May 29, 2018

This “Blind Date” concept wins at marketing.

This idea – Blind Date with a Book – is so brilliant, I just stood there admiring it for several minutes while my marketing brain lit up with joy.

At Book Culture on Columbus, a reader’s paradise on the Upper West Side of NYC, there’s a center table piled with books wrapped completely so you can’t see their titles.  A label on each one gives you clues to the book’s content, like so:

Blind Date with a Book

Trying not to look like a creepy stalker, I hovered around the table for a long while…just to observe the reactions of people who stumbled upon the table for the first time.

Here’s the big headline:  every single person HAD a reaction.  Some thought it was the coolest idea in the universe, some said they’d never buy a book sight unseen, some wanted to rip off the wrapping and see if they guessed correctly, some thought it was a unique gift for bookworms.

But…  Everyone.  Had.  A.  Reaction.

Do you know how hard that is to achieve?  Breaking through the cluttered awareness of busy shoppers, amidst a sea of tables and shelves and displays and gifts and noise?  Nearly impossible.

But Blind Date with a Book achieves it, because it’s rich with multi-faceted marketing power:

  • It’s the bricks-n-mortar answer to the online suggestion algorithms (“If you like this, you’ll ALSO like…”) that the Amazons and Spotifys of the world have trained us to crave.
  • The power of secrets and surprises…people can’t resist the mischief.
  • It addresses a business need with grace, whimsy, and a consumer-facing benefit:  the titles are all picked by staff because they’re worth a read, but for whatever reason don’t get as much purchasing love as they should.
  • It connects with people…engages them, and definitely makes them smile.
  • No question it gives shape to the store’s personality…anything unexpected and fun like this ignites a positive feeling for the brand.  Even if you’re not the type to purchase a wrapped book, you still think they’re cool for doing it.

What’s the moral here?  Stop reaching for the same old sales and marketing tools.  If Book Culture had wanted to push slow-moving titles, they could have done a sale or marked them as “Staff Picks” or whatever.  All usual tricks for bookstores, and all standing a 50/50 chance of getting people to care.

But wrap up a book in brown paper and call it a Blind Date?  Winner.  Hands down.

September 28, 2016

The secret to extraordinary guest service.

Two years ago, Sandra the housekeeper at the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia stole my heart and forever sealed my loyalty to that hotel.  I thought the happily-ever-after story ended there…but I was wrong.  It gets better.

Since that famous visit (the blog post about it was read/shared more than 100,000 times), I’ve returned to the Delta Halifax often.  And given the widespread recognition of the story, it’s not surprising that many of the staff there know me, or at least know who I am.  I treasure the bond that we’ve forged, and their extraordinary guest service has remained intact on each visit.

The guest in me revels in that consistency.  But the hospitality business counselor in me realizes that the stakes are getting higher and higher with each stay.  Can they keep hitting the mark EVERY SINGLE TIME?  Surely, they’re bound to be off their service game at some point.  What’s going to happen to this magical bond between us when they disappoint me for the first time?  What’s going to happen when they fail?

Happily, on my most recent visit, I learned that The Delta Halifax will NEVER fail at delivering extraordinary guest service.  I discovered their foolproof secret, and here it is:

After a grueling five-hour drive, I arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm…parked right in front of the door, flew out of the car, ran past the front desk agent, said nothing but “Hi, I need the ladies room before I can check in,” and then scooted out of sight.  When I returned to the front desk, the agent (who I didn’t know) had my room keys ready and said, “Welcome back, Ms. Miranda…we have you in Sandra’s section, and will you be needing assistance with your bags before we park your car?”

I didn’t ask how she knew who I was.  Perhaps I was the last check-in that evening.  Maybe they have a photo of me in my guest profile.  Who cares?  I was just grateful for the friendly expediency and headed back outside to deal with luggage and car.

The young bellman gent who shepherded me (and seven large bags and boxes) to my room was also unfamiliar to me, though he too also seemed to know me.  While chatting, I asked how long he’s been working there.  Answer:  three weeks.  After he got me settled into the room, I asked him if I needed a valet ticket for my car.  Answer:  “No worries, Ms. Miranda, we know who you are…just call down when you’re ready for the car and we’ll bring it around.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I said, “You just started three weeks ago…how on earth do you know who I am?”

