There’s a lot of discussion in journalism these days about how important it is to be first -- at a time when getting a “scoop” means breaking a story a few seconds ahead of the next (or next thousand) news outlet. That has led to mistakes and embarrassments.
But sometimes being first with a marketing strategy can make a lasting impression even if a brand or company is ahead by -- maybe not a few seconds -- but by a short time. The critical point is that the “first” to deliver does so with the right message.
This was recently brought to mind when Loews Hotels held a press conference to announce a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security whereby Loews would waive the $100 application fee for high-level loyalty program members who wanted to become members of DHS’s Global Entry program. That program allows travelers to expedite entry into this country, as well as eases screening procedures at domestic airports.
Loews executives and DHS officials were asked if other hotel companies would be copying the program. While they wouldn’t answer directly, clearly other companies are expected to follow suit -- in some form. Assuming they do, and do it quickly, was it worth it for Loews to be first with all that entails in figuring out all the wrinkles of deploying program like this?
I think so. The media coverage was extensive -- and positive. Even though this program was limited to Platinum members of Loews’ YouFirst loyalty program, a relatively small group, it lent Loews the halo of going an extra step to making travel easier for its customers. That is a commendable image at a time when travel is almost universally conceded to be a hassle -- even by travel companies. And while most of the blame goes to airlines and airports, hospitality and other companies are also tarnished by the frequent nastiness of travel.
Loews clearly had an advantage here. Jonathan Tisch, its chairman, has long been an activist for easing travel into the U.S. for years -- so he knew ins and outs of working out a deal like this.
But other companies must have their own insights or advantages that would make it easier for them to come up with a “first.”
Another example: InterContinental Hotels Group, which operates Holiday Inns and many other brands, offered to reimburse customers a couple of years ago for their checked bag fees -- another key annoyance for travelers. I’m not sure if competitors even followed. Sometimes, when you’re first, competitors don’t even bother to match.
And both of these initiatives prove that a “first” doesn’t have to be a high-tech affair. There is nothing technological about these promotions -- just a way for Loews and IHG to show that they’re paying attention to the difficulties of being on the road and is trying to think of ways to ease them.
So, yes, be first -- but first be sure you’re leading the way the right way.