Don't Forget The Product: Little Things Still Mean A Lot

I just returned from a three-week vacation in Hawaii, and I was once again reminded that the key to great marketing starts with your product. As I traveled across the islands, staying in everything from five-star hotels to small bed and breakfasts, I found that little details resonate in big ways. As marketers, we’re working to enhance our SEO and PPC, embrace the next social media craze or ramp up our focus on mobile, but we’d all benefit greatly by taking a long, hard look at the product travelers experience when they stay with us.

Years ago, Sheraton ran an ad campaign called “Little things mean a lot” that attempted to capture how random acts of kindness and attention to the details in product and service defined their brand. That theme remains even more relevant today in a world where marketing is increasingly defined by word of mouth, and these details are amplified in ways that make them an essential ingredient for business success.

One of the places we stayed in Hawaii was a small, but elegant, bed and breakfast on the southern-most tip of the Big Island. Perhaps knowing that they typically serve as a short refuge for those who are spending days circling the expansive island, they have wisely installed a huge, modern washer and dryer not far from the guest rooms. It’s hard to explain how welcome a sight those machines were as we reached the midpoint of our extended trip.

Even better, you could use them free of charge, complete with your choice of detergents (including scent-free). When I asked the owner about them, he smiled and said, “They’ve become one of our most popular amenities.” He could have just as easily noted that these amenities provided the added benefit of helping the property achieve consistently high rankings on TripAdvisor, which is how we found it.

Of course, attention to detail isn’t reserved for small properties. Our stay in a suite at the luxurious St. Regis Princeville in Kauai reminded me that the in-room toiletries war is still raging. To my wife’s delight, our suite featured products from Laboratoire Remède, a pricey, high-end brand developed by French chemists. Curious, we went online and found that our small tube of facial scrub retailed for over $80. Talk about feeling pampered.

When we learned our flight to Kona was going to be delayed, we apologetically alerted the hosts where we were staying (a restored plantation that had become a guesthouse) that we’d be arriving after midnight. As we exhaustedly arrived at the property, the owner energetically greeted us and had everything ready for our arrival, including a much-needed snack and drinks waiting for us in our room.

Over the next three days, we saw this attention to detail again and again from our hosts. Beach chairs and towels to use as we explored the islands. Snorkel gear in all sizes. Free beverages and snacks in a well-stocked refrigerator. A lovely bottle of our preferred wine in our room. A multi-course breakfast menu customized each morning that was bountiful enough to fill us up for the day. When we told the owners they had anticipated every need and exceeded our expectations, they simply replied that they had traveled extensively and were merely doing all the little things they wished had been done for them when they stayed in hotels around the world.

It reminded me of something I had heard said years earlier by Isadore Sharp, the founder and head of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. When asked about the secret to his brand’s success, he simply said, “Do onto others, as you would have them do onto you.”

All this attention to detail motivated us to give our Hawaiian innkeepers a glowing review on TripAdvisor and several other sites before we had even left the property. A perfect example of product and the experience fueling word of mouth — that then gets amplified across social media, with social media driving the property’s marketing.

Of course, not everything on our trip was so perfect. There was certainly some disappointment to weigh against our delight. Incredibly poor task lighting in one of our hotels. Lack of bathroom shelf space in another. A rental car with broken headlights. Yet, all of them were little things, easily fixable if the brands and properties were fully attuned to the need to satisfy and delight their guests.

In a world where every detail counts and product experiences fuel word of mouth, little things mean a lot. Perhaps more than ever.

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