Answer:  “Are you kidding?  You’re a legend here.  I learned about your pillow story during my orientation, and everyone who works here gets excited when you’re coming back.”  Cue mouth agape and slight sting of happy tears on my part.

But wait.  There’s more.

I gave him a $25 tip when he left my room…that was a lot of heavy baggage AND he parked my car.  A minute later, he knocked on my door to give the 20 back because he thought I mistakenly gave him the wrong bill.  Seriously.  I almost gave him ANOTHER 20, just for being adorable.

Adorable gent gone, I surveyed the room.  Yes, my special towel-pillow was there, with a welcome note from Sandra.  And this time, she upped her game, surrounding my complimentary bottle of water with hearts that she hand cut out of paper water coasters.

fullsizerender-8Life was good.  I was home.

But now I was curious.  Was it JUST me?  It seems that my blog post had earned the hotel some measure of recognition among its peers and corporate office, and Sandra was certainly given praise for her role in the famous pillow story.  But was everyone in this hotel extra nice and helpful to me just because I got them positive attention?  I needed to know.

So the next day, I sat and observed…at the restaurant, in the lobby, outside on the benches.  I watched every single staff member interact with guests at various points throughout the day.  And guess what?  It’s not just me.  They may not know everyone’s name or face, but good heavens…they are THAT NICE AND HELPFUL to everyone.  I saw anticipatory, gracious, and extraordinary service at every touch point – servers, bell staff, maintenance dudes, front desk team, executives walking around…every interaction, with every person.

How was this possible?  The Delta Halifax is NOT a small hotel.  But surely they can’t have simply hired every amazing person in the city?  And surely they can’t just hand out a training manual and teach people good judgment on how to be gracious without being annoying?  If that were possible, then every hotel in the world would be a giant bundle of amazingness.

And then, upon reflection, it hit me.  It’s pride.  Staff at the Delta Halifax are instilled with a sense of pride in the hotel, and in each other.  They enjoy nurturing the hotel’s stellar reputation, and they conspire together to make guests happy.  They care deeply – collectively and as individuals – that guests are made to feel welcomed, special, and loved.  And…here’s the best part:  it’s genuine.  They don’t just act it.  They FEEL it.

Yes, there’s a Delta employee training manual.  And yes, there are workshops, brand standards, performance reviews and all that jazz.  But let me tell you something, folks:  you can’t teach pride. 

Full honors go to the executive team at the Delta Halifax for fostering that culture, because this type of environment can ONLY exist if the management team encourages it, shapes it, rewards it, and reclaims it when it goes astray.

Hospitality managers everywhere…here’s what you can learn from this story.  If your guest service isn’t extraordinary, find out why your employees aren’t taking pride in your organization and fix it.  Why should they love working for you?  Why should they care?  What are you trying to achieve together for your guests?  Fix that, and I guarantee you, all your guest service issues will go away.

Delta Halifax…I take my hat off to you.  You have my loyalty as a guest, and my respect as a hospitality business counselor.  I don’t know exactly how you instill that sense of pride in your staff, but you know what?  I don’t want to know.  Keep that part of your secret, and I’ll just keep coming back to enjoy the magic.

PS:  On the second morning of my stay, the server at breakfast automatically brought me cream with my coffee because she remembered I asked for it on the first day.  Just sayin’.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

A small restaurant in Denver, CO shows the world that when it comes to establishing your business philosophy, honey trumps vinegar hands down. 

Picture this:  You’re starving.  You’re weary after a long day.  You want to shed your troubles with good company, some laughs, delicious food, and certainly a cocktail or two.  And as you step up to the host stand, your request for a table is answered with the single most annoying phrase on the planet:

“For a party of two, the wait time is currently around one hour and 45 minutes.”

If you’re the restaurant owner, what’s the fallout from this scenario?

  • The MOMENT people enter your restaurant, they’re hit with something negative.
  • Most people will just leave and go elsewhere.
  • While they may not actively HATE you, they feel disappointment and frustration.
  • If it happens more than once, many people will stop trying.

Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with people who are just ripe for the picking.  They’ve sought you out and made the effort to land on your doorstep.  And now you have to turn them away?  This chronic problem of busy restaurants makes owners (and their marketing folks) weep.

But the smart, cheerful, positive thinkers who run Work & Class are shedding no tears over this issue.

On a recent visit to Denver, I was greeted at their host stand with that same annoying phrase.  I glanced at the teeny-tiny, jam-packed bar and said to the two hostesses, “Rats. We are only in town tonight and were dying to try this place, but that’s just too long to wait.  Oh well.”

