Market positioning and reaching your audience

Thinking like a marketer wasn’t always a requisite skill for running a golf operation. But that’s the new normal in today’s competitive landscape. As a golf operation, whether you realize it or not, you’re a brand in competition with other brands (golf courses) in your market. How are you different from the competition? What can you promise — and deliver — to your customers others can’t? How you position your brand can have a dramatic effect on how well you compete and grow.

A well-positioned brand enjoys stronger customer loyalty, can weather economic downturns better than weaker brands and often is less susceptible to pricing pressures. Done well, brand positioning can greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing by focusing your services and messaging on what really appeals to your customers and prospects. In other words, it’s worth investing some time and energy in your brand position — identifying it, establishing it and maintaining it.

Rachel Anderson, a senior specialist on the GolfNow Plus Team, has helped numerous clients understand and position their brands. “You have to look internally before formatting your outward brand positioning,” she said. “There are over 15,000 golf courses in the U.S. Think about what makes you different, special. Start asking yourself some questions.”

We look at golf as an activity rather than as a tradition or a sport; a way for couples and friends to come together and have a few hours of fun together.

Who are you? Why do you exist? What should your customer expect from you? Anderson suggests questioning multiple people within your operation to identify what’s true and unique about your brand.

“The general manager, the pro, the people working in the pro shop and the kids in the parking lot and the bag drop. They all have a perspective from encountering your customer and will know the fine details from that direct feedback,” Anderson said. “Quite often, what you discover at the end of this exercise varies from what you thought you knew about your brand. If the type of golfer you’re attracting isn’t matching up to what is unique and distinctive in your service, begin focusing your services to reflect what your customer is after.”

Palm Beach National Golf Club in Lake Worth, Fla., is one of Anderson’s favorite examples of positioning a brand to match the market.

“We look at golf as an activity rather than as a tradition or a sport; a way for couples and friends to come together and have a few hours of fun together,” said Mike Dahlstrom, vice president of sales and hospitality for the Paradigm Golf Group which manages seven courses, including Palm Beach National. “So our philosophy to ensure that happens every time anyone comes to any of our properties is built on two things: Be nice, and be cool.”

How that philosophy translates defies some age-old ideas about what a golf club should be. It starts with first impressions and continues throughout the entire golf experience, according to Dahlstrom. “We answer every phone call with ‘It’s another beautiful day here, and we are so glad you called.’ Our guest services guys remember people’s names, which means so, so much. In the pro shop, we always have popular, upbeat music playing like Justin Timberlake and the Imagine Dragons. It sets the vibe. At the counter every customer, young or old, gets a complimentary Bluetooth speaker to use throughout their round to play their own favorite music. On hot days, we cruise the course giving out popsicles and rum shots. On cool days, we give out fireball shots. And we are constantly updating our website with fun videos and contests. We have given away more than 20,000 rounds of golf.”

And what is the result of this unconventional brand approach? Dahlstrom said the strategy was to attract more millennials, but the surprise has been how receptive the retired baby boomers and tourists have been, as well. “We do about 74,000 rounds of golf a year at a very good average rate in one of the most competitive golf markets in the country,” Dahlstrom said.

Rare is the golf market that isn’t competitive. And that reality leads to the second and equally important aspect of brand positioning: activation and maintenance. “Your website, your social media, your email communication are all important,” Anderson said. “Create an omni-channel strategy to amplify and consistently support your unique brand position and its promise in your market.”

As competitive markets go, Las Vegas is in a class by itself. “The city is a brand,” said Jason Wright, revenue analytics manager for Royal Links Golf Club. “Every hotel, every show, every racing experience, every golf course — you just can’t be a normal thing in Las Vegas. You have to have something that sets you apart.”

Determine what makes you special and unique and use everything at your fingertips — email, website, social media — to convey your brand’s message.

For Royal Links GC, that distinction is 18 holes inspired by the British Open rotation and one of the city’s only caddie programs. Also unique, is how effectively Wright uses analytics and various platforms for outreach and promotion. “One of the biggest is search engine optimization,” he said. “Almost every visitor to Las Vegas starts with a Google search, and we want to show up in those searches.

“We are also very much attuned to our database and email marketing,” Wright continued. “For a lot of people, coming to Vegas is an annual or biannual thing. We know when they’re coming, the same with events like the Super Bowl and March Madness and conventions like the Consumer Electronics Show. We have the demographics of the visitor and historicals that inform us the offers and promotional codes and products that connect. You can’t just say ‘here’s our rate, you want to play?’ That won’t work in Las Vegas.”

Truth is, most golf operations are not well-positioned in their marketplaces. Their brand positions are indistinguishable from their competition. And that spells opportunity for golf courses that build a strong, compelling message, one which is uniquely their own and targeted to an audience that’s interested.

“Just remember,” Anderson said, “Determine what makes you special and unique and use everything at your fingertips — email, website, social media — to convey your brand’s message. And make sure that when you are face-to-face with your customers you deliver on that promise. Until robots replace people, that’s the most important thing.”

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