David Elton, director of the Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels and one of the co-founders of the Pig hotel concept, has warned that brands can no longer afford to be just labels.
Making the keynote speech at The Caterer
Elton added: "They [customers] accept that we are a brand, but don't want to lose the personal relationship."
This, in turn, feeds into the marketing strategy. Home Grown Hotels, which is headed by Robin Hutson, will open its fifth Pig in Honiton, Devon, on 9 July, and received more than 1,000 room nights within 24 hours of unveiling its website. Pig hotels, an upscale, relaxed take on the country house hotel, on average have 32 bedrooms and an average of 88% occupancy a year. Yet, according to Elton, this success is despite a minimal sales and marketing budget.
"It's about a direct personal relationship with the customer. It is crucial to make sure your brand dovetails with your guests' lifestyles."
He explained that guests had become brand ambassadors through their use of social media, including tweets, retweets and Instagram, which all help to do the marketing on the company's behalf.
"We value their reaffirmations and their feedback and we've made changes as a result in how we communicate. We don't have to pay a consultant so it saves time, money and we are proactive."
He also stressed the importance of making emails and communications relevant and regular. "Our customers don't want too much communication unless it is relevant. We never send more than one a month and get a good conversion and opening rate."
The company has built its own booking system and uses website analytics, improving e-comm conversion and facilitating a quicker response time.
"We are besotted with data. It's something you can't ignore. We don't have a raft of middle management so it is the bedrock of our business," said Elton.
Other initiatives include working with similar brands to boost PR, and remarketing.
"We remarked to unconverted visitors to our site, enabling huge up-selling," he said.
Among the other speakers at the forum were founder and co-owner of the Seafood Restaurant, Jill Stein, Daniel Pedreschi, general manager of the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, and Robin Gill, Good Food Guide Chef of the Year and owners of the Dairy and the Manor in Clapham. A full report will appear later this month.
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