Marketing 101 for Bed and Breakfasts
The basics of marketing is to build awareness of your inn so that business will follow. Do you advertise or publicize — and what’s the difference between the two activities? Advertising is a message you pay for. You control the message and thus it’s less credible. Publicity is free; it’s what someone else says about you and thus is more objective. You have minimal control because it’s the truth from the author’s point of view and thus has high credibility. How do you know what to do when? That’s what my whole marketing e-book is about: helping you know what to do.
In a market where many businesses are competing for the same guests, inns must find new ways of letting people know exactly what they stand for. Your clear inn image does that, for guests and other businesses. Write a Mission Statement. Develop a very special B&B personality, or brand. Focus on how you stay consistent with that image by your choice of the people you hire, the way the inn looks, what your logo and printed materials look like, even the food you serve. This image will pay for itself.
The key to making this strategy work is knowing who you are and exactly who you are trying to reach. Every decision is made with that in mind. Survey your thoughts and ideas right now. Why did you choose innkeeping as a career and lifestyle? What needs do you satisfy and what services do you provide? What will motivate people to come to your B&B? Who are your guests and how can/do you reach them? Ask yourself daily, “Is this consistent with who I am?”, “Does this help me achieve my goal?”, “Will my guests like it?” and “How can I do all this and still make money?”
A consistent and focused image, called branding, will attract the guests you want to cater to, and will help you establish who will come to know you and love you. Businesses, inns included, that don’t focus on and control their niche will have an identity crisis and eventually run into trouble. Avoid the identity crisis; stay true to your image, and — if you are satisfying needs — you will succeed. Image costs more money than No-image or Fuzzy-image, but will garner you more income and success.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout offers some interesting ideas about market positioning and strategy. Buy the book to get their total collection of wisdom. Incorporate these laws into your thinking as well as action and see what difference they make to you and your success.
Why do B&Bs fail? Like other businesses, the four main reasons are:
- Lack of planning [discussed in my e-book Planning Your Business — Getting A Handle On The Nuances Of Implementing Your Idea]
- Poor management [discussed in both e-books Planning Your Business — Getting A Handle On The Nuances Of Implementing Your Idea and Daily Operations — The 8-Ring Circus]
- Inadequate marketing
- Insufficient money to implement a proper marketing strategy [discussed in my e-book Show Me The Money! — Great Expectations] or float the owner during slow/down times
Marketing should be done first, last, and always. It is like rowing upstream. “Keep on keeping on” is a good mind set to develop. When money gets tight the first expense to get cut is usually marketing, but it should be the last expense you cut. If you have done your research and planning carefully, you will have planned for slim months and allowed for marketing to continue.
Define your market niche carefully (see that discussion in more detail in my Marketing e-book). Clarify your goals. Know what your image is. Know what the guest experience will be. What do you expect from your marketing? When do you expect to take specific marketing steps, and when do you expect to get responses from those steps? How will you react if you do not meet the response goals?
Your marketing plan creates a rich tapestry of images, colors, feelings, and textures for your guests so they can know you even before they set foot (or ear) inside your inn. Enhance your inn’s image with this weaving. Your name and logo should capture the essence of you and your inn. Use them on your brochures, letterhead, sign, and in your advertising. You want a clear, consistent image.
Let me share some images we see “daily” so you can better understand the power of branding — or market niche. What comes to your mind when you think of McDonald’s, Mercedes, or Quaker Oats? What about Hyatt, Holiday Inn, or Motel 6? I’m sure an image forms in your mind. Each of these companies has a readily recognizable logo and a concept about the quality of the product they sell. That’s what you want to create for your B&B inn.
What about PR and your B&B? I’m using PR in the sense of activities you participate in that tell others who you are — what image you want them to have of you; this isn’t about press releases, though press releases may be utilized to help spread the word. According to the Institute of Public Relations, PR “is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its public”. It isn’t limited to certain media and isn’t focused on promoting products, but rather is focused on issues. People increasingly want to know they are doing business with a company that shares their values and concerns. The choices you make help your guests understand the difference between you and other inns. Examples of PR include supporting charitable events and positive community participation.
Be aware that PR deals with reality and facts, not facades or fiction (it’s imperative you share what you actually offer, not what you want to offer or think you have to offer); it is a public, not personal, service — these are actions you make “in public”, not the customer service you provide in the privacy of your B&B (though your best marketing is your customer service), and that it involves a two-way communication — you see a need (input) and you act on it (output), e.g. donating guestrooms to people after hearing they were evacuated from their homes because of a nearby forest fire.
The biggest message I want you to get out of this column is that you must know your market niche so you can focus your efforts, that you can’t skimp on your marketing budget, and you must be constant and consistent with your marketing efforts and message.