“Thinking outside the box” is an expression all of us have heard. But, how many of us can readily define it and apply it for our personal or business benefit? I remember (a long time ago) coloring in books with my brothers and sisters. I determined whoever colored inside the lines, and neatly, was the “best” artist. One of my brothers had no compulsion to color neatly within the lines supplied in the coloring book. He applied color as a means of differentiating defined elements on the page. If he felt the bird was the focal point of his page it became “purple, yellow and flaming orange” and not necessarily colored within the lines that defined the bird on the page. For right or wrong reasons, the observer’s eye was attracted immediately to the bird. For some people “coloring outside the lines” or “thinking outside the box” is innate; they’re born with the creativity to accept, and prefer, the thought process. For others, it’s a learned appreciation. But, the application of this learned behavior can be very beneficial personally and in business when confronted with certain challenges.
First, let me relate a means of marketing organization for golf course owners and managers that neatly remains “inside the box”.
By this time of the year golf course owners and managers have formulated their 2009 plan for success to take advantage of their existing or planned unique market positioning. Appropriately, you can begin this process by applying the basics of theoretical marketing recognized as the “4 P’s of Marketing” and often referred to as The Marketing Mix.
Since I no longer have my college marketing books, I looked up the historical meaning of the phrase “marketing mix” on the Internet and found one at NetMBA.com©. To paraphrase: the idiom became popularized after Neil Borden published his 1964 article, The Concept of the Marketing Mix. Borden began using this phrase in the late 1940’s after James Culliton had described the marketing manager as a “mixer of ingredients”. The ingredients in Borden’s marketing mix included: product planning, pricing, branding, distribution channels, personal selling, advertising, promotions, packaging, display, servicing, physical handling, and fact finding & analysis. E. Jerome McCarthy later grouped these ‘ingredients’ into four categories that today are widely designated “The 4 P’s of Marketing”.
Follow the “Four P’s” of golf course marketing: Price, Product, Promotion and “Packaging” and you will be better prepared for the new season than 70% of all golf courses. (“Place” is actually one of the original “4 P’s” McCarthy introduced and refers primarily to distribution channels. (For example: a product staple like potato chips need to be baked at a site, bulk packaged, shipped to distribution outlets, then shipped to regional warehouses, and ultimately delivered to stores for consumer consumption = “Place”.) I’ve substituted “packaging” in my reference for golf course marketing because it relates well to most golf courses successful implementation of effective and efficient marketing. (Let’s face it. Your “place” or location of your golf course is a critical marketing element and the potential topic of several columns, not just the focus of a portion of this one.)
Let’s briefly review practical applications of the “Four P’s” for golf course marketing:
Price—by using a matrix based on your courses golf experience compared to the pricing in the market, you were able to adjust your pricing to fully maximize total revenues. (Or, did you simply increase/decrease the cart or green fee a dollar or two and are hoping for more play?)
Product—in conference with your Superintendent and his staff you were able to adjust maintenance levels at your course to strategically position the course experience to match the adjusted rack rate based on value to the customer. Right?
Promotion—by segmenting total rounds into individual business categories (member play, outside play, outings, leagues, discount/twilight, etc.) you have formulated an advertising and promotions plan to maximize play from each segment with corresponding budget expenditures. Or, if nothing else, to test your ability to attract these different segments of play to your course. Yes?
Packaging—with a critical eye you have reviewed all of your marketing collateral material to be sure that the image of your course is conveyed according to the price you’re asking the customer to pay. Correct? Rack card is quality 4 color over 4 color, outing brochure quality matches the customers expected experience, direct mail piece graphics are meaningful to their intended targets, even the signage leading to your clubhouse communicates a sense of “welcome” to your facility.
Marketing, in general, is a systematic approach (inside the box) and a welcoming solicitation of your likely business targets: introduction, qualifying, re-qualifying (if necessary), meeting certain needs or desires (expectations), and asking for the order: “Play and enjoy our golf course”. When a golfers experience at your golf course matches their expectations in relation to recreational experience and value you will have developed a loyal customer likely to refer other golfers to your course.
So, what do you do when all of the basics of golf course marketing have been set in place, checked and rechecked for efficiency and effectiveness and you still are not realizing the needed revenue to cover debt service and produce a profit? The first answer is: recheck your basics again. If your marketing programs are in order and systematically being carried out by a designated sales/marketing person, a portion of your profit solution is likely to be realized by “Thinking Outside the Box”. Now, can you? Here’s an exercise that might help you with the feeling of accomplished abstract thinking (outside the box):
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Take a minute and follow these directions. Place a pencil or pen on one of the dots above. Without lifting your pencil, draw four straight lines that will connect all of the dots.
The value of this exercise is not being able to accomplish it the first time you attempt. Rather, the value is understanding the perceptive process involved in the successful completion of the exercise. If, by looking at the dots, you perceived a “box” that limited the drawing space of your pencil, you can not successfully connect all the dots with four straight lines. On the other hand, if your mind was not automatically restricted by perceived limitations you can easily complete the exercise, but you do have to draw “outside the (perceived) box”. (See “solution” on page XX).
I’m not going to pretend to teach anyone to “think outside the box” with this one column. If I’m lucky, I may be able to get a few to begin to think in ways they hadn’t before: Think of perspective: How do your golfers view their experience at your facility? What “value” could you add to their experience?…to their membership?….to their perception of their allegiance to your course/facility?
Business partnerships might change that perspective and add to a desired “sense of belonging” and therefore value to your course; whether private or public. After all, that’s the success-key to private clubs, isn’t it?
The first step in creating business to golf course partnerships is NOT creating ideas that you THINK will be attractive to your players or members. Ask them what is desired, or missing, from their experience at your Club through Player and Member Surveys. Do the research first, and then develop appropriate partnerships based on a consensus of responses.
One example might be a prestigious private club could consider partnering with an exclusive City Club or Performing Arts Theatre. That is if your member survey results informed you that your members desired such a relationship. If so, the effort is well worthwhile. What other ‘business’ that your members frequent would offer the same?
On the public course side, an often-repeated partnership might be with an off-course golf shop. Today, public-access courses are hard-pressed to stock all the “latest and greatest” new equipment. If your research indicates a perceived desire, and you established a beneficial partnership with the local off-course retailer in certain ways you could provide your loyal following with a sense of the same partnership. And, if those players were “affiliates” of your annual or frequent player program, you may even be able to establish preferred discounts for them through the retailer. The retailer benefits by having a presence with golfers frequenting your course and you benefit by being able to provide something (the latest and greatest new golf widget) that you normally wouldn’t stock.
The key here is perception. How keen is yours?
Jack Brennan started PALADIN Golf Marketing in Tampa, FL in 1984 to assist owners and operators with effective marketing and sales practices for their golf courses. For a FREE marketing consultation contact PALADIN Golf Marketing & Associates at: 813-545-4600, firstname.lastname@example.org or through the web site www.golfcoursemarketingplans.com
PALADIN’s Principal is affiliated with:
The United States Golf Association, affiliate
The Golf Association of Florida, Founding Member & Vice President on the Board
Florida Golf Alliance, Founding Member & Treasurer on the Board
International Network of Golf, affiliate
Golf Course Business Consultants, Inc Founding Member, 2003-2005 President, 2005-2007 Chairman