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Breezy Point

Local Golf
July 22, 2017

By Tom Abts

Henry Ford once said, "I know that half of my advertising is worthless - I just don't know which half." Pretty funny and pretty true, but it also means that half of his advertising is NECESSARY.

Years ago, I was asked why we kept advertising even though we were full. I replied, "Don't you think there's a correlation?"

Obviously I believe in advertising/marketing. So do most successful businesses - especially retail businesses. Here's a classic situation. A good chef decides to open a restaurant - he doesn't do any marketing because he believes that the quality of his food is enough to bring in customers. Those restaurants usually don't last very long.

On the other hand - marketing won't make up for poor quality. The restaurant may market well, but it still has to have good food and good service.

Too often a business does not market, then starts losing money, then cuts quality, then has fewer customers. Finally they decide to start marketing. What do they do? They start advertising deals. They think that their problem is price. No, their problem started way before that. They didn't define their market and didn't make sure that their market knew about them.

The best marketers understand that it's all about branding. But branding only works if the business has a clearly defined brand. I talk to a lot of golf course operators about their business. I always ask, "Who's your market?" They usually tell me "Everyone." Really? I don't know about you, but if I go to a restaurant and they have EVERYTHING possible on the menu I know I'm in trouble. You can't be everything to everyone. That doesn't mean that you're missing potential business or leaving money on the table, it means you know what you're doing.

Branding can be difficult, but it shouldn't be. Before a business opens it should have a defined market. And it should also have a defined culture that can be marketed. Too often, for example, someone wants to be in the golf business so they just open a golf course. But for who? The immediate area? Or are they a destination course? Are they for good players? Average players? Beginners? How about price? Low income players? Rich people? How about taste? Does their customer like modern or old school? Are they hipsters or more conventional? Obviously I could go on and on. These questions are at the heart of the business. The lazy way is to try to be everything to everyone. I'm serious - that is the easy way out. Defining and knowing who your customer is and what they want is a very difficult challenge. Trying to please everyone might sound good, but it's actually bogus.

Golf needs to have more variety of golf courses - just like different types of restaurants. There needs to be golf versions of: fast-food, diners, buffets, casual, formal, gourmet, trendy, etc.

Then that has to be marketed. Coke advertises as "The Real Thing." Pepsi added more sugar to their cola and went for a younger crowd as "The Pepsi Generation."

We used to run newspaper ads with a lot of "white space," meaning that we would have a quarter page ad with only our logo in the middle - people always noticed and commented about it. But one day, I got a call from a know-it-all who sometimes played at Deer Run. He said that we should have our address and phone number on the ad - how could people find us? I replied that he was right, "Yeah, I just saw a Coke ad and they didn't have an address or phone number - I didn't know what to do!"

Maybe my sarcasm was a little hostile, but he called me. Is he part of our target market? Not so much.

When I hire staff - everyone from the Pro Shop to the Food & Beverage to the Cart Kids to the Rangers and Starters - I talk about our culture. More important than their resume is if they understand our culture. If they don't get our culture - they can't work here. I've learned over the years that those people don't work out. If I have to fire people, it mostly means that I hired poorly - my mistake.

What is our culture? Hopefully it's a combination of tasteful mixed with friendly and casual. We want to be a first-class operation, but not stiff or stuffy. We want to be fun and relaxed, but not sloppy and poor quality. Are we the only culture that's right for golf? Hardly. But we are a viable niche. And our staff needs to get it. And our marketing needs to send that message.

This year our marketing campaign is: There's No Place Like Home. Right out of the "Wizard of Oz." Over the years our ads have emphasized fun, fast play, and a Celtic atmosphere. This year it's about coming to a golf course that feels like home. I hope it resonates.

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