The Priory Hospitality Group

Grand Hall Front EntranceThe Priory Hospitality Group (http://www.thepriory.com) properties consist of the Priory Hotel a 24-room European-style boutique hotel on Pittsburgh’s North Shore rated the best in Pittsburgh by Zagat Survey® (fifth edition); Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at the Priory (http://www.pittsburghsgrandhall.com) located adjacent to the hotel and situated in the former St. Mary’s German Catholic Church, which offers a breathtaking space for weddings, banquets, parties, charity events and gatherings of all types; and the award-winning Priory Fine Pastries (http://www.prioryfinepastries.com) custom bakery. In addition, it is a leader in the revitalization effort of the National Register District of Deutschtown.

For several years, BrandMill has served as a marketing consultant and coach for the Priory and the following are a few of the ways we have built its brand image and record level sales despite a poor economy:

  • Recommended that all future branding efforts be harnessed underneath the Priory Hospitality Group banner and that John Graf be positioned and highlighted as the leader of this family owned and operated hospitality brand,
  • Created a unique sales funnel reporting system and sales travel path to increase closing ratios
  • Built an email marketing system that earns open and click through rates far above industry averages. The system now utilizes video – driving open rates to record levels
  • Built a Social Media Marketing platform via a Blog, Facebook, YouTube and future Twitter executions
  • Earned considerable press coverage for the brand
  • To profitably build sales in the winter, developed a record breaking Winter White Wedding sales and marketing concept
  • Built a new website for Priory Fine Pastries, increasing website hits, search engine traffic and overall web visibility tremendously
  • Built Priory Fine Pastries a Social Media Marketing platform via Blog, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr

Through competitive shops and industry research, led Priory Fine Pastries’ development of a new product line of bigger and better pastries, cupcakes, cookies and cakes wrapped into its 5th Anniversary.

Press Coverage

November 24, 2009 – Priory Fine Pastries celebrates 5 years of business with the biggest cupcake in the city
June 19, 2009 – The Priory hotel on Pittsburgh’s North Side making plans to expand

June 2009 – Accidental Innkeeper, John Graf, Makes the Priory a Stand-Out Pittsburgh Hotel
December 1, 2008 – First mates: Weddings for military couples may be rushed but don’t lack class
June 12, 2007 – The Priory Hotel: A Perfect Pittsburgh Wedding Reception

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10 Profitable Groupon Marketing Tips

I’ve been a fan of Groupon since one of our Pittsburgh restaurant clients launched the city’s first promotional campaign. And, I’ve become a bigger fan since other hospitality clients have achieved success and after discovering that Groupon founder Andrew Mason is a Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon) native – you go guy!

If you read the marketing trades you’ll find some complaints about the lack of profitability of using Groupon as a marketing tactic, but I’d bet that those complainers were not prepared to take advantage of the popular loss leader strategy.

Here are ten profitable Groupon marketing tips.

1. Say “NO” if you’re below. Below average that is. In short, you do not want to feature your brand in a Groupon campaign if you don’t “bring it.” That is, if you sell lousy food (even marginally or mediocre OK), have poor service etc., you do not want to do Groupon! If you do not “deliver the goods”, Grouponers may simply put you out of business earlier than you would normally through negative reviews online etc.!

2. Get buy-in to prevent crying. Far in advance of your scheduled launch, talk through the campaign pros/cons of Groupon with your staff. Get their buy-in early on and clearly explain why everyone needs to be engaged in this huge loss leader effort and why you’ll need all hands and minds on deck to flawlessly execute the campaign. Tell them, “what’s in it for them!”

3. Map your cap. Cap the total number of deals you provide to Grouponers. This creates urgency and protects margins since the offer deadlines are long. Plus, you need to make sure you can handle the traffic.  Sure you want to make short term money – you always do – but your eyes need to be on the prize of repeat business!

4. Don’t wreck your average check. Make sure your deal/offer does not match you average check/purchase to allow for upsell and add-on sales opportunities. And, a lower price tag protects you as well on total customer acquisition costs. Keep in mind that you’re earning around 1/4th of what you’d usually make in an average sale which means you’re losing 3/4ths on virtually every sale.

5. Don’t laugh – add staff. Trust me – make sure you add staff to handle increases in store traffic, phone calls and web hits during and after the sale. You’ll need it!

