How to Win The Three Inch Tourism War of Words

tourismbrochurerack

When I’m on the road, I always take a look at tourism brochure racks.

Take a look at this rack in the Havre Montana Amtrak station.

It’s a typical floor-standing tourism brochure rack that you might see around your town or at the local chamber of commerce office.

I took the photo at this height and angle because I wanted to simulate the view the “average” person has when scanning the rack for something interesting to do or visit.

The critical part is that this is also the likely view they have of your brochure.

If you’re the tourist and this is your eye level view:

  • Which brochures get your attention and provoke you to pick them up?
  • Which leave you with no idea what they’re for?

A critical three inches

The critical question is this: Which ones easily tell their story in the top three inches?

Those top three inches are the most important real estate on a rack brochure because that’s the part everyone can see.

Everything below that point is meaningless if the top three inches can’t provoke someone to pick it up and open it. That cool info inside and on the back? Meaningless if they don’t pick it up.

Whenever I see one of these racks, I always wonder how many graphic designers put enough thought into the design of these rack pieces to print a sample, fold it up and test drive it on a real rack in their community.

If they tried that, do you think it would change the design? How about the text and background colors how they contrast? The headline? Font sizes? Font weights? Font styles?

I’ll bet it would.

I guarantee you it isn’t an accident that you can clearly see “Visitor Tips Online”, “Raft”, “Rafting Zipline” and “Fishing”  from several feet away.

Brochure goals

The primary goal of a brochure isn’t “To get picked up, opened, read and provoke the reader to visit (or make a reservation at) the lodging, attraction or restaurant”, nor is it to jam as many words as possible onto the brochure in an attempt to win an undeclared war of words.

The first goal of the brochure is to get someone to pick it up.

That’s why you see “Raft”, “Fishing” and “Visitor Tips Online”. Either they care or they don’t. If they don’t, you shouldn’t either. From that point, it needs to satisfy the reader’s interests and need to know. If you can’t get them to look at your brochure – all that design and printing expense is wasted.

Is that the goal you communicated to your designer when you asked them to make a brochure? Or was it that you wanted it to be blue, use a gorgeous photo or use a font that “looks Victorian”?

None of that matters if they don’t pick it up.

Heightened awareness

I wonder if brochure designers produce different brochures for the same campaign so they can test the highest performing design.

Do they design differently for different displays? What would change about a brochure’s design if the designer knew the piece was intended for a rack mounted at eye level? What would change if the brochure was designed to lay flat at the check-in counter or on a desk?

Now consider how you would design a floor rack’s brochure to catch the eye of an eight year old, or someone rather tall? Would it provoke a mom with an armload of baby, purse and diaper bag to go to the trouble to pick it up?

This isn’t nitpicking, it’s paying attention to your audience so you can maximize the performance of the brochure.

“Maximize the performance of the brochure” sounds pretty antiseptic. Does “attract enough visitors to allow you to make payroll this week” sound better?

Would that provoke you to go to the trouble to test multiple brochure designs against each other? To design and print different ones for different uses?

This doesn’t apply to MY business

You can’t ignore these things if your business doesn’t use rack brochures.

The best marketing in the world will fail if no one “picks it up”, no matter what media you use.

What’s one more visitor per day (or hour) worth to your business? That’s what this is really about.

The Difference

30th St. Station
Creative Commons License photo credit: A. Strakey

Ever considered “The Difference” businesses sometimes create between different types of customers in the same market?

It’s the difference between “them” and “the other them”.

Let me back up a bit and set a little context.

On numerous occasions, I’ve urged you to add premium services to your product and services mix.

One reason for doing this is that these premium services add higher profit margin services and attract more loyal customers. That doesn’t mean they are better people than the entry-level spenders. They’re higher loyalty customers because when price is a primary decision point for buyers, it’s natural (and proven) that loyalty to the vendor suffers.

That’s also the hopefully obvious reason why I nag you not to compete solely/primarily on price. No one ever sent their kids to college, bought a boat or went on a dream vacation using the profits made competing with WalMart on price.

