Australia’s a big place. Commuting from one self-isolation location to another responsibly, while avoiding the few airlines flying, I clocked up enough miles to drive from London to Tehran. There are miles and miles of small coastal towns with businesses ever-more-anxious to make an impression on passers by.
The few stops on these journeys for me in the face of lockdown were at B&Bs or Motels where the proprietors were given full details of the purpose of the trips, where I’d been and what precautions I’d taken.
Motels are a wondrous invention, built with a consistency and efficiency that enable travel to be as safe as possible in these strange and unpredictable times. Sometimes, there is no need to even meet the proprietor. You check in over the phone, get a code for the key safe, back up to your usually ground floor room and your car becomes the store cupboard for your stay. They’re usually, and often unusually, clean, they’re comfortable, and if they’re the classic motels from the 60s and 70s, they’re on the outskirts of the town, close to enough takeaways to enable you to satisfy yourself with limited risks and make a quick getaway in the morning..
These motels are often beautiful things. The names, the signage, the efficiency of the design, their all-weatherness, their careful practicality.
The competitiveness of the Google algorithm also puts many of them off-grid. You just have to go looking and trust that there will be a room. Use Google and you’ll end up staying in a sanitised corporate hotel, owned by a national or global brand. Trust your nose and eyes and ears and you’ll end up staying the Las Vegas Motel in Tweed Heads or the Ned Kelly Motel outside Maryborough, overshadowed by a thirty ft tall Ned Kelly sporting a shotgun and overdressed for the Queensland climate. Often it’s the ‘world-of mouth’ notoriety that will lead you to their doors.
It’s this tongue-in-cheek and often elaborate on-the-road competitiveness that I find appealing. You can’t miss Ned Kelly. Las Vegas is the last place you’d compare Tweed Heads to.
Some Motel signs are worthy of heritage protection orders. This one, that I visited with my son in the Blue Mountains a few years ago is a good example.
These grand, authentic and enduring brand statements have long been a part of Australia’s commercial approach and have served business owners well. Combine the investment with a touch of self-deprecating humour and you often have something that will endure for decades. Away from motels, but often on the same strips, you can readily find big models of things to attract the punters. The Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple, The Big Banana and the Big Merino. There are loads of these and they are magnets for tourists and the Instagram era. Wider promotion looks after itself.
Bring it down a scale, and you’ll find this approach in the fine print. Two quick examples: Pie Shops are a feature of highways of Australia. In one coastal town, at an almost-missable detail level, one shop on the Pacific Highway had its address in the window as Pacific Pieway. In a junk shop that I visited just before the lockdown I found a piece of promotion for Four and Twenty Pies, one of Australia’s leading pie brands. It was a white plate, with a logo in the middle on which you could plant the pie. Under it were the words ‘Magic Salad Plate’ and around it were a fairly realistic embossed and coloured salad. A cursory glance would make it look as if you were having a moderately healthy meal.
It’s these small details, often with tongue firmly in cheek, or even the larger ideas, that in my opinion will continue to pay back handsomely for brands. It’s the attention to detail: the idea that you’ve really thought hard about what you’re saying or doing and, vitally, the impression it will make on your audience. People often assume, wrongly, that attention to detail is only about accuracy. Nope. It’s about an impressive level of authenticity that works on a large and a small scale. Taking the time to brief a signwriter that you want it to say ‘Pieway’, not ‘Highway’ in small letters above your door might feel like carving gargoyles that only a God can see, but it isn’t. One person in 50 who notices will be so impressed that he or she will appoint you their Piemaker and talk about you.
Follow this path and it will help you to be heard rather than being part of the herd and that’s what bold and meaningful PR, marketing and promotion should be all about.
This is going to matter more than ever now. Competition is going to be ferocious. It’s the importance of not being earnest, being brand, not bland.
Want a hand? Drop me a line. It’s important to get these things right in the first place. Those missed opportunities that you glance in the rear view mirror can be bigger than they seem…..