Copying from the competition, yet you think you can beat them?

Igor Pauletič / / Sales

I’ve spent my last week sailing. Call it a vacation. But there’s no stopping a restless spirit. I offered some advice to a local restaurant proprietor on an island where we spent the night. I have a story that might inspire you.

I’ve been visiting the same island for at least 15 years. Same marina, same (only) dock. Not much has changed for me as a tourist in all these years if I discount the fact that I pay more for the same service every year. 😉 The biggest change occurred last year when a new restaurant proprietor appeared on the island. I remember him as a refreshment – especially since this was the first time I experienced direct marketing of restaurant services among the nautical visitors to this island.

The new proprietor, unlike the other three, took about half an hour of his time every night to visit the dock and invite each crew to his restaurant. He also left a small leaflet with his offerings at every boat. It may have been because he was new to the island or due to direct marketing, but the fact remains that his restaurant was the busiest. I visited him myself last time, and I admit that I probably wouldn’t have if there weren’t for his direct invitation. He was also good at his job. Everything was quite nice – good food, nice ambience, great customer service. He could even continue the conversation he’d had with each customer as they visited his restaurant. The man (Ante) is good at making people feel special. His presence made me feel good.

This year, we were talking about visiting him again even before we arrived to the island. He might even have been one of the reasons we chose to visit this island again. Anyway, we knew what we would order a day in advance and prepared many new jokes about Slovenians and Dalmatians for him. We were full of expectations that were fueled by our positive experience from the previous year.

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While tying our boat, it didn’t take long to figure out how much marketing has advanced on the island in only one year. Messengers by all three of the proprietors that hadn’t used direct marketing last year visited us within an hour. Ante arrived last with his good attitude, carrying his offer sheet in his hand. I couldn’t help myself but to ask about the competitors that are copying his approach from last year:

 “Ante, you have ruined your channel. You invested in marketing for so long that it no longer works.”

“I know, Igor. Only the first one will profit and keep profiting for as long he’s different. Now all four of us have extra work, but none of us profit in the same way I profited last year. I am thinking about investing into TripAdvisor and Facebook. They won’t be able to follow me into “digital”. They won’t know how.”

It really grinds my gears when someone actually believes the only thing they need to do is invest in “digital” and that’s it. I was expecting him to ask me if I knew any good social media gurus, ninjas or growth hackers or other names these so called digital experts like to be called. I was glad he spared me that pleasure.

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Ante didn’t work that night. He took a seat at our table, joined our dinner and kept writing down my ideas about promoting his culinary specialties among the island’s nautical guests. In the end, his notes looked a little something like this:

  1. Don’t bring an offer sheet to boats. Bring a little something from the kitchen (such as finger food) and a small grappa as a welcome drink.
  2. Act as the official promotor of the island. Your visit is meant to welcome people to the island and not promote calamari for 12 EUR. This is also why you bring them small gifts. You mention that they can try other island specialties – a sampling menu is a great ice breaker.
  3. If they liked your sample food and you notice that they want to come to your restaurant, offer them a little something extra if they buy the sampling menu right away (on the boat). This is so they don’t change their mind. Buying a meal voucher won’t be too strange to them if it can for example get them a bottle of the island’s olive oil in the local store with ecologically produced products (ran by Ante’s wife Marina).
  4. Prepare a gift bag for every guest – it may be a small gesture, but it will exceed their expectations. If it’s possible, give different gifts to each of them, so they keep talking about you on the boat when everyone is looking at their gifts. Put a business card with a serial number in the bag. The card should be perforated in the middle, so a name could be written on both halves – one half for the name and email/phone number of the person who recommended you, and the other half for the name and email/phone number of the person who got the recommendation. Any guests who arrive to your place with their half (recommendation) should receive a present, preferably from Marina’s store. At the end of the season, find pairs of recommendations according to their serial numbers and you will find out who your true ambassadors are – you can then ask them to review your restaurant on TripAdvisor and Facebook.
  5. Ask your satisfied customers whether they would like to receive recipes for the dishes they tried. Give them an option to leave their email so you can mail a recipe for a dish every two weeks. Also send the offer for buying some of the related ingredients for the dishes in Marina’s store. Don’t forget about pictures – not only of the food – the staff is also important if you want your guests to relive their experience.

Ante’s list was actually quite a bit longer. I can’t reveal everything just like that. We did after all eat and drink throughout the night at Ante’s restaurant in exchange for some brainstorming and these notes.