Tourist season is coming – Are you ready?

Before you know it, the long winter will be a forgotten memory – except for the powder days. As it finally warms up for good (whatever that means this year), school will be out and tourists will be inbound for another summer.

It’s almost tourist season. Are you ready?

Is your facility ready? I’m sure you have a checklist for that, so I won’t go there.

Instead, let’s discuss some steps to help you make tourist season better than expected:

  • Do you have an easy way to prompt your visitors to leave a review? Will they be encouraged by your facility to take pictures at your place and post them to social media? Is there an easy way for them to suggest that their friends should visit?
  • Can they find your place on Google Local, Google+ Local and Google+ Business?
  • Are they on your email list?

Encouraging reviews and photos

Most people like sending an occasional “Having fun, wish you were here” photo to friends, family and co-workers, if nothing else, just to rub it in a little.

You can make this easier with suggestions for the best places to take photos to send their friends, family and co-workers, but also by asking to take their picture. This gets everyone in their group into the photo and gets your staff engaged as well.

Ask your visitors to text their photos to you so you can print a copy for them. With their permission, post the photos in your facility and on your website to provide social proof of the great time your visitors have. Print postcards from the photos for a special touch they can send to friends and family.

Don’t be invisible to tourists

If your business doesn’t have at least a minimal profile (name, address, phone, hours, photos), you’ll be invisible to smartphone maps and the tourists who use them (lots).  That’s the last place you want to be invisible.

Be sure you’ve updated (or added) your profile on the major profile sites, such as Google Local, Google+ Local, Google+ for Business. Restaurants should do the same with Yelp and UrbanSpoon. If you have more time, take the same steps with Bing, your local chamber of commerce and local directory sites. Don’t forget a Facebook fan page.

These days, “Google, local, social” is the smartphone equivalent of “location, location, location”.

Create a special email list

If they’ll be staying with you (ie: you run a campground, RV park, hotel, motel, hostel, cabins, resort, etc), consider building a special email list for your visitors.

To make it most effective, it should be timed to their visit. An email series that gives them a countdown to their visit would be useful, particularly if it prepares them at the right time in advance of their visit. All of this can be automated to make it easy for you while making it super useful for your visitors.

For example, an email might let them know about popular events during certain days, or that a special dinner location requires reservations three weeks in advance during prime season.  If they receive the latter email three to six weeks in advance, they can take advantage of it. If they don’t find out until they get there….too late.

Road problems? Let them know. Don’t expect that they have had time to find your area’s road conditions page – or that it is up to date. Let them know so that your guests are prepared for anything.

Don’t let this list end with the before visit email sequence. Keep in touch during their visit about how you can help with things they’ve forgotten and with local advice. Quality advice will be appreciated if it’s pertinent to their time with you.

Finally, keep a notebook and a camera handy at the front desk for notes and photos when the opportunity presents itself. A casual photo of your guests included in an email – or better, a postcard waiting for them when they return home, is a great personal touch to remind them to return and refer their friends, family and co-workers.

Don’t have their email address? Try a text message sequence. As with email, be sure you get permission first.

Take advantage of the time remaining before tourist season to turn a good visit into a memorable experience that has them ready to return – and talk about you in the meantime.

How to use calendar marketing

SpaghettiOsPearlHarbor

When I say “calendar marketing”, I’m talking about using the context of historical events and dates, holidays and current events to spice up your marketing.

Done right, you can briefly tie what you do to the event, date or holiday, have a little fun and perhaps get the attention those about to buy.

Like any tactic, there are right and wrong ways to use it. Like any tactic, there are right and wrong ways to use it – as the SpaghettiOs social media team found out on Pearl Harbor Day.

While social media provides good and bad examples, keep in mind that your efforts in this area can be leveraged in almost any media.

Doing it right

Doing it right involves asking yourself a few questions.

Q: Who will see it?
A: If it’s good enough, everyone. If it’s stupid enough, everyone.

With that in mind:

  • How will you feel if everyone sees it?
  • How will your customers react?
  • What will they be inclined to do?
  • Will it makes things better or worse for your business?

No matter what – Think it through.