6. Right your Website. It’s highly likely that your Web site has never seen the kind of traffic it will see on your Groupon day. Make certain your brand’s value proposition is clear, meaningful and relevant throughout your Website and especially on your home page because it’s going to get pounded. And, fix your typos, broken links etc., – net, clean it up! Also, monitor your Groupon comments on your “game day” and answer questions there as well on your social media channels.

7. Up-sell, cross sell and do well. Train your customer facing personnel to up-sell and cross-sell and guide all Grouponers to more profitable add-ons. However, make sure you have lots of exciting ones to offer too.

8. Train to explain. Carefully review (and test their knowledge) your Groupon procedures and rules of the game with all team members so they in turn can explain the campaign to customers, friends and family. You need to do this crucial step to ensure viral communications and no surprised/unhappy customer experiences. Make certain everyone is happy to take Groupon customers and consider putting someone in charge to answer escalated questions and make on the spot decisions to satisfy customer concerns.

9. Retain and gain. Since Groupon does not give up its email database and/or the contact information of customers who take advantage of your offer, it’s critical you have a system (recording system and/or additional incentive for customers/staff) in place to capture valuable new customer contact information (e.g., email addresses, mailing addresses, cell phone numbers, birthdays etc.,). You’ll also want to track your success with regard to add-ons, average check/transaction, redemption rates,  repeat business and more to determine your success and key learnings should you do it again – consider a customer survey too!

10. Show how to WOW now. A ton of your Grouponers will be new customers (and might be bringing other new customers in with them) and may be unfamiliar with your unique value proposition, but you have a great – maybe once in a lifetime – opportunity to WOW them, make them repeat customers and spread your good word. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. Be a servant leader and SERVE lights out!

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How To Profitably Raise Your Prices

In your price increase or decrease discussions always remember this old marketing truism, “Price is only an issue in the absence of value!”

In these tough economic times (and even in good times) so many of us are afraid to raise prices primarily because we know in our hearts that we’re not offering a clear value and unique experience.

If you want to profitably increase your sales, you can start by offering some WOW and then make sure enough people hear, understand and can easily act on your offer!

No matter what times we live in, people do spend money.  Sure, shoppers may be a bit more wary and discriminating during down-times, but when you offer true, visible, demonstrative and meaningful value, you can make more money and be more profitable selling your products and services at higher prices.

Pricing is a skill and an art that requires some planning and testing. You might gain some short-term market share and sales with discounts, but it could take you years to gain back your competitive positioning. And, if you are a luxury brand you could lose your brand identity while competing on low prices and turn your brand into a commodity.

I’m certainly not a fan of taking advantage of customers with higher non-justified pricing, but there are win-win ways to build profits for companies and build customer satisfaction at the same time.

Here are just some of the ways you can increase your pricing. Some good…some not so good.

Change package/serving size. CPGs do this a lot by reducing the package size a bit and related price, but your cost per ounce and/or pound increases.  How does that make you feel when you discover you’re paying more for less?

Bulk/Bundle/Combo pricing/Price a la carte. Pricing your goods or services a la carte is a good way to increase prices and then show some extra value when a customer chooses to buy in bulk (think cable companies, McDonald’s combo meals, ride all day packages at amusement parks).

Raise grandfathered prices. You can rationalize a price increase message to your ‘pioneer’ customers because ‘costs do go up,’ but if/when you do raise prices on these folks, you need to recognize your customer’s loyalty with a little extra added value to soften the blow.

Raise prices for new customers. A much easier way to raise prices instead of a general price increase across the board.

Schedule a price increase. This helps prepare your customers and carefully inform them of the reasons why you’re increasing their cost of doing business with you.

Offer performance based guarantees. Providing performance based assurances on your higher priced products is a great way to justify higher priced goods and services.

Add a little extra value. Again, adding a little extra makes your offering a little bit better and helps people more easily digest price increases.

Be different – be unique. The very best way to sell your offerings at a higher price. In fact, add a guarantee and a little extra value and you’ll become a much admired and desired triple threat.

You can be a unique necessity or discretionary product or service too – it is profitably achievable.  When you strive to be the Apple, Disney, BMW of your industry you’ll be able to command your price and see your profits soar.

I guarantee it!

