My Interview With Proven.com

We recently had the opportunity to interview Jeffrey and have him answer some common marketing questions related to the hospitality industry.  Let’s go!

Is Twitter really the king of all social media platforms in helping you market your business?

NO! The king of social media platforms is the dining room table for restaurants and the lobby for hotels. Restaurants and hotels are social businesses. They are the original social businesses. No guest comes to your restaurant just for your food or goes to your hotel just to put their head in your bed. It’s a day in their lives! Either it’s their first date, their last date, meeting new friends or starting a new job. People are always celebrating something in a day of their life. If you don’t add value to that celebration, then you’re not going to be a part of their lives anymore.

 If you’re talking about the big three social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, there really isn’t one king.

 What is king? King is what gets your message out. It’s the platform where most of your guests are talking about you in a positive manner. The best social media platform varies from business to business. For one restaurant, it might be Twitter. Another restaurant might find success with Facebook. It all depends! You have to know where your guests are coming from, where your target market is, who your most loyal customers are and where your customer’s EYEBALLS are. If all of your customer’s eyeballs are on a particular platform, then that’s where you need to be. Remember that the best social media platform is the dining room or the lobby. That’s where it all happens, the face to face!

What are some mediocre and vague reviews you often see some restaurants or hotels use on their customer feedback page? What reviews should they post? What makes a good review?

Everything is pretty much vague and mediocre. “I had a really good time last night, you had really great food…..” Ask yourself, is good the goal? That’s always my first question, when I am helping out a restaurant or hotel. Is just “good enough” the goal? If it was, then you’ve succeeded, but you have also succeeded in being very mediocre. People want better value, more excitement, more entertainment, more drama, and MORE MORE MORE!

I often read the same reviews, but from different people.  How are reviews like these going to spark my interest? Reviews are about marketing, just as much as anything else. People forget this! Reviews need to be unique, meaningful and speaking directly to an individual.

Your restaurant has good food….SO WHAT! We got reviews. SO WHAT! I’ve got food. SO WHAT! I’ve got a bed. SO WHAT! A review needs to be different and meaningful. A review must speak to a person and to what he or she is trying to do in life. Like I said earlier, it’s a day in their life.

Whether it’s a business trip, a personal trip or some sort of event that is happening in their life that day, a review needs to speak to that. You need to find those people who are extremely excited about being at your business. Understand their reasoning and use that to drive more word of mouth. A review is word of mouth!

Should you avoid constantly pushing information about your restaurant and your promotions on your social media sites?

Imagine going to a dinner party and having everyone there talk about themselves. How long are you going to stay? Not long! Your business is about hospitality, not Walmart’s business or JC Penney’s business.

Remember, you’re in the hospitality business. The hospitality business is all about listening to your customers and their lives, for the dual purpose of entertaining and taking care of their needs. At the same time you should be learning new information about their lives so that you can provide more hospitality.

What’s going on in the lives of your guests? That’s what you need to be talking about. What’s valuable to them? Is it valuable that you have a new seasonal menu out and have pumpkin spice on the menu? No! It gets old after a while, when everyone is talking about the exact same thing. If businesses are talking about the same stuff, then no one is talking.

How should social media platforms be used for marketing?

I don’t think they should be used for marketing! Social media isn’t about marketing, social media is about social. You should be using social media to talk to your customers.

It’s an extension of our business as hospitality providers. It’s not about the transaction, it’s’ about the relationship. Who care about your prices? Who cares? Who cares about anything else other than what brings value to their life at that moment which they are interacting with you? That’s what is important. That’s the benefit of social media. You cannot have these conversations while you’re interrupting guests at the table or when they’re sleeping at your hotel.

I know many say community market events are great ways to get your restaurant name out there. In one of your articles, you say restaurants should avoid community marketing events. What is wrong with community marketing events?

It’s a cattle call! It’s not even a real event, it’s a fake event. Somebody who probably needs money comes into a town and partners with the city chamber or local restaurant association to put on these events. They make money out of these events, and that’s their whole purpose. Their purpose isn’t to amplify the great food culture in your neighborhood. They may sell it that way to you and the public, but that is not their intention. You’re paying these people, who set up these events, to just be another listing in your local yellow pages. If you want to make an impact on your community, you have to stand out. You cannot stand out if there are 50 other people surrounding you.

People don’t have time for you at these events, nor you have time at these events to convey what you do differently. After 4 decades of working in the hospitality industry, I’ve learned you cannot be another cow in the herd. You get ignored and forgotten just as fast as you were able to greet someone to your booth. Those who do sample what you have to offer aren’t actually sampling the experience you have to offer. Your booth at a community marketing event is just a diluted experience of what your restaurant really offers. You’re only making a smaller version that has no reality for them.

