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Marketing and Hospitality – How To Kickstart Your Business In a Pandemic

  • Jordan Lonsdale
  • Apr 15, 2021

It’s no secret that the global pandemic has hit the hospitality sector hard, perhaps harder than any other industry. There have been three major lockdowns in the UK alone in the past year that have seen most venues closed for most of that period. Some as we know, unfortunately fell victim to the pandem.

Two things are now clear. Firstly, plans to reopen are firmly on the horizon, with venues with outdoor seating already having opened from 12th April and the roadmap for all hospitality to open May 17th and we know that we will be competing harder than ever to make up for lost time when this happens. But we know from the last year that the road out of a pandemic is not simple. There will be  some restrictions that we will have to navigate to operate within government guidelines for months to come and potentially, even longer. 

 So how do you plan your marketing activity when it can all be swept from under your feet again within an instance? How do you adapt with so little wriggle room around certain restrictions? The answer is to be as agile and resilient as possible, which is easier said than done, but important for your campaign’s survival going into 2021 and beyond.

Gone are the days when you need a plan A and B, you now need a plan C, D, E etc. Most importantly; all of these backup plans need to be fluid, with the ability to change at the drop of a hat. Here are my recommendations on building a resilient marketing and content strategy for going into the new normal.

Plan With Caution But Don’t Become Risk-Averse. 

As we move into the next stage of this pandemic rollercoaster, now is the time to plan the marketing you need to open with a boom and take advantage of the customers that are desperate to get into your venues to finally enjoy themselves. However, now is not the time to be complacent and think that people will come to you just because, nothing is guaranteed . 

Firstly, customers are going to be overwhelmed with choices. Your business won’t be the only one just opening up after all. Factor in the amount of marketing noise that is going to be out there and all that you’re going to have to do, it’ll take something really special to cut through, be noticed and take your slice of that post-pandemic pie.

So what am I saying? You should plan for what your gold option (100% of your budget) is. What is the content strategy that is going to get you noticed and what can you get for the budget you have in front of you right now? When I say plan with caution, I mean you should have around 3 versions of that very same strategy, but tweaked. 

What would your plan look like if you lost 50% of your budget overnight? What more could you achieve if you were suddenly given 25% more. You get the picture, it’s all about being prepared for different scenarios and most importantly, being able to react almost instantaneously so you can get the maximum bang for your buck.

Do Something To Get Your Venue Noticed Amongst The Noise

With the roadmap for reopening looking quite congested, we’re going to see a surge of marketing activity. As everyone starts scrambling to open up, you’ll be competing for customers’ attention more than ever and so will your competitors. The end of lockdown is a unique opportunity for you to put your business firmly back on the map as a major player in the market.

How do you do that? By being the loudest voice in the room. No longer do restaurants need to just show the typical food on a fancy plate shoot. It’s 2021 and it’s the time to be risqué with your content. It’s time to be bold and not shy away from attracting attention to your business.

As a marketing or content leader in your business, you’re bound to have had that one crazy idea that you know would have worked brilliantly at some point. Well, now is the time to take it out of the bottom of the drawer, dust it off and bring it out of the archive, the only hurdle that remains is to convince your upper management to go with it.

That might not be too difficult though if the higher-ups are in the mood to bounce back with a bang. If they’re not, start convincing them they should be. If needs be, point out that this is exactly the approach some of your competitors and maybe even smaller businesses around you are doing. Someone will be wanting to make a splash on their re-opening. Aim to make waves on your return, not a puddle.

Gain Absolute Clarity On Your Marketing Objectives

If there ever was a time to double down on your actual marketing goals, it’s right now. When it comes to planning your content, it isn’t always the fun creative process we wish it was, but it is extremely important. Moving into the new normal of 2021 you need to be crystal clear on what each and every piece of content is hoping to achieve.

