New Media

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Not anymore. In fact, there never was. People have never been dumb. Most just weren't motivated to seek an alternative, especially about things that didn't originate in their own town. You knew if farmer John's milk was could ask a neighbor. It was much harder to know if the Sears catalog was lying to you. The problem wasn't smarts. There just wasn't a reliable way to learn. Enter ubiquitous high-speed's internet. It changed everything, especially the rules about keeping people in the dark.

Last week a company tried to sell me spark plugs and spark plug wires for more than five hundred dollars. The same products were available outside the shop for under a hundred. The jig wasn't hard to figure out. When I asked them about it, no problem..."just bring in your own parts". A sucker punch. Here's a national, well recognized brand, categorically ignoring all the new rules of customer care and marketing hoping to pull a fast one on people. What do they really hope to gain? Makes you wonder.

Most trickery is more subtle. An ad campaign that promises the best meal while the restaurant is consistently empty. A website that boasts fabulous customer service while overbooking practices drive people mad.

Try covering up your lousy restaurant.
Try hiding the fact that your hotel is dirty.
Try fooling people to pay more for an airline seat.
Try keeping people from talking with each other about your service.

You can't do it.

On the flip side, try hiding the passion and enthusiasm of your best people.
And, try keeping your secret sauce a secret.
Or, try keeping people from spreading your fabulous idea.

You can't do that either.

So, are you going to do average work, spending time to keep people in the dark, hoping to find a few suckers? Or, are you going to get busy doing things you want people to talk about.

Unfortunately, you have to decide.

Advertising Isn't Dead...It's Broken

The old model, selling people features and benefits, doesn't work anymore. There's too much clutter. Unless you're a gazillionaire, you don't stand much of a chance. However, you could change your approach. You could adapt to a new marketing order and use advertising for a completely different purpose. You could use ads as an opportunity to begin a conversation... instead of selling products. A quick rewind of recent advertising history might help put this into perspective.

Prior to radio and TV, if you had something to sell to people outside your immediate area, you bought print ads and billboards. It was a straightforward system, the more ads you bought, the more you would likely sell. Soon, competitors started advertising too. And, "what" you said about a product was overshadowed by "how" it was said...the advertising profession was born. Things started changing with the advent of TV. Slowly, as more and more companies could afford to advertise, we started to see ads which were designed to entertain instead of sell. Some companies figured it was better to get people to talk about the ad, not just the product. That required loads of creativity and was hard. But, those ads rose above the clutter. They convinced us that the people behind the products were interesting, imaginative and funny...that they were real people, not just big companies. Their ads created an emotional connection and started a conversation. Those companies won. Life was good. The internet (specifically, wide distribution of broadband) changed the game again. The cost barrier to entry was lowered to practically zero. Companies of all sizes and even individuals could get into the act. Viral marketing as we now know it was born. But, cheap led to a very low signal to noise ratio...lots of junk and more clutter than ever. Instead of working harder to start a conversation, companies abused the system and tried pushing old tactics in a new medium. And then, the death spiral became cheaper, which meant you could buy more ads, which led to more clutter and an increasingly ineffective mechanism. More and more people stopped paying attention.

Fast forward...If you think of customer conversations as the lifeblood of your business, you understand all this. You know how important it is for customers to go out and tell your story. Respectively, that's what you spend most of your time and money on...engaging with customers and reinventing your product and story to keep things fresh. And, as a new marketer you know that advertising is your chance to connect with people and stimulate conversation. You understand that it's not just a space to interrupt someone and sell them something. You've studied marketing history and know what not to do. So, you wouldn't waste time and money placing boring ads that look and sound like everyone else's. Instead, you would try this sort of thing.

Breaking Tradition

People change. Expectations change. The market forces us to get better and constantly improve. Hospitality offerings today are much different (and mostly better) than they used to trumps old. Tradition evolves.

Most of us care enough to adjust practices to adapt to ever changing service expectations. Generally, we understand that if we don't change, someone new is going to come along and take our place. But, as you venture away from center...away from the core group delivering the experience...this comprehension depreciates. And sometimes, quite rapidly.

I recently sat in on some property management software training, specifically the "front desk" module. The very first thing I the check-out screen, the cursor begins in the "room number" field. So, I asked the trainer..."can we change it so the cursor begins in the name field?"..."no, can't do it without rewriting the program code." Great, so we've been asking our front line employees to use guest names instead of room numbers for as long as I can remember, but the software can't be changed to accommodate that. Ridiculous. Obviously, the software company isn't selling hospitality, they're selling program code, check-out efficiency, i.e., software. They're stuck on traditional means and methods. And, that's a huge problem.

