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Today Skype passed a milestone of 30 million people online at the same time.  Wow.  Of all the outlets online for social media, I think Skype gets back to the heart of the old fashion connection with people.  You can’t hide behind your keyboard or edit and re-edit your responses. Or multi-task, which I am a self proclaimed queen of.  You just get back to connecting with people face to face – online.  What I would give to of had this technology growing up.  So the question of the day is, who have you Skyped today? Make it your new daily ritual.

I stopped into Swoozie’s this afternoon for our weekly meeting and couldn’t resist snapping a shot of these oh-so-social cocktail napkins! Rest assured you will see these at our next tweet up …

In full disclosure, Swoozie’s is a client of Guest Relations Marketing; the opinions I express are my own.

While most “loyalty” programs in hospitality these days don’t truly equate to true customer loyalty, stash rewards seems to have a model that might actually engage travelers and compete with the big players.

What do you think? Would you be likely to participate in this loyalty program amidst independent resorts & hotels? What independents are you a Zealot for currently that you’d like to see in the mix?

As shared from…

Stash Rewards
A former Expedia executive is launching a loyalty program that enables independents to compete with the big hotel chains, reports Elizabeth Olson in the New York Times (8/3/10). Jeff Low, along with “e-commerce veterans of Amazon, Microsoft and Zillow … has signed up 79 hotels in 63 cities” in Stash Hotel Rewards. All of the participating properties have three-star ratings or higher, and the idea is to give travelers more choices.

“Travelers said they often felt forced to make a frustrating trade-off,” says Jeff. “An independent hotel offers a more memorable, personalized guest experience, rather than the same bland room and identical bed in the big-box hotel just to earn points.” The concept is poised to work equally well for the hotels: “Independent hotels can now say that we’ve got what you’re looking for, and there’s also something in it for you, the traveler,” says Jan Freitag of Smith Travel Research.

The independents certainly could use a boost. Occupancy at independent hotels dropped 8.9 percent last year and rates dropped by 9.5 percent, according to Smith Travel. The Stash Network is less expensive for hotels than other online booking sites, which typically charge 25 percent per booking, versus seven percent via Stash. Jeff Low says he hopes to have signed an additional 200 upscale independents by next year, which would put Stash in a league with Hyatt, which has 240 properties, and on the trail of Starwood, which has 500 in the US.

—June 2010 Guest Relations Marketing’s social media work for CURE Childhood Cancer was recently awarded the SoCon10 Excellence in Social Media Award in the non-profit category by the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University.

Sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, the SoCon10 Excellence in Social Media Award is awarded in several different categories, one being in the non-profit category.

The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University has been hosting the SoCon Conference – the Southeast’s premiere annual social media and social networking conference – for the past 4 years.  SoCon10 hosted a gathering of more than 300 small business owners, bloggers, new media pros, academics and professionals from across the spectrum of marketing, public relations, and human resources.

Leonard Witt, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, noted, “There is a hunger for this kind of information so we will be running more targeted conferences throughout 2010.”

This is the inaugural contest of the SoCon Excellence in Social Media Award, which grew out of the need to recognize excellence and innovation in social media. The judging committee, comprised of social media experts, senior marketing executives and business leaders from around the country was coordinated by Karla Harvill, the Georgia PRSA President.

Last September, Guest Relations Marketing developed a fundraising program for CURE Childhood Cancer, our Atlanta-based non-profit client, that capitalized on National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness and donations for CURE, in addition to honoring children who have or had childhood cancer. The initiative was called CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time – and they certainly did.

The aim of the campaign was to honor 30 kids, one for each day in the month of September, with each committed to raising $1,000 to benefit CURE Childhood Cancer.

Due to an overwhelming response from supporters, by the end of the month, the promotion had honored 57 children and raised over $170,000, which is nearly 5.5 times the goal of $30,000.  CURE was overwhelmed by the results.

We could not have anticipated what this initiative would mean to us – the staff at CURE- to the families of the children honored and remembered and to our greater community. As we began our days reading the stories of the children honored that day and we took to heart their journeys, we were changed. Employers of some of the parents of the children honored and remembered offered donations to match those raised by the family on their child’s day. Communities rallied around families as a show of support. Offers of volunteer service poured into the CURE office as strangers to the cause were awakened to the need for their support.” – Kristin Connor, Executive Director, CURE Childhood Cancer.

