How To Differentiate A Small Hotel – Hotel Marketing Strategy

by Paul Simister on July 14, 2011

I thought I’d use a recent experience as a customer to write about hotel marketing strategy and in particular how to differentiate a small hotel or bed and breakfast establishment.

Hotel Marketing Strategy – General Thoughts Before I Get Specific

The 7 P’s of marketing are useful for thinking about your hotel marketing strategy with the marketing mix of product, price, place, promotion, people, physical environment and process but I generally prefer to work with the 4 M’s of marketing.

  • Market – who are the customers you want to attract to your hotel?
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  • Message – what is the special reason why they should visit you rather than anyone else?
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  • Media – how can you communicate your compelling message, your irresistible promise to your target market?
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  • Mindset – how can you make sure you have the right approach to your marketing so that it’s positive for guests and effective for you?

In my experience of marketing for many businesses, there’s too much attention on media and not enough on market, message and mindset.

Your marketing success for your hotel depends on my Six Step Profit Formula:

  1. Finding a starving crowd – if your hotel is in a location that no one wants to visit, you’re making things difficult from the start.
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  2. Having an irresistible promise – a strong message to market match
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  3. Getting as many relevant eyeballs on the offer – you want as much of your market to see your message repeatedly – people rarely make snap yes or no decisions but instead think “that’s looks nice”, then next time “that looks interesting” and then “I should find out more about that” in a gradual move to a buying decision. A weak message stops you climbing this ladder of customer commitment because it is dismissed immediately.
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  4. Delivering on your promise with a great customer experience.
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  5. Asking for the second and subsequent purchases – this may be adding dinner to bed & breakfast, staying a second night  or coming back in the future.
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  6. Encouraging the customer to refer your hotel or B&B to family and friends and to write a favourable comment on websites like TripAdvisor.

My Experience Looking For Hotels & B&B’s & The Impact Of Hotel Marketing Strategy

A couple of weeks ago I came back from a short break in North Wales – four nights at three small hotels or bed & breakfast (B&B) places.

That meant that I had to make three buying decisions about which places to stay at and as I was looking through the options, I was thinking about what I wanted and how the individual establishments market and differentiate themselves.

I believe many people are prepared to pay extra for something special – the boutique hotel concept – but if they don’t see it, the pressure comes onto the price of the rooms.

As always, it is interesting to look at these purchasing decisions in some detail and hopefully it will help hotel owners and managers to create better marketing strategies with more  differentiated and interesting options. It would also be great if you’re outside the hotel industry and you shared your own thoughts on hotel marketing and differentiation in the comments.

My Holiday In Wales – A Look Into My Hotel Buying Decision Process

This may seem long-winded but it’s a really important process for understanding how guests make decisions so look for clues about different segments and special interests.

Illness has limited our holidays recently and North Wales appealed because it’s quite local, there’s plenty of interesting things to do, it’s beautiful and it has special memories for us.

I knew I wanted to go to Abersoch on the Lleyn Peninsular for two nights. It’s small resort with two lovely beaches. I wasn’t too sure about the other places although I had good memories of Betws Y Coed, the gateway to Snowdonia and Beaumaris with its early 14th century castle.

I cheated to help narrow the choice I used Tripadvisor to look at Abersoch and looked at the top few hotels and B&Bs. Such sites show the growing power of social media and recommendations from people like me who want to have a nice stay.

Since I much prefer small to big places to stop and look for character and personal service, I don’t differentiate between a small hotel and B&B.

I went from Tripadvisor to the websites of the individual businesses and the choice was pretty clear – it had to be the Venetia which describes itself as a restaurant with boutique accommodation.

I used the websites to confirm my impression from the TripAdvisor reviews. As a general comment, I think hotel websites need to work harder to put over a feeling of uniqueness and differentiation. There is a tendency for glossy brochure style websites that on first impressions look good but leave little lasting impression. This is a weakness is hotel marketing strategy.

Venetia Abersoch

What appealed about the Venetia?

  • Rave reviews from Tripadvisor – 43 out of 46 were 5 stars.
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  • Convenient location – that’s particularly important to me at the moment because I get so tired with little physical exertion.
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  • Parking for everyone with a room
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  • High quality restaurant – again this was number 1 on TripAdvisor – it rains in North Wales so it is great to be able to have great food available very conveniently and while we planned to eat in one night and out the other, we enjoyed our meal so much the first night, we ate there again the second.
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  • It looked super stylish on the website, living up to the “boutique” image.

The only downsides were that

  • It was a bit pricey although cheaper than Portmeirion where we’ve stopped before and I thought about stopping this time. Now that place is truly differentiated and it’s super to walk around the famous village when all the “tourists” have gone home.
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  • They only had a room free for the middle two nights and that meant that we needed to find two other places to stay when I’d have preferred to split it two and two.

