We are always told that to market anything you should emphasise the benefits of the product or service rather than the features. For example, it is not enough for a toothpaste manufacturer to refer to the fact that it contains fluoride (a feature) unless it also explains that it protects against bacteria and strengthens tooth enamel (the benefit).

But I was reminded recently that marketing techniques can be used as a “pre-emptive strike” against a potential problem.  While staying at a Hotel it soon became apparent that their beach was far from ideal.  It was therefore fascinating to see how they dealt with it.  In each room, they had the following leaflet:

Tar is a natural occurrence along many South California beaches

Tar found along local beaches is the result of natural seeps in the ocean that leak oil and natural gas into the Santa Barbara Channel.  Like La Brea tar pits on land, natural cracks and faults caused by ancient earthquakes allow oil and gas to escape from the ocean floor.  The seepage then floats to the surface where some evaporates, some degrades and the rest thickens into floating balls of sticky tar.  Tides, currents and winds can wash the tar onshore.

The Chumash Native Americans put tar seepage to work 5000 years ago.  Besides waterproofing baskets and bowls, they used a mixture of tar and pine pitch to seal their canoes.

Tar can get on feet, shoes and clothing so please be careful where you step.  Santa Barbara locals have perfected the tar removal process.  Bacara is pleased to offer removal kits in your guest rooms; we also invite you to visit our self-cleaning station located at the outer base of the pool.

Natural oil slicks like the one shown on the other side of this card make the ocean’s surface look like a water colour painting. This un-retouched photograph was taken off coal oil point by Michael Grant Edwards. For more information on natural seeps, visit http://seeps.geol.ucsb.edu

This works for several reasons:

  1. they have raised the problem before their guest is aware of it
  2. they have taken the trouble to set out in writing so that they cannot be accused of hiding anything
  3. they emphasise several times the fact that it is natural.  They refer in great detail to what happens to the tar when it leaks and how it is brought onshore
  4. they counter the possible accusation that it is the oil industry that has caused it by referring to “ancient earthquakes" and the fact that Native Americans were aware of it 5000 years ago
  5. they counter the possibility that people will find it acceptable by intimating that Native Americans found it useful, which also has the inference that it might be wrong for guests to complain too much
  6. they refer to locals having perfected the art of stain removal, which infers that guests ought to be able to achieve the same
  7. they have provided a solution by making a stain removal facility in a prominent area and providing kits for personal use in each room
  8. the image that they have provided is beautiful and reminiscent of a Monet painting, which is difficult to equate with swimming in an oil stained sea

This is a useful reminder to all of us to keep emphasising the benefits of our goods or services and finding ways to counter any potential weaknesses.  For example, small businesses often struggle to get large orders, because their potential customers feel they may not have the capacity.  In the circumstances, it might be beneficial to list any barriers to your marketing and sales and counter them with something more positive.

After all, if a hotel can “market” tar, you ought to be able to explain almost anything that gets in the way of you winning the next big commission.