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How to Improve Your Email Marketing Results

Email keeps rocking on as the killer app in online marketing (per DMA email’s ROI is over $40 to $1), and I continue to  be amazed that most brands don’t take the time to refine and improve their email marketing efforts. So many of us are far too quick to move on to the next new marketing tool without striving to flawlessly execute email marketing.

What a waste.

Forrester reported in a recent survey, that just 7% of American consumers believe the emails they get blasted with, are important or relevant.

With the ton of consumer data most brands have at their disposal, it’s a simple case of lazy marketing.

As this MarketingSherpa chart shows, there are many easy ways to improve your email marketing open and click-through rates.

For example, at a minimum brands could  testing subject lines, offers or calls to action, send time or day of week, copy and layout, landing pages and from lines, hyperlink quantity, placement and more.

The kicker is you got to do it…you got to “bring it.”

As the chart points out, over 50% of the surveyed brands have yet to take advantage of these easy ways to improve their performance.

In addition, you need to “bucket” your email addresses into databases of similar behaviors and/or event-based activities such as:

  • Life changes (e.g., new home buyer, new mother etc. )
  • Brand activities and interactions (e.g., purchase or complaint etc.)
  • Industry/environmental shifts (e.g., interest rate changes, price shifts etc.,)

Then, you move from this simple exercise to a “next best action” tactic whereby based on a customer’s previous interaction (e.g., purchase), your marketing follow-up message is related (e.g., promote service guarantee, insurance etc.,)

With any new effort, it’s wise to walk before you run with new activities you’re not accustomed to doing.

For example, one of our restaurant clients does a ton of wine tastings, so we simply started with separating our “wine enthusiasts” into a separate database and emailed wine event information only to them. Then, we only sent reminders to those who opened the initial email invitation and significantly increased open rates, click through rates, reduced opt-outs and event attendance.

Before you move on to the next new shiny tool in your marketing toolbox, make sure you can truly hammer out great email campaigns. You need to realize that you never quite arrive in this business, you got to keep striving, keep testing, keep doing – net…keep on keeping on.

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Marketing a Homecoming Experience

Kent State football players celebrate with the Wagon Wheel trophy following a 28-17 victory over the visiting Akron Zips

I had a great time Saturday in Kent, Ohio visiting come great old college friends, going to the homecoming football game against Akron with my buddy Don and hitting Ray’s Place – one of my favorite old haunts – it’s truly a time machine!

A lot of things have changed about Kent since I graduated in 1983 – some good and some not so good – but mostly good. Time may move on, but fond memories – experiences – last a lifetime.

Three of the “places that are no longer there” are:

Kent Ohio's Jerry's Diner

Jerry’s Diner – an old diner that was open for 23 hours a day (one hour to clean) 7 days a week where I had many a late night meal and will always remember my friend Ron’s favorite order...”I’ll have a cheeseburger without.” The waitress would say, “Without what?” And he’d reply, “Without hair!” The memory (and so many others) still makes me laugh.

Jerry’s motto was, “Give grease a chance” and its final words were, “Rest in grease.” I still love it.

Kent Motor Inn

Another place that hit the wrecking ball, was the Kent Motor Inn where I lived my senior year. It was a close walk to town and to classes. I lived in an efficiency in the back away from the normal rentals. I’d often joke to my friends that I always felt like I was on vacation, because my TV was mounted high up in the corner of the room, had a bar sink, a fold out couch…what a life…it didn’t get much better.

And sadly, the final place no longer around is the Stuffed Mushroom tavern where I tended bar and bounced. We had the best Happy Hour around – 3 drinks for $1.00 from 4-6 p.m.; 2 for 1 from 6-8 p.m. and 25 cent Kamikazi’s all night long. Owner Terry Mormile was an awesome, giving, smart  guy and Ed Logan was a terrific manager who taught me a ton about customer service.

What a great 4 year Experience!

Experiential marketing is all the rage in today’s marketing, but so much of what I learned about experiential marketing – if I truly give pause to think about it – I learned during my days at Kent State.

My big takeaway about experiential marketing is helping your customers immerse themselves in your brand – help them to be part of the fabric of it. Most of us who went away to college had a great time and retain fond memories because of our interactive, fun, humorous, engaging, educational, experiential, immersive experiences.

That’s what experiential marketing is all about.

Present your brand in a framework of engaging entertainment and education and forget the traditional sales spiel. By helping your customers truly immerse themselves in your brand experience today, you just might make them customers for life.

