Advertising Relevance

Here’s the biggest problem I have with advertising…it’s not relevant, at least not the vast majority of the time.

During last week’s episode of Lost (I made the mistake of watching on ABC vs. downloading), I saw three coffee related ads (Senseo and Folgers both promoting imitation cappuccino machines…and someone else I can’t remember). Does coffee have anything to do with a bunch of castaways trying to solve mysteries and figure out personal problems? At least you could show coffee ads in the morning. Or, better yet, sell me coffee machines when I’m on-line buying coffee or some other directly related product.

The reason you’re not going to get that relevance on ABC or any other network is simple. They’re business model isn’t set-up to be relevant. It’s designed to shove things down your throat hoping a small percentage of you are paying attention…and that you swallow. Seems like an asinine way to do business, almost communistic. But, historically, it’s worked…at the customer’s expense.

There are two forces at work which are changing all of that. Choices…almost every product and service is now moving toward serving a niche vs. the masses. And, user initiated (and directed) media channels…the internet, blogs, podcasts, vcasts, etc. put the attentive power in the proper hands…the guests’ hands. The result is that every day more and more people are making their buying decisions based on something other than advertising, especially the “shove it down your throat when you’re not interested” variety. Instead, they seek-out and tune-in to people and places they believe are credible and have their best interest in mind…people like family, friends and travel agents…places like blogs, podcasts and newsletters. More and more, people are tuning out the interruptions and turning their attention to more objective and relevant sources of information.

As hoteliers, we notoriously lag behind other industries when it comes to embracing, accepting and utilizing new ways to do business. That needs to change, and rather quickly. If you’re Marriott, you can probably afford to be a bit slow. If you’re an independent or a small brand, you don’t have the time or money to see what everyone else is going to do.

The do’s

Use advertising only in places where it’s relevant to the conversation already taking place…travel websites, travel blogs and travel newsletters come to mind first. A backseat, but sometimes effective, play is in newspaper/magazine travel sections. The key is to use advertising in places where the reader/listener has a high probability of being focused on you. And, use advertising to remind people about you…not to introduce yourself. Leave that to trusted sources, so they believe what they’re hearing.

Better yet, spend as much time and energy creating a remarkable experience for your guests. Then, the spreading the word part tends to take care of itself mainly through word of mouth and editorial campaigns.

If you’re going to advertise, I recommend a Google Adwords campaign. First, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know Google is the leading on-line source for information. And, second, they’ve designed an approach which is completely based on the “relevance” factor. If you’re property is at all dependant on search engine traffic (not always the case…that’s another post), you need to give this a try.

The don’ts

Don’t buy random ad campaigns…in glossy “A” pubs, on TV or in newspapers. It’s a waste of money and time. The only people who will try to convince you otherwise are the ad agencies, media sales people and the VP of Marketing who has half of his budget tied-up in advertising. Spend that money in more important and effective places, like your people.

Don’t try to be all things to all people, especially in advertising. Again, stay focused on a niche and communicate through relevant media.

Don’t try to convince people that they should like you through your advertising. If you’re great, you won’t need to. The word will get around.

If by the end of 2006 you’re still holding on to the old school tactics of interruption to spread the word about your place…2007 will be a long year.