Oreo is a good example to watch, but even they slip up now and then:

AMCOreo

How do I know I’m about to do it wrong?

If your thought process is “Let’s use their memory, our logo and wrap them together in the flag in our marketing”, that would be wrong. Stupidly wrong.

This shouldn’t have to be explained to you.

Anyone who isn’t doing this in a strictly robotic fashion has to have this thought process going on:

  • Remembering Pearl Harbor – Good.
  • Slapping your flag-wrapped logo on it – Dumb.

While SpaghettiOs managed to apologize (and delete the earlier tweet), your goal is not to put yourself in this position. Some found it offensive, some stupid or at the least – felt the message could have done without the cheesy brand + flag graphic.

No matter what, it distracted from the reason for the post in the first place – to encourage their customers to take a moment to remember.

SpaghettiOsPearlHarborApology

Numerous major brands have misfired on things like this. In each case, you will see calls for whoever wrote the original tweet to be fired, or for their agency to be fired. That doesn’t make it any better – it just makes a few angry people feel better for a few minutes.

For a small local business, national outrage is unlikely, but you could provoke a local boycott or worse.

Have a “Reason why”

Earlier this week, USA Today had this headline re: Mandela’s death (hat tip to @JSlarve and @SameMeans for catching it):

MandelaUSAToday

The point is not to point out the mistakes that major brands make. Everyone makes mistakes. There are plenty of examples to learn from.

What you need to keep in mind is WHY you are creating this content (doesn’t have to be an ad) in the first place:

  • To honor someone? Fine. Keep your brand and schtick out of it. Stick to the topic. Say what you feel. The old GoDaddy always remembered Veterans Day and the Marine Corps birthday – and you never saw their typically cheesy stuff in those pieces.
  • To be funny? Make sure it really is funny, rather than funny at the cost of some group or individual.
  • To provoke someone to buy – see the prior two and then consider every bit of copywriting experience you have.

Your message has to be focused on that reason – whatever it is.

Connect rather than being just another “Me too!” marketer

Ill-advised content aside, calendar-based marketing is an effective tool when used thoughtfully.

The temptation is to do “Me too” marketing here. Things like a holiday-themed sale on a holiday weekend are not going to stand out in a crowd of me-too sales.

Sometimes connecting national to your business to local works well. For example, you might have Super Bowl-related promotion or event that encourages people to visit/buy and make note that you’ll be passing along a percentage of Super Bowl related promotion/event sales to a local youth athletic program. It doesn’t have to be football and it doesn’t have to be a percentage.

In Columbia Falls MT (pop 4000ish), Timber Creek assisted living facility hosts the Rotary “Brunch with Santa” community Christmas event in their public areas. While no one is selling assisted living that day, hundreds who would never go inside otherwise get to see how nice the place is – planting a seed that might sprout next week or years from now.

How to segment your customer list

Have you heard that you should “segment” your customers before marketing to them?

Ever wondered what that means, much less how you’d do that?

We’re going to talk about that today in simple terms, but before we do that, you might be wondering …

Why should I segment my customers?

Good question.

You want to segment your marketing is to achieve something called “Message-to-market match“.

Let me explain with an example. Let’s say your company sells women’s underwear.

Would you advertise the same underwear in the same way with the same photos and the same messaging to each of these groups?

  • Single women
  • Pregnant women
  • Newlyweds
  • Moms of girls approaching puberty
  • Dads of girls approaching puberty
  • 50-plus women
  • 80-plus women
  • Women under 5′ 6″ tall
  • “Plus sized” women
  • “Tiny” women
  • Very curvy women
  • Not-so-curvy women
  • Women who have survived breast cancer
  • Significant others

I’ll assume you answered “No”.

Message-to-market match” means your message is refined for a specific group of recipients so that it’s welcome and in-context, rather than annoying and out of left field.

A lack of message-to-market match is why people tune out ads and pitch so much mail – the message isn’t truly for them. If it happens enough times, everything you send them is ignored. Ouch.

Like the recycling bin

When recycling different materials, the processes required to break down cardboard (shredding, pulping, etc) will differ from the process that prepares glass, plastic or animal manure for reuse.

