Marketing and Differentiation: How do you choose?

Bruce Lynn

That is the most common question I get asked about planning a trip to the Maldives.  And, as such, it is the most important question for any resort marketeer.  With more than 100 resorts to choose from and more coming on line every month, the question gets harder and harder to answer.  The problem is particularly acute at the “5-star” premium end of the market, which is getting more crowded than the end of a pier at fish feeding time.

Maldives Complete is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative and useful websites on resorts in the Maldives.  I set it up to assist with precisely this question.  As a Maldives addict, I have been visiting the Maldives every year since the mid-90s, tallying 55 resort visits.  As an obsessive information collector and analyser, I amassed quite a trove of information on all the resorts.  And as a marketing executive for one of the top marketing companies in the world (Microsoft), I was acutely sensitized to the two core issues central to any campaign – segmentation (understanding your customers) and differentiation (understanding yourself).

At the heart of the website is an interactive database to allow people to filter the 100+ resorts down to a short list based on a few fundamental criteria – eg.  budget.  I added a blog to provide assistance with the more qualitative differences between resorts.  The centerpiece of the blog is a series called “Best of the Maldives” which highlights unique and distinctive offerings and features of each resort in over 700 pieces posted to date.

A while back, I wrote a popular post “How to Pick the Perfect Maldives Resort”.  The corollary to the “how to pick” question is the more direct and to the point question, “Which is the best resort in the Maldives?”  My standard reply is “There is no ‘best resort in the Maldives’, only the ‘best resort for you’.  It’s like asking which is the best flavor ice cream.  Some prefer elaborate concoctions like Tutti Fruiti, some prefer more esoteric creations like Cinnamon and Grapenuts, and others prefer a simple classic like Vanilla.

The piece  outlined 8 basic questions for a prospective guest.  The very first step in positioning your resort is to ask yourself how des your property answer these questions…

  1. Budget?
  2. Large or small island?
  3. House Reef?
  4. Seaplane ride?
  5. Children?
  6. All inclusive?
  7. Pool?
  8. Any favourite activities?

In essence, answering these questions is a first step to differentiation, the heart of any market positioning and promotion.  And differentiation takes courage.  Too many marketers are afraid of losing a single potential customer by saying they focus on one type of customer over another.  But in reality, deliberately ignoring one type of customer might make you many times more attractive to another customer set.  That means for every customer you lose, you gain 3 others in your target segment.

I would add a 9th question for a resort marketing director to add:  “What’s the story?”  Not what’s “your story”?  What’s the customer story?  What is the story that the customer tells to his or friends at the majong table or country club when they return home?  For properties in the crowded super-premium deluxe category, the story will not be about the gourmet food, the elegant styling, or the impeccable service.  These things are not differentiators in this world.  These are table stakes.  And its not the ocean, sunset, sunshine, or palm trees.  These are the distinctions of the Maldives, not your resort.  Every one of the 100+ resorts are more or less blessed with these same qualities.

Seth Godin is one of the world’s leading marketing gurus of the digital age.  He has a colourful metaphor for the concept of a “REMARK-able” story – the “purple cow”.  He illustrates the scenario that if you are driving along a country highway and you pass a field with a purple cow in it, that cow will be the very first thing you mention when you get home.  It won’t be the transcendent beauty of the country side, the lovely smooth roads or the sunny weather.  Instead, the first thing out of your mouth will be “You’ll never guess what I saw…”  The emphasis is on “remark”, because the objective is for the customer to “remark” about it later.  His appropriately titled book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” is obligatory reading for any serious marketing professional.

So what is your resort’s “purple cow”?  The “story” that is the first thing out of your guest’s mouth when they return home or get onto Facebook?  For the super-premiums, this distinction is often their blockbuster underwater features – Anantara Kihavah’s restaurantHuvafenfushi’s spaNIYAMA’s lounge.  But amazing does not always have to be big and expensive.  Often small surprise touches are just as remark-able.  A hammock in the lagoon, a glass floor by the toiletbeach ping pong.

Bruce Lynn is the founder and webmaster of Maldives Complete, the most comprehensive resort website.