10 Big Marketing Lessons

I was recently asked to speak to a group of hospitality marketing students at The Ohio State University. The idea was to share what I’ve learned about marketing sparkspace for the past thirteen years.

You know how you get so used to doing something you don’t really think about it any more? That’s how I felt about this presentation. I found myself thinking “What do I know about marketing?” Until I thought about it some more and realized I’ve actually learned a LOT about marketing.


Here are 10 Big Marketing Lessons from a hospitality entrepreneur. By the way, many of these are universal principals that will apply to any business. They’ll even apply to “Brand You”.

1. Be Unique. This is BY FAR the biggest piece of marketing advice I can give. A unique product becomes it’s own best marketing. It stands out in a crowd with much less effort. And I’m not talking about inventing a new product. EVERY industry has room for an innovative new spin. Doesn’t matter you’re a coffee shop, or a doctor’s office, or a consulting firm, or producing a new widget.

Ask yourself “How can I make my product stand out? What makes my product different than every other product in my market?

2. Be Authentic. Never, ever put on a false face. If you pretend to be something you’re not, you will turn people off and you will never turn them on again. Ever seen a hotel room on a website or magazine ad that looks awesome, yet the real thing doesn’t measure up to the pictures? What a disappointment! How about service people who say “My pleasure” to every request, yet you suspect that’s not really how they feel? Once you set off someone’s B.S. radar, creating a real connection that builds loyalty is nearly impossible.

Ask yourself: “Do I ever feel like I’m faking it? Do our marketing materials accurately represent our product? Do we ever ‘oversell’ ourselves or our capability?

3. Be Awesome Every Day. You’d think this was a given, but it’s not. It takes effort and discipline to bring your best to what you do every day. But when you work every day to make your product better, to figure out new ways of connecting with customers, to deliver slightly better service than you did yesterday, you will create a product that is impossible for mere mortals to compete against or replicate. The big things might differentiate you temporarily, but it’s always the little things, done consistently over time that will put you in a league of your own.

Ask yourself: “What keeps me from fully engaging in my job consistently every day? How can I do even slightly better today than I did yesterday?

4. Nothing Beats A Tour. I think we have a pretty nice website. It shows off our meeting spaces well. When people see the pictures, they start to realize that we have a unique product (and we’ve already discussed how important this is, yes?). And even though our site does a nice job intriguing potential guests, it’s the tour that sells them every time. Let’s stay on the idea of websites for a bit. No matter what industry you work in, having a professional looking website for your business is very important. It shows potential clients that you are serious about what you have to sell. Not everyone is as technologically advanced as others, which is why website design companies and SEO companies such as Victorious would be a positive step forward when it comes to creating a professional website and to also help grow the traffic that your site will receive. It’s worth a try, especially if this will generate more sales for your business. When people step into our space, they suddenly “get it”. Once they experience it first-hand, they fall in love. It’s our way of giving a “free sample,” which has always been, and will likely always be, one of the best ways to win over prospective customers.

Ask yourself: “How can I get more people to experience my product firsthand? How do I get them to ‘take a tour?‘”.

5. Word of Mouth Rules. In thirteen years of business, we’ve spent maybe $10,000 on traditional advertising. We collaborated with a Google Partner which was a great experience. Whilst collaborating with a Google Partner will also be expensive, it is also so rewarding in the terms of marketing. Granted, when I first started the business I didn’t have any extra money to spend on lavish ad campaigns (or skimpy ones for that matter). I quickly learned though, that if you’re unique, authentic, and awesome every day, people actually LIKE to tell their friends and colleagues about you. Imagine that! And now with the viral tools of social media, people can spread the word about you immediately…they’ll even pause in the middle of using your product to share their thoughts with the world. Just remember, they can spread the bad as well as the good. But if you’re unique, authentic, and awesome every day there should rarely be anything bad to talk about.

Ask yourself: “Am I creating a product worth talking about? Would I tell MY friends about my product? DO I tell my friends about my product? Why or why not?