Lots of people are going to say that giving a taste of what you have to offer will entice them to come to your restaurant at a later date. However, your competitors are trying to entice the same people at the exact same time too. If your enticement isn’t any better than the guy next to you, then you’re going to lose. Instead of going to community marketing events, why don’t you put on an event at your actual restaurant. Make it all about your restaurant. This way, your guests are able to experience everything.

Why do you think restaurants should eliminate discounts?

I don’t think they should, I know they should! You’re not in the business to just give stuff away. You’re in the business of delivering value and receiving the appropriate compensation. Why would I want to create discounts? Discounts make you a commodity because it makes the conversation all about price.

Sure, there are people out there that are only interested in price. If that’s the type of business you want to run, then do it. That’s a commodity business, where there is always someone with a lower price and the ability to produce cheaper. Look at McDonalds, their competition beat them with quality and not price. Panera Bread and Chipotle are kicking the crap out of McDonalds. McDonald’s is stuck to their cheap menu and cheap food thinking. People can no longer separate the word cheap from McDonald’s.

Should restaurants avoid cost leadership strategies and opt for a differentiation strategy?

Absolutely! Go for a value strategy! What is valuable to your customers? Does Apple discount? No! Do they deliver the most value of any company? Certainly! And do they advertise much? No! Here is the most successful company on the planet. So, why would you not emulate what they think about marketing and what they think about delivering that value? You can extrapolate a lot from just looking around.

People don’t want discounts, people want value. The problem is that nobody is delivering value or a level of value that is high enough to want them to leave the discount and choose your restaurant

A lot of businesses tend to focus on increasing the number of new guests to their establishment, rather than increasing the number of revisits from previous guests. Is there anything wrong with this?

I don’t think anything is wrong with this focus, it just depends on the business. The word that restaurant and hotel operators need to understand is “context”. If I am a new business opening next week, what do I need to focus on? New Guests! If I am a business that has been around for 5 years, what do I need to focus on? Repeat business!

Ask yourself, where do you fall in the lifecycle of your business? Do you need more new guests because you don’t have enough? Do you have enough established guests, but you just need to get them back in the door?

It all depends on the context of your business. It drives me crazy that restaurant or hotel operators will do something because their competitor is doing it. Doing exactly what your competitor is doing won’t necessarily work for your business. My philosophy is that you have no competition! The only competition you have is the experience you provided to the last guest. You are your own competition! You must be better than the last experience you delivered, not the guy across the street.

If I opened a restaurant tomorrow and I had zero marketing experience or knowledge, where do you think I should start?

If you’re going to open tomorrow and you have no marketing knowledge or experience, you are in TROUBLE! You’re behind the eight ball! You should have been marketing your restaurant 6 months before it opened. If you only start marketing now, the grand opening of your restaurant will have a poor turnout. Neglecting to market prior to opening has killed most independent restaurants.

Mom and Pop have retired! You cannot get by on zero marketing knowledge or experience today. You may have gotten success 20 years ago by being the good guy everyone knew in your community. This is not the case anymore, business is more complex these days. You must have an understanding of the function your marketing does for your business. If you don’t, hire someone who does. There is a reason why most restaurants fail in their first 3 years. It’s not because they’re undercapitalized. It’s because operators didn’t know enough.

Most are experts in something. Someone who knows a lot about food might not be an expert in marketing, finance or lease negotiations. It’s critical to know all business aspects when first opening your restaurant.

Do not set a budget! A budget is a nail in your coffin, because it limits you in what you need to do or ought to do. You should spend as many dollars it takes to accomplish any business goals you have. That’s your budget! I don’t like rules of thumb, because every business has different goals. What does it take to accomplish the goals for your business? That’s what you need to do, and not one dollar more.

What are the ingredients to successful marketing?

The only thing we haven’t covered is great people. You must have great people, including your staff and guests. If you have bad staff or bad guests, you aren’t going to create any success.

Maybe you have the wrong set of staff or guests. This all goes back to your business goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Look at your staff. Do you have the right people to accomplish those goals? The answer will be a clear yes or no.

What are common marketing mistakes you see restaurants or hotels do?

Most of the marketing I see is either wrong or ineffective. More operators are more interested in social media than understanding the real value that they deliver. One of the questions I’ll ask an operator is what do you do and why do you do it? Most people cannot effectively answer this question.

You need to understand why a guest wants to be at your business. Most operators cannot define this. If you don’t know why you are in business then you are in trouble! All the best discounts or promotions in the world won’t do you any good if your message is unclear. Why are your customers coming in? Discounts? Low Prices? Great service? Keep your message simple and powerful for your audience.

Jeffrey Summers
For four decades, my coaching, consulting, public speaking, workshops, management team retreats and articles have helped hundreds of hospitality leaders worldwide, build successful Hospitality businesses. The Summers Hospitality Group is a global full-service hospitality consulting firm best known for its unique results-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on their organizations.