Another reason I’ve suggested this is that these “higher rung” products and services provide a bigger profit margin per transaction, making it easier to afford to serve entry-level and/or more price-sensitive customers whose profit-per-transaction is smaller.

SIDEBAR: This is yet another reason to know your numbers for each product, each service and each customer type/tier that you serve. If you want to hire someone new, you can figure out how many “whatevers” you need to sell (or how many upsells you need) in order to fund that position.

Mister Flip Flop?

Now wait a minute. I just spent all that time talking about higher loyalty customers and bigger profit margins and then I justify it by talking about it making it easier to afford to do business with entry-level customers? Isn’t that a bit of a flip-flop?

Not really.

As you know, some entry-level customers will eventually climb your product/service ladder and transform themselves (perhaps with a little help from you) into the high-value, frequent buyer customers that I repeatedly suggest you court. Get enough of them and they will help your business hit its break-even point a bit earlier each month.

You should know (back to that sidebar) how many of these entry-level customers become a premium customer. That lets you predict future business more accurately. I suspect it’s obvious where that gets you.

One key to growing the premium customer part of your business is doing an ever-improving job of identifying what’s different about the customers who make that step up from entry-level. Work hard to identify these differences so that you can offer those customers timely opportunities to become premium customers.

Finally, after all that, we’re back to a difference, but not “The Difference”. You should be able to list these differences on command if I called you at 2:37am.

If you can’t, you need to get to know them a LOT better.

Fast, Cheap or Good

The most often seen characteristic in my recent observation of “The Difference” is about time. Premium customers tend to buy products that arrive on their schedule and use services that let them dictate the when. This usually comes at a premium price.

For example, when traveling from San Francisco to NYC, you can fly, take a bus or a train. If you fly, there’s a chance you’ll be late, but you’re more likely to be late on the train or bus. The premium/entry line in U.S. air travel has been smudged to the extent that it often feels a bit like third world bus travel.

“The Difference” also appears in how customers are treated when products/services aren’t delivered in the time promised. It reminds me of the old programmer’s joke: “Fast, Cheap, Good – Choose any two.”

Entry level services tend to dictate the when to the customer, and if the when is late or otherwise fails to at least meet common expectations, it’s likely that the vendor will apologize, yet do little or nothing to improve and move on to repeat the cycle. To quote a friend in Spokane, “And we wonder why they leave.”

Customers treated in this way get frustrated by the late, uncaring appearance of the services they use, but the price often has them.

Where “The Difference” again crops up is how these vendors treat those folks: Like a “them”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen entry-level customers treated horribly.

It’s a mistake that can cost you an incredible amount of sales, both short and long-term.

Shrink The Difference

Where you can intervene is simple: Stop treating everyone “in coach” (so to speak) as if they are at worst, criminals, and at best, a bother to you.

Result: You’ll move more to “First Class” and see the results in your bottom line.

Groping for opportunity – a gift from the #TSA

Russet
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

Much noise has been made of the mess that has become airport security.

The recent introduction of TSA’s high resolution body scanners and the “pat downs” (formerly known as “getting to second base”) have stirred up a hornet’s nest of grass roots discontent.

As you might expect, there has been much hand-wringing in political circles over the issue.

Attempts have been made to position the changes as part of the political agenda of both parties, but anyone with a brain has watched these changes develop during the recent domain of each.

Flathead Beacon editor Kellyn Brown noted earlier this week that a recent New Yorker blog post revealing editorial cartoons dating back to the 1930’s predicted exactly what we’re seeing today.

You’ll find people on both sides of the aisle that aren’t too happy about the situation…but today’s post isn’t about politics.

It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity? What opportunity?

It’s a chance to say “look at me!” for the thousands of communities that you can visit and have a great time in with your family and/or friends – without getting groped by someone who has worn the same pair of gloves to check the last 42 people through the line.

I’m talking about every town whose hub airport doesn’t have the full body scanners and therefore doesn’t (currently) have the “pat down”.

It’s a silly little thing in some ways, but it’s at the top of the news these days – which is why I bring it up as a tool for your use.

