Top marketing strategies for hospitality start-ups

Marketing is helping a customer to recognize how a product or service meets their needs. That turns out to be more complicated than it sounds. It means that it’s necessary for a start-up to know their customers.

Some time should be taken to map out the identity of the ideal customer. Those who have been in business for a little while, or have direct previous experience in a similar business, can draw on actual data to identify the sort of person who spends money on their products. Those who are in the pre-start-up phase will need to brainstorm and then refine their understanding of their customers as they go along.

Things such as age, gender, location and socio-economic status should be considered, as well as unique interests, to form a very specific idea of who the customer is. From there, decisions should be made that cater to that customer’s needs, desires and preferences. This should pervade every aspect of the business. A name should be chosen that catches the attention of the ideal customer. Icons, forms and color schemes that appeal to the customer will be required. This forms the backbone of the branding and is all about visually positioning the company and sending the right messages to connect with the sort of person who is likely to spend money with it.

For instance, the ideal customer might be a 25 to 30-year-old woman who enjoys high-end baked goods and caffeinated drinks. She is fashion-conscious, with a hipster-informed style that meshes rustic sensibilities with shabby-chic and retro aesthetics, but in a minimalist way. The coffee shop might be given a two-part name (“something & something”) in a shield-style or hand-lettering-style logo using muted, natural-looking tones. Lots of wood will be used in the interior design, with quirky but thematically unified accent items. Baked goods will be served on cross-sections of logs and coffee in brown-paper cups with the logo hand-stamped on the side.

The number-one marketing strategy is to identify the customer and make everything about them, from the branding, to the service and product, to the space and advertising. However, in start-up mode, it can be challenging to position the business right initially. The business owner does not want to blow their budget trying to cater to a customer base that only exists inside their head.

However, they should be ready to pivot if they miscalculated and aren’t connecting with the customers who they thought they would. There are a number of things that can be done to keep costs down at the start and then adjusted. Customizable items for communication, signage and aesthetic purposes could be used instead of expensive commissioned signage and décor.

Chalkboard contact paper adheres to chalk for quick changes in content or style without added cost. It can be stuck to a flat surface for signage such as specials, menus or hours, or it can be used in smaller formats for things such as product labeling. Messaging can be adapted as appropriate for changing menus or specials and it also gives flexibility around the look of the space. A cute, or rustic, or minimalist, or artistic look can be created, depending on how lettering and decorations are done on the washable surface.

A custom stamp rather than lots of printed material can be used to minimize the cost if it’s necessary to rebrand. It’s also ecofriendly, cost-effective and aesthetically appealing. It’s possible to stay flexible while sending a clear branded message with feature décor. A handful of items should be chosen and placed in prominent places, with minimalist furniture and paint choices. By swapping out feature items, the look can be shifted from glam to retro, modern to vintage, cute to cool, etc.

It is the job of the business to connect first. Once the start-up has worked out who their ideal customer is, they should figure out where they spend time and meet them there. This applies to social media, where they should focus on the platforms and communities that their customers care about, as well as to analogue life. They should consider whether their location has organic visibility, and look for ways to get the word out to customers in other stores or public spaces that the customers are likely to frequent, or by direct mail with special offers. Offering samples or discounts can help on the physical side, while connecting with influencers on strategic platforms can raise the business’s visibility on the digital marketing side.

The top marketing strategy for hospitality start-ups is to actually have a strategy. Start-ups should not bother with gimmicks and ad campaigns until they have nailed down the basics of who their customer is and what they care about. The core product or service offering, brand and operations should then be adjusted to deliver. Finally, the start-up should invest in targeted but flexible solutions such as erasable or reconfigurable signage, key décor items, and reaching out with a special offer to bring customers in the door.

Melissa Thompson

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.