Think of your messages in the same way. If the message a customer receives doesn’t make any sense because it’s out of context, it’s like recycling something with the wrong process. The money, time and energy invested in creating and delivering the wrong message will be wasted. Worse yet, the wrong message can alienate your customer and/or make your business look clueless.

Ever received an offer “for new customers only” from a business that you’ve worked with for months or years? How does that make you feel?

You might think a generic piece of news is received the same way by everyone – when in fact that news might excite some customers and annoy the rest. The time spent considering this and segmenting your announcement can save a lot of pain.

Your First Oil Change

Look at the groups listed for the underwear business. That’s customer segmentation.

If you sent “The Single Dad’s guide to helping your daughter pick out her first bra” to the entire customer list, how many would think “This is exactly what I need”? Only the single dads group. Most others would hit delete, unsubscribe, click the “Spam” button or just think you’re not too swift.

The smart folks sending the “first bra” piece would break it down further by sending a different guide to the moms than they send to the dads.

Need a simpler version? Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge. Harley vs. every other bike. You shouldn’t have the same conversation with these groups, even if you sell something common to all of them, like motor oil.

Think that list is broken down too much? Don’t. I just scratched the surface.

Why people think they can’t segment

– They don’t have or “get” technology.

Whether you use a yellow pad or a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can make this work. If not, consider a better way to keep track of things.

Long before computers, savvy business people would sort customers into the “blue pile, red pile, yellow pile” before putting together a marketing piece. No technology is no excuse.

– Their media doesn’t offer segmenting.

What if your chosen media doesn’t provide a way to target a specific segment? They don’t deliver special Yellow Page books to single people, retired people, CPAs or car dealers – so how do you segment your message?

You can segment those media buys by message since many vendors are unable to deliver a different book, newspaper, magazine or radio/TV ad to different types of customer – which should also improve ad ROI.

You might be getting pressure from internet-savvy staff (or vendors) to drop old-school media. If it works now (do you know?), dropping them makes no sense.

– They don’t have a customer list

Start creating one today, even if it’s on a yellow pad. Figure out what differences are important to you and record them.

How much trouble do you go to for your customers?

Most companies go to a little bit of trouble to create content for their customers. Some go to a lot. Some exert little or none.

Hubspot exerts more than most for a video on their unsubscribe page.

How hard are you working for your customers?

Hat tip to PRDaily for the find.

 

Why the tourist drove past your business

Changes2005vs2013Photo credit: AP

You’ve probably seen this AP image contrasting the crowds at St. Peter’s in Rome over the last eight years.

The first photo was taken by Luca Bruno in 2005 during preparations for the public viewing of Pope John Paul II’s body – almost two years before the iPhone was first announced.

The second photo was taken by Michael Sohn in March 2013 as the crowd waited for the first balcony appearance of a newly-elected Pope Francis I.

No matter how you feel about mobile devices, smartphones, the mobile browsing experience, the quality of smartphone photos, the always-connected lifestyle and how these things relate to your personal life, ignoring the business impact of the widespread adoption of these devices is done at your peril.

So what?

Seems like just yesterday that I did a series of speaking gigs with groups of local business owners about social media, getting found via local web search, the growth of mobile and the impact of these things on local businesses. Fact is, it’s been closer to 18 months since that series concluded.

To their credit, some have picked up on what we talked about and are interacting with their prospects and clients via social media. At least one local business that I frequent offers occasional coupons for subscribers to their text message (SMS) based opt-in list.

While most local business sites display acceptably on today’s tablets, the story is altogether different on a phone, where a smaller number have made efforts to improve the experience of a website visitor using a phone. Let’s refresh why it’s important to deal with this.

It’s not uncommon to hear “So what?” when this topic comes up in discussion. That’s not the right question.

First impressions

Again, you must set aside your personal likes/dislikes about these devices because it isn’t about you. It’s about your customers.

If these customers are tourists whose first impression – and purchase decision – is tied to the usability of your site on their phone, it’s worth considering whether your site is helping them (and you).

You might be thinking “Well, they have smartphones, but do they use them for that?” It’s a good question. I can tell you 25% of visitors to the Columbia Falls’ Chamber website are using mobile devices – a number that grows every month. I’ve been told churches see an even larger percentage of mobile users.