Whether we’re talking about parents with young kids and/or teenagers, or those who aren’t so sure about the conflicting claims of doctors and Federal agencies regarding the radiation the scanners utilize, it’s a sticking point for a lot of folks.

If you want your beds filled, your restaurant tables turning twice as often, or your attraction filled to the gills, how you feel about the scanners and pat downs isn’t nearly as important as how your potential customers feel about them.

Yes, that goes for most things, but in this case, it’s an angle that big city tourism cannot use.

Getting started

So…open a map and a browser and a few airline and train schedules and make a list of the communities that can get to and from your place without encountering the latex glove – and without umpteen changes of planes and airlines.

Just because they can get there with planes, trains and automobiles doesn’t mean they want that kind of hassle.

Next, and this is the part a lot of folks will skip, look at your existing visitor history. I hope you already know this, but if you don’t, you should still have the data.

What are the top three, five, ten (whatever) most-visitors-from cities in your visitor history that are *also* on the list of “no-scan, no-grope” communities?

Do unto others

It’s becoming obvious now: Some cooperative advertising is in the cards.

Can your small town (or not) Chamber and/or tourism board contact theirs? You could do it on your own.

Trade out some tit-for-tat advertising.

For example, their chamber can send an email blast to their members and include an insert in their print newsletter about the fun stuff that you can do in your beautiful area. Your chamber can return the favor.

I hear the objections already. But they won’t cooperate. Or they have fewer members than we do so it isn’t fair.

Horse biscuits.

Chase down those dozen communities, even if you have to approach similar competition in those areas. Each of you have something to gain from adventures such as these.

Who knows, you might even find some synergy that outlasts the TSA ridiculousness and allows you to create an annual program for cross promotion.

It isn’t about egos. It’s about visitors.

Money loves speed

It’s also about speed. You can’t wait 90 days to make this happen.

TSA is top of the news now and on peoples’ minds now, so you must grab the train as it goes by and climb aboard.

Next month or next week, there might be something else you can latch onto. Perhaps what you learn from this exercise will make that effort even more successful.

Finally, you don’t need to wait for someone to make news. You can create your own, but it still requires lots of coordination and low egos to benefit.

If I owned Amtrak

Some random thoughts that passed through my head during my recent Amtrak trip – which went fairly well.

I don’t warrant that they’ll all be winners, popular or successful. Just some brainstorming.

  • Showers. $5.
  • Real bathrooms, even if it means there are fewer of them. Despite being better than airliner bathrooms, women don’t really appreciate them in their current state – and neither do most men.
  • Way better facilities for disabled and less mobile persons. 24″ wide winding staircases and airline-style bathrooms at the bottom of those stairs say “Stay away” to a lot of people.
  • Add some family-friendly features. There are no diaper changing tables, no place for kids to mingle and play, no family-only cars where families could avoid things that they don’t want their kids to see at whatever age.
  • Rails. Man o man the continuous welded rail in the West smokes the rails elsewhere. Quieter, smoother, faster.
  • Add a middle business class. Right now, there’s coach and sleepers. There’s room for another tier in some areas I suspect.
  • Fix the low-end sleepers. Most people who have them comment about them being cramped and uncomfortable.
  • Text message the current train position, estimated arrival (relative to that position) to subscribed mobile devices.
  • Information stations on LCD panels in each car so you know where you are, what the next stop is, how long you’ll be there, what the dining car menu is, etc.
  • Wireless everywhere.
  • Electricity in the observation car and at every seat (currently, it tends to be one or the other. Very inconsistent.)
  • Business car? Meeting room?
  • High-speed solid rail in the interstate system’s median?

Net result?

When was the last time you brainstormed about your business? Or asked your customers to do so?

Quaint is no substitute for quality


Recently, I’ve spent some time on Amtrak.

It’s easy to compare the differences between train and air travel.

Speed and cost are the really obvious ones and they remind me of the old consultant’s saw: “Quality, Speed or Price, choose any two.”

Meaning, of course, that you can choose 2 of those, but the 3rd is likely to suffer.

