Burn your marketing plan — then build a new one

As an industry consultant, the marketing planning process for hospitality never ceases to amaze me. For our hotel and resort properties, the discourse generally starts around late July. With great gusto, the GM calls a meeting with the director of marketing and other planning committee luminaries to talk about the great initiatives for the upcoming year, most likely entailing a determination to increase average rate and a desire for continued growth in occupancy.

The next step, more or less, involves the director of marketing spending every working hour for the next two to three months writing a thesis-length document. During this period, any semblance of real business growth is thwarted, as all efforts are always fixated on the next fiscal year. Does this sound familiar?

If you gave an affirmative to that, then ponder these questions. After the marketing plan presentation is completed, how many times is it subsequently referred to by managers? And, where does this tome reside — on the desk of the DofM and the GM for immediate reference, or on a bookshelf, neatly displayed with the previous year’s incarnations, like some sort of collector series?

If this made you laugh, then read on. My experience indicates that the last time a marketing plan is seriously referenced is the budget meeting. This being the case, that’s a lot of forest being turned to pulp for nothing, let alone the hundreds of hours consumed in its development by the DofM.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as the electronic revolution has overthrown virtually every other aspect of hotel management, it is now time to revamp the marketing planning process.

A new type of marketing plan

When I was starting my marketing career, my first employer was Procter & Gamble. This marquee firm had precise rules for their marketing plans that should serve as prime examples for the hospitality industry. Fundamental to the doctrine is brevity: If you can’t say it within a few pages, it is probably not worth saying.

While with P&G, I wrote half a dozen of these plans. For many of them, the revenue and expenditures would easily exceed that of a 5,000-room property. And yet, the marketing plan was never more than four or five pages in length. Cut to the chase, as they would say.

Writing such a concise document is painstaking, but has great merit. The final plan might actually be useful to all stakeholders. It’s hard to find time to read a 100-page document, so a five-page summary ensures all managers have read it and can offer feedback. Moreover, since the plan is now stripped to only its most essential components, it will adhere to what’s needed to deliver the core objectives.

There is some skill required in writing such a condensed document. The key to success is using a formal structure. Here is what an outline for an independent property might look like. Remember, the focus is on brevity:

  • The Marketplace: General factors and competitors
  • Your Product: A true assessment of the property and what it offers guests
  • Research and Reports: Where you stand in terms of ratings and any recent research studies
  • Rooms and Revenue Forecast: The usual details
  • Channel Strategy: OTAs, web, traditional agents, preferred clients, etc.
  • Pricing and Promotions Strategy: Goals — not just plans
  • Sales Strategy: Your sales program must be fully integrated into all marketing activities and goals
  • Communications Strategy: What you hope to achieve through both traditional and electronic means
  • Tactical Execution: Specific details of your advertising, local community activities, social media programs, promotions, SEO/paid search/links, direct response, website and collateral plans

I probably have missed a few things in this list, but you can get a sense of the general idea. The focus is to provide a solid road map with a concentration on the strategies rather than specific and minute details. Why? As every good GM or DofM knows, tactics change often, but strategies last for a while. So, save your resources by keeping the marketing plan short and sweet. And while you’re at it, you’ll be saving paper, too!