What's the biggest obstacle to delivering restaurant quality meals in a banquet setting? Probably moving the food from a central kitchen to the meeting room, and holding it until the group is ready to eat. So, why not design a mini kitchen at or near each meeting room allowing food to go from oven to plate to guest along an uninterrupted path? That would eliminate hot carts and allow you to cook to order (not from scratch). Too expensive? Not when you factor in how many people are going to leave your events completely underwhelmed...having experienced yet another mediocre banquet meal. Is the kitchen consultant selling hospitality...or kitchen equipment? Is the chef pushing you to deliver a meaningful dining experience? Or, are these people stuck in tradition?

If building strong relationships with your current customers is the key to finding new ones, why isn't your marketing firm pushing you to find ways of developing a permission asset? Why aren't they requiring you to ask every current customer to stay in touch? Why aren't they pushing you to spend more on creating newsletters, personal email communications, blogs and handwritten thank you notes than traditional advertising campaigns? Why aren't they moving you out of traditional marketing and into new marketing?

We're pretty good at evolving our own troops and motivating people to deliver better results. But, what about those companies we rely on as partners? Are they pushing us and moving us forward? Or, are they taking an easier more traditional path just to sell their product or earn a fee?

Agency Problem

Some agencies haven't made the shift. They haven't embraced the idea that broadcast messaging is becoming less effective every day. They continue to develop the same ad campaigns, 1.0 websites and press releases. They buy 3 million dollar ad spots during the super bowl.

Connecting with an audience has always been the goal of promotion strategy. Not so long ago, shouting at people was your best chance of reaching them. Now, it's fast becoming the worst. It's a good thing technology has come to the rescue. It moves the power from the company to the customer and gives the little guy a chance. It allows a business to keep in touch with fans and find new ones without beating them over the head with the same message hundreds or thousands of times. It allows an agency to create a network of raving fans for a fraction of the cost of producing TV or print ads. The work isn't's just different. In fact, it's harder because it's personal. Sending handwritten thank you's is harder than email. Creating interesting blog posts is challenging...a banner ad campaign isn't. Visiting with each customer while they're in your shop and getting them to follow your blog is tough...buying an ad in the paper or sending direct mail to a chamber list isn't. 

Agencies can be wonderful. They open doors you can't. They know people you don't. And, some of them keenly understand the new marketing order. Be careful, some don't...choose wisely.

This post inspired by...Good News and Bad News on Marketing Budgets

Diva Marketing Talks

This week's indieHotelier podcast is up...Toby Bloomberg, president of Atlanta-based Bloomberg Marketing and author of the Diva Marketing Blog, gives us further insight into the world of social media. Some of the subjects we explored in this episode....

  1. Trends...use of video, reviews and other user generated content as marketing tools. How important is this...and why?
  2. How do we measure social networking results? Justification, ROI and the use of traditional metrics and measurement systems.
  3. How can a hotelier monitor social networks?

Click on the logo to go to the indieHotelier website. Or, on the podcast button to download the MP3 and listen now.



Leveraging UGC

Very few hotels exploit the recent explosion of user generated content and social networking...not sure why.  I've talked about this quite a bit on recent indieHotelier shows. Why not put links to your Tripadvisor reviews, Flickr photo's, etc., right on your home page, or the reservations page? It does two things...demonstrates transparency (important in earning trust) and starts/perpetuates conversations. You need both to do well.

indieHotelier Features Diva Marketing Tomorrow


Toby Bloomberg, president of Atlanta-based Bloomberg Marketing and author of the Diva Marketing Blog, joins us on the show tomorrow for perspective and comment on what's brewing in the hospitality world of social media and marketing.

Join us for the live show on Talkshoe at 11 AM EDT.

Sheep and Chicks

Last Friday's indieHotelier show with Patricia Brusha, A Couple of Chicks Marketing, turned out to be quite lively. She did a terrific job leading us through various social media topics including blogging, Facebook and the importance of conversations and two-way interaction with your guests. Her partner, Alicia Whalen, captured the program quite well in her blog (better than the show notes).

Click on the logo to go to the indieHotelier website. Or, on the podcast button to download or listen to the show now.





This week's indieHotelier is up. Warren Dehan and Shelly Edwards of Northwind Maestro lead us in a stimulating conversation about the impact of social media, web 2.0 and the increasing use of the internet on hotels and their guests. We cover some interesting ground including the future of call centers and travel agent services and how hotels are challenged to maintain price integrity with so many distribution channels.

Click on the logo to go to the indieHotelier website. Or, on the podcast button to download the MP3 and listen right now.





A new indieHotelier show is up.

This week's program features Thomas Owadenko, founder and CEO of the world's first video guide for hotels, Trivop. He gives us a behind the scenes look, including the history and inspiration behind this new new travel service.

Click on the logo to go to the indieHotelier website. Or, on the podcast button to download the MP3 and listen now.



Wiki Power

If you don't know what a wiki the video below for a really simple and fun explanation. Then, go to Chrispitality for a great hospitality example. Here's another one listing all of the things to do in different cities around the world if you only have 2 days to see the sights.

Here are just a few ways, hospitality professionals could make use of a wiki...

  • Community Recruiting- Build a site for your town, county or island with all of the hospitality jobs available. Totally fluid and up to date.
  • Workforce Resources- Again...for the benefit of your local hospitality workforce...everything they need to know from training, certifications, education, social gatherings, what to do after work, room mate searches, etc.
  • Committee Projects- Safety, Employee Picnics or virtually any collaborative projects within your organization.

Oh, and all of this is pretty inexpensive. Here's a free wiki website maker called wetpaint.


As a follow-up to my last post...

Erin points us to the Suites at 1 King West which proudly boasts TripAdvisor reviews on their website, although not on the home page.

Starwood Lobby is a new blog featuring "unofficial" reviews (are there really any official ones?) of Starwood properties. Interesting that to date there are no negative write-ups...just some mild issues sprinkled here and there.

indieHotelier #37 Chrispitality

Originally recorded live on June 28th via Talkshoe...

Chris Clarke recently launched the Chrispitality wiki...first to serve the hospitality industry. Chris gives us some background about wiki's, why they're becoming an important part of the on-line landscape and his inspiration to develop Chrispitality.

Click on the logo to go to the indieHotelier website. Or, on the podcast button to listen now.



Happy iPhone Day with VibeAgent

indieHotelier #36 is up...

Adam Healey leads us in a discussion about his new venture, VibeAgent (still in beta and requires an invitation to play). This is a really interesting mash-up of hotel booking and review sites, a la Kayak and TripAdvisor. But as Adam explains, VibeAgent infuses a heavy does of community, trust and social networking, setting it apart from other travel sites.

Click on the logo to go to the website. Or, on the podcast button to download the MP3 and listen now.


Double Podcasting Fun This Week

We have two live indieHotelier shows this week:

Tomorrow, Thursday at 1 PM EDT, Chris Clarke joins us to discuss his new Chrispitality Hospitality Wiki. So, if you'd like to learn about the power of wiki's (or, don't know what one is), join the conversation.

Friday, at 11 AM EDT, Adam Healey leads us in a discussion about his new venture, VibeAgent (still in beta and requires an invitation to play). This is a really interesting mash-up of hotel booking and review sites, a la Kayak and TripAdvisor.

Listen to both shows live on Talkshoe. Q&A to follow at teh end of each show. Hope you can join us.

Social Media Confusion

The race is clearly on...moving from web 1.0 to 2.0 and the creation of social travel netowrks are picking-up some serious steam. I've spent no less than ten hours over the past few days exploring and experimenting with a lot of new and fun sites. There's Vibe Agent, yelp, Trivop and even the new Travel Netork from TripAdvisor...just to name a few. While this trend moves the internet closer to its true cause, connecting people with people and the information they want, it's also becoming more confusing by the day. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that a new social website is born every few hours. So, how does the customer wade through this expanding sea of information and user generated content to learn more about a hotel or find the best fare. They don't. The average person doesn't have the time or the interest to go to that many places to find the best deal or to make sure the restaurant is worth the trip. So, the big guys win. The websites that are well funded and made and entry first are likely to get the most attention. One or two others will get lucky and get some traction, perhaps only to be bought by one of the big guns. And, this is all a result of forcing tradiitonal marketing and business models on a system where they don't really belong. Companies are still does. troubling....because companies are still using traditional proprietary models in a world that really doesn't want or need them.  They're still buying relationships and gathering information and then forcing the customer to come to them to find it.

Sniffing for Your Brand Creation

Your brand is created by the community that experiences you...not by the marketing department. Now, with the advent of web 2.0, this process happens continuously and often at lightening speed. While that seems a bit "out of control", at least your control...that's okay. The gift of web 2.0 is your opportunity to sniff out the brand people are creating for you, and to join their help it along a bit. Below are some tools I recommend to monitor the buzz.

Google Alerts

Then go to Yelp or Tripadvisor for more specific hotel related results.

Maybe you're just interested in pictures...try Flickr and Picassa

Or, video...YouTube


Stephanie points to a nice article about defining the points of engagement., now we have the "what" part of the definition. but, how about the "when"?

We know a two-way communication stream with our customers is vital to long-term success. Hence all the hub bub about connections, interaction and conversation management. But, I still see a tendency to apply the term engagement to the front-end, to the attention getting part of the promotional program. And, that's not really where it belongs. Engagement happens when someone wants to participate, wants to get involved with you and your product because it strikes an emotional chord. And, that almost always happens during or after the actual customer experience...not as a precursor. Engagement is paramount to an ongoing relationship. But, it's not going to work in a thirty-second spot or a cold call. So, for all the ad execs and CMO's responsible for the interruption campaigns, please stop trying to put it the square peg in a round hole. And, please stop trying to convince us that ads are "engaging" just doesn't fly anymore.