The hostesses could have simply said, “Oh, sorry…come see us again on your next visit!”  And had they done so, that would have been the end of my relationship with Work & Class.

Instead, they said, “hold on a minute.”  And the two of them scanned the wait list, craned their necks to look at the locations of patrons at the bar, and whispered conspiratorially to each other.  Then one of them leaned in and said to me, “See those people sitting at the far side of the bar?  In around 20 minutes, I’m going to seat them.  If you want to wait right here at the host stand, I’ll take you with me when I go to tell them their table is ready, and you can grab their seats and eat at the bar.  And I could bring cocktails here to you while you’re waiting.”

Who could say no to that?  Especially since they both had huge smiles on their faces and were clearly delighted to be making my friend and me happy.  We said yes.  A champagne and a whiskey appeared momentarily, and then the best part happened:  we had a 20-minute front row seat to watch the magic of the Work & Class host stand in action.  Here’s what goes down:

  • The hostesses are not robots…they display empathy for each and every person’s plight with the wait time, and they remained genuinely cheerful and positive despite delivering unwelcome news.
  • Because the bar area is so small, the restaurant formed a relationship with the bar across the street to funnel patrons there for 10% off their entire bar tab while awaiting their “table is ready” call.
  • If you choose to stay and wait, there’s a $4 “wait drink.” (brilliant move)
  • The hostesses never – not once – let anyone walk away after hearing the wait time without ALSO hearing another solution… bar across the street, try us earlier or later, join us on Wednesday, come back for dessert, sit at the communal table outside… and the solutions were never the same.  They were based on what each particular diner needed/wanted.

The pounce-on-the-barstool strategy worked beautifully, and as the night unfolded, we learned that the hostesses were not alone in fostering the positive attitude that permeates Work & Class.  Bartenders, bussers, waitstaff, owner… they are ALL just ridiculously happy people.

And the tone of the restaurant fosters that same attitude in the patrons.  The “House Rules” are displayed on huge signs, and they’re written so adorably that you are inspired to follow them:

Work & Class House Rules

You can also read a more detailed version of the House Rules on their website.

Cost-conscious restaurant owners may read this and say, “Are you nuts?  Why would I send people to my competitor, much less pay to have cards printed to send them there?  Why would I discount a ‘wait drink’ when people who decide to wait would end up buying them at full price?  I’ll never get my hostesses to be that personable, and besides that, if they have to spend extra time with each individual person at the host stand, I’ll require more hosts per shift.”

And to them I say… everyone who visits Work & Class is put in a good mood, even if they decide not to wait.  And Work & Class is packed to the rafters every single night.  You do the math.

So if you are visiting Denver, you must eat here.  The delicious food is just a bonus…the infusion of joy is the real daily special.

December 18, 2014

How one hotel housekeeper won my brand allegiance…and my heart.

She stopped me in my tracks.  And prompted me to track her down on property to give her a hug.

That’s no small feat for a hotel housekeeper to achieve.  As a hospitality consultant at Redpoint who trains hotels on marketing and guest service, I’ve stayed in more than 500 hotels around the world…from the barest of guest houses to the most luxurious of resorts.  Some even came with my own personal butler.  Many promise to deliver anticipatory service.  And yet none of them…not a single one…captured my heart (and my future business) the way the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia did, despite all of them having the exact same opportunity to do so.

And it’s all thanks to Sandra the housekeeper.  Here’s how it went down.

A decades-old neck injury makes it most comfortable for me to sleep with a pillow that has laughingly been referred to as “a few sheets of loose leaf paper stuffed inside a pillowcase.”  I no longer travel with it (preserving its precious life span), so when I sleep at hotels, I remove the big fluffy pillow from the pillowcase and replace it with a folded-once towel from the bathroom.  I repeat this procedure every night of my stay because the housekeeper always restores the bed to its default state and the towel to the bathroom.

Imagine that habit solidifying into autopilot after around 500 times of having to repeat it.  And then imagine walking into the room after two nights of a four-night stay and seeing this on the bed:

Small note, thin pillow, big surprise.