Hey, I graduated from Kent State in 1983 and I’m still a BIG FAN nearly 30 years later!

Thanks Kent State and thanks to all my college friends for the great experience!

P.S.: For more information, check out the International Experiential Marketing Association and their manifesto.

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L.L. Bean’s Powerful Guarantee

Guaranteed. You have our word.

How much clearer can you get?

What a powerful customer service guarantee!

Here’s the body copy from L.L. Bean’s Website:

I’ve been a huge fan of L.L. Bean for years and became an even bigger fan last Friday.

L.L. Bean Field Coat Saddle

Last week, I was getting my favorite coat out of my closet for Fall – an original L.L. Bean Field Coat in Saddle – and making my plans to head to my alma mater Kent State’s homecoming.

Suddenly, I realized that I’ve been wearing this Field Coat (created in 1924) for nearly 15 years! I love it and there is still absolutely nothing wrong with it – it’s a terrific coat – but I’ve been wearing this jacket to homecoming every year!

I went through some old photos and proved it!

L.L. Bean Field Coat Stone

So, I went online and decided to get a new Stone Field Coat which is better than my old one and about the same price that I paid years ago! It’s a fantastic coat, but what amazes me about L.L. Bean is how they’ve stayed true to their roots and excelled as a private, family business.

If you’re trying hard to build your business the right way and need a little hope, grab a coffee and read L.L. Bean’s fascinating, refreshing story – their principles when they were small are the same as they are today when L.L. Bean remarked,

“I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out
and customer still satisfied.”

From my experiences, I’m not surprised that L.L. Bean was once again the first place winner (tops 3 of 5 years) selected by shoppers in the annual NRF Foundation/American Express® Customers’ Choice survey back in January.  According to shoppers, the top ten* retailers for customer service are:

  1. L.L.Bean
  2. Overstock.com
  3. Zappos.com
  4. Amazon.com
  5. QVC
  6. Coldwater Creek
  7. HSN
  8. Lands’ End
  9. JCPenney
  10. Kohl’s, and Nordstrom (tied)

I know it’s hard for small to medium sized businesses to sometimes wrap their heads around the successes and lessons to be learned from larger brands, but you can learn a ton from L.L. Bean’s commitment to customer service, satisfaction, quality, systems and innovation.

Go online and buy something from L.L. Bean or even better, call in an order and you’ll be WOWED!

I GUARANTEE IT!

P.S.: Here’s a great interview from L.L. Bean’s president Chris McCormick about L.L. Bean’s customer service secrets.

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How to Easily Win an Election

Political campaigns fascinate me. I pay close attention to races to learn from their marketing triumphs and mistakes and to apply my education to help our clients.

Brands can learn a great deal from political races. Like all businesses today, what’s needed in Politics today is not more marketing, but better marketing that surrounds a brand/candidate that has integrity, character and proof of performance.

All things being equal, having and spending more money on a campaign in all likelihood should help you win any race hands-down, but with a better brand promise and proof of past performance, politicians like any brand can whip a big spender with performance flaws.

The California Governor race one I’m watching closely. Meg Whitman spent a Republican primary record of $74 per vote ($71 million) to beat rival billionaire Steve Poizner ($63 per vote – $24 million) by nearly 40%. OK fine.

However, in a recent poll, Whitman is behind Jerry Brown by six percentage points – 49% to 44%.  Before her housekeeper scandal, she was running a bit behind Brown who’s running a frugal campaign (Brown only spent 50 cents per vote in the Democratic primary). The campaign looks to be a tossup.

If you want to increase your odds at winning a political campaign or any brand building effort you must:

  1. Have character, integrity, authenticity, transparency
  2. Create a meaningful cause (e.g., O’Bama’s “Change”) and act on it
  3. Stay on message and be consistent over time (e.g., O’Bama’s “Change”)
  4. Recognize that “all politics is local” – build a grassroots campaign – be committed to your true identity
  5. Work hard for your voters/customers, listen to them and deliver on your promises
  6. Be a savvy cost effective Internet marketer to give your constituents the tools to easily spread your good word – trust the power of networks
  7. Have a laser focus on current, but also emerging needs – there’s always a common need (e.g., jobs), but unique needs as well per segment/s
  8. If you commit to one message, make it an exceptionally strong emotional one like consumer brands do with cars etc. Certainly you need to appeal to both the rational and emotional side of people, but emotional is always stronger
  9. Communicate hope, promise and possibilities
  10. Be a Servant Leader and treat voters (customers) as customers
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3 Secrets to Achieving Social Media Success

If you want to be a successful, profitable brand via Social Media Marketing, first remember one thing above all – it’s not about the tools, so don’t be one!