While the primary objective of the campaign was fundraising, the establishment of new “communities” and the dramatic increase in newsletter and social media followers was a greater outcome. CURE Childhood Cancer was introduced to literally tens of thousands of people in a personal and connected way spreading more awareness than originally thought possible.

Our last newsletter noted the value of unexpected rewards versus “expected” or earned frequency programs.   But, what is the best way to ensure that unannounced or promoted touches (or rewards) generate the customer delight you intend?

Personal recognition goes to the heart of creating Zealots.   We have seen examples of this countless times through research, through personal experience and through other anecdotal examples. Personal recognition matters, whether you are an upscale brand, a mainstream brand or a niche marketer.

One of the best examples out there is the door greeter at Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart, the great monolith. A retailer based on volume and low prices.   Does a door greeter add value in their philosophy?  Apparently, quite a bit – it is fundamental to their operation.  No, it is not truly personal in the sense of knowing your name and customizing your experience, but in terms of putting a face and a smile as a first impression to its customers?   Priceless, as the advertising line goes.

What are other examples of personal recognition that have impressed you?

BMW. The ULTIMATE driving machine.  They don’t care what others think about their owners’ attitudes towards their car.   And, yes there is an attitude and a swagger to a BMW owner.

Apple. Think DIFFERENT.   Uh, are you a nice, don’t make waves corporate type?   Check in at the Dell stand dude.  Mac people are more creative and smarter.  Just ask them.

Jif Peanut Butter. Only a abusive mother would not buy Jif for her family.  After all, choosy moms choose Jif.

First, Pepsi ran campaigns for years touting blind taste test wins.  And, arguably the biggest market research faux pas was about replacing brand Coke with “New Coke.”   Coca-Cola Zealots would rather go without than drink a competitive brand replacement.   For a soft drink that costs less than a buck at retail and with a myriad of competitors, this brand has many fans that believe you are desecrating their family lineage if you offer them anything other than a Coke.

Green Bay Packers. You probably know the “Cheeseheads” have a waiting list to endure sub-zero degree game (and tailgating) conditions. And, they consider the all-time Packer – Brett Favre – a traitor, because he “deserted” to a rival team.   Did you know they have a “FANS” hall of fame?  Or, that the team is a non-profit and owned by the community?  Packer fans are legendary and unique to all of sports.

What are your top 5 Zealotry Brands? Share them with us…

Doug Kennedy conducts training and speaks to hospitality groups.  He provides excellent examples and tips on how to improve zealotry referral and reduce detractors actions.  In particular, internal communications is a key facet to managing actions and reactions to posts and reviews.

As reposted by

Remember in “the good old days” when “all” we had to worry about from a negative guest was that they would tell their family, friends, and co-workers? Most seasoned hoteliers will recall being told in training classes that “a happy guest tells five others; an unhappy guest tells 9-10 others.” It seems like not that long ago I was facilitating workshops where, based on these numbers, we tried to quantify the cost of future business that was lost through negative word-of-month advertising, and even then it easily justified an investment in hospitality training and development.

In today’s world, a guest’s potential to share negative feedback is almost unimaginable, and seems to be gaining momentum. For example, in 2002 a now-famous Powerpoint presentation was created by two disgruntled business travelers who were members of a brand’s loyalty program, but who according to their slides were treated extremely rudely by a hotel in Dallas. The presentation, which was complete with graphics, charts and visuals, was sent to their contacts via e-mail with a cover note encouraging them to share it with friends, and encourage their friends to pass it on. It eventually was sent to hundreds of thousands of others and is now a media legend having been mentioned in the USA Today, NBC, and elsewhere. In checking online today under key words “Yours Is A Very Bad Hotel,” there is still extensive publicity out there about this now-famous presentation. Interestingly, the authors have since expressed they have accepted the apologies of both the hotel and the brand, are turning down interview requests, and have even expressed both empathy and a little sympathy for the night clerk who they claim treated them so rudely that night. “Way back then” then it was considered shocking that one complaint could be blasted to tens of thousands of people via e-mail networking.

