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.
I can hear your outrage! You've spent time making sure you're "Good to Go" and Covid-secure and now I'm telling you that's not what you need to do?
Accreditation and reassurance schemes like "Good to Go" and "Safe, Clean, Legal" are definitely a good idea. They'll help you work out what you need to do to operate safely and reassure visitors.
It's definitely worthwhile participating in one of the schemes.
But once you've done that, how are you going to attract visitors and encourage them to return to you?
Visitors aren't asking about safety or cleanliness
I did a quick straw poll of tourism businesses yesterday to find out whether people are asking about cleaning or Covid-secure protocols when booking or making enquiries. 70% of businesses said they were not being asked about them at all, 25% said a few visitors were asking, and 5% said yes, all their prospective visitors had asked.
So what are visitors asking about? Cancellation and refund policies seem to be right at the top of the list of things visitors want to know.
What messages should you use to attract visitors, if 'safe' isn't the right selling point to use?
Have you noticed a flood of posts on social media, using the VisitEngland kite mark, "We're Good to Go"? It's great that so many businesses are participating and using the reassuring logo. It's natural to want to tell people you've successfully gone through the hoops.
But when there's a flood of similar posts on social media, you need to find an additional way to stand out.
Research has shown that visitors really want to have some fun, they want to escape the confines of their home, to meet up with family. They do want to know places will be clean but don't want an overly sanitised experience, or to feel like they're visiting a laboratory.
So make sure you stress your usual key selling points, then offer a reassuring safety message.
We know people want to know about cancellation policies and refunds so make sure that information is clearly available. Show prospective visitors what it will be like to visit you, with a short video walk-through. It doesn't have to be polished, just authentic and clear.
Tell visitors about the fun they can have in your area, what's open and what they'll be able to do when they visit. Show them how they can escape the daily grind, and offer inspirational ideas. Safety and cleanliness are important, but most visitors will see those as givens, so you need to stand out in other ways.
We keep talking about the 'new normal' and life is going to be different but humans are still humans and a strong emotional appeal is always important.
Competition is tough so you need to stand out.
Visual impact is important to grab attention and get people to read your website, posts on social media or information within your business.
Here are some quick design tips to help people notice your business:
Keep it simple. Cluttered designs are less impactful.
Stick to a simple colour scheme with two or three colours. Use similar colours in all your marketing so you gradually build a brand awareness.
Choose a couple of fonts – one for headings, one for main text – and stick to them. Don’t add in extra fancy fonts. Avoid handwriting fonts like Comic Sans unless you’re a school teacher.
Use white space. It’s free and it makes it easier to read what you have to say. Your headings and information will stand out more. Pages are easier to scan if you space out information.
Don’t centre text. It’s harder to read than left-aligned text.
Don’t use all capitals. Capitals are fine for headings but don’t use them when you write more than 4 words. They’re harder to read and the message is difficult to absorb. And many people think of capitals as shouting.
Make your call to action (‘book now’, ‘visit today’, ‘call us’) as visible as possible. Buttons with bold text work well on websites.
Show priority text by using strong colours and larger fonts.
You don’t need an expensive designer for simple design jobs like creating social media posts or posters within your business. There are some brilliant free online design tools. I love Canva.
I often write about how to improve your tourism marketing, even on a low budget. What about the things we might be doing wrong? Could we save time and money just putting right a few mistakes? The answer is a very definite ‘yes’.
These six marketing mistakes are all really common. I find myself making some of them too, and have to make a conscious effort to go through them from time to time to make simple, no-cost improvements.
Marketing mistake 1: Making it too hard for your customers to find you, to know what you offer, and want to buy from you
We want people to spend their money with us. They’ll do that if they 1. know about us, 2. know what we do, 3. like what we do, 4. trust that we’ll do what we say, and 5. really want what we do. Your marketing needs to be geared to achieve all this. Often very quickly. In competition with many others.
So bland statements like ‘we’re open’ or ‘we offer a unique product with something for everyone blah de blah’ just won’t work.
You need to make it much easier for people to buy from you.
Here’s an example:
If I tell you about my marketing consultancy, the books I wrote years ago, the destination strategies I’ve developed, the online marketing workshops you can buy, the workshops I run, you’re unlikely to immediately see the benefits of what I offer to businesses like yours.
It’s all too long-winded and vague.
However, if I sum all that up with just one sentence that shows that I might be able to help you, you’ll be more interested.
For example: I help to make businesses - like yours – better and more profitable.
So, you definitely need one strong, clear message.
Luckily, that’s an easy thing to put right. You can do it now. When you re-write it, make sure you include the kind of key words your guests search for, so that you can help improve your search engine rankings at the same time.
Marketing mistake 2: Too much information, not enough inspiration
Remember, you’re promoting a tourism business. Not toilet rolls, not machine parts, not baked beans, but something that people can get excited about. You’re promoting an opportunity to escape reality, to do something interesting, to enjoy the beauty of your area, to relax…
Take a look at your website and other marketing. Have you just spewed out information, instead of offering any inspiration? Of course you need to offer information, but inspiration is really important too. It’s what will make people feel excited and happy to book or come to visit you. Inspiration can trigger action, and differentiate you from other businesses.
Marketing mistake 3: Not enough repetition
Once you’ve put 1 and 2 right, you need to do it again and again. We used to say that people need to see marketing messages at least 3 times before they take action. Now it’s more like 7 times. So you need to repeat your key message much more frequently than you probably think.
I talked about this in a recent blog. It’s one of the easiest things to improve on, as it also saves time and effort. Remember, there are lots of different ways to repeat marketing messages, so it doesn’t feel too repetitive.