We booked at the Venetia about a month ahead and then left it for three weeks before deciding on the other accommodation.

Ty Gwyn – Betws Y Coed

The obvious thing for the first night was to break the journey and Betws Y Coed is an interesting place to be for a few hours to browse around the gift shops – the outside adventure places aren’t really us.

Interestingly the choice of the stylish boutique B&B of Venetia meant that I was looking for a different experience here.

TripAdvisor was again my starting point. It’s so much easier to get an independent view about places before I resort to the hotels own websites through Google because of the lack of distinction.

My choice this time was Ty Gwyn, a 17th century coaching inn with a good reputation for food.

So what appealed about Ty Gwyn?

  • It was number 1 in TripAdvisor for hotels and number 2 for restaurants. The weather forecast was predicting was predicting light rain so eating in was appealing.
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  • It was so different from Venetia
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  • It was surprisingly cheap – without the TripAdvisor reviews I may have been so suspicious I’d have ignored it as too cheap – but there is a lot of competition in the area.

Now that I’ve been I can report that the food was very good but the room was quite rightly the cheapest of the three places we stopped in and the service, whilst not bad, wasn’t up to the standard of the other two places.

Victoria Cottage – Beamaris

The final place we decided to visit was Beaumaris and to keep the variety high, I was tempted away from a restaurant with rooms and more towards a homely B&B. I knew Beaumaris was small and packed with great places to eat.

This time I chose Victoria Cottage, again after turning to TripAdvisor because it seemed so nice although again it was the number 1 rated B&B. This time we are stopping in somebody’s home but the welcome we received was particularly warm and friendly from both the two legged and four legged hosts.

Overall Thoughts On How To Differentiate A Small Hotel Or B&B – The Essential Element In Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Having thought carefully about the decisions I made – which of course had to be approved by the boss – there are some general characteristics or key success factors that are important and some things that provided the competitive edge.

Your hotel marketing strategy needs to focus on deciding the factors that make your hotel different from your competitors and then communicating these factors. You also need to have the team of people and processes to consistently deliver on your marketing promise.

Order Qualifiers For Hotels

General characteristics  or what I call order qualifiers

  • Places with character – this immediately ruled out anywhere big although interestingly in the holiday I’m now booking, I making the exception that proves the rule
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  • Location – I was looking for something convenient and quiet which can often be trade-offs
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  • Car parking on site or very near – travelling for 3 nights meant we had little luggage but that didn’t mean I wanted to carry it far.
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  • Good breakfast
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  • Good TripAdvisor reviews – it is coincidence I think that all three were rated number 1 in their location – but the social proof of having more good reviews than bad is important to me. Mind you some people do seem to whinge about the littlest things.

Order Winners For Hotels

The second category are what I call order winners.

  • Overwhelming positive reviews on TripAdvisor – there was so much evidence that I felt very lucky to get in at Venetia which only had five rooms. It’s the only time I’ve ever been asked “Are you the driver of the other Porsche?” sadly the answer was No.
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  • The history of Ty Gwyn.
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  • The friendliness and warmth welcome at Victoria Cottage and the little Westie. I knew we’d be missing our dog like crazy by the fourth night.

I was surprised how much I wanted a contrast between the places we stayed at. Thinking back, I think it helps to keep the memory of the holiday alive when the hotels and B&Bs don’t blend into each other.

Asking For The Second Purchase – The Next Essential Element Of Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Both Venetia and Ty Gwyn offered dinners with good reputations and both asked for commitment to eating in when I booked the room, emphasising that there were only a few tables available. Both were busy.

None of them made contact with me afterwards to check that I was happy, to ask for a TripAdvisor review or to ask if I was likely to go back or recommend to friends. This is a big opportunity lost for feedback and is a weakness in hotel marketing strategy.

Now that we’ve stayed at the hotels, the big question is “Would we repeat the experience?”

A big yes to Venetia in Abersoch, probably for Victoria Cottage in Beaumaris provided we can have the same room – it’s very nice to have a view of the sea and the castle through the same window – and probably not for Ty Gwyn although I wouldn’t have any hesitation about eating there again.

What made the difference?

First the personal greeting.

Both Victoria Cottage and Venetia knew our names before we arrived and used them when they were talking to us. It’s a little thing but it’s surprisingly effective and it does increase the connection.

Second, the rooms had more character and were a better size. Our room at Ty Gwyn was small, next to the bar and therefore a bit noisy. They also had lots of rules which were a bit off-putting.

Will we actually go back?

That’s partly up to the B&Bs and how they deal with follow-up marketing to their customers. They’ve got my email address but will they use it to give me a reason to go back and keep them top of the mind. We’ve stayed in all three towns before but I couldn’t tell you where we stopped and nothing looked familiar.