Having clear objectives at the start is not only going to give you clear measurable results at the end of the campaign (and in turn secure future budget), but it will also help either your in-house team or your content partner to be able to tailor that content towards hitting those goals. Oh, and it will save time, stress and many minutes of frantic phone calls when panic sets in, if you have a day without anything to shout about!

To help you gain a key understanding of your objectives it is imperative that you understand your market in-depth, as well as your internal objectives. What are your competitors doing? What were they doing pre and post COVID and was it successful? Also, looking beyond the competition at the sector as a whole. 

If you’re in the restaurant business, for example, look to your cousins in the hotel industry to see if they’re doing anything interesting. Go cross-market with your research and see if you can acquire any new tips and tricks that someone else won’t think to use. Cast your net as wide as possible, you never know what catch you might bring home for supper!

Use The Magic Formula To Reach And Engage With Your Customers

As you know, the way we have been re-wired to think and interact with brands has changed dramatically since the first lockdown. Now more than ever, we associate brands with human characteristics and we’ve come to expect that. A brand showing empathy in 2021 is crucial, they need to care, but most  importantly, they need to genuinely care. This is the first ingredient in the magic formula.

Next up is always a given and one that I love; creativity. Brands have become ingenious in ways they have interacted with their customers throughout the pandemic and that is here to stay. Customers are now more in tune with a brand’s creativity than they ever were before. 

They take note of the creativity in the  brands that are standing out, (this could form part of your pitch to your upper management when you’re convincing them to go with that crazy idea you had in the bottom drawer). Creativity has come to be an expectation, not a nice to have.

The third and final ingredient to the magic formula is relevance. Now everyone is always worried about becoming irrelevant and of course, you want the opposite of that. Similar to the point I made in showing empathy, you need to be organically relevant, and whatever point is at hand needs to be not only relevant in the moment, but relevant to your brand.

 If you try to shoe-horn a topical moment into your story that isn’t authentic or true to your brand mission, then what is it actually doing for you? Not a lot. Potentially, a lot more to damage your brand if our incredibly savvy and observant audience notices something your doing isn’t as cool as you think it is. Never underestimate the audience’s awareness of what it is you’re doing to stay relevant.

So what does the magic formula equal? Empathy + Creativity + Relevance = Staying ahead. 

Looping back to some of my earlier points about the fact there is going to be noise and everyone is going to be fighting for attention and awareness, if you bake the above formula into your strategy, you’ll organically already be one step ahead of your competitors. Well, hoping they haven’t read this blog post too.

Don’t Fall Victim To Being A One Person Band

Your company may have had to make some difficult cuts to make sure they are still around after COVID first reared its ugly head. Your budgets may have been cut, you might have had to say goodbye to colleagues along the way, but the workload has probably gotten bigger, not smaller. Don’t try and be the one-person band, you’ll burn out.

Where possible, utilise other people within your business to help you make a killer, sustainable and most importantly, agile, marketing plan. Budget dependent? Get the relevant experts in to help you where you need it. One golden piece of advice that nobody likes to hear – if you can’t do something well, don’t do it at all.  

A bad piece of content is going to do more damage to your brand than doing nothing at all. Of course, not everyone will have the budget to put into their content and that is fine, but I would always advise my clients that they should wait until the time is right and they have some budget to play with, then try to fudge making a film, just because they feel they have to.

In conclusion, I think after nearly nine months of being closed, being battered, bruised and completely through the wringer, now is the time for the hospitality industry to stand tall, stand proud and shout about the fact they’re back and will one day be stronger than ever. And I can’t wait to be back with them eating dim sum whilst sipping on a margarita!

Author: Jordan Lonsdale

Check Jordan out on LinkedIn. 

Jordan is our fabulous Sales Directors at Wonderhatch. He served as Global Content Producer for Virgin Atlantic, where he completely overhauled photography and film for the iconic brand, around the world. He brings a wealth of content strategy and creative execution experience from fashion, travel and gaming. He’s your man when it comes to shaping content plans to deliver against commercial objectives.