So what do you do?

A mobile website checklist

Let’s talk about mobile website basics:

  • Do you have a website that is actually usable on a phone?
  • Does it clearly describe what you do, when you are open, how to get there (using Google Maps, et al) and how to contact your business?
  • Restaurants, is your menu visible on the phone or does it appear on a phone as tiny print because it’s in a PDF intended for desktop users?

To start this process, claim your business on Google Places for Business and setup a Facebook Page (not a Facebook user account) for your business. Both of these will give you a basic summary presence on mobile devices that includes hours, contact info and location.

Compare these two mobile search results:

flathead beacon mobile search result dmbdgoogle

The one on the left (without a Google Places listing) is tougher to read on a phone and requires additional screen taps to get answers to the basic questions listed above.

The one on the right (with a Google Places listing) gives you everything you need to make the next choice. One tap to call, get directions or view their site.

Which of those do you want your prospects to see?

Why’d they drive by?

When your website makes it easy for mobile phone users to learn about your business, it helps them decide what to do, where and when to go, and how well your business fits their needs/wants.

So why did the tourist drive past your business?

Three reasons:

  • They didn’t know your business exists, or they didn’t know enough about your business
  • The info they found didn’t help them make a decision.
  • The info they found helped them make a decision to go elsewhere.

The last reason is acceptable. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be your customer, much less to stop in simply because your business is easy to learn about and find online.

The Price of A Hug

Recently, a small business owner hugged the President.

He wasn’t tackled by the Secret Service, or cuffed and taken to jail.

Instead, his business’ Yelp page was inundated with fake reviews from political loyalists from sides of the aisle.

Yelp is a social media business rating/review websites. The timely, personal reviews on this site, like those at UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor, are highly influential because they come from real customers who post reviews during or immediately after visiting a business.

The mass of reviews weren’t just from those against the hug. Supporters reacted too. Likewise, those reacting to the prior two groups. And those urged on by pot stirrers on both sides.

Thousands of people descended on the review page for this man’s family business, and as is played out every day on newspaper comment sites and blogs all over the world – a “flame war” erupted. The reviews weren’t about the service or the pizza and they weren’t from people who had actually visited the restaurant.

They were about red and blue. Good and evil, evil and good.

The irony of it all: when the business owner was asked about his business, his politics and his impression of the President’s small business policies, he said “My business is stronger than it was four years ago, and that’s because I take accountability for my business,” he said. “I personally run and operate my business, and I don’t depend on the government to help me.

Somehow I suspect neither group of fake reviewers would have expected that.

This is our best?

I struggle with the possible damage inflicted on this business, despite my repeated assertion to business owners that “Anything you do is everything you do.” Usually, that’s about service, marketing and product quality. Today, it includes politics.

Business owners have to be careful about their “public facing persona” because everything they do is on the public’s radar. Whatever you do and say, not only in your business but in public actions and comments, will be evaluated. If you rub the wrong group the wrong way, that group will be quick to dogpile your business. Their efforts could go beyond actions taken from the safety and anonymity of a keyboard.

In the “good old days”, political reactions included lynchings, burning churches and shooting people at medical facilities. Today, reactions could include a “church” members picketing Veterans’ funerals or drive-by shootings. Is the next step is torching pizza joints?

It should make you think before you act/speak.

A choice

What should business owners do about publicly stating political opinions? It’s bigger than a national corporation being boycotted until their issue is pushed off the public’s radar by the latest reality star’s escapades. “Will they burn my building?” or “Will they come after me, my family or my employees?” is a real possibility – as is no reaction at all.

Do you choose to alienate half of your customers by saying something, or say/do nothing publicly in an attempt to avoid angering a cause’s most volatile followers? Does it matter?

For me, these conversations usually have little substance and rarely change minds. In some cases, they serve only to isolate, anger and create divides among people who had no idea they needed to argue about something. My political opinions are no one else’s business until I decide to share them. So far, I see no benefit to the listener for me to share them.

But not everyone agrees with that. Some feel they deserve to know your stance – and that’s their choice, not yours.