When it comes to long-distance public transportation, you mostly get to pick one – as long as you take for granted that “quality” typically means “You got there in one piece.”

Most people I talk to tend to choose speed, unless they’re going from NW Montana to Salt Lake, Seattle or Portland with a car-sized group of staff members.

Making the speed/quality/price choice

Recently I had the speed/quality/price choice to make and decided to try Amtrak a couple of times. My wife and I recently became empty nesters and had wondered about taking the train the next time we went somewhere.

Being the family guinea pig, I took Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Portland to Whitefish after driving with my youngest (in his rig) to Oregon (on the hottest day of the summer, of course) in order to drop him off at college.

Returning on Amtrak wasn’t just the slow, cheap choice – it was the obvious one: Board at 5pm in Portland, avoid a 12 hour drive after 3 long days, spend less on train fare than on gas and do all of that without any effort on my part – ie: get on the train and ride home vs. flog my rig all the way home, get tired, get a room and end up using up a decent chunk of 2 days traveling.

During that trip, the train’s crew was highly-tuned. If the schedule said 5:21pm departure, that’s when the train started to glide forward. If they said you had 3 minutes to step off the train for some fresh air, you’d better be stepping back on at 2:58.

This happens in part because someone (or everyone) on the staff clearly wants to be on time (I suspect they get some pressure about that – just like the airlines), and it’s helped by spreading out the stops – a luxury Amtrak doesn’t have in more urban areas.

I wasn’t too worried about being on time to the minute. I was on a train *because* my schedule was a little flexible. I’d heard a fair share of horror stories about late trains from folks in the Midwest and East, so I wasn’t exactly ready for seriously-on-time. In fact, I’m rarely ready for it when I’m on a plane – with good reason.

The Amtrak Experience

What I was really interested in was comparing the customer / passenger experience between Amtrak and the last few airline trips I’ve taken.

On an airplane, you’re so beat up, annoyed, hot, cramped, belittled and so on, by the time you get in your seat, you mostly don’t want to talk or look at anyone. On a plane, you will often find 3/4 of the passengers in this detached, staring-at-nothing state of mind where all they can think about is how many more minutes till it all ends.

It’s not that the people are “bad”, I think a lot of it is the series of annoyances and inconveniences that people are submitted to prior to taking off.

On the train, it’s like another planet. It’s like a big traveling party and a sleepover rolled into one – and the seats are bigger. There are more families and college aged folks and fewer suits percentage-wise than the average airplane, but just as many opportunities for people to annoy each other. Yet they dont.

The big traveling party is in the observation car, where you might see people playing Uno, Scrabble, Texas Hold-Em, or just talking with a crowd of people they just met. The dining car is like a cafe with too few seats, so you sit where the empty chairs are – even if there’s a couple already there in mid-meal. You sit (because the train staff said “That’s your seat”) and you shoot the breeze. And no one acts like you stepped on their toes.

The difference is the process.

The cattle car isn’t the cattle car

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the airlines and airports hired the “Evil Captain Kirk” version of Temple Grandin to design the process of getting people from their cars, through ticketing, past security and onto a plane.

That often seeps into people on a plane. You know what I mean.

It’s not the speed, it’s the how and the what.

On Amtrak, it’s given that everything (and I mean *everything*) is slower. On time (in my limited experience), but slower.

The experience is far less tense and there is none of the “We just need to get through it, so you’re just gonna take it” that you get when flying. My impression is that you’re far less likely to run into the Evil Kirk.

Why?

To be sure, if you Google around, or even search Twitter for #amtrak, you’ll find plenty of experiences both positive and negative. Meanwhile, no one waxes poetic about a recent plane ride – even if they did have wifi on board.

Sure, there are some folks in the airline business who are pleasant, friendly and happy to help. On Amtrak, almost everyone seems that way.

Both groups are obviously under pressure to produce. Neither is raking in the profits.

Neither group has excuses to use about why they treat their customers the way they do. They just do.

The process is what creates the pain…or not.

It’s also what makes the difference between the experience found by your customers vs. your competitors’.

Take nothing for granted about the process your customers experience.