Riding The Tail

I recently received a request for some help with e-marketing and search engine optimization. Neither is my true area of focus. So, I referred the questions on to others. But, it brought to mind a fundamental thought about sales strategy and why it is we have come to rely so much on the likes of Google and Yahoo for people to find us.

In our business, there are only two basic approaches to selling. I call them remarkable…and coat tail. In a nutshell, people are staying with you either because of you…or because of something else. Unfortunately, the one used most often is the coat tail variety…mainly because of the low barriers to entry. And, while we all use some of both, you’re definitely coming into the game from one corner or the other.


This is the approach we should all be striving for. The experience you offer your guests is meaningful, relevant and interesting. It’s based on Design, Story and Care, and is best for you and your guest.

The advantages:

You are seen as “the best”
You are in whole or in part the “demand generator”
You are more in control of your performance and destiny
People spread the word about you
PR (editorials) comes much more easily
You don’t buy advertising
You can charge more for what you’re selling
Your experience has more to do with guest “wants” than “needs”
You don’t need to lie

The disadvantages:

It’s more expensive
It takes more patience
It requires a lot of “right brain” thinking
It requires a heavy investment in relationships

Coat Tail

This one is by far the more common variety, mainly because it’s easier and cheaper.

The advantages:

It’s easier
It costs less (you spend less on design, people and almost nothing on story)
You may see results more quickly
The “remarkable” or hard work is being done by something or someone else (theme park, national park, convention center, etc.)
You’re serving people’s needs more than wants (needs less creativity, i.e., “right brain”)

The disadvantages:

Results are likely marginal over the long-run
You’re experience becomes average
You’re more apt to “spin” your story in order to get people’s attention.
People don’t talk about you…they talk about the coat
You’re excellent franchise food (an expensive credibility stamp)
You’re forced to compete more on price
The supply/demand equation is very important (if there are less people in need, you suffer)
You’re more susceptible to the volatility of the market
You’re forced to spend money and time on the volume of your message (ads, special deals with coats, etc.) in order to get attention in a noisy market

We all ride a coat tail to some degree. But, the more we focus on becoming remarkable, the less dependant we are on the coat and the tail, i.e., the demand generators around us. And, consequently, the less we feel the effects of the various ups and downs experienced by those we rely on to provide our stream of business. In short, we are more in control of our own destiny.

So, if you’re in it for the long haul, the answer to selling more isn’t to spend more time and money increasing the volume of your message whether it be on SEO, ads or whatever. Rather, it’s more effective to invest those resources on being remarkable and the relationships necessary to spread the word. It’s tougher (mentally and fiscally) and takes longer to get a return. But, in the long run, you’re much better off and better insulated against outside threats. And, the result will be much more meaningful to your guests.

However, if you’re stuck in the coat tail doldrums with little chance of relief (usually a lack of money), get whatever help you need to move your property to the top of the search results page…and ride the coat tail as long as you can.