That note (highlighted in the photo so you couldn’t miss it) was handwritten on the back of a water glass coaster and resting on top of a precision crafted bath-towel-pillow.  Thickness?  Perfect.  Edges?  Neatly tucked.  Here’s what the note said:

housekeeping note 1

After giggling with pleasure for a few minutes – who doesn’t love a good surprise? – I wrote Sandra a heartfelt thank-you note and left it on the bathroom sink for her to find the next morning.  And then the next day, I returned to my room to find this:

housekeeping note 2

That did it.  I left my room immediately – coat on and all – and went to find Sandra.  We met, we hugged, we laughed.  And then I went to find Sandra’s boss to ask how on earth they train their staff to be so observant and thoughtful.  His answer was identical to the one every other hotelier delivers when asked about their approach to guest service:  “we look to hire those kinds of people, and then as part of our training program, we encourage them to use their judgment to make a guest’s stay more personal and memorable.”  If I only had a nickel for every time a hotelier said those exact words to me.

The difference here is…the Delta Halifax has actually achieved it.  Sandra – while the hero of this story – was not alone.  The front desk person checking me in recognized that I was from the U.S. and whipped out a city map unasked, just to orient me with my surroundings.  The breakfast server brought me a to-go cup with fresh coffee – also unasked – after a chat revealed that I was running late and didn’t have time for the extra cup I wanted to savor at the table.  The maintenance guy stopped what he was doing to help me carry a load of awkward packages to my door.  And on, and on, and on.

Hoteliers, take note:  the Delta Halifax could do with a renovation.  The rooms are dated, corridors need a refresh, and I’m sure the GM and Director of Ops walk through that hotel every day and dream of what they’d do with a nice fat capital expense budget.  And to them, I say:  It didn’t matter one whit to me.  The place was spotless, the shower heat and pressure was just fine, and never in my life have I felt so cared for by a bunch of strangers.  You could leave the rooms as-is for the next twenty years and I would stay there every single time I come to Halifax…no matter how many cool hotels spring up or renovate around you.  The moral of the story?  Truly amazing service wins brand loyalty, despite any other real or perceived shortcomings.

Delta Hotels and Resorts…I sure hope that ALL your properties are as gracious and extraordinary as the Delta Halifax.  Because I now plan to stay in a Delta property whenever I can while in Canada, and thanks to Sandra and the whole crew at Halifax, you’ve got some VERY big shoes – and pillowcases – to fill.

August 26, 2014

Surprise! Creating guest surprises is harder than it looks…

Last Christmas, the Canadian airline WestJet surprised a plane full of arriving passengers at baggage claim by delivering fully wrapped gifts they had just specifically requested from “Santa” only hours before at their departure gate.  (If you haven’t seen that video, grab some tissues and watch it here.)

To date, the WestJet Christmas Miracle video has received nearly 40 million views on YouTube, making it the envy of hospitality marketers around the world.  Marketers – and their CEO bosses – watched longingly as the media attention spotlight on WestJet grew brighter and the video view count grew higher, and they all had the same thought:  I want a “WestJet video” for MY brand.

Alas, most of them are likely to retire with “I wish I had a WestJet video” still on their career bucket list, and here’s why:  surprises – especially of that magnitude – are bloody hard work.

Pulling off a surprise like that requires precision timing, which requires a recipe of planning, staffing, money, creativity, and problem solving.  You cannot fumble at the goal line.  You cannot plan a “partial surprise.”  You can’t get the timing “almost right.”  You get ONE SHOT.  So you have to make it count, or every bit of investment you put into it is a big ol’ waste.

This leaves no wiggle room for indecision, executive in-fighting, budget paralysis, miscommunication, or distraction from the focus.  And that’s a lot to ask of ANY brand, at ANY size.  That “little” five minute video required four months of singular planning attention, 150 WestJet employees, an extraordinary budget, and extensive marketing resources in two cities.  Such a level of orchestration deserves every bit of brand-envy it receives, because marketers worth their salt know it’s a rare phenomenon.

To determine if your brand has what it takes to successfully leverage the magic of surprise – at any level – ask yourself…

  • Do we embrace fun?
  • Do all our in-house departments work together harmoniously, and if not…can they?
  • Are we comfortable taking risks?
  • Are we willing to spend unanticipated money if needed to protect the surprise all the way to the finish line?
  • Do we complete our regular, non-surprise-oriented projects on time, and with precision?

If the answer to any of those questions was “no,” then you should think twice before investing a ton of resources into planning a one-shot-deal surprise for your guests.  You will save yourself a lot of misery (and money) by using other tools in your marketing toolbox instead.

