Promotional Materials And Activity
Michael Cockman is a hotel marketing specialist with long and worldwide experience. During a 25-year career he has coached managers and sales teams to achieve outstanding results. He believes passionately in the power of experiential learning and now coaches and mentors business owners and managers, using this book as a framework. Michael is based in Oxford.
Most hotels have a very strong local market, which responds well to tactical sales promotion activity. Traditional activity works very well if it is planned properly but efforts to make your internet site effective will be well rewarded.
Sales promotion is a great way of counteracting competitor activity, converting prospects into customers or launching new facilities. Tactical mailing distributed door-to-door is an excellent way of promoting new restaurant openings, new menus or new facilities such as a leisure club.
The simplest promotions are price based. There are conflicting views on the wisdom of these. Consumers can be rather sceptical, particularly if you over use ‘special prices’. When does a sale price become the normal price and then cease to have any value?
Sales promotion techniques tend to be used more in the retail sector where there is an imperative to generate market share or launch new products in a crowded market. These promotions can be directed to the consumer, to sales staff, to retailers and to wholesalers. They can involve:
- point of sale displays
- gifts and incentives.
Hotels have not traditionally been seen as a service where consumers would normally expect a price promotion. However if you choose your media carefully your image will not be damaged. Some of the weekday lunch promotions in up-market daily newspapers are very effective at bringing in new customers to even the most prestigious hotel or restaurant. Most people are up for a deal, whoever they are or however much they earn. It is a moot point whether or not these sort of promotions build long-term customer relationships, although sales promotion is also an effective way of promoting the facilities you have to your current guests.
If you do produce leaflets to promote any element of your business you need to take great care with the production. This is not to say that it needs to be particularly expensive, but it does need to be appropriate to the product that you are promoting. If you have a high quality restaurant with an expensive menu, then any promotional leaflet needs to be of good quality; a flimsy 80gsm production will not do.
Just as with advertising and direct mail, getting attention is the key to success. If you plan a door-to-door mailing then mixing your leaflet up with all the others in a generic mailing or inserting in free newspapers will not work. It would be difficult enough to grab attention if you handed a copy to each prospect individually, so the least you can do is drop the leaflet through each door on its own.
Writing copy for a leaflet is the same as writing for direct mail or advertising. You need to grab your readers’ attention and make them interested enough to take whatever action you want. You also need some of the techniques of a poster, where you keep the copy to a minimum and just give enough information for the decision to be made.
Leaflets are associated with offers and offers are designed to attract new prospects. Always:
- Put the offer in the headline so it is seen immediately.
- Make the offer easy to understand.
- Make the offer specific.
- Say exactly what needs to be done to take up the offer.
- Add a special incentive for acting today.
- Give options for responding (phone, e-mail, fax etc).
- Put a deadline on the offer.
Banners can be really effective, but they can also be really awful. It is all in the execution. Some of those building wraps that you see in city centres are really impressive and convey a great image about the building project that is under construction. Banners work when they are very temporary and convey something that is time related. Often the information refers to a price promotion or an announcement of a new facility.
Viewers need to be surprised and intrigued enough to assimilate the few words that it is possible to put on any banner. As with any signage, the quality of the banner must be consistent with the image of your hotel. You can buy really cheap versions but you need to spend the right money to stay consistent with your image in the market. Make sure that you work out how to fix the banner before you order it and ensure that the scale of the banner fits the situation. Torn and broken banners that stay up for months really do not do you any favours.
If you have an interesting calendar of events in your restaurant then a series of banners can be effective, so long as you distinguish one from the other and make sure that the right announcement goes up at the right time. But the big proviso is that banners are only cost-effective if you have a good level of passing traffic, either on foot or by car.
Generally A-boards are used because you cannot get permission for a more permanent sign. Often you are placing them on public property and the local authority will try and have them removed. It’s all a bit of a game but as long as you stick to the ‘rules’ these boards can be a useful part of your sales promotion. They are great for price promotions, such as special lunch or dinner menus. Again the quality of the board is key. If they are broken/faded or badly written they do you no favours, conveying a couldn’t care less attitude to your service.
Be careful about using the whole rainbow of colour options on chalkboards. Find or train someone to write the sign well or contact a specialist signwriter.
Use as few words as you can, since passers-by only have a few seconds to take in the information. I like the boards that have a panel on them that you can change, so you can promote, for example, morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea in succession. Of course it then becomes an operational issue to ensure that the right promotion is showing at the right time.
Posters are a great way to promote your in-house facilities. You may also have the opportunity to display a poster promoting an element of your business at a remote location, say in a shop or at a reservation office. Use as few words as possible, so long as you get the message across. Start at the top (where people start reading) with something to grab attention (not your hotel name, which probably need not be included at all if it is a poster designed to be put up in the hotel itself!).
Don’t promote features: use a benefit instead but keep it short. A poster has to be readable in about three seconds, so hone the copy and delete any words that don’t work very hard. Analyse each word and see if it can be left out. Pictures work well, but ensure the words and the pictures deliver the same message. Look for positions where people are not occupied doing something else. Put the poster at eye level and make sure it is well lit. If there is a place where guests have to wait (say at an elevator) use some spare space for a poster.
It is dangerous to assume that every visitor to your hotel, whether as a guest or restaurant customer, knows everything that you offer. If you are primarily a pub or restaurant with rooms, ask ten customers about your bedrooms: it is unlikely that all ten will know that you have them. Do all your guests know that you serve afternoon tea between three and five pm?