Yet the potential damage from a negative guest experience today is far more extensive. Take for example a music video, which was posted on YouTube by a man claiming to be a traveling musician who, after being alerted by another passenger, personally witnessed his treasured guitar being tossed around the tarmac by baggage handlers on a United Airlines flight. According to the story told in his song and accompanying music video, his complaints were rejected by everyone from the flight crew to the baggage office and eventually to the United customer service office. Apparently out of frustration and at the end of the line, he wrote a song, created a music video, and posted it on YouTube under the title “United Breaks Guitars” which as of this writing has so far been viewed more than 5,000,000 times in just 45 days since being posted.  In fact the song is now available for purchase at iTunes. Here is a link to the video clip on YouTube:

As a former rock band member who still drags out my prized ole’ Alvarez-Yari now than then, I can certainly empathize with the songwriter who’s treasured favorite guitar was destroyed. I assume most any viewer would have to admit tells his story with humor and wit. Then again as a frequent traveler I also empathize United Airlines too, especially since my personal experiences with them have been positive and I can think of more than once when they provided above and beyond service when I was caught in a quandary.

Regardless, the point is this is a very recent example of the potential “cost” of an extremely negative guest experience. Of course most day-to-day guest interactions don’t result in this much negative publicity. Instead, an experience which is perceived to be extremely negative more typically results in a negative review on websites such as TripAdvisor, Travel Post, FlipKey, or at online travel agencies most of which now offer guest reviews. Even a single negative online guest review can cause significant damage be scaring-off future potential guests.

Besides such guest review websites, the feedback about your hotel on social networking websites is going to become even more critical in coming months and years, as meta-search engines such as have now been announced which will scan your social networking websites to direct you to postings from your network regarding the lodging facility you are considering.

Fortunately, there is also really good news in this trend as it can work both ways. If you as a manager or leader have the right vision and commitment, you can make this trend work to the advantage of your hotel. As in days of old where people made it a point to tell a story about a positive guest experience to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors, today’ guests who have an extremely positive experience do often motivated to post their positive feedback on websites such as TripAdvisor, FlipKey and Travel Post, which are but a few of the many guest review options available to today’s travel planners.

It is interesting to watch this unfold. Recently, my family and I went on a summer beach vacation with two other families at a wonderful resort where we had a terrific time. Throughout our week’s stay, it was not only the 17 year old girl who was making Twitter updates on how the resort “rocked,” but also my firefighter buddy Alex updating his MySpace page to let his firefighter friends and also his VW club know how much fun this destination and the resort was. Likewise, his wife Dana made several updates during the week to her Facebook page, which is where she stays in touch with her 8 brothers and sisters, plus about 500 other active “friends.”  Fortunately for this resort the news was all positive and I’m sure someone down the line is going to read what they posted and be influenced by it.

For hospitality industry organizations who are truly focused on creating guest hospitality excellence, this is really all great news because now our industry is becoming as transparent on the issue of quality as it became long ago on the issue of price when “best available rate” pricing was first implemented. Regardless of what your feelings and opinions are about social media and guest reviews, the fact is that now your hotel’s reputation is at stake and guests are going to be talking about how they were really treated for better or for worse.

If you are embracing consumer generated media, guest reviews, and social networking as marketing and public relation opportunities to get the good news out about your hotel, here are some training tips for your next meeting:

•   Accept that the key factor in the booking decision of your hotel’s future guests is going to be hospitality and guest service, as measured not by an inspector from AAA, Mobile, your brand, or the State health inspector. But is going to be a bigger differentiator based on the way ordinary guests are treated on a daily basis.

•   Make sure your team is aware of what guests are saying about your hotel and team. For associates who don’t have online access, print postings for display in the employee areas.

•    Categorize and react to recurring issues mentioned in negative postings. Put aside the “ranters” and “ravers” who provide extremely bad or good emotionally-based reviews. Instead focus on the day-to-day mundane feedback which is most indicative of your overall training needs.

•    Discretely and indirectly encourage positive postings. It has always been tradition for hotel service staff to encourage positive guest feedback by handing comment cards to guests who are verbalizing a positive experience. In today’s world, we can simply mention to departing guests who are raving that if the guest ever goes on TripAdvisor you would appreciate their “help in spreading the good word.”

•    Share all recent postings with team members. Support those departments or possibly individuals who might have been targeted unfairly, such as when the real service issue was reading a system or process and not a person. Yet be straightforward when the feedback is reasonable and valid. Take advantage of the occurrence being written about as a “teachable moment.”

Of course you can and should be posting responses which first and foremost apologizes for the circumstances in a way which defends the hotel’s actions (if they were in fact defensible) but doesn’t invalidate the person posting the review. There are also legal actions you can take for fraudulent postings which unfortunately still happen all too often even in the corporate hotel world.

