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Saturday, July 07, 2012

What North American construction marketing lessons we can learn from an Istanbul fish restaurant

Consider the business challenge.  You need to attract well-healed clients who would have absolutely no knowledge about your business beforehand for what, in most cases, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  They have money to spend, now, but you don't know them and they certainly don't know you.

Hos Seda restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey
Does this sound like a classic construction marketing challenge -- and an impossible one at that? Surely, in a world of word-of-mouth recommendations, you will have trouble discovering the "hungry fish" as Jon Goldman describes in his incredibly effective weekly e-letter.

Well, Hos Seda, a fish restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey pulled it off.  At the end of the meal, we peeled off enough Euros (we didn't have enough Turkish Lira on us) to spend more than $100 for a couple of appetizers, a piece of Black Sea fish, desert, a bottle of Turkish wine and some Turkish coffee and crepes for desert.  Hardly the most inexpensive meal out there -- in fact, the day before I discovered a clean and efficient place in a shopping mall which provide me with a pretty good tasting piece of fish for about the equivalent of $15.00.  (No desert and wine, and of course, I was alone.)

How did we choose this place?  The desk clerk at our hotel, largely selected through ratings, recommended it.  He made clear that he has nothing to gain by pushing something bad on us. Most ratings were effusive in praise.  So, even with little knowledge of the place, we felt safe in considering it.

Then the clincher.  The restaurant would provide at no extra cost a car and driver to bring us there.  I realize most of us have experienced travel gridlock, but driving around downtown Istanbul is not for the faint-of-heart -- and figuring out how to give directions to a taxi driver would test our will.

The restaurant, with the free driving service, indeed, made it easy for us to say "yes".  However, just offering the free ride would not work -- we would see a con in the works -- and so the references on public media and referral from a hotel clerk were absolutely vital in validating our opinions.

Would i give Hos Seda five stars, like many of the others on  No.  The black sea fish tasted reasonably good but was certainly not a bargain.  When we expressed some shock at the bill, the proprietor reduced the bill by 15 Turkish lira or about $10.00.  A nice gesture, indeed, and one that took the sting out of the experience.  Our conclusion as the driver returned us promptly to our hotel:  Not a rip-off but not the best value around.  I would give it three stars.

Does this experience count?  Well, the reviews are generally extremely positive (and we truly enjoyed the experience) but this blog has reasonably high search engine rankings and so this review might pop up in strange places where the restaraunt would rather not to see it.  On the other hand, a single somewhat critical blog posting is hardly likely to dent the this place's reputation much.

Nevertheless, we can all learn some lessons from this story.

Experience counts.  Each person or organization using our services remembers the details; the overall sensation of how they were treated, the "value for money," the surprises, and the surrounding ambience.  The highest priority of course relates to the core business -- in this case the food's taste.  I just didn't like the fish that much.  Maybe it should have tasted that way; and my tastes don't match -- but I ended up spending $100 for the experience.

The experiences of others count.  How can you know whether to take a risk on a new business of which you have no experience without knowing what other trusted people say.  This can be the human face of the hotel desk clerk. or the observations of strangers on Internet forums. Yes, to some extent, these recommendations can be gamed.  Hotel clerks can be paid referral fees; and positive reviews planted in social media sites.  But these strategies only work to a limited extent if they are not backed by real substance.  If you game things too far, you will be fair game for an outing.

Make it easy to say "yes".  In the fish restaraunt's case, the free driver and ride service certainly helped make the decision.  Of course, in hindsight, I realize I could have paid for a taxi, or even less expensive, taken a local ferry for about the equivalent of $1.50, and had a much tastier fish meal.

Accordingly, this story comes full circle.  Great positive experiences and client reviews steered us to a specific fish restaraunt in a country far from home.  But our experience, while pleasant, wasn't quite as wildly wonderful as the extremely positive reviews we read.  So, now, we add to the story, with this review, and these observations, and we are reminded again that the most important element in marketing is to create the positive experience and then find ways to encourage your clients to share it with others.

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