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Back to the Future: Hospitality Marketing 2010

Marketing success in decade 2010 will depend not only on the brand and its promises but also on the customer experience and his/her influence on others. The article outlines strategies for marketers to influence the purchase decision of customer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010, 14:00 Hrs  [IST]

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As the year 2010 progresses, the debate on Marketing Spend vs. Incremental Revenue - an age old one - gains prominence given the state of the economic flux wherein each dollar spent is analyzed, re-negotiated and then minimized. Marketing Strategies and related spends in 2010 are now even under more scrutiny and justifiably so!

Given that 2010 is the year of slashed budgets, overwhelming shortage of skilled human resources, and a renewed focus on increasing ARR and yield, the question for marketing resources of Indian Hospitality is how to continue to build their brand and market their differentiated products successfully as compared to that in the last decade? The answer may well be in an analysis of the trends and changing perceptions of customers in the last decade vs. that of the upcoming one.

Let’s start with the big ‘B’ - Branding. In this past decade, Brand was foremost in the minds of the customers when making a purchase decision. Previously the Brand was created internally by the custodians of the brand - the internal stakeholders - and was a rigid entity that was conceptualized to reflect what they, the custodians wanted their product to reflect. For the most part, branding was a one-way stream of communication that worked for the customers of the last decade. This resulted in a decade of strong brands that effectively harnessed the power of branding. Today, Brand 2010 needs to be flexible within means; it needs to be based on the needs and wants of the customer of the coming decade - the external stakeholders - who will evolve to be the real custodians of the Brand. In the past decade, Brands were adept at communicating high flying Brand Promises but relatively inept at delivering them. Brand Promises in 2010 will have to be realistic, experience led, sustainable and more easily comprehended by the customer. It will be the actual delivery of these Brand Promises that will influence the purchase decision of 2010.

Brand and Brand Promises Equation:
Decade 2000
Brand = Internal Stakeholder (Brand Custodians 2000) + high flying
Brand Promises = Purchase Decision 2000
Decade 2010
Brand = External Stakeholder (Customer 2010) + experience led,
Sustainable Brand Promises = Purchase Decision 2010

Customer interaction in the past decade was again largely a one-way street. Hotels offered Guests comment cards, one-to-one feedback meetings and often enrolled market research companies to gather information on how the customer felt about product offerings, services etc. Rarely, if at all, was this information shared with existing or prospective customers. In the coming decade, fueled by the emergence of consumer generated media and mobile technologies, the Customer 2010 will have the ability to drive the interaction/feedback process and more importantly share it with other existing and prospective customers. This technology led customer interaction/feedback will start taking a leading role in the purchase decisions. Hotels in the coming decade will be expected to anticipate, respond to and incorporate, when feasible, the customer view point. Customer interaction 2010 will, hence, be needed to be taken more seriously than ever before.

The Purchase decision, too, in the past decade was a unilateral process. Customers when looking for a hotel and its various product offerings/services were expected to ‘Seek and To Find’. Customers in the coming decade will want to ‘Find Before They Seek’. Customers would expect the information on product offerings/services to come to the customer and not vice versa. The purchase decision would itself be largely driven by the technology-led customer interaction/feedback, for example, when customer 2000 required any business services/ amenities, he/she would go to the business center. Customer 2010, however, will expect his/her need for business services/amenities to be pre-empted and provided within his/her room. A long-stay customer 2000 would need to ask the Chef if he could order anything off the menu as he was staying for long and had tired of the menu. Long-stay customer 2010 would expect a call from the Chef at check-in, inquiring what his/her meal preferences were.

In addition, to make things just a bit harder the new technology paradigm will make the customer decision even more fickle. This decade, the customer will make purchase decisions based on the entire experience offered, its perceived value and the consumer feedback it has received as against just the brand, brand promises and product offerings alone.

Customer 2010 will most definitely need to have considerable power in the marketing process of the coming decade. From brand strategy, brand promises, delivery of brand experience to the purchase decision itself, it will be the customer experience and his/ her influence on others that will ensure success of a marketing initiative. How then would marketers in the coming decade be successful with such limited control? The Marketer 2010 needs to ensure that customer brand experience delivers on each marketing communication it generates. Once ensured, this marketing communication needs to be disseminated as sequential communication across various media. This will not only strengthen brand recall but will also provide the customer with the confidence to make the purchase decision. Marketing 2010, therefore, will not be a one shot win all initiative. It will be a series of experience-led communications using a mix of marketing media that will encourage the purchase decision. The strong foundation of the marketing communication itself will take result in word of mouth/ or should I say word of Web 2.0 marketing to ensure marketing success!

Hospitality marketing in this decade will need to be many steps ahead. Moreover, consistent delivery of a superior and differentiated product experience that offers a greater perceived value will result in the acquisition and retention of customers of the coming decade. The need to consistently deliver on Brand promises will be further underlined by the ability of customers to reveal instantly online. Therefore, it is intrinsic for successful marketers of the coming decade to:
  • Deliver consistently on brand promises and customer experiences
  • Listen and interact regularly with customers to create, enhance, and maintain customer loyalty
  • Create a unique selling proposition for services that cater to customer preferences to build and retain brand loyalty
  • To create marketing communications that are based on product fact points and delivery of promised brand experiences
  • Use sequential communication across a mix of marketing media
  • Influence possible customers through existing customers. Word of mouth marketing, which has been redefined by the onset of the new wave of social media and Web 2.0 initiatives, should be harnessed to the maximum.
The author of this article is Mansi Bhatnagar, Director at HVS Marketing Communications

 
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