Building a name in a highly competitive sector is difficult, even if you have money to burn on advertising. But creating awareness for an ill-defined brand with little above-the-line expenditure is quite a challenge.
Five years ago Hugh Taylor, head of marketing for Jarvis hotels, was faced with just this task. He had to strengthen the profile of a hotel chain without advertising and with a marque that was difficult to pin down. “Of all the things marketing people normally look for, we had nothing,” explains Taylor. “Jarvis didn’t mean anything to anyone at the time – there was no proposition. The advantage was that we didn’t have a brand that was known, and so you can only exceed expectations. There were opportunities we could make the most of. It was a joy for me because I had a completely blank piece of paper.”
The 65-strong chain of Jarvis hotels ranged from a 14-room 11th-century country inn in Matlock to a 230-room city hotel in the middle of Manchester. Initially this diversity seemed to present Jarvis with a problem, but in the end it was this variety that differentiated the chain from the competition. The difficulty was how to market it.
The idea of a comprehensive third-party promotions programme was first considered by Jarvis just over two years ago and provided the low-cost key to this marketing challenge.
The success of the scheme speaks for itself. According to Taylor, the highest performing promotion took 300,000 of revenue over a six-week period, and overall in 1996, Jarvis took 3.5m in promotional revenue at a cost to them of about 55,000. Last year, the programme bagged the Catey award for the best group marketing campaign (an award scheme run by Caterer & Hotel Keeper magazine) and according to the British Hotel Guest Survey (a joint venture by BDRC and NOP 1996/1997 due out this month) Jarvis hotels now record 40 per cent recognition among regular business guests.
In the 1995/1996 survey Jarvis recorded a nine per cent increase in awareness, which is attributed to the promotional campaign; they were the second-fastest growing hotel brand name in the country after Swallow, which spends 500,000 annually on advertising.
The thinking behind the scheme was strength by association. “If you have a weak brand then the best thing you can do is associate it with strong brands,” explains Taylor. “You will be seen as a serious player if you work with an Esso, TSB, a Dixons or a MasterCard. We started small and did a few scaled-down promotions, such as offering discounted rates of 20 or 50 per cent depending on the product.”
Tailor-made campaigns provided Jarvis with a link to already established brands and because each promotion was a bespoke project, Jarvis had the flexibility to adapt to specific markets. In addition, there was no need to define the unformed brand while the promotions took place. Partner brands benefited from the offers, while revenue was driven through hotels and the profile of Jarvis was raised as it appeared on a wide range of promotional material.
While savings on breaks have been the most significant factor in generating interest in promotions, Taylor has created added value in the shape of a leisure card. This allows individuals on short breaks special discounts and offers on local attractions. Taylor negotiated deals with the National Trust, English Heritage and museums, zoos and theme parks so that hotels guests could take advantage of local attractions at reduced prices.
“The important thing to realise is that the promotions market is made up of individual briefs,” says Taylor. “If you are going to be a supplier to this market and be successful at it, you have to make sure that each promotion is taken individually. If they want added value that no one else has, you create it. The leisure card came up as a result of adding value when everyone else was talking about cutting price.”
Weekend break offers were transmitted primarily through media, on-pack and in-store promotions. Taylor estimates that the Jarvis name has appeared on 25 million pieces of promotional material since the programme began. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail featured a buy-off-the-page scheme, and on-pack promotions have included a collectible voucher scheme featured on 3 million packs of Alpen. In-store, Dixons recently ran a promotion offering a free weekend break with a computer purchase, which was accompanied by point-of-sale materials and wall and ceiling hangings. Other blue-chip promotional partners have included Asda, Marks & Spencer and Toyota.
To work in partnership with these kinds of companies, Jarvis had to ensure that there would be reliable operations for each promotion. “One of the most important parts of selling promotional products is to show you are incredibly efficient and that you can react immediately,” says Taylor. “We have to be a very tight team, we are not hierarchical or bureaucratic – we don’t have to have lots of people making decisions.”
Taylor needed to create a dedicated department which was flexible enough to cope with several high-volume promotions at a time. As the programme of campaigns has expanded, the team of four in 1992 has grown to 12. All staff working in the department are briefed on each promotion and the process is highly automated.
Taylor says: “If a caller rings in on one of the 30 lines and identifies himself as, for example, a TSB customer, the operator will pull up the appropriate screen. Because all enquiries come through to a computerised central system, the response following each promotion can be closely monitored.”
In the future Taylor is looking to build on growth by developing further media (particularly women’s magazines), promotions and loyalty scheme opportunities with big-name companies. He is aiming to build on the success of existing projects with, for example, the Daily Mail, which is one of Jarvis’ most successful relationships. “We are always looking for new partners,” he says. “As a hotel company we are in a better position to put promotions together quickly because we have done so many and because we have a dedicated team. It’s all about association – we’ll do anything to link ourselves with big partners.”