Parting tip:  If you ARE planning to create a big surprise, keep this in mind…the bigger and cooler the surprise, the higher the bar is set for next time.  Case in point:  for my keynote address at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference in April, Redpoint surprised the audience of 250 people with beer, pretzels, costume accessories, and a New Orleans style jazz band (watch the trailer).  Two months later, the Vermont Ski Areas Association wanted a similar surprise for their annual conference…but what fun would it be to orchestrate the same surprise?  So Redpoint cajoled the kind folks at Ben & Jerry’s to create an exclusive ice cream flavor – Vermont Powder – just for that conference, and we delivered it to the audience in a surprise moment punctuated by a song we “wrote.” (Watch the Hot Sardines perform that song here.)

It was all great fun, and we had a blast doing it.  But now people start to salivate the moment they hear that I’m the keynote speaker, and (sorry, mom) it ain’t because they think I’m pretty.  Lesson learned:  human nature = “oooh, what’s next?”

Ah, well.  Redpoint is up to the challenge.  Save your pity for WestJet…they have to top way more than beer and ice cream.

April 28, 2014

Failsafe business strategy: let them eat cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies are now on the endangered species list.

Chocolate chip cookies are now on the endangered species list.

Is there a more disappointing sight at a buffet table?

The background:  during a week’s stay at an all-inclusive resort, it fascinated me that the plate of chocolate chip cookies was nearly ALWAYS empty on a buffet table filled with more than a dozen different types of desserts.  This meant that…

– People congregated around the table waiting for a new batch to come out
– They discussed with each other how annoying it is while they waited
– The arriving cookies were snatched up within one minute of being placed on the table
– And thus…the waiting process began all over again for those not quick on the draw

Seeing the imbalance of so many desserts go to waste, while unhappy customers fought each other for elusive cookies, finally overwhelmed me.  So I asked the restaurant manager:  why don’t you guys just make more cookies?

Are you sitting down?  It’s corporate policy for them to make an equal amount of desserts every night, regardless of how many are consumed.  So…even though it’s cheaper to make chocolate chips than, say, strawberry infused profiteroles – and people would rather eat the chocolate chips than said profiteroles – they aren’t allowed to deviate from the plan because it’s “corporate policy.”

When I asked why they don’t just change the policy, I got the answer that makes business strategists and marketers cringe with pain:  “we’ve just always done it this way, so corporate won’t want to change it.”  And yet…a quick poll of the servers proved that it’s the number one complaint (in most cases, the ONLY complaint) from their diners every single night.

Learn a sweet lesson from these cookies, people.  If something is “broken” at your business that causes repeated and longstanding unhappiness among your guests…FIX IT.  Don’t make excuses or hide behind habit or corporate policy…JUST FIX IT.  Operational and financial challenges may slow you down, but don’t let them stop you from solving it.

Especially if cookies are involved.  Never get between a PR person and her cookies, my friends.  You may find yourself the subject of a Redpoint blog post.

July 9, 2013

Brilliant use of a housekeeping tip envelope.

They are a necessary evil.  And yet…it IS kind of weird that so many US hotels leave an envelope in your room, encouraging you (obligating you?) to tip your housekeeper.

I understand the need for it, as it’s easy to forget – or ignore – tipping someone you likely never see (and gratuities are often part of a housekeeper’s overall compensation).  But it seems so tacky.  No one likes it when a bellman or doorman stands there with his hand out, and the “begging envelope” is equally ungracious.

That’s why I laughed aloud with pleasure when I saw the housekeeping gratuity envelopes in the rooms at The Inn at Manchester in Manchester Village, VT.

 IMG-20130507-01750

 

Absolutely brilliant.  This envelope single-handedly…

  1. Creates a relationship with guests
  2. Makes people feel taken care of by a human being (not a fill-in-the-blank housekeeper du jour)
  3. Showcases the warmth and personality of the brand
  4. Surprises the guests and makes them smile
  5. Softens  “the ask” with a bit of humor

What’s the lesson here?  With a little bit of love and thought, you can find ways to make ordinary guest touch points create a lasting, positive impression.  And you can’t “fake” making something personal…if you put love into it, that’s what will shine through.

Case in point:  I saw this envelope when I was visiting the property with another Redpoint staffer just for a site tour.  And even though I wasn’t staying in the room, I wanted to give a tip to Alice and Ade…just for being adorable.

January 25, 2013

Why this tiny little Fiat® won my big marketing heart.

Image

If I could give this car a hug, I would.

When I stepped up to the Alamo car rental counter last week to pick up a car for a weekend trip, I could have won a gold medal if “Multitasking” were an Olympic sport.  I was schlepping bags, answering emails, planning what to eat for lunch, remembering things I forgot to pack, and just generally unfocused on the task at hand.  I rent cars all the time, and I know the drill, so basically, I put that part of my brain on autopilot – license, credit card, initials in a zillion places, give blood and your first born, and so on.

But when the service agent said these words, all distractions disappeared instantly and I snapped to attention like a guard dog on command:  “You’re in that tiny little Fiat® outside.  Would you like to upgrade to something a bit safer?”

Did I snap to attention because I was worried about my safety?  Absolutely not.  (Mom, if you’re reading this…sorry.)  What happened was…the marketer in me became fiercely indignant on behalf of the Fiat® brand.  All distractions were banished by these thoughts:

  • Why would a car rental company want to imply that it rents ANY cars that are unsafe?
  • Do the Fiat® sales and marketing executives – who are probably hopeful that people who rent their car could be hooked into buying one – know that their car is being portrayed as “unsafe” at the car rental counter?
  • Does Alamo script their service agents with this language to scare people into upgrading to a more expensive car?  If so…shame on them.  If not…perhaps they need a better training program to educate their team how to “sell up” without “putting down.”

As all these thoughts crowded my brain in the span of 10 seconds, I realized that I was staring at the service agent like she had just committed a heinous crime.  And perhaps she did, from a branding perspective.  But I know that making a fuss about it would probably cast me as an unbalanced lunatic, so I just looked her squarely in the eye and said, “The Fiat® is absolutely perfect.  I’ll take it.”

Clearly,  nothing wins my allegiance faster than a marketing underdog.  Fiat®, if you’re ever looking for a PR firm in the US, give Redpoint a call.  🙂

January 24, 2012

How to make an impression on long-time, been-there-done-that customers.

Every Tuesday and Friday, an amazing “wartime Paris meets Bourbon Street” band called The Hot Sardines plays at The Top of The Standard in NYC’s meatpacking district.  Along with an ever-growing base of adoring fans, I’ve sat through several of their performances and can sing along with most of their songs.  I know when they’re about to sing a capella, when the washboard is making an appearance, when Miss Elizabeth is going to sing in French, and when the tap dancer is preparing to do something amazing.  So…I love them with passion…but I can enjoy them on autopilot.

Then one day a few weeks ago, when I was expecting the trumpet player to start blowing that horn, this happened instead:

Your eyes are not deceiving you.  He is playing a tea kettle.  And every single person in the room was captivated…even us veteran fans.

Mr. Tea Kettle just proved a very important marketing point:  you don’t need to spend a lot of money to break through the comfort zone that develops when long-time customers become “used to you.”  You CAN spend money to do it, but sometimes, a little creativity is all that’s needed to keep it fresh.

Some examples from the field:

Last year, MAC Cosmetics launched a “Wonder Woman” collection, and the inside of every Mac store paid highly visible homage to the stunning superhero with larger-than-life cutouts, comic books, promotional displays and more.  But how to lure people in there to see all the goodies?  The Soho store on Spring Street in NYC did something unusual:  they painted the outside of the store a bright fire engine red.  Think about it…I’m not sure it made a difference to the tourists (who don’t know what the exterior of the store usually looks like) but for all those “sheep” that walk up and down Spring Street each day without giving a thought to their surroundings…that red building was brightly colored lure that drew the eye like a magnet.

In another example – and a little more expensive than a coat of paint, but worth it  – a clever marketing tactic was used to promote the premiere of last season’s episodes of Boardwalk Empire.  Set in Atlantic City, the show chronicles the life of a political gangster during the 1920’s and 30’s Prohibition era.  So…while they could have just done a traditional subway “wrap” (where all the ads in a single subway car focus on the same business…eye catching, but becoming so common that us regular subway riders are even becoming desensitized to THOSE), instead, they used authentic Prohibition-era vintage subway cars to make their point.  Imagine standing at your usual subway station with your iPod on or reading your book or juggling your bags…and then THIS pulls up…

For those readers not from NYC…I assure you…today’s subway cars look NOTHING like this.

But just like the tea-kettle-turned-musical-instrument, you don’t need to pay a hefty price to “borrow” vintage transportation equipment from a city transit system in order to get attention.  Saltscapes, a yummy restaurant in Nova Scotia, makes an impression every time a customer goes to open the entryway door:

I’m reminded of the childhood game Duck, Duck, Goose.  Think about the mindset of a customer walking in the door.  They just spent the whole day (week…month…year…) opening doors with “normal” doorknobs.  So…normal, normal, normal…small wrought iron Adirondack chair?  Definitely noticeable.

It’s actually quite easy – and often inexpensive – to do tasteful things that will impress your loyal customers.  You just have to put a little love into your thought process and remember that if you don’t continue to woo them…they may be wooed elsewhere.  A sad but true fact in the marketing world.

And in that random way that concepts sometimes collide unexpectedly…what do you get when you cross The Hot Sardines with the vintage subway cars used to promote Boardwalk Empire?  You get a KILLER concert.  Check out the 1 minute and 30 second clip by clicking here.

Hmmmm.  Attention Boardwalk Empire marketing people…when you’re ready to promote the next season, give the Hot Sardines and their tea kettle a call.  They’ll take your subway car to the next level…because even though you only did it once, that sucker is already in the been-there-done-that bucket.

Redpoint is a marketing PR firm based in NYC that helps clients make strong positive impressions on even the most desensitized of journalists.  And…we LOVE The Hot Sardines. 

June 29, 2011

You can’t find love on a spreadsheet.

Who doesn’t love free dumplings?

While dining at Buddakan recently, I ordered the Cantonese spring rolls appetizer and mischievously asked the waiter if I could possibly try one Szechuan pork dumpling…just because I couldn’t decide between the two dishes.  He winked conspiratorially at me (which I took as a hopeful yes) and went off to the kitchen.

When the food runner came to the table with my spring rolls and my companion’s tuna tartare, I was a bit disappointed.  Did I misconstrue the wink?

But then…the waiter himself appeared at my side, bearing – not one – but an entire plate full of pork dumplings.  As he set them in the center of the table, he said:  “Enjoy these with my compliments.  I know you will want more than one when you taste them.”  (side note:  he was right) 

Now…if you own a restaurant, hotel, or even retail shop, did that story make you cringe?  Were you thinking, “Damn.  If my staff gave away free stuff to every customer who asked for it, I’d go out of business tomorrow.”

But would you?  Let’s do the math.

Buddakan lost out on the $10 or $12 it would have earned from me for the dumplings.  But, on the flip side:

  • I ordered an extra glass of champagne, which I wouldn’t have, sans dumplings ($18)
  • The following week, I told a friend that story and she went there two weeks later with 6 friends ($200 at the bar…$500 at the table)
  • A month later, I took an out-of-town guest to Buddakan because I had told her the story and she wanted to try it ($175)

So that $10 or $12 expense turned out to be an investment that earned the restaurant nearly $1,000…and that’s just the ROI I know about.  Who knows how many people this positive incident actually drew into Buddakan?  When you pay it forward like that, it’s impossible to trace the exponential positive effect on your bottom line.

And there lies the problem the hospitality industry has faced for the past few years.  

The recession has forced us all to become obsessed with spreadsheets, numbers, and tangible-only spending.  If the ROI can’t be traced, tracked, maximized, or guaranteed, we’re not spending that precious dollar.  We’ve had to cut staff, cut hours, cut amenities, cut benefits…all for the sake of making those spreadsheets jive and surviving a brutal phase in the hospitality industry’s life cycle.  And guess what inadvertantly disappeared with all those cuts?  Much of the love, fun, warmth, and graciousness that puts the “hospitable” in hospitality.  We can’t translate them into tangible revenue streams on our spreadsheets and so…they simply don’t get factored into our decisions.

Well, friends…it’s time to bring them back.  People are tired of hearing “no,” and businesses that de-commoditize their experience with fresh infusions of positivity will attract guests with enviable magnetism.  And in this age of social media…when word of mouth is more powerful than ever…creating a pool of evangelists is never a bad thing.

Be inspired by the dumpling incident.  Regain your faith in the power of goodwill and invest in finding ways to make your customers feel loved.  And if your CFO balks at any modest investments you may make, just add a new line item to your revenue spreadsheet:

The Dumpling Effect:  Priceless.