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.

June 23, 2015

Tell a story without a lecture.

A picture might be worth 1,000 words…but a few carefully chosen words can often paint an instantly compelling picture.

Take this ad, for instance…seen in the Uptown 1 subway station at 23rd Street:

lower east side film festival

With just those two sentences, the Lower East Side Film Festival creates this impression:  “we’re not snooty like those other film festivals, you don’t need to know someone or be on the list, we don’t put on airs, we’re social and approachable, and you’ll make friends here.”  And do I detect a whiff of snarky nonconformity here, sending out seductive signals to attract those with a similar perspective?  Yes.  I believe I do.

Here’s another, seen just last week on the bridge driving into Boston from I-93:

ehrlich pest control

With just that simple phrasing, Ehrlich Pest Control says this:  “we hire the best people, who have a natural instinct for ridding the world of pests, and regardless of whether they do it for paycheck or for the sheer enjoyment of it…you can be sure that if you want critters gone, our guys will not rest until that happens…oh, and by the way, we’re funny and we have social skills too.” (Note to the Gods of Standstill Traffic: thank you for enabling me to snap this photo.)

What lesson can be learned from this?  Often, the indirect approach to communicating your personality has greater impact.  Don’t lecture people on who you are and what you stand for… just prove it through the way you communicate with them.

As we tell Redpoint clients all the time… don’t say you’re cool, just BE cool.  Explaining to people that you’re cool only weakens your case.

Here’s a parting bonus example that throws in a strategic photo:  the housekeeping tip envelope at Jay Peak Resort. It’s kind of sweet, and yet you’d think twice before ever crossing Alice…a juxtaposition which aptly represents that resort and mountain.

Jay Peak housekeeping tip envelope

Bravo Jay Peak.  You tugged my little branding heart so hard that I gave Alice 20 bucks for a one-night stay.  Or maybe I was just scared.  Either way…it worked!

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird

Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…

Toll

An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign

The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…

wheelchair

These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

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.

September 23, 2014

Postcards: low-tech “social media” marketing.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

The postcard is making a comeback…and not as a communication tool, but as a social media marketing tool.

Having postcards available for guests to purchase at your business is one thing.  Giving them out for free and offering to mail them – including postage – is quite another.  In marketing-speak, that’s the old school version of “encouraging a share.”

I’ve stumbled across two noteworthy examples of this in my travels recently.  The first was at P.J. Clarke’s, an institution among NYC bar/restaurants (since 1884).  A note at the bottom of the menu informs diners they can ask for a P.J. Clarke’s postcard to write out, and then give to their server to apply the required postage and mail.  (Side note…I had planned to do this, but the food coma from the Cast Iron Skillet of Baked Mac & Cheese with Peas & Bacon rendered me incapable of writing.)

The second – and brilliant – example (pictured here) was at Stratton Mountain Resort.  Perched in a place of honor on the front desk, a plexiglass cube filled with colorful postcards beckons travelers to drop a note <ahem, marketing piece about Stratton> to good ol’ Aunt Mary back home.  You can’t miss it…and you automatically get an itch to do it.  While standing there, I got the added joy of hearing the kid next to me ask his dad, “What’s a postcard?”… and then, of course, he had to send one to his friend back home.  (The hilarity continued when he had to text his friend to get the address, which is the only fly in this marketing ointment…who knows anyone’s mailing address anymore?)

Why are postcards sent by guests a smart marketing tool?  Because they’re…

  • Highly visual
  • Different and noticeable
  • Inexpensive
  • Fun for the sender & recipient
  • Turnkey and low maintenance

Postcards never get flagged as spam, they don’t need specific keywords to be found, and they are likely to be tacked up on the recipient’s refrigerator or bulletin board, quietly radiating subliminal marketing messages with every casual glance they receive.

When was the last time you could say that about your OTHER marketing tactics?

“Social media”…indeed.

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.

February 26, 2014

Branding lessons from the deli counter.

An unlikely pair of status symbols?

An unlikely pair of status symbols?

A few weeks ago, I met a “Grey Goose girl” and a “Maker’s guy” at the chic penthouse bar at The Standard in NYC.  And while I was skeptical that the claims of these two early-twenty-somethings could withstand a blindfold taste test, I wasn’t surprised.  Liquor companies have made an art form out of branding, which means that specifying your liquor to a bartender is like defining who you are to the world around you.

But who knew deli meats held the same power?

This past weekend, I met an “EverRoast® Man” at the deli counter of my local grocery store.  He was the third hipster twenty-something to order EverRoast by name while I was standing there waiting for my own (non-branded) order to be fulfilled.  This shot my marketing radar up to high alert, so I asked him… why ask specifically for EverRoast and not just a half-pound of chicken breast?  Is it better than “regular” chicken breast?  His answer:  “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve just always been an EverRoast Man.”

Poor guy.  I’m sure he never expected me to investigate this intriguing proclamation.  But I did a bit of research later and learned that Boar’s Head EverRoast Oven Roasted Chicken Breast debuted in 2009.  And since he certainly looked older than five to me, his claim was in tatters.

So why the fib?  Because branding WORKS.  People use brands – whether claiming to love them or hate them – to shape their own image.  From cars and clothes to liquor, sunglasses, watches, sporting goods, music, coffee, deli meats (!), and more…we gravitate toward brands that we feel accurately portray the image we want projected to our audiences.  In short:  it’s like co-op marketing.  Who needs a personal marketing budget when you can bask in the halo effect created by brands that have already spent billions of dollars defining the image you aspire to have?

Successful branding takes time, consistency, and…yes…money.  A brand needs to be clearly defined and have a point of view, and then stand up to scrutiny over and over and over again before it becomes powerful enough for people to identify with it.  But when it’s done right…damn, it sure does work.

So, marketing professionals…the next time you get resistance to spending money on branding, send your boss to the local supermarket deli counter.  One chat with an EverRoast Man or an Ovengold® Girl and they’ll change their tune faster than you can make a sandwich.

Footnote:  For more branding giggles (and perhaps a new lunch suggestion), check out the online Boar’s Head Digicatessen®.  For my next career, I think I want to name deli meats.  It seems like a fun job.

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.  🙂

December 5, 2012

Fun with marketing…no matter how boring the product.

Recently, while leading a workshop about Effective Presentation Techniques, I shared a secret with the attendees:  people like to be entertained.  So if you bring fun and joy to whatever you’re selling, you’ll get their attention…and that’s the first step toward ensuring they receive your message.

At the break, one attendee approached me with this lament:  “I sell pretty boring products, so making them fun just isn’t an option for me.”  

Oh young grasshopper…take heart.  With the right perspective, you can make ANYTHING fun.  I give you…Jewish food, a Vietnamese restaurant, and men’s razors.

Image

Artful arrangement of Jewish food draws a double-take from passersby on the Upper West Side of NYC.

Image

A Viet-Thai restaurant in Canada draws new patrons with this sassy sign outside their front door.

And seriously…take 1 minute and 30 seconds and watch this commercial for Dollar Shave Club.  Who knew selling razors could be so entertaining?

The bottom line is…with the right perspective, you can bring a little bit of humor to any subject – appropriately, of course.  Would I recommend adding levity to a speech or ad about child abuse?  Absolutely not.  But an otherwise dry subject – like razor blades?  Heck yes!…it’s a fabulous competitive advantage when you can make people smile.

Want one more smile before you’re done reading this post?  Check out our post from last summer to see how this movie theater made their “Don’t Talk or Text During the Movie” warning an absolute riot of hilarity: Alamo Drafthouse Warning.  The gang here at Redpoint is STILL chuckling over that one.  🙂