If we find the part that our business can play for our customers we can deliver our service or product in a way that offers true competitive advantage.
The Right Introduction
The natural entrepreneur is very aware of the role that her service or product plays in the lives of her customers. To watch her in action is to be struck by how she seems to be born for it. Meanwhile, the rest of us often struggle to find that role. Whilst she plays her part with ease, we stumble over our lines and concentrate too much of our efforts on what we do rather than on the effect it has on others.
Very few of us are naturals in our business. Most of us have to work hard to turn what we do for our customers into a genuine performance and very few of us ever achieve a real tour de force. But that is not to suggest that we cannot. The challenge is to find the right role to play. If we find the part that our business can play for our customers and step into that role with real conviction, we can deliver our service or product in a way that offers true competitive advantage.
In the last few issues of The Blend, I have described how a limousine service and a family hotel started to tell the story of their businesses. This time, I will shift focus from the story that is to be told. Instead, I will recount how a collection of hotels chose a role to play in the lives of its customers that speaks eloquently of where it stands in the market and how it is different from its competition.
Business Professional Seeks Similar For…
A number of years ago, I attended a business network breakfast at a hotel in the city centre. During the meeting, each of us was invited to stand and briefly introduce our business and describe the type of opportunities we were looking for. I described how I was seeking introductions to marketing managers in the hospitality sector. Immediately after the meeting, Catherine O’Reilly came across to me, introduced herself, and produced a list she had just made of a number of people that she thought I should meet. Over the next couple of weeks, I received a steady stream of e-mails from Catherine adding to that list.
At the time, I was struck by the natural generosity and enthusiasm that Catherine brought to the meeting. She had listened to what I had said, understood what I needed and, almost without thinking about it, stepped across to offer introductions to her own network of contacts in the business.
A couple of years later, Catherine called me up to discuss a new business that she was planning for the hospitality sector. She described to me how she planned to gather together a collection of some of the best hotels she knew and present them to the customer as Platinum Hotels.
She also described the very inhospitable landscape in which she and her colleagues in the hotel industry were operating. This was in 2002, when the effects of September 11th and the threat of Foot & Mouth were being keenly felt across the country. At the same time, there had also been huge investment in building hotels, much of it driven by tax breaks, and the smaller properties were beginning to feel the pinch. Finally, some of the international hotel chains were eyeing up Ireland and seeing opportunities to introduce their brands here. This was offset a little by the growing market for domestic breaks so that Catherine’s new business was faced both with opportunities for growth and with significant challenges to that growth.
Making A Match
Catherine had come to me because she believed that in order to make any real impact in the market, her new collection of hotels would need to build its own brand. She also wished to build a business that would grow beyond her own contribution and would enable her to bring others on board both to promote it and deliver it. As someone with extensive experience in the hospitality business, she was acutely aware of the dangers of being seen as inseparable from the business in the minds of both her partners and her market and wished to be able to step back from it when appropriate and let others take up the running.
As Catherine described the collection of hotels that she planned, I found myself remembering the story of how I had first been introduced to her a couple of years before. As she spoke enthusiastically about the hotels she hoped to include, I was reminded of her own remarkable way of working and networking. I wondered aloud whether the story that the new brand would tell might not draw heavily from Catherine’s natural approach to business.
At first, Catherine was a little nonplussed. Had I not been listening when she had told me that she wished to step back a little from the business? What I was describing seemed to her to run the danger of making her personality the personality of the business.
I suggested that Catherine had always told a bigger story in her work and that this story indicated a role that Platinum Hotels might play for its customers that would make it a truly distinctive offering in a highly competitive market.
Some of the best-loved stories of all time tell of the role of the matchmaker. Authors including Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and our own John B. Keane, have described the huge impact that the matchmaker can play in the lives of their characters. I suggested to Catherine that Platinum Hotels might play a similar role in the lives of those looking for the right introduction to the perfect hotel. She admitted the idea had its appeal but needed to be convinced.
A Match Made In Heaven
The role the matchmaker plays in cultures around the world is an intriguing one. Whilst her work is often rewarded with payment, it is clear that the matchmaker delights above all else in making the right introductions. He or she is often irrepressible (for the purposes of the Platinum Hotels brand, I suggested to Catherine that her desired brand values of retreat, sustenance and renewal indicated a female character). Her interest is always in the connections that she might make and how she might make them.
This corresponded neatly with the role that Platinum Hotels might play. In a sense, this is a business that lives vicariously. She seeks out the warm welcome and satisfying meal not so much for her own pleasure but for the pleasure she might take in introducing others to it.
The matchmaker does not stand centre stage. Instead, she is an unobtrusive presence who is perceptive and resourceful in bringing two people together. She knows the value of the quiet word or a nudge in the right direction. Once the introductions are made and the guest and host stand face to face, she is able to step back discreetly and let them get on with it.
Because she is able to take up this somewhat neutral position, the matchmaker is not seen as having a vested interest in any outcome other than the right match. In a world where we are spoiled for choice and a click on any search engine reveals an overwhelming array of possibilities, the customer is looking for a trusted guide to help him or her make the right choice.
It was this element that swung it for Catherine. She saw the real value of presenting Platinum Hotels as a trusted advisor, with a wealth of experience in hospitality, and able to make the right connections for people.
The Perfect Match?
Platinum Hotels set out to play this role with relish. The singular positioning that the brand personality suggested is most evident in the brochure. Most hotel directories simply parrot what the hotel owners say about themselves and their properties. The Platinum Hotels brochure is different. Catherine describes what has attracted her to each of the hotels that she has chosen for the collection and makes it clear why she would like to introduce the customer to this or that hotel in particular. The positioning is reinforced even further when a customer makes an enquiry that the Platinum Hotels team believes would be best satisfied by a hotel outside its own collection. Like the trusted matchmaker, Platinum will recommend this other hotel and make the introduction.
For two years, Platinum operated largely as a marketing arm for its member hotels. Earlier this year, Catherine reviewed the role it plays for its customers and determined that it would serve them better if it stepped back even further and developed an arms length relationship with its member hotels. The Platinum Hotels collection now comprises hotels that are chosen exclusively for their ability to deliver on the Platinum Hotels promise.
Catherine and her team are now able to focus exclusively on building a market of visitors who are looking for the perfect place to stay. Their efforts over the next two years will be on raising the profile of the business and strengthening the position of Platinum Hotels as the preferred and trusted choice for the discerning traveller.