Chances are you’ve already caught festive season fever, but will your business be benefiting from the shopping frenzy gripping consumers?

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Danny Bryer, Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the Protea Hospitality Group – which comprises African Pride Hotels and Protea Hotels – shares his insights on good festive season marketing strategies.

What are the key elements that drive a successful festive season marketing strategy?  
Critical to any festive season marketing campaign is preparation. You have to gear your offering around a number of factors that include current trends and the global and national economic outlooks. You also have to differentiate your offering to particular target markets and ensure it remain relevant whilst still delivering on the key needs of your customers.
For instance, if the global economic outlook is as gloomy as the current situation with the instability of the Eurozone as a leading factor affecting traditional feeder markets, then one looks to emerging markets and the domestic market. In the hospitality industry, Asia and the Indian sub-continent are strong emerging markets, but emerging markets are obviously different from industry to industry.
The domestic market is something no industry should ever ignore, because as a rule – if the economy is relatively stable – it is the strongest and most stable income base. Campaigns targeting the local market will further differentiate into select lifestyle groups that can be based on demographics such as age groups, gender, special interest groups, where they reside, different sorts of family units and a host of other factors.

What are the most popular marketing platforms in SA?  
For festive season marketing the traditional media platforms still dominate in South Africa, because of the relatively short duration of these campaigns. However the online medium is a key platform in terms of the travel category as more consumer are choosing to research and book destinations and packages online due to the wealth of information, reviews, rich media and the ease of booking. Social media platforms and mobi are gaining more traction, though, because SA has a great cellphone penetration and the cost of purchasing and running this technology is becoming more affordable for consumers.

What should be the most important stages of a timeline for a company that wants to make the most of its festive season marketing strategy?
The traditional timeline would be think-tanking and conceptualising various campaigns early in the year – more or less straight after you’ve put the previous festive season campaigns to bed. A postmortem after the previous season allows one to identify best practices of the previous campaign which allows for greater refinement going forward.
In the first quarter of the year you decide on the broad campaigns, the strategy, the media and timing, then the middle of the year is devoted to the creative, the refinement of the campaigns and scheduling of marketing actions. You should ideally have everything in hand for the campaigns by the beginning of October and your traditional marketing should kick off at that stage as well.

What works best for hospitality and retail sectors in SA? Is it limited-time festive season offers, hosting contests or rolling out door-buster sales?
Every campaign needs to be multi-layered to achieve optimal results and give you the biggest return on investment. Few companies these days have bottomless marketing budgets so thinking smart – carefully considering every rand spend – is essential.
A clever festive season marketing campaign should not only promote your summer offers, but also give you brand talkability during the period and continuing into the New Year.
The aim of every marketing campaign is ultimately to promote your brand and its attributes for what it stands for, not a specific limited-time-only offer. From a retail perspective Protea Hotels has the ability to offer a range of different products for different customers due to the diverse nature of their hotel portfolio; these include beach getaways, bush breaks, self-catering accommodation, contemporary hip hotels and luxury retreats.

How do you ensure that you reach the targeted audience during your marketing campaigns?
Information is gold in the digital age and you can’t even begin to plan a campaign unless you know who you want to talk to. Understanding your target markets is critical to the success of any marketing campaign. Decide who is the target of your campaign, then do the media research to find the most compatible platforms.
So how do you know who to talk to? Companies such as Protea Hotels which have loyalty programmes have a pool of consumers who are already invested in the brand. Protea Hotels has more than 100 000 Prokard members who want to know what we’re offering and they are receptive to the campaigns and special packages we create, because they have access to greater benefits and preferential rates.
Every company should also have a strong online presence and representation that speaks to consumers in a user-friendly, easily navigable manner that promotes value-added packages clearly on the landing page. There is so much marketing clutter in the digital space that if consumers can’t easily find what they want on your website, they’ll move on quickly.
In today’s environment, multiple channels and mediums need to be combined to create integrated marketing campaigns as there isn’t one medium that provides a full solution.

The festive season is generally believed to be a time of gifts. What is the trick to turning products and services into gifts?
Value for money is key, as is a campaign that speaks to the right market segment. In terms of hospitality, gift vouchers for experiences and activities such as a special night away package and golf are extremely popular, and vouchers for spa treatments sell like hot cakes over the festive season. Big ticket items such as home entertainment systems move off the shelves far more quickly in December than at any other time, as do the luxuries that most people do without during the year.
But again, it goes back to the basic marketing premise of knowing your target market, creating a desirable product package for the market and planning your campaigns around the platforms that will reach those consumers.

For most businesses this time of the year becomes the busiest. What sort of operational changes should businesses be prepared for when the festive season is in full swing. There are few operational changes in hotels because they’re busy all year round. Corporate travel keeps hotels full during the year, and leisure travel takes over from that during holiday periods.
In general retail terms, though, make sure your offering has shifted its focus from its core market to one that is based on a leisure and festive season experience. As an example, our hotels service the corporate market both on an individual and group level throughout the year and then over December there is a shift to make our hotels geared around families and leisure travellers. This involves family and kids’ programmes, babysitting services, themed evenings, activity-based programmes and ensuring our staff are knowledgeable on the happenings and experience-based sights and things to do on leisure in the area.

What are the most common mistakes businesses make when planning their marketing for the festive season? Not listening to what your customer wants based on past buying behaviour and feedback and therefore assuming that one needs to be creative and reinvent the wheel.  Stick to what your core target market wants and deliver that with great service to match.

What have past experiences taught you about festive season marketing in the hospitality industry?
Protea Hotels has been around for nearly 30 years and because we can track trends over a period of three decades, we have an exceptional understanding of the market both inbound and domestic.
Much of what we know about the hospitality industry is true of all retail product and services, though. You have to put together a market offering that is attractive to consumers who are looking for a unique experience over the festive season, and make sure you’re talking to the right people through the correct marketing platforms.
There has been a substantial move to digital marketing over the past five years as South Africans become more comfortable with online purchasing, so depending on your audience, your campaigns will most likely need to take in a mix of traditional and online marketing mediums.
The golden rule for any company offering products or services is to ensure that consumers perceive their offering to be of superior standard and value for money – whatever time of year. Nobody likes to feel they’ve been robbed when they walk out of your establishment. Customer loyalty is based on a feeling of value whilst receiving an experience that meets and exceeds expectations and it’s the return customers who are going to keep you in business and become your unpaid brand ambassadors.

*To read the full version of this story go to page 88 of the November-December issue

This article was first published on www.destinyman.com

– Irvine Partners is full-service Public Relations Company offering expertise in building brand visibility through strong narrative driven PR