home but you can still write about what's happening where you are. You might use an angle that is related to what you do and shows a different aspect of your business so you can tempt without directly calling to action.
For example, a small hotel or bed and breakfast might show the results of some baking experiments. This won't get everyone leaving home right then and there but it will give them a taste (sorry!) of what they might be able to enjoy eventually.
If you enjoy spotting wildlife on your daily walks you might write about your sightings and then go into more detail about particular creatures. This reinforces what people could eventually see but is more informational than a direct call to visit right now.
4. While you're trying to build anticipation, don't forget the people who have been to you before. Can you ask them to share their memories and photos? Talk about some of them? Satisfied previous guests should be some of your most powerful advocates so do ask for their help.
5. This is a good time to really build engagement with your potential and previous visitors on social media. Ask them about the information they'd like to know, what they'd like to know about your area - and then provide it. You could even invite people on your daily walk with you - virtually - recording short films of what you see, or using Facebook Live. You don't need to be polished: natural, straight-from-the-heart is often more effective.
All these activities may sound small and relatively insignificant in the face of so much turmoil in the world. Yet tourism marketing isn't about one big expensive action. A series of small, intentional steps like building anticipation are what will start to open minds, persuade people, and form a virtual queue of visitors outside your door ready for when you re-open.
Think of what you're doing like a teaser for a new TV series. They often run trailers for a programme for a little while without giving the schedule timings, just to get everyone interested. When the programme airs, viewers are ready and waiting.
During these odd times we're all finding different ways to cope and use our time.
Anyone with a tourism business has two options right now:
1) hope for better times or
2) do what you can right now to strengthen your marketing so your business is poised for recovery.
Since hope isn't a very reliable marketing strategy, the second option is likely to be most productive.
So what do you need to do? Many of us have been clearing out our cupboards and using our free time to make our homes feel good. Now's the time to give your marketing a good spring clean too.
Assuming money is limited but you have a little more time than usual, here are my recommendations. They focus on three essential marketing tools: your website, social media and direct mail.
Your website almost certainly needs a bit of a refresh, or at the very least a few new pages, some more key words, better images and a general freshen up. For one thing, it will help your search engine rankings if you pay it some attention. You need it to stand out from others, ready for when recovery comes. So, pretend it isn't your website. Step back from it.
Take a look at every single page. Pay most attention to your home page. Ask yourself:
As you do this, write done all the improvements you might need to make. Now is also a really good time to think about re-writing some pages to make them more search engine friendly. If you'd like to undertake a deeper audit to look at every aspect of your site and how you might like to improve it, email me for a free checklist to help you do that. If you'd like to know more about how to improve your website, you might enjoy this practical short online course.
Your social media
Are you using the right social media, often enough, with the right messages? You might feel most confident using twitter but if your target market are all on instagram, you're not fishing where the fish are. Now would be a good time to get to grips with your social media, to improve what's you're doing and really understand the tools you're trying to use.
Many people use social media but don't plan out their messages or think about their engagement. Engagement is what really makes the different, and it's what generates bookings and visits. Don't be tempted to think that because places are closed to visitors, now isn't a good time to be on social media. It is. Journalists are still looking for stories. Visitors are still planning trips even if they can't go on them immediately. You can always build awareness, which is one of the foundations to any successful business.
Your direct mail
Direct mail is probably one of the easiest, lowest cost and most effective, yet under-rated forms of promotion. It means sending out carefully written, targeted mailings to people who've chosen to receive them, whether by post or email. It is often mis-used or under-used, but with a few simple rules and knowledge it can be very powerful.
Social media is excellent for raising awareness of what you do. But you can't control it and you're reliant on people seeing your posts and taking action. Ideally you will combine social media with direct mail - using social media to encourage your followers to join your mailing list, so you can decide when to write to them, about what messages to send.
Building a good mailing list is a really good way to build a relationship with your visitors and customers. It enables you to create trust (by mailing when you say you will, with relevant information). Success relies on three factors:
If you don't yet use direct mail, now is the time to start. If you already use it, now would be a good time to think about the emailing software you use and learn about its advanced features, consider how you can build your list, and plan out some really good content. If you'd like to learn to do all this, now is the time - see the online courses here.
Free tourism marketing advice
Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs