Advertising, or throwing money away?

The first of the two part series on advertising. Some hospitality operators throw large amounts of money away on advertising that is not very effective. This essay looks at the factors necessary to make advertising work.

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Have a look at the advertisements for hospitality businesses in the food and lifestyle sections of any of our daily newspapers. A high percentage of the ads you see are likely to be a waste of time and money because the person who conceived them is blissfully unaware of the basic principles of marketing, or has placed the advertising as a knee jerk reaction to poor or declining trade.

Before you think of advertising your business, you must make sure you’ve got something of value to sell. This sounds basic, but we find a lot of business owners shoot themselves in the foot at this point. You probably think you deliver high standards of service and product, but does the average new customer share your glowing assessment? If you don?t deliver a perception of above average value for money you will attract new business but they will be unlikely to return.

New customers are not free; in reality you purchase them ? they come owing you money. You’ve forked out marketing dollars to get them there; and they usually have to return several times before you make a profit on their patronage. If they only come once, you’ve done the work and spent the money for nothing.

Moving on, you must work out when you want to build your trade. There is little point advertising some general message if your Friday and Saturday nights are already full. You’ll get more of the same and end up spending money for the privilege of turning potential customers away at the door. This tends to irritate them. Target your marketing to bring customers to you at your quiet times.

All customers are not equal. Some people spend very little, are demanding and take-up valuable space for little gain. Others are highly desirable; they spend freely, need little attention and are highly profitable. For example, most restaurants can classify their customers into clearly identifiable groups such as business, special occasion, seduction and casual diners. Who should you target? Each sub-market requires a different advertising message. Start with the most valuable group.

Set specific targets for your advertising. Decide whom you want to attract, and when you want them to come.

A successful advertisement has to satisfy three criteria: first, it must use the right media or vehicle; second, it must contain the right message; and third, it must be presented at the right time. MEDIA, MESSAGE, TIMING ? memorise this and it will serve you well.

Let’s talk about the media first. Your choice of media depends on your trading radius ? the distance around you from which 90 percent of your customers come. Most restaurants and caf?s have a trading radius of less than five kilometres. This will have an important bearing on the media or vehicle you use for advertising. Why put an ad in the daily newspaper hospitality supplement if you are distributing your message all over the State, way beyond your trading radius? Sure, thousands of people may see your message, but most of them are too far away to be of benefit to you. Feed the money into a poker machine instead; the result will be the same, but you’ll have more fun.

I’ve found that signs, leaflets, flyers and newsletters are more useful for small hospitality businesses than media advertising ? but only if they’re well conceived, contain the right message and are distributed intelligently. When I?m teaching marketing I usually get an argument at this point. I can hear it now: ‘But I’ve tried leaflets and letterbox drops, and they didn’t work.’ Was the media the problem at the time? What about the message?

An advertisement that is presented in isolation is generally better than an advertisement that is part of a barrage of other messages. Signs placed in clever places do get read; clever letterbox flyers do get a response, interesting newsletters are effective. The trick is to get the potential customer to concentrate on your message for a brief period.

What should you say in your advertising? It’s simple, really ? just go around the other side of the transaction and address your potential customer’s needs, not your own.

For example, I had a client a few years ago with a charming tea room on the way to one of our alpine resorts. He had been putting roadside signs out that said: ‘Devonshire teas ? 2 km’. I drove up and down the road and tried to put myself in the frame of mind of the average motorist who passed by. We changed the signs. They read: ‘Take a break in front of our log fire, great coffee ? 2 km’. The difference in response was quite noticeable.

In another example, I recently lead a restaurateur to alter his advertising from something like ‘Cosmos ? open 7 days’, to ‘Want to impress someone? Come to Cosmos.’ Again, the response was much better. What are your customer’s needs? They are different to yours; you need bums on seats and cashflow. Customers need to impress, do business, seduce, reward etc.

We call the headline on an advertisement a hook. It must stimulate the person to read on. It must present some clear proposition they can relate to. What we call ‘We’re here!’ advertising (‘Cosmos ? open 7 days’) is a waste of money. Customers don’t relate or respond to it.

If you operate in the lower market levels, coupons and incentives can be of benefit; but be careful ? instead of offering a discount, offer a bonus. Buy one, get one free is the same as a 50 percent discount, but the perception is quite different. Discounting suggests desperation; bonuses suggest value.

The last facet of a good advertisement is timing. This one is simple; a flyer distributed on Christmas day is not likely to be successful. A newsletter that arrives on a Friday is not going to get as much attention as one that arrives on a Monday. Think about it and pick your timing carefully. Good marketing requires careful thought.

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