Please give me your elevator pitch; a paragraph or two about what you do.
White Stone Marketing is a boutique marketing firm focused on helping small lodging properties achieve revenue numbers far above what other marketers can achieve. By design we are the Ferrari of marketing companies for our industry with one staff member for every four clients. We created the first internet marketing company for B&B’s almost 25 years ago now and have a long track record of success across thousands of clients. Our reputation speaks for itself.
What is your main marketing focus when working with innkeepers?
We focus primarily on two things: Helping the innkeeper achieve their desired revenue and excellent ROI from their marketing expenditures.
What can you do that innkeepers can’t (or what do you do better)?
Let’s flip this question around and look at what we can’t do first. We can’t make a property great and we can’t take excellent care of their guests. Only the innkeeper can do this and the level of success they will realize often depends entirely on how well they’ll do their job. The innkeeper’s property and service constitutes the first “P” of Marketing which is “Product”. The third “P” which is “Place” (or location) is also out of our hands as it’s generally already been chosen. This leaves the other two P’s which are Price and Promotion.
We see our relationship with inns as a partnership whereby success comes from the innkeeper doing an excellent job with creating a memorable inn and taking great care of their guests while our team of experts handles their promotion and advises them on revenue management using science and statistics. Technically an innkeeper doesn’t need someone to advise them on Price and Revenue Management or handle their Promotion but when you want to take your marketing to the next level and make more revenue than you currently are or even thought possible, that’s when you hire experts.
What is your best general marketing advice for new innkeepers? How about established B&Bs?
We need to divide this up into several sections – buying a new property, buying an existing inn and then for established B&B’s as our advice is different for each.
For new innkeepers buying a new property
- Hire a consultant in the industry to guide you. You don’t have to spend a ton of money with them but this isn’t a time to wing it.
- Get on the calendar of the best photographers you can find immediately as anyone good is booked out six months in advance.
- Start shopping for a web designer with the same understanding that they’ll be booked out.
- Take whatever you think you should spend on marketing in the first year and triple it or more. While that sounds shocking, you’re starting from ground zero and you’ll only get out of your marketing what you put into it.
For new innkeepers buying an existing property
From experience, the first thing most every new owner does is to fire the current marketer and cut the marketing budget. I’d like to encourage new innkeepers to first initiate a discussion with the current marketer of the property with regard to marketing budgets, what needs to be fixed and/or changed in their marketing, etc. All too often innkeepers during the last years of owning an inn tend to defer maintenance of their marketing such as getting a new web design. The effect of firing the one person (their current marketer) who can tell you what you need to do simply doubles down on this mistake. It’s generally a free call since the marketing company wants to retain your business so why not take advantage of it? You can then take these questions to other marketers in the form of a sales call and choose wisely who will guide you in the coming years. Any other answer would require more specific knowledge of the property as marketing plans are very specific to each inn.
Marketing advice for established B&B’s
Marketing is the accelerator on revenue for an inn. The more money you want to make, the further down you press the accelerator. If you want to cruise along with low occupancy and low prices you don’t need a marketing company. If you want to just do okay, any marketing company will do. But if you want to achieve the full revenue potential of your inn, you need to hire the best marketer you can find and follow their advice.
How much, specifically, do your services cost?
Our marketing service plans differ based on the size of the property and the desired revenue potential. Our services are month-to-month with no contracts.
What are the biggest mistakes innkeepers make in terms of marketing, assuming they try?
The “Return” innkeepers receive is based on their “Investment” – that’s what ROI is all about. If a mistake is made it’s simply in that many innkeepers do not invest enough into marketing so the return they receive is far less than their full potential. Proper marketing is like a slot machine that always pays anywhere from two to twenty times the return on what’s spent. I’ve never seen an innkeeper spend too much on proper marketing – it’s always the opposite. A general rule of thumb is to spend 10% of gross annual revenue on marketing for the greatest potential ROI. If you don’t want to increase your occupancy or revenue you can use a lower number.
How do you measure results?
We combine data from Google Analytics E-Commerce Tracking with the data from booking engine reports to determine the ROI of every marketing campaign and expenditure. We then work closely with our clients to ensure their marketing budgets are optimized for the level of occupancy and revenue they desire. At the end of the day, it’s all about satisfying the client and helping them achieve their goals.
What have you learned that you were not expecting since your company has been operating?
That you have to visit a property to properly market it which is why we start all client relationships with a visit to their property by one of our top experts in order to get to know the property, area and competition. I didn’t know this in the early years but then again, nobody did. Another thing in recent years has baffled me which is that innkeepers will pay the OTA’s 15-25% in commission instead of investing 10% of gross revenue into their own marketing. The OTA’s are stealing their guests and selling them back to them at a premium and I find it surprising that innkeepers will put up with it instead of spending the money on their own marketing.
What are the biggest changes in B&B marketing strategies we can expect this year?
Two things have converged over the last several years to cause a major change in marketing for B&B’s. The first is the decline in the effectiveness of referring websites such as B&B directories, chamber of commerce websites, etc. The second is the rise of the OTA’s. Savvy innkeepers in 2018 will be questioning the ROI of existing marketing expenditures, dropping those that don’t have a high enough ROI and looking for new resources to invest their marketing dollars into in order to avoid having to rely on the OTA’s.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want our members and board to know?
Our reputation in the industry is well known as being the best but also expensive. Several years ago, the owners of a small four-room property were talking to me about our company and I advised them to look into our less expensive competitors. They ignored my advice, told me they wanted the best and hired us. A few years later they told me that due to all the increased revenue from our marketing efforts they were expanding the inn to include several large master suites. Sometimes even I’m surprised after all these years at the revenue that’s being left on the table by inns who simply will not invest the proper budget into their marketing. I’m also pleasantly surprised when an innkeeper gets it and then gets the reward for their faith in marketing. I encourage all of you to give marketing a fighting chance by wisely investing into it.