Building a customer mailing list

Your customer mailing list is one of the most valuable assets of your hotel or restaurant.

I am amazed how few hotels and restaurants use e-mail marketing. It’s never too late to start building a database, and e-mail marketing is a great way to continue to build the relationship with your customers and keep you in their mind when the time comes for a return visit or when asked to make a recommendation.
Without a list, every time you want to get something in front of your customers or prospects you have to start all over again. Your list gives you the opportunity to tell every existing and potential customer about promotions, seasonal events and any other newsworthy information relevant to your target market.
The more detail you have on people who are interested in what you offer, the more often you can return to them with additional offers that are tailored to them. And the more often you do this, the more likely it is that this will result in business.

Offer incentives to build your list

To build your list, you may need to set up incentives for people to fill in a physical form or coupon, or sign up online and share their details. Some ideas might be:

  • Discounts or vouchers (ensuring they are attractive offers,  but include time limits and offers that won’t leave you out of pocket once redeemed)
  • Free information such as a pdf downloadable guide to something of relevance and of interest to your target market, your business or your local area. For example, recipes for your popular dishes, aromatherapy guide related to your spa, golfing tips if you have a golf course, 101 things to do with the kids during your stay….. You get the picture
  • Prize draws or competitions, with relevant prizes from your own products or services, or those of your joint venture partners
  • Access to exclusive offers or ‘members only’ offers

Whatever the incentive it needs to be something that is of value and highly desirable to your target audience; something that will compel them to fill out the form and part with their details.

Where to find contacts

There are three key sources of names:

Existing customers: Simply ask them to leave their business card, or fill out a blank card which enables those who’d rather not give their business details to fill in their personal contact details. Present this with their bill so it gets their attention.
You may want to combine data gathering with gaining feedback on your customers’ stay or visit at the same time.

Collecting phone numbers at the time of booking will allow you to make follow up calls, and having a mobile number allows you to confirm reservations.

Online: This may be existing customers, but more likely will be for people in response to an advert or people who have just stumbled on your website.  You’ll need an ‘opt in’ or ‘landing’ page to capture their details.

As there is no relationship yet with these people you need a really enticing offer to encourage people to share their details. Remember, some of these may be those who may not want to buy right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be potential customers in future.

In order to track the effectiveness of your marketing activities it’s useful to be able to identify the source of the contact. So you may need to include a ‘how did you hear of us?’ field, unless you have dedicated urls for different adverts or press mentions to help you keep track.

Your joint venture partners: Ask your JV’s to give their customers your discount vouchers or an invitation to receive your exclusive offers. Then ask customers to complete their details in order to redeem them with you.

Never compromise your contacts’ trust by giving or selling your list to anyone else; if a joint venture partner wants to offer something to your contacts do it through you, and vice versa.

You could in theory use contact information taken from customers’ registration details, but use this sparingly and only for a follow up and very relevant offers. You’re legally entitled to contact your own customers with future offers, but always seek permission to use customers’ details for any marketing activity. And of course if any customer asks not to be contacted at any time, you must respect this, and record their preference on your database.

Whichever way you capture prospects’ and customers’ contact information, under the Data Protection Act 1998 you must have permission to communicate with them. The Information Commissioner’s Office website (www.ico.gov.uk) shows what you need to do.

What information you really need

The more information you have the better in order to tailor your mailings to suit the needs of your customer. Asking for a lot of personal detail up front is, however, not very practical (and likely to be very off putting) so it’s better to gather it over time.

What you gather first off will depend on how you want to contact them, so if emailing is your preferred option start with just their name and email address. But if knowing who is local and who is not is important, you may want to gather mailing addresses too. This opens up the opportunity for a physical mailing, which although more expensive is certainly more eye catching than an email and may be a better match for your audience.

So balance what you ideally need with what is reasonable for people to share with you.

Tomorrow we’ll look at what to do with your list.

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