Silence has its risks

Silence is often interpreted as tacit approval of a situation or cause. If I don’t publicly react against something, it implies to some that I’m for it.

Make sure everyone understands that the off-hours behavior of management, owners and staff can impact your business. While you can’t regulate their political activity outside of work, it still reflects upon your business and could create conflict at the office – something you have to manage.

Whatever you do, be sure of yourself, your opinions and your actions, and be willing to accept the public’s response, because the one thing you can’t control is the public’s reaction to a hug.

Did you train them to defend your business or your reputation?

Them, meaning “your staff”.

Are they using your policies and training as a shield to protect your business, or are they using them as tools and leverage to protect your customers and your brand?

There’s a big difference between the two. An example is this story involving a repeatedly broken-down U-Haul truck, whose details quickly spread across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

You can see things ratchet up here (the tweets are listed in reverse chronological order, 21m means “21 minutes ago”, 3h means “3 hours ago”):

If some of those names don’t mean much, consider that:

  • @Mashable reaches almost 3 million people via Twitter and millions more in the business and tech world via retweets and Mashable.com.
  • @petershankman reaches 140k people on Twitter and has an email list full of journalists, authors, bloggers and PR people waiting for his HARO emails several times a day (HARO - Help-a-Reporter-Out)
The timeframe between 28 Jun (11pm) and the tweets marked 3h is about 36 hours. There are no responses from UHaul during that timeframe. Yet minutes after I mentioned the situation to @PenskeCares, they responded with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/PenskeCares/statuses/219109851844984834″]

After social media pressure started to heat up, U-Haul finally spoke up on day three with this (which you see Dave’s response to at “21m”, above):

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/UHaul_Cares/status/219102539017224193″]

Defending the brand

I’m sure that Dave and his dad will be cared for. What about the several hundred thousand people (according to HashTracking.com) who have seen this? Will it be what pops into their head the next time moving related topics are on their mind? That certainly isn’t what U-Haul wants. Will Dave, his friends and family ever use U-Haul again?

Is this what would happen if your business had a problem with someone who knows how to enlist help like this?

Things break. People make mistakes. Customers generally understand. They’re cranky when it happens because it’s unexpected change, discomfort and challenge, but their reaction depends on how you respond.

Your staff’s character and training determine how they implement your policies – and whether the situation becomes the next feel good story (or customer service nightmare) that your customers talk about on Facebook, Twitter and to their friends and family.

Character, Training and Policy

Reputation damage prevention comes down to character, training and policy implementation because you can’t always be there. There’s little doubt in my mind that U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen would have taken care of this properly – just like you would.

But Joe isn’t the one answering the phone.

He has managers and call centers handling that. Initially, it appears they did little to assure Dave that they had his back even though (or because) this drama took place in the region near U-Haul’s Phoenix corporate headquarters.

Efforts to defend their business damaged their reputation – by design, but not by intent. By design means we train our employees to defend our business, but we seldom empower them to defend its brand.

Why? We want to be the one making the decision when money is spent or time is committed to resolve a problem. We believe that no one would make the same decision we would because the staff isn’t spending their money. The problem is that we aren’t always around when these decisions are needed, so we make policy. Policies produce consistent handling of daily operations, a good thing.

We often provide our staff with policy that encourages non-responsibility (“It’s our policy” and “There’s nothing else I can do”) combined with job insecurity (“violating policy is a termination offense”). This prevents your staff from doing the right thing when the unusual occurs.

For edge cases requiring conscientious thought, our policies are often silent. They rarely say “If use of this policy could damage our reputation, do what you think is best for the customer if the short-term cost to the company is less than (whatever), otherwise ask for approval of your resolution.”

And that’s where U-Haul is right now, both at the corporate customer support level and sadly, at a few franchises in the U.S. Southwest. Franchisees have just as much ability to damage the brand as HQ does.

It’s OK to train your staff to defend the business, but be sure they’re empowered and trained to defend your reputation as well.

Do you encourage your fans?

Linkin Park clearly understands their fans.

Some bands (or their “record” companies) would complain to YouTube or Flickr if a fan posted concert footage or photos. They’d ask to have them removed.

