Johnson's World: I Need a Vacation

What can we learn from Hilton?

June 1, 2014
Steve Johnson11276927

I need a vacation. A nice long trip to Hawaii, or perhaps a week in Florida. At least so says Hilton Grand Vacations.

The business of marketing, advertising, and prospecting isn’t easy. Many people aligned with the business get carried away by their clever slogans, catchy jingles, beautiful inks and social media followings. None of these matter except as a means to an end.

The end, of course, is sales. That may be fairly straightforward if your product is groceries or fast food. It is more complex when you are selling prescription drugs, luxury cars or timeshare condominiums. It is the latter that is the product of Hilton Grand Vacations.

The standard shtick for marketing timeshares is fairly predictable. Entice the prospect to come to a presentation by offering some sort of premium such as a free dinner or a free ipod. Once the prospect shows up the high pressure salespeople take over.

Hilton has upped the ante quite a bit by offering not a meal, but a week-long vacation package at one of their resorts in Florida or Hawaii, not for free but for a very reasonable price.

Hilton knows that I’m a good prospect for their pitch. Since I travel quite a bit I often stay in Hilton hotels (or Doubletree or Hampton Inns or any other half-dozen chains that are all part of Hilton.) Consequently I’m also a Hilton HHonors gold member. This means that Hilton has a fair amount of my personal information.

My home zip code and phone number tells them that I live in a fairly affluent community. (I actually live in a rural area outside of town, but Hilton doesn’t know that.) My travel records show that I regularly vacation in Orlando, where one of their timeshare resorts is located. (In reality I never vacation in Orlando. I only go there for business conferences.)

So now Hilton’s challenge is to persuade me to take a week-long vacation at one of their resorts. How best to accomplish this task?

Hilton’s marketers utilized a three pronged approach.

First was telemarketing. Hilton Grand Vacations regularly appeared on caller-id on my home telephone. Since I’m rarely home during telemarketing hours they never got through to me. They never left a message, so I don’t even know if it was a machine call or a live human. And since I am scrupulous about not letting out my cell or business phone numbers to companies, the telephone route proved a dead end in this case.

Next came email. Pictures of buxom bikini girls snorkeling with sea turtles were sent to tantalize me. Headlines proclaimed the savings that I would score if I would only act now. The messages were constructed professionally enough to circumvent all of my spam filters, but alas, I delete unsolicited spam unopened.

They are tenacious, those Hilton folks. Perhaps they were encouraged when there analytics told them that I had begun to open their email messages and was no longer deleting them. How could they know that I was only planning a magazine article?

The third medium employed by Hilton was print. I received a tastefully printed oversize four-color envelope with a postage stamp instead of a permit, addressed with a handwriting font. Although it was clearly an ad I couldn’t resist opening it.

Inside I discovered a well designed and typographed eight-page brochure in process color with waterfall pages and a gatefold. Even after all these years it still amazes me how exciting and enticing graphics are in print, much more so than exactly the same graphics in an email or on a website.

Of course the brochure contained much more detail than was possible in an email or phone call, so it was from the mail piece that I really learned about Hilton Grand Vacations.

What can we learn from Hilton? No, my conclusion is not that print is the only way to go. On the contrary, good direct marketing uses all available media channels suitable for the intended audience.

To assure success, just make sure that always one of those channels is print!