Your Hotel Marketing Strategy – Differentiating A Small Hotel Or B&B With The 7 Big Questions Of Business Success

The 7 big questions are what, who, how, when, where, why and how many and are designed to shift attention away from “how much is the price?”

Let’s see how they can be quickly applied to the hotel marketing strategy.

Differentiate Your Hotel By Where

Where is easy to understand (although to change). Where is the hotel in relation to the other main attractions in the resort? Is it close to the beach, the restaurants and bars, the shops and the major sights?

Where can also refer to the building itself and whether there is anything special about its history or design. I mentioned Portmeirion earlier which is a remarkable architectural treat.

Differentiate Your Hotel By What

What is the basic offer – what are customers getting for their money? What’s in the room to make it special? The breakfast? The general rooms of the hotel and the grounds? What else is on offer from the hotel apart from the basic B&B?

Differentiate Your Hotel by Who

Who can refer to three different groups – the customers, the staff and the owner.

Is the hotel designed to meet the special needs of a particular group of people? Romantic couples, families, business people can all have particular needs – the large four poster bed, the children’s playground or even crèche or Internet access in every room and meeting rooms for private conversations.

The who of your customers can move from the general to the specific. The Goring Hotel became famous around the world when Kate Middleton stayed there the night before her wedding to Prince William. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a hotel – or even the suite – fit for a future Queen? As a guest, I know it gives me a warm glow to think that I’ve stayed in the same place as someone famous.

Who can refer to the staff, either in particular or in general. Perhaps the chef has a great reputation or the barman can create just about any cocktail ever created. Or perhaps everyone in the hotel is really friendly and caring. I know everyone claims it but one of the reasons why I love certain cruise companies is because of the Filipino staff who are so lovely.

Who can also be the owner who may be a celebrity or character who creates preference for some buyers – and may drive others away. Perhaps not a Basil Fawlty…

Differentiate Your Hotel By Why

Why refers to why the hotel or B&B exists. Sure you want to make money but perhaps there’s a bigger purpose which explains the type of guests you target or you may link some some charity or cause. Perhaps your hotel has been designed to create a tiny carbon footprint and everything about it is very environmentally friendly.

Differentiate Your Hotel By When

When offers limited scope for a hotel since the opening hours and service hours are fairly standard. There are exceptions which would turn off the mainstream but perhaps it’s party central and with guests dancing to the small hours of the morning, a full cooked breakfast served until noon would be much better than stopping at 9:30.

When could refer to the age of the building and give it a sense of history and authenticity.

Differentiate Your Hotel By How

How might be about the special ways you do things that others take for granted. Perhaps you make your own bread and milk your own cows… and guests can join in if they want. When I was young, I used to love staying at farmhouses rather than in hotels because I could have contact with the farm animals.

Differentiate Your Hotel By How Many

The final big question to use when differentiating your hotel is how many. For families, how many in a room could be important or the ability to have connecting rooms. It may be an eat as much as you want breakfast with a buffet rather than the one rasher of bacon and one sausage that others offer. Or drink as much as you want with the dinner.

Don’t Have  A Lazy Hotel Marketing Strategy

There are plenty of options to find ways to differentiate a small hotel or B&B if you think carefully about the type of customers you want to attract and what they want to have close to the perfect customer experience.

The Importance Of TripAdvisor In Differentiating Your Business

I can understand why people in the industry hate TripAdvisor but as a consumer I love it and so do many others.

First, it does much of the buying decision for me. By ranking the hotels and B&Bs I know that I can start my selection process by looking at the top few with vacancies in my date range. It makes the buying process easy.

Second, I’m escaping from the marketing speak which I see on hotels’ websites which has a nasty habit of making them sound the same (see Marketing & Advertising Bingo) and I believe most of the reviews are from real people who have stayed at the hotel or B&B. Sure I know that TripAdvisor can be abused with biased reviews but often the sheer weight of numbers creates a lot of conviction.

Third, I get more idea of what makes a place special because certain themes keep reoccurring in the review comments. If you read “fantastic breakfast”, “amazing breakfast”, “best breakfast I’ve ever had”, “breakfast including delicious home made Danish pastries as well as an excellent cooked meal” I come away with the strong impression that breakfast is going to be a treat. And that’s important to me.

Using TripAdvisor In Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Since TripAdvisor is so important to marketing and differentiating your hotel, how can you use it to your best advantage?

You may not like it but it exists and it’s in the top 250 most popular websites in the world and getting more popular according to Alexa.

 

TripAdvisor esential role in hotel marketing strategy & differentiation

Growth of TripAdvisor

First, you have to start off by designing a customer experience which is remarkable so that people are excited about the very idea of it.