6. Take A New Approach. Sure, there are tried and true ways of doing things, including marketing. And you should probably do some of them. But don’t ever let that stop you from exploring new ways of sharing your message and connecting with your customers. Embrace new approaches and new technology. Even embrace the use of top digital marketing agencies, who may be able to help you out in the marketing side of your business. And realize that sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it takes longer than you think to know if it works. If you are interested in trying a new approach, something which you have never done before then we recommend you take a look at influce.com which offers you the chance to explore new ways of connecting with your customers. As I write this, there are still millions of companies and individuals that haven’t tapped into the power of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google+, and the seemingly endless barrage of new technologies. You don’t have to use them all, but you should always investigate and adopt the ones that seem to be taking off.

Ask yourself: “Have we tried any new approaches or technology lately? What new technologies are our customers using to gather information and connect with each other?

7. Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try. Yes, it’s a famous quote from Yoda. But did you know he was talking about marketing? There is nothing more lame than a half-baked marketing effort. If you’re going to create a marketing campaign, go all in. If you’re going to create a Facebook fan page, update it daily. If you’re going to blog, get on a consistent schedule. If you promise something to your customers, you darn well better deliver it. Testing the waters on a new marketing approach is one thing, then it’s ok to start small to see how it works. But once you decide you’re going to use something like Facebook or Twitter, you can’t do it half-way. Better to not do it at all. If your customers have to blow the cobwebs off your marketing, it’s probably not going to create much of a connection or drive much business your way.

Ask yourself: “Is any of my marketing effort half-baked that I should either fully bake or get rid of? Which of my marketing efforts give me the biggest return on my effort?”

8. Focus. The mantra of real estate might be “location, location, location” but the mantra of marketing should be “focus, focus, focus.” I heard a radio commercial this morning promoting a local bar. About 75% of the commercial promoted their new sand volleyball league. Then, in the last 15 seconds, they threw in two or three other promotional messages…which I have already forgotten an hour later. Classic mistake. The worst marketing is marketing that tries to cast a very wide net. I have found that if I promote one thing at a time, I have 2-3 times greater success than when we try to promote multiple products, events, etc. at the same time. In this world of an overwhelming number of messages, the companies that can focus and simplify their messages to their customers are the ones who will be heard through all the noise.

Ask yourself: “What is the single most important thing for me to promote right now?

9. Don’t Discount, Add Value! One of the most dangerous marketing tools is the discount. Too many companies are quick to discount if they believe they are going to lose a sale. Sure, there are customers who are only interested in price. If that’s the case, you might need to revisit point #1 above: Be Unique. Unique products are generally more immune to price wars because price shoppers always want to compare apples to apples. If you’re an orange, your value is different. Instead of discounting, offer to add value instead. Can you provide something extra for the same price? An upgrade? An additional service? It usually doesn’t cost you as much to add value as it would to discount your price, but the customer still feel like they got a great deal. It’s a win-win.

Ask yourself: “What ‘extra’ could I provide that would have high value to the customer, but low cost to me? Is there any way I can ‘upgrade’ their experience with a little extra investment of money or effort on my part?

10. Become The Expert. Actually, you don’t have to become the expert. You likely already ARE an expert. After all, you know your business and your industry better than your customers do, right? Start sharing your knowledge. This is what whitehat decided to and they haven’t looked back since. Consequentially, they have an endless number of happy clients. Host free or low-cost seminars, webinars, or tele seminars. Create a blog that provides advice to help you customers be more amazing at what they do. Tell them how they can save money. Give them great ideas. There are many ways to share what you know. The more you share, the more you’ll learn, too. I find that sharing my knowledge makes me seek more knowledge, and it makes me have to really think hard about what I know in order to share it with others (this article included!), which makes me even more of an expert! I even came up with the idea using an external company like Cefar to help me make full use of all the data I collected so I could give my customers the best feedback possible. All things being equal, people will gravitate toward the person or company that they perceive to be the expert. All you have to do to position yourself that way is to share what you know, or what you’re learning, on a regular basis.

Ask yourself: “What do I know more about than most of my customers? What could I learn about that would help my customers work or live more effectively? What tools could I use to share my knowledge?


Here you'll find ideas, tips, and techniques to help make your next offsite your best meeting yet.We've learned a lot during the 15,000+ meetings we've hosted, and we never stop learning (and sharing) because meetings and teams are always evolving. Be sure to leave comments and join the conversation!