By focusing on these and other best practices for hospitality and guest service excellence training, you can ensure that your team will be excited to sign on to the Internet and visit guest review websites and social media posting to read about all the positive feedback that is being posted.

Let me start by saying that I’m a Zealot for Publix, so posting on Kroger is certainly not something I’ll plan to do often. However, this article on loyalty got my attention.

They say the cost to acquire a new customer is five to ten times more than keeping a current customer. Kroger has done the math and dedicated themselves to creating loyal customers by creating more than people just looking for a discount.

Read the below excerpt from Tim Manner’s “reveries” blog. What do you think? Is Kroger creating loyal customers? Are they building Zealots for their brand?

“We don’t need to draw in others who don’t shop with us because the biggest opportunity is with our loyal customers,” says Kroger chief David Dillon in a Cincinnati Enquirer article by Laura Braverman (10/8/09). David says Kroger realized this almost ten years ago, and has been on a path ever since “to put the customer first, and permanently.” Most famously, Kroger engaged with London-based dunnhumby to build a database of 45 million shoppers, using the data to “create advertising campaigns and provide targeted coupons to its most loyal customers.”

Click here to read the full story

For more on Zealotry Marketing, visit us at

While there are many differences between not-for-profit and for-profit businesses, there is one thing that remains the same – they both require funding for programs and both face increasing competition for those dollars.

September is designated as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  Historically, CURE Childhood Cancer has done little to promote this to their followers or local market.

Despite the terrible economic times of 2009 and no budget for external media, Guest Relations Marketing developed a fund-raising program for CURE to coincide with the national promotion.

The Promotion

The aim of the CURE fundraising program was simple: to honor 30 kids, one for each day in the month of September, with each committed to raising $1,000 to benefit CURE Childhood Cancer. The promotion centered around capitalizing on the momentum of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness and money for CURE to help fund their mission, as well as honoring children who have personally had childhood cancer.

CURE reached out to families and received an overwhelming response to those wanting to participate, share their child’s story and reach out to their communities. In total, we honored 57 children throughout the month of September – some had beat the disease, some were in the midst of treatments, some had lost the battle.  Each family shared their own touching story and child’s photo.

Online and social media drove the promotion from a marketing standpoint. A page was created on the brand website, and each child featured on the homepage for “their day.” A personal fundraising page was created for each child on FirstGiving (an online donations website), where their personal story & photo was shared with the world. On their day, each child was also featured on the CURE Blog, as well as on Twitter (@CUREchildcancer) and Facebook Page.  The families also had the option to submit a list of email contacts to receive a series of 3 emails leading up to their child’s day to further help keep it top-of-mind.

The Results

The results were overwhelming! By identifying and activating the Zealots for CURE Childhood Cancer, we were able to engage new groups of people in a personal & connected way. The communications and participation was personal and motivating. And, the fact that it was driven purely by social media is truly a testament to the power of referral and creating viral communities.

  • Children honored: 57
  • Funds raised: +$171,000 (nearly 5.5 times more than our goal of $30,000)
  • 2,204 individual donors in the month of September alone (nearly as many as for 2008 in total)
  • September 2009 the most successful month of all-time for individual donations for CURE
  • Brand website Visitors grew by 30%
  • Page Views were 7.25 times higher
  • Facebook Fans increased by 27%
  • Email database grew by 41%
  • Twitter followers increased by 6.5 times

We know that activating “zealots” is the surest practice of marketing.  It is gratifying to see it come to fruition for such a noble cause as CURE Childhood Cancer. See more at

You can visit us online at Guest Relations Marketing.

The bottom of our office building houses several good, locally-owned restaurants. While our choices aren’t exactly endless, they all certainly have two things in common – they’re convenient, quick & all serve Coca-Cola products.

Not unusual for Atlanta, but Coke has done something clever to help promote themselves and support these local restaurants at the same time. When you walk near any of the restaurants it is quickly apparent that Coke is the beverage of choice. They have branded umbrellas, signs, fountains, counter tops, menus, tablecloths, drink coolers, even Specials of the Day that include your favorite contoured bottle of choice.

Great for Coke, surely more than just a splash of branding. But, also great for the restaurants, who I’m certain got these things complimentary for serving Coke, or at least deeply discounted where they would have to go find them & pay more otherwise.

Especially in a tight economy, finding mutually beneficial ways to support your customers is a great way to build Zealots for your brand at the same time!

Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

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