Not these guys. They post links on their official site that point to Flickr and YouTube videos taken by fans.

But it doesn’t end there.

From the LinkinPark website: “Each ticket purchased for the 2011 North American tour comes with an audio download of that night’s show.”

What are you doing to encourage your fans to become even more devoted?

A Letter from Georgia

We almost didn’t open it, thinking it was junk mail.

Why would the University of Georgia send us mail way out here in Montana?

We aren’t alumni. Our kids don’t go there, nor do we have prospective students considering the school.

The letter was addressed to “The Riffey Family” (printed, not hand-addressed), which may have subconsciously given it a chance it normally wouldn’t have received.

The postage applied was pre-sorted metering like that from a postage machine. Result: It looked like any other junk mail with the exception of the “family” thing.

The letter made it home from the Post Office only because I thought it might be something related to my wife’s doctoral studies, even though she had never mentioned UGA to me.

Blondie

Months ago, we had to put Blondie (our 11 year old Golden Retriever mix) to sleep.

She was suffering from painful arthritis and surgery to repair tendons hadn’t helped her escape a life that had become much like walking on broken glass. Our oldest son came home for the weekend because he wanted to be with her. They hadn’t even charged us for the euthanasia, probably because we’d spent so much on Blondie’s care with them.

The letter was about Blondie. It came from the development (fundraising) office at the University of Georgia Veterinary School.

A letter that almost didn’t make it home. A letter that almost didn’t get opened.

A letter said that our vet, Dr. Mark Lawson from Glacier Animal Hospital, had made a donation to the vet school in Blondie’s memory.

Think hard about your mail

Imagine if we hadn’t known that our vet had made that donation…all because the envelope carrying that notification letter looked “too junky”.

Think hard about your mail.

It does no good to spend time and money sending mail if it never makes it home from the post office. It isn’t just about paper costs, printing, postage costs and the speed of slapping on pre-printed labels.

Everything ON the envelope requires thought because someone, somewhere HAS to decide to open it…and if they don’t, you just wasted time, money and an opportunity. Perhaps more.

Everything IN the envelope requires thought. You might have one shot to make an impression and/or provoke an action.

If you don’t send mail to people, keep in mind that the same considerations apply to anything else you put in front of customers and prospects. If it looks like junk, it might get treated that way.

P.S.

Would you take your dogs anywhere else? What a nice gesture. Wow.

URL the Cat

Oh Happy me !!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rainy city

Last weekend I spent some time visiting my youngest son at college in Western Oregon.

While there, we visited the Portland Saturday Market, which is full of homemade goods from art to clothing to food.

While many of the booths offered business cards that had a website on them, a very small percentage of the booths displayed a website address.

I didn’t see a single QR code.

Extending your reach

After talking to several of the booth owners, I got the impression that many were showing up every Saturday or Sunday at the market and “letting business happen to them”. That’s why I mentioned the booths not displaying a website address or a QR code.

It’s right to be focused on making sales that day, but you want to make it as easy as possible to remember your site, share it and come back for more – even if you can’t make it to Saturday Market.

Lots of tourists visit the market, so it’s important to engage them once they’ve gone home rather than limiting your market reach to “people in downtown Portland on any random Saturday”.

None of the businesses we bought items from asked for contact information so that they could keep us informed about new products and the like.  No question, it would have to be asked in the right way given people’s dislike of spam but that CAN be done.

A motel in Eastern Oregon once asked me, “Can I get your email address so that we can contact you if you leave an item in your room?” Who *hasn’t* left something in a hotel room? It strikes dead center on the “well, of course, I don’t want to lose my stuff” nerve. Simple and smart.

Purrrrr

There was a bright spot at the market in addition to some really great art and hand-made products: the booth for “The Spoiled Cat”, where a woman and her daughter were selling catnip pillows,

The sides and back wall of her booth were plastered with laminated 8″ x 10″ photos that her customers had sent in. Each photo was of a cat mauling, loving, hugging and/or generally having a ball jonesing on their catnip pillows.

Some of the photos were hilarious. That booth stood out to anyone in her target market – cat owners and friends/family of cat owners.

Exactly what it should have done.

Is that what your booth does?