Everyone Can Play

Using storytelling to stand out in the marketplace and stand up to the competition.
Ahead of the Game?

Visitors to our country tell us that the Irish are great storytellers and it is true that the guest dropping in to a bar or grocery shop or chemist sometimes finds himself caught up in the telling of some local gossip or anecdote. Just as often, it is an ongoing saga or scandal or long-running parish rivalry between football teams that sparks the conversation at the counter.

As marketing is really about storytelling, you would imagine that the Irish would enjoy a head start over our competitors when it comes to telling the story of our businesses. But read the average brochure and you will find that this isn’t so. Instead, we seem to stiffen and become self-conscious and resort to listing the features and benefits of our offer, over and over, in the hope that something will strike home with our market.

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 recount how a group of hotels took one of their products, the family holiday, and used storytelling to stand out in their marketplace and stand up to the competition.

In Every Job That Must Be Done

Two of the Brian McEniff hotels, The Westport Woods and The Yeats’ Country, have offered family holidays as part of their overall proposition for many years. One of the features of this offer has been the kids’ club. Once upon a time, this was a distinguishing feature, offering the hotels real competitive advantage. However, over the past decade, as the number of hotels across the country offering family holidays and kids’ clubs grew, the two hotels could no longer claim this as a point of difference between them and their competitors.

At the same time, sun-kissed holiday destinations have been exerting their pull on the increasingly affluent Irish family, and resorts such as Club Med and Disney have upped the ante even further in terms of scale and amenities.

Clearly, hotels such as The Westport Woods and The Yeats’ Country are unable to compete on the basis of weather or size or facilities. Nor can they reach deep into their pockets and slug it out with the international giants on the premium pages of our newspapers or through expensive brochures.

Instead, the challenge for the two hotels was to position their offer in a way that would enable them to play to their strengths and determine the grounds on which they would compete.

We were invited to work with the two hotels to help them discover their strengths so that they might take the strategic decision to play to them. Once we had agreed what these strengths were, we would work to create the story of that business so that they might begin to tell it.

There Is An Element Of Fun

In brand building, finding strengths is not a question of interrogating the client. In our experience, sitting people down and firing questions at them makes them uncomfortable and inclined to trot out formulaic or ‘right’ answers. It is much better to spend time in and around the business, meeting with people, chatting with them about their work and their customers and watching for the moments when they are at their most animated and engaged.

These moments offer invaluable clues as to what a business does really well and what inspires those working in it. For that reason, we don’t use story only as an outcome. We use it too as a tool of enquiry and find that it helps our clients to get to the heart of the matter as quickly and as easily as possible.

You Find The Fun

When we began to exchange stories with the teams at The Westport Woods and Yeats’ Country hotels, we saw and heard how absorbed they became as they talked about this picnic on the beach, that fancy dress party or the first successful length of the swimming pool. They spoke fondly of the families who came back year after year, and the children who returned as eighteen year olds to work as KO’s (Kiddie Organisers).

We were struck by how warmly they spoke of their guests and the real interest they had in the children and their holidays. This was borne out in the other stories we heard: those told in the comment cards, the news articles and the letters from the children themselves.

We were also struck by something else. What we heard described above all else was the transformational role that a family holiday plays in the life of the family. This is a golden time of year, when the days seem endless, when Mum and Dad are more relaxed and ready to play, and the child makes new friends, tries out new activities and grows taller and more confident.

It is a time of delight, of magic and romance when the unexpected happens and the child catches glimpses of other worlds, hears new expressions and strange accents from other places, has that first crush and sees things a little differently.

We were struck too by the part that the KO’s play in all of this. For one or two weeks of the year, they are welcomed into the family circle where they transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, coax and cajole parents and children to play together again and generally turn things upside down.

And Snap!

In the telling of these family holiday stories in Mayo and Sligo, we heard another story, one that describes how a family where the parents are too caught up in their grown up world of business and politics to play with their children, and where those children have grown wild and unruly as a result, have their lives turned upside down and transformed by the arrival of an extraordinary figure.

There is an even older story, of course, but we heard echoes of the story of Mary Poppins, the nanny who arrives magically into the household of the Banks family in London, and takes children first, and then parents, on a series of magical adventures which changes the way they see their world and their family life. At the end, the family has learned to play together again and whilst they head off to the park to fly a kite, Mary quietly takes her leave, her job complete.

We reminded the teams at the two hotels of this marvellous modern fable and of the echoes with their own work and they agreed that the Mary Poppins story would be a powerful one to use to inspire their own brand.

The Job’s A Game

We then set out to tell this story, turning first to the designers to develop an identity that would reflect the core values of the new brand: family, connection, participation, self-worth and play; and infuse them with Mary’s uniquely brisk, challenging and magical way of doing things. The result was go!kids! with its lively tagline ‘Everyone Can Play’.

We then considered all aspects of the traditional family holiday offer at the two hotels, including management, catering, facilities and recruitment, and assembled a team to deliver the new brand and to give it voice and expression through a mix of marketing, team training and PR.

And Every Task You Undertake

The choice of the brand story had an immediate effect on the business. The two hotels began to recognise their own leadership position in the market and to tap into the transformational role of go!kids! in the life of the family. They saw themselves less as being in the business of beds and sleep (which is how many hotels see things) and more in the business of families and play.

They adopted a confident, commanding tone in their communications and gained a new confidence in their own offer. They adapted the format, extended it to other parts of the year and identified new routes to market.

Becomes A Piece Of Cake

Just as in the original story, the outcome was fairly dramatic. The hotels reported an increase of 12% on summer business in the first year and an immediate return on their investment on design and production of 5:1 within four months of launch. As the hotels extended the operation of go!kids! to other parts of the year, they recorded an increase of 10% on year-round family holiday business in the following year.

As Michael Lennon, General Manager at The Westport Woods Hotel puts it: “The go!kids! brand has rejuvenated our family holiday business, changed the way we see our offering and given us something fresh and distinctive to say to our market.”

You can play too! To find out more about family holidays at the Westport Woods and Yeats’ Country hotels, visit www.gokids.ie