Friday, December 19, 2008

Three thoughts at the Circus

Herb Stein was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Ford administration.

Ford didn't want to get everybody all worked up about problems with the economy, so he told Stein not to use the word "recession" to describe a recession. So "from now on," said Stein, "I'll say 'banana.' When I say banana, think 'recession'."

I'm going to go with "Circus". From now on, when I say Circus (or "The Circus" ), think "recession". Unless I really am talking about a circus in which case I hope you'll know the difference without any hints from me.

In any case, we think people are looking for help these days. What to do? How to do it? Most of us have never had to deal with a Circus quite like this one before. So here are three thoughts Karen and I had over beignets and cafe au lait at the Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar :

Do Something

"Everybody talks about the weather," said Mark Twain, "but nobody does anything about it." The same can be said about business during The Circus.

We hear a lot about how the economy has impacted business, but there is an awful lot of "ride it out" thinking out there. That's a mistake. I'm not saying advertising and its cousins are the complete answer, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to get a fair share or more-than-fair share of the smaller pie of business, you have to communicate with your customers. You have to give them a reason to do business with you, to spend the money with you instead of somebody else, or a reason to spend the money at all. Whether you're selling window treatments, hotel rooms or beignets, your prospects need some encouragement.

Pulling the covers up over your head and planning to stay in bed until it's all over is a bad idea. Re-allocate the budget, cut somewhere else, but don't stop selling yourself.

Do Something Now

It's odd. One might think that with a Circus at damn near full swing around us there'd be some urgency about. Instead, it seems like people are taking longer and longer to decide what to do. Thinking about it. Meeting about it. Stewing about it. Meanwhile the world keeps turning and the trapeze act is overhead.

Years ago, when I was an annoying client, I wrote a headline that said "Tomorrow may be too late for the right answer." Whether it was a good headline or not is beside the point right now. What is relevant is the message. If you don't make a decision, as often as not, a decision will be made for you.

"We're putting our whole budget in the web"

We've heard a lot of that over the past couple of years.

And now that businesses -- especially hospitality, where we heard so much of it -- need to differentiate themselves and promote their brand to hold onto or capture reduced dollars in the market, SEO and PPC simply can't do the whole job. Nobody looking at a Google listing can know anything about your brand or why your hotel or product or service is better than the next guy's. Or why they ought to pay a premium for your hotel room or your remodeling service.

For example, Karen heard a number of resort properties yesterday talking about the "AIG effect" and how the perception of high times at a "resort" was politically incorrect and was hurting the groups business at their properties.

Several years ago, we tried to get a hotel client to brand their meetings, not the location where meetings were held. We wanted them to really go to the trouble to work out what makes a business meeting -- a business tool -- a good meeting and a cost-effective business expense. And focus on the ROI of having a meeting there.

No sell. They are currently spending their budget dollars with a web marketing firm -- one of many in the hospitality arena who promise lots of web hits (I'm not sure where they stand on actual conversions).

I thought then, and I think now, that if they'd focused on the ROI of a meeting expense and branded their meeting and understood that that was what they were selling (as opposed to rooms and beds and golf and dining) they'd be in a bit more of a Circus-proof position than they are now. And the AIG effect probably wouldn't be much of a factor.

Seems to me that a smart resort could still use that approach.

Tell me how a paid or organic search can do that all by itself.

Karen tells me she thinks this post needs some sort of summary, so here it is:

Do something.

Do something now.

Told you so.

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