Marketing mistake 4: Far too few photos
This is a really common, and important mistake. We’re asking people to commit to coming to see a place they might not have been before. We’re asking them to make an effort to travel to places they might know but have forgotten. That can be hard to do. Words can offer information, inspiration even. But most people want to see pictures of your business and local area. I’d say only 5% of all businesses have enough good, varied photos on their website.
If you don’t have enough images of the right kind, showing potential visitors everything they want to see, they’ll look for them on other sites. Which means they may get side-tracked and not bother to come back to your site.
I hope you’ll agree that so far these marketing mistakes are easy to put right?
The next two are easy to deal with too, and are the ones that make the biggest difference to any business.
The final one is the one that will have the strongest impact on your profitability.
Read all about them in the Tourism Network Online Community - it's free to join
As regular readers of this blog know, l’m a fan of small, almost effortless, low cost marketing tweaks that can make a difference very quickly. Some may sound odd or flippant but those who try them, often email me to tell me they worked. Today’s suggestion is no exception.
Are you feeling blue, in a black mood? Seeing red or green with envy? Is life a little grey, or maybe it’s not that black and white?
Yes, you’ve guessed, I want to talk about colour.
You may think this is something you’re more likely to hear your home-schooled off-spring discussing, but it is a proper grown up topic. It’s even a research topic for psychologists.
Using the right colours at the right time could help make you more money.
This might sound a bit ‘woo woo’ but it’s true. Whatever you want to promote, you need your target markets to feel positive about you, to understand and like what you do, and react positively. Colour can help.
Choosing the right colours can help make your activity stand out. It can make your content more readable.
It can make people feel warm and positive about you. It can help reassure, calm, persuade.
I’ll get on to how and what you can do in a moment.
First of all, let’s look at an example of the power of colour when your marketing budget is miniscule.
I learnt about this it was during a conversation with Stelios, the owner-founder of Easyjet. It was about 25 years ago, when the first low cost airlines started. I've never forgotten it because of the impact it had.
It might sound crazy to compare your small business with an airline - bear with me. I'm guessing you think your marketing budget is small? When he first started the airline, Stelios spent all his money on buying planes. There wasn’t any money left over so his marketing budget was also tiny, in comparison with all the giants like British Airways.
I met Stelios* on one of the first flights when he systematically went from seat to seat, talking to every passenger. He thanked everyone for flying with him. He didn't say 'thanks for flying with EasyJet'. Instead he said, 'thanks for flying with me', presenting it as his very own business so everyone felt glad to have met the owner, and felt like they were part of a club, instead of customers. At that time corporate, faceless airlines like British Airways were the norm.
Then Stelios asked everyone some questions about themselves. Being nosey, I listened to his questions and their answers**. He had several ways of basically asking the same questions in order to profile his passengers and find out their reasons for travel.
When he got to me, I asked if I could ask him some questions instead. He grinned and agreed. I asked him why he was on his own flight and asking so many questions. He pointed out that he didn’t have a budget for research but needed to know as much about his customers as possible. So he frequently travelled on his own flights and just talked to people. “And people can see how lovable I am so I hope they’ll talk about me to their friends”***.
Then I asked him why he’d chosen that bright orange colour. It was everywhere – on the outside of the planes, on the seats, the uniforms, the marketing. Everywhere. He asked what I thought of when I saw that exact orange colour. The answer was obvious – EasyJet. He said he’d looked at other airlines and they all used a combination of colours. None of them were particularly memorable. He needed to use a colour that no-one else used. Even if it looked brash, it needed to be unforgettable.
He’d also considered how the colour orange makes people feel. It’s considered a fun, friendly colour. Not quite as hot as red, not quite as cool as yellow. It can feel energetic and positive. So orange became ‘his’ colour. EasyJet practically owned the colour orange. When they first started, Stelios barely had to do any marketing – he just painted everything orange and people thought about EasyJet.
You might not want to do this but the lesson is the same for any business - be consistent with the colours you use, for maximum impact.
So back to your business, presumably with a smaller marketing budget.
I’ll explain the connotations of some colours in a moment. First some things to think about.
Here are some examples of how colour can make people feel, from Oglilvy. Search for 'colour psychology' and you'll find many more.
Scroll beyond the image for some more marketing lessons from Stelios.
More marketing lessons from Stelios
*When he launched Easyjet, Stelios Haji-Ioannou insisted everyone use his first name. Otherwise he said people wouldn’t talk about him because they were scared of getting his name wrong.
But more importantly, he positioned himself as the cuddly, smiley, cheeky chap who was the face of the airline. He instantly differentiated his airline by using his personality. This was at a time when British Airlines was a major competitor and their marketing was always very corporate. Stelios immediately positioned his airline alongside Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, feeling more fun and approachable. Are you the front person for your business? How good is your 'about' page?
** Stelios lesson number 2. Market research is important but doesn’t have to be expensive. Ask people questions. Use the answers.
*** Stelios lesson number 3. People buy people. Be the face of your business. Tell your story. Be human.
*** Stelios lesson number 4. Think of a way to make people talk. It’s the cheapest, most effective marketing method.
Are you neglecting one of the most important pages on your website? Do you have a really good 'about' page, or is it perhaps a bit of an after-thought?
You might be surprised at the increasing number of people who can be convinced to book, visit and buy by a good 'about' page.
Here's why it's worth spending some time crafting a really good 'about' page:
How to create a really strong 'about' page for your business:
Even if you feel a little uncomfortable writing about yourself, or don't think you're very good at writing, there are some straight-forward things you can do to create a strong 'about' page. Read more about the elements to include and how to make your 'about' page more powerful in the Tourism Network online community (free to join).
Free tourism marketing advice
Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs