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Avoid These Hospitality Industry Marketing Fails

by Michael S. Julianelle, Staples® Contributing Writer

The hospitality industry is no place for the timid. The competition has always been fierce, and the advent of Priceline, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Hotwire and every other “best rate guaranteed” website has made it even harder for a property to stand out and get consumers’ attention. As a small inn owner or proprietor of a cute boutique hotel, you have to be creative to attract a crowd. Occasionally, a hotel gets a little too creative for its own good.

We reached out to some industry professionals to get the funniest, most unfortunate hospitality fails they’ve been a part of, and then asked them to offer tips so you can avoid similar embarrassments in the future.

The Cost of Going Viral

The Madison, WI, hotel where Craig Fortner used to work “offered 3,000 hotel points for anyone who liked or commented on our new Facebook page.” The 15-year hospitality industry veteran recalls that it seemed like a low stakes promotion. “[Points] are relatively cheap for the hotel to give away — the 3,000 points cost the hotel around $80,” he says. So rewarding a small number of patrons for liking the page would be a relatively low-cost way to expand the establishment’s reach to followers’ friends. Or so they thought.

“The promotion was going great. People who stayed with us would comment on the feed and [online] engagement was up. Then one day…the promotion had been shared by one person and went somewhat viral — the hotel was on the hook for about $20,000 in points. The person who was in charge of the promotion thought she was going to get fired.”

Lesson Learned: Yes, you have to spend money to make money, but that $20K would have been better spent hiring a social media expert to design a strategic campaign that makes more than enough to cover her fee while attracting guests to your venue. For instance, at The Bertram Inn at Glenmoor in Canton, OH, guests can get a free appetizer in exchange for a Facebook like while staying at the property. This low-cost, low-risk promotion encourages social media engagement within clear parameters.

An Embarrassing Error

Wes Rowe, the Catering Sales Manager at The Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill, NC, recalls an amusing incident at a property he was visiting as a guest.

“I was at a very upscale venue in South Carolina and the plumbing was causing some issues,” he says delicately. “There was a sign on the men’s restroom that was written in a stylish font and placed in a very chic frame. I believe the sign was supposed to read, ‘Please excuse us, but the men’s restroom is currently out of order. Sorry for the inconvenience.’ However, the sign actually read, ‘Please excuse us, but the men’s restroom is currently out of order. Sorry for the incontinence.’” Though funny, the error showed a lack of attention to detail that didn’t reflect so well on the brand or management.

Lesson Learned: While not an ad or social media (thank goodness), banners and custom signs are important parts of your marketing mix. And miscues make an impression. For Rowe, the sign taught him a lasting lesson that he’s taken with him to his role at The Franklin: proofread diligently. “Every little detail counts when you’re marketing a venue, hotel or any other location that people love to frequent for leisure.”

3 Tips for Avoiding Marketing Hospitality Fails

These are just two marketing fails, and we’re sure there are legions more out there. To keep from adding your property to the list, remember to:

1. Do Your Homework: If you can’t afford to hire a professional, then at least invest in an hour of two of expert time to find out what mistakes you should avoid. Online resources, like MarketingProfs, provide free tips and advice for free, as well as access to additional resources for a small fee.

2. Seek Professional Help: When you’ve got a marketing budget, hire a small creative agency to develop a strategic and cost-effective campaign to help you meet your business goals. You’re great at running a hotel — enlist the help of an expert for your marketing.

3. Sweat the Small Stuff: Consider all the possible mishaps that could beset your marketing plans so you have a chance to avoid them. Inadvertently offensive photos, unreadable fancy fonts or colors, and unfortunate spelling and usage errors leave a bad impression you can’t afford. Engage someone outside your business (the Design Services team at your local Staples® Copy & Print center is always a good option) to bring a critical eye to your materials and to read everything before approving a print run or hitting send.

There are countless ways to get your marketing wrong when you’re vying for customers’ attention. Use these tips and you’ll be a lot closer to getting it right without any expensive help from William Shatner or that silly gnome.

Michael S. Julianelle is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and young son. He runs the anti-parenting parenting blog Dad and Buried.

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