We've all played on an amazing golf course, eaten delicious food at a first-class restaurant, or stayed at a nice hotel. When we do, we tend to excitedly tell our friends and family about our experiences. Conversely, we've also asked for recommendations, and often act upon them. In other words, we regularly influence others and have been influenced by people whose opinion we trust and value.
Word-of-mouth is often cited as the most important marketing channel for many organisations but it is difficult to influence as historically it has always taken place offline. Every golf club wants to receive this positive feedback as it helps to generate more business and enables organic growth. Nowadays, a lot of word-of-mouth has shifted online and takes place on social media which means that the reach can be greater, giving golf courses a way of reaching thousands of potential customers if their reviews get the necessary exposure.
The golf industry is in the middle of an evolution. Golfers are changing the way they book a round of golf and therefore the customer journey is changing. It is evident that golfers are interacting differently with golf courses as more communication takes place via mobile phones and tablets. Among a number of other factors, this will have an impact on customer loyalty.
Golf courses and other leisure and hospitality businesses used to think that loyalty started when the customer arrived at the venue. However, if your golf course posts great images of the course, perhaps a video of the greenkeepers taking care of the course on social media, this will begin to evoke emotion and desire. When the golfer thinks of booking their next round, your golf course could be the first they go to – from the simple act of posting an attractive picture.
More and more nomadic golfers want everything at their fingertips and tee time distribution sites have capitalised on this in a very effective way. Now potential customers are just a few clicks away from making a booking on easy to use mobile apps. This can be a good way for golf clubs to generate bookings when there is spare capacity on the course, but third parties can generate a significant cost of sale.
On the other hand, our clients and data tell us that direct bookings increase profitability and are therefore more desirable. These bookings generally have a longer lead time and a higher value per tee time. Anecdotally we are also told that the total spend at the club tends to be greater from direct bookings.
Tee time distribution websites are here to stay but that doesn't mean that golf course operators shouldn’t take advantage of online bookings themselves. You can do this by building online relationships with potential customers through the use of social media/digital marketing and then keeping those prospective customers engaged. This builds a stronger customer base and reduces costs by encouraging repeat business and reliance on third parties.
It is enormously important to communicate regularly with your customers to maintain loyalty and maximise return on investment of gaining them in the first place. By doing this, golf courses can enjoy the benefit of the 'long-tail' effect - as long as the prospective customer keeps following the golf course's social media and online accounts, the golf course can continue to market to them at little or no cost.
This activity is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistent and regular content is fundamental to embrace the power of recall marketing. It is also highly important to track your conversion of page views to bookings to measure the effectiveness of your communication and ensure that you are turning your followers into a genuine source of revenue.