Second, you must deliver consistently on your promised experience… and perhaps even exceed expectations although that can sometimes be tough and creates a battle you’ll eventually lose because it’s not essential – see Airlines Suck But We Still Fly. In this age of social media people love to share something exceptional.

Third, check that people had a good time and that your guests enjoyed their stay. If they didn’t a) apologise and b) try to find some way to make amends. If they did, then mention that you’d love to read their feedback on TripAdvisor. Don’t push it but if people have had a good time, they will make a commitment and follow through.

Don’t be tempted to cheat by organising fake reviews or knocking the competition. If I feel the marketing promise has been broken, I am much more likely to write a negative review and I’m sure other guests feel the same.

Your Hotel Marketing Strategy & Differentiation Can Be Shallow Or Deep

This is an important concept because some see differentiating and finding your USP (unique selling proposition) as a marketing / promotional issue.

I think it’s much more important than that. Unless you’re very lucky and there is something remarkable about your location or building, then your hotel differentiation strategy needs to run through everything you do.

It’s the difference between having your hotel differentiation shallow or deep.

Shallow differentiation is based on a marketing promise that sounds good and different and creates buyer preference but…

and it’s a BIG but…

it’s not backed up by the underlying business. While guests may be attracted to the hotel, it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay happy while they are they. As an example, think of how an estate agent speak puts a positive spin on just about anything but reality is often different.

Advice On Differentiating Your Hotel Or B&B

If you’re based in the UK and you have a hotel, guest house or B&B or you’re planning to start one, I’d love to help you to differentiate your business and develop your hotel marketing strategy. Give me a call on 0121 554 4057.

It can be difficult to recognise what makes your business special because you take so much for granted and you may miss the WOW factor.

What Makes A Small Hotel Or B&B Special To You?

It would be great if you could share your thoughts on what differentiates small hotels and B&Bs and what makes a place look special before booking and after you’ve stayed by leaving a comment.

A few years ago we stopped at the lovely Croft Cottage in Ludlow because they had a badger set in a small woods in their grounds (an example of differentiation by what) and neither of us had ever seen a live badger. Since we go on safaris to southern Africa, we wanted to see British wildlife.

Paul Simister is a business coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, by being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace…. in other words, by building a business to be proud of.

You too can move past your profit tipping point (free report) by answering the seven big questions of business success (mp3)

{ 7 comments }

Paul Simister July 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Review sites like TripAdvisor are powerful differentiators but abuse of the system with fake reviews is a problem for both competing hotel owners and gusts.

Cornell University researchers have developed software that they say can detect fake reviews
It may not be perfect – and it may even make the reviewer spammers get better – but it is an interesting idea and has tips on how to spot the fakes.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20083200-1/cornell-software-fingers-fake-online-reviews/

John Walker August 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

Hi Paul,

A nice article that I found thought provoking, realistic and helpful.

Paul Simister August 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Thank you John. It’s always nice to get positive feedback.
Hotels are an interest of mine but I often feel there is much more that could be done.
What I hadn’t thought about before – because it doesn’t apply to many businesses – is the need for variety and differentiation in my own purchases. Certain things attract me to hotels and B&Bs but i didn’t want to move from one clone to another.

Joanne August 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm

We try to get away a couple of times a year for a weekend without the children. Like you, we prefer small, privately run hotels.

The things we look for are:
lovely setting with views
some history or character in the hotel building
luxury room – four poster beds are nice
reputation for good food because it’s nice to eat in and share a bottle of wine

There’s quite a lot of things I take for granted in a hotel which can cause problems if they are not up to standard.

Paul Simister August 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

Joanne thanks for your comment. It’s exactly what I was hoping for.

Hotel marketing is something that I am interested in – as an eager consumer and consultant/coach. I found this article from one of my favourite Internet marketing experts, Shama Kabani

How To Market A Resort Or Vacation Destination Online
http://www.marketingzen.com/how-to-market-a-resort-or-vacation-destination-online/

Roger August 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Hi Paul, I very much enjoy the way you translate what can be rather academic concepts into lessons based on your personal experience, which its easy to understand, even though some of your readers preferences may be a little different.

While I love the type of hotel you enjoy, I also very much appreciate the Premier Inn approach, which gives you a safe comfortable option at a reasonable price. A bit like McDonalds I guess; I’d never set out to go to one but will happily use it to do a job when I’m hungry, and especially if I have hungry children with me!

Paul Simister August 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for your comment Roger. You effectively explain why differentiation works by catering for the different needs and desires of people.

It’s easy to think that people want different things from each other.
It’s sometimes harder to spot that one person will want different things in different situations.

While a Premier Inn isn’t my favourite type of accommodation, it has worked well in the past when I’m on business, away on my own and want something close, easy and without fuss.

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