What is marketing? According to consultant Pamela Carvell, marketing can mean just about everything you do to present your business to the world, from the sign outside and the colours on the walls to branding and future expansions. "They all have to be part of your overall approach," she says. "On the simplest level, there is nothing worse than if you want to create a casual atmosphere and you get waitresses dressed in black and white."
With that in mind, it is very easy to give your operation impact. Perhaps the simplest part of marketing is the planning: think carefully about your target market, the demand, and how you structure your prices. A clear view here will immediately get results.
But, as Carvell explains, the best planning in the world is useless unless people get to see it. The problem is that most people don't have marketing skills. They worry that bringing in a pro will cost too much or that that person won't understand what the business is trying to do. But word of mouth takes time, and for every business for which word of mouth alone works, there are hundreds that fail.
"The largest budget now spent by hotels is the pre-opening budget," Carvell says. "And that budget will be the same as those for the next five years. You must go all-out, guns blazing. Then people talk. If they walk in and it's empty, they won't come back."
Don't worry if your budget isn't of Hilton International proportions, though - this part doesn't have to be expensive. In terms of getting help, the Government's Business Link organisation and other small business enterprise schemes (see Caterer, 7 October, page 37) can offer marketing advice very cheaply and will often subsidise consultants. Get in touch with Business Link by phone or via the website (see Contacts), and also have a look at Carvell's and Rupert Kenyon's tips (see panels).
With small businesses, it's really about putting your own ideas forward. Kenyon, marketing director for Alias Hotels, says that one of the best examples of marketing he knows is Starbucks in its early years. "They built a relationship with their customers by making them engaged by the operation," he says. "They got so busy because people loved the baristas. That's what every small business should learn: marketing is about giving customers what they want, but also more than what they want. Over-deliver."
Showing customers that your business comes from the heart is, therefore, as important as any level of hype or hysteria. To the jaded public - and, we might add, overworked journalists - marketing can often seem like a lot of froth and not much substance. The trick, says Kenyon, is to cleverly add the froth so it backs up the main drive of your operation.
"Innocent did it with smoothies," he says, "adding fun to the essential message of unadulterated health. But getting a celebrity chef in for one night is nothing. Question it. Step back and ask yourself, ‘Would I get excited about this?' If the answer is yes, then you are on to a winner."
Carvell adds, though, that you do need to reinvent yourself. "The life cycle of products gets shorter and shorter all the time," she explains. "Even the biggest brands, like Nike, have to do something new every year. People want the comfort of what they know, but they also want something new. So keep an open mind and don't ever stop planning."
Rupert Kenyon's top tips - For an entrepreneur, research is key. Get that right, then don't deviate from your plan. Don't be tempted to try new things every week. It takes time to build a reputation. Alias understands that it is a midmarket hotel brand. It knows that some people don't like it, but it also means that other people will love it. However, don't be egotistical about it.
Just because one thing works in one location, think very carefully about how successfully it will transfer to somewhere else.
Some people say that you can have individuals driving a business, but I disagree. The character of the business should be greater than that of any individual.
Measuring return on spending is important, and here the internet is fascinating. It should be used as a tool for two-way communication. If you look at its website, ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's is very good at building information for databases from feedback. Don't underestimate the power of data collection. Talk to your guest base (see page 38 for more advice on the internet).
Work with like-minded business friends. We did an Alias hotel in Exeter and teamed up with an extreme sports company. We had similar ideas but weren't competitors, and it caused quite a stir. In the Outer Hebrides I found a speciality food trail made up of 14 small businesses such as smokeries and fish restaurants. The power of all 14 together, through co-operation, became a much bigger attraction than each on its own. Everybody loves small businesses. They are good fun. People enjoy them.
Be clear what your budgets are. For a new business, it is scary to spend more, but it will pay dividends. What tiny marketing budget you have should probably go towards flyers or a brochure rather than advertising. Run a sample by potential customers and friends first, and don't sign it off until their eyes really light up.
It needs to be a lot more than just a brochure. Shut yourself away and have a glass of wine before you write it. Really think about it. Much of it will be image-led, so make sure the photographer gives you something that reflects the business, not just something that looks good in his or her portfolio. Don't be afraid to say, "No, I'm not satisfied."
- Everybody in your business is part of your sales team, so they should know about targets. If they are part of a new business, they should tell everyone they know about it. They need to know that if they don't sell, say, 400 cups of coffee per day, then the new business they are part of will fail. And involve them in the marketing. Create a simple message with lots of attitude behind it. Make sure the staff love giving off that message - are living it, and leading it.
Pamela Carvell's top tips - Know your target market. You can't appeal to everyone - most small businesses will fail if they try to do so. Always think of your target market and who you want to attract.
Check the demand in the area in relation to your target market and pricing. Check out the competition (remember that the cost of any meals you eat in the course of research can be set against tax). You don't want to copy them, but if they seem good to you yet they have no customers, there is something you can learn. Also, bounce things off family and friends who would be in your target market, such as draft menus and prices. Such research is free, but you need them to be brutally frank.
The name and logo of your business can be a big mistake. A simple straw poll among your friends, or the sorts of people you want to attract, can save your blushes.
Don't ignore ideas such as the psychology of colour. Some colours suppress appetite, shades of blue for example; others, such as red, stimulate it. Why do all the old-fashioned steak houses have red walls? Go and look at what the big chains are doing, because they have spent plenty of money finding out what works.
You can network on a local level. Join the local chamber of commerce, or the HCIMA. If you meet 100 people, they are 100 potential clients. Also, support things locally. If you give schools a free meal for two, all the parents will want to check you out. Think about how many people it will let you reach.
With F&B operations you can have seasonal events and come up with marketing calendars based around food and drink. Introduce variety within the consistency. You will get customer wastage, so you have to find new ones. As a small business, you can afford to be a little more quirky. Make people smile.
Pamela Carvell, Pampas Training and Marketing 01628 488335
Rupert Kenyon, marketing director, Alias Hotels 0117 957 6800
Business Link 0845 600 9006
Business Connect Wales 0845 796 9798
Small Business Gateway Scotland
0845 609 6611
Invest Northern Ireland 028 9023 9090