The secrets to success in life and business are so basically simple (certainly putting them to practice requires focus, hard work ) that we get so caught up in tools, investments and processes that we lose sight of the easiest ways to get from Point A to Point B.

For example:

  • If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more. Burn up more calories than you consume.
  • To find love in your life, first be a loving person. Give and you shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened etc.
  • If you want to be treated nice, follow the Golden Rule and on and on

Brands today get so caught up in the the “new new” tools of Social Media (Blogs, Twitter Facebook etc.,) that they lose sight of the true secrets of success. The reason I call them secrets is because most brands are unaware of them, avoid them or think they’ve already uncovered and accomplished them, but they’re not even close.

And, these secrets are not tasks you complete once and move on, rather they’re they’re three pillars of success that need to be strengthened every day through a brand’s daily actions.

Here are my three secrets to Social Media Success.

1. Build a Rock Solid Brand of Character and Integrity – Are you a stand up brand when no one is watching? Do you keep and deliver on your promises? Do you follow your ethical standards in tough times? Not easy to do, but certainly doable.

Check out Gallup Ethical Standards ranking of people in the various fields listed below. Take for example, “business people” – only 12% say they have very high/high standards. Don’t you think we can all work a bit harder on building our reputations than another Facebook Fan Page?

If/when you do, your customers and acquaintances in the Social Media world will be banging their Social Media Marketing drums, praising your name!

Gallup Ethical Standards 11.09

2. Deliver REMARKable Products and Services – Do you simply produce a product or service to get by or do you really “bring it and WOW people!” Are your standards and expectations higher than the norm? Do you sometimes hit them or blow them away all the time? Do you work hard to surprise and delight your team members and customers? Do you deliver a truly unique, meaningful and memorable experience?

When the REMARKable Susan Boyle performed awhile back on Britain’s Got Talent, her authentic, transparent and awesome talent delivered a a truly unique, unexpected (can you say, “WOW”) meaningful and memorable experience?

And, in a few hours/days, 100+ Million Youtube Views were achieved and she became a richer person and a household name.

The REMARKable Brand of Susan Boyle

3. Be a Servant Leader – Lead from Behind

Finally, brand leaders would do well to remember that the most successful ones long-term lead best by serving the needs of their people. In a servant leadership based brand, the leader’s role is one of a resource (people, capital etc.,) steward and encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization’s values and integrity.

People (customers, vendors and employees) want to be aligned with brands they respect, value and admire and servant leadership driven brands deliver on every one.

10 Key Servant Leader Traits

If brands today would simply work hard to lead and improve their business in these three key ways, the social media world would take care of the rest and freely spread their good news and great stories using their Social Media Marketing tools!

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Social Media Marketing Presentation

Yesterday, I was honored to give a Social Media Marketing presentation at the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association’s Western Chapter’s Harvest Your Profits Fall Summit (click here to download presentation). The presentation certainly had a restaurant, hospitality focus, but it’s applicable to most any retail industry.

Having worked in hospitality and restaurant marketing for over 20 years, it’s close to my heart because it’s one of the toughest, yet most gratifying industries. If you’re looking for leading edge marketing, look no further than the folks in the hospitality industry because the great ones know that they need to “bring it” every day – the successful ones know that they’re only as good as their last meal!

You got to love people with that kind of attitude and passion – it’s contagious – and a BIG reason I love working in the industry.

And, you got to love the people who volunteer their time and expertise to associations like the PRA and staffers such as Heidi Howard. They selflessly work hard to help move the hospitality industry forward  to make it better for themselves and their customers and at the same time defend it against government controls – many of which are unconscionable efforts to blatantly rob them (e.g., crazy drink taxes) of their hard earned money.

My thanks to PRA Western Chapter president Steve Musciano of ARAMARK and his board for inviting me, Susan Sansale, owner/operator of the beautiful venue The Chadwick (and incoming PRA Western Chapter president) for hosting the event and super organizer and board member extraordinaire Murrie Emamzadeh for orchestrating a super event!

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