I would not advocate that you produce a piece of promotional material for every service you provide. Very soon a bedroom can look like a paper store, with lots of scruffy tent cards cluttering the writing area. However, if you don’t tell people what services you provide, how will they ever take advantage of them?
In-room guest information can also be used effectively. Try to sell the benefits and remove all those negatives that creep into the instructions. For example, turn ‘We don’t accept etc…’ into ‘We are delighted to accept…’. Why not create guest information that is tailored to your different guest segments? Weekday business travellers need different information from weekend leisure guests. Maybe you can print out something bespoke and hand it to each guest on arrival along with a welcome drink. This way you can also take into account guests from other countries and produce information in their language.
Sales promotions can be a minefield of regulation. There is a long list of things that you can and can’t do. If you are using an agency then this is not too much of a problem since they should check that you are legal. If you do it yourself, consider that there are more than likely to be rules covering any promotion that involves the following:
The subject of brochures is fascinating. I have seen hotels with no brochure, hotels with brochures that they are reluctant to give away because of the cost, and hotels with brochures that give the completely wrong impression of the product and its service.
The most important factor is not to start your sales planning with the brochure: it is only a tool and you cannot select the tool until you have decided what job needs doing. There is nothing more frustrating than producing 5,000 brochures and then wondering what to do with them.
This is why I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every hotel definitely needs a brochure to be successful. Sometimes hotels produce expensive brochures and think that they will be successful just by doing a mailing or leaving a pile in reception. Nevertheless, an appropriate brochure that leaves the correct impression with the recipient, combined with a well-thought out distribution strategy, can be very useful.
Generally, specialisation is the key. Catch-all brochures that are aimed at weekend visitors, meeting planners and corporate guests generally miss the target. Prospective guests looking for a romantic weekend might well be put off if they see that you specialise in corporate meetings. Look at your facilities and think through what sort of leaflet or brochure you need for the promotion of each segment:
- weekend/leisure guests
- corporate stayers
- wedding guests
- conference (meetings/team building etc)
- leisure membership
Certainly, if you have conference facilities or cater specifically for weddings then you do need some comprehensive printed literature. Whatever you do, make sure this literature isn’t a straightjacket for the prospect. Everybody wants to be thought of as an individual, so the sales letter is the important piece, with the literature as a back up.
I would never, ever recommend leaving conference or wedding packs at reception so that weekend staff can give them to prospects. Every brochure fulfilment must be tailor made, and do make sure that staff are trained to collect enough information for effective follow up on the Monday.
Style and format
The subject of style is almost the same as cost. You will never be sure who gets hold of your brochures and you must work on the theory that the more that you give away the better. Taking this into account, how much do you want to spend? It is very nice having a stylish brochure in an unusual shape with each page separated by tissue paper; but if each copy costs around £ 5 how many copies will you be happy to give away?
First check the competition and see what they do. Then do something different! A well-produced DL leaflet O/3 A4) can work really well and because of its low cost (around six pence each) you can give away heaps.
Wedding and meeting information is slightly different, since you know who is getting the material. You won’t send this information as a direct mail piece before you know exactly what your prospects’ needs are. Thus cost is less important since the cost of, say, £ 4 per copy is not so great compared with the wedding or meeting that could be worth up to £ 5,000. Developing comprehensive and useful material takes time, but remember that a client will be evaluating a number of offers together so you need to stand out from the crowd.
This does not mean you have to spend more on the literature or produce a weightier volume. You will stand out if you:
- are less conventional in your thinking;
- think about everything from the customers’ point of view;
- concentrate on benefits not features;
- customise the information for each market segment.
Your brochure should follow most of the rules that have already been covered in Chapters 5 and 6. Look at most hotel brochures and you will find that they follow very few of them.
- Grab attention with headings and headlines.
- Make sure you concentrate the copy on benefits to the customer.
- Try to get across your philosophy and your vision.
- Don’t fill every available space with words or pictures; leave some white space.
- Keep sentences and words short and write as you would talk.
- Use bullets for easy readability.
- Include quotes from satisfied guests but ask their permission first.
- Show the copy draft to a stranger, or at least someone unconnected to you.
- Don’t include any information that is likely to change, such as room rates.
- Check all spellings, particularly of place names, and contact details.
With brochures that are aimed at weekend visitors or corporate users the copy is not as important as the visual impression, and should be kept to a minimum. The colour, design, photographs and paper should all combine to give the correct impression of your hotel. It is very nice to have a 12-page brochure with tissue paper interleaves but can you, or do you want to, live up to the expectation that this produces?
Be careful about making exaggerated claims. Holiday brochures that cleverly omit any mention of the road that separates the hotel from the beach have caught many of us out. Ensure that you can substantiate each of your claims. You may think that one exercise bike is plenty for you but you can’t really describe it as a gymnasium.
Photographic style is subject to fashion and there has definitely been a move a way from staged photos that portray the whole bedroom or restaurant. Not that I would endorse promoting style over substance but the images that work well are exactly that – an image.
If you commission a professional photographer you have to consider the issue of copyright. Copyright on the images actually belongs to the photographer but you will have an implied licence to use them for the purpose they were commissioned, such as a brochure. If you need to use the images for other purposes such as for postcards or your internet site as well, you will need to obtain an assignment. This needs to be in writing and signed by the photographer.
It is possible to do everything yourself including arranging the printing of brochures. This though is probably not the best use of your time. Design or marketing agencies are likely to be able to negotiate more favourable prices, which can compensate for the cost of their input.