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