OCEAN CITY – The resort’s recent revival of a “thank you” campaign could become a “customer retention program” as the town continues to explore ways to keep visitors returning year to year.
Lately the town has been considering reviving a thank you campaign that took place in the 1980s. In the last discussion, Councilman Joe Hall motioned to have city staff explore the idea of maintaining retention in Ocean City through the thank you campaign by distributing silicone wristbands to the town’s visitors in a way to say thank you, or by having restaurant servers and hotel front desk personnel wearing buttons thanking visitors for coming.
His thought is to add the town’s website to the silicone wristbands, which are popular bracelets distributed by different organizations such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, to remind Ocean City visitors to visit the town’s website. Once on ococean.com, a visitor can fill out a survey on their stay and upon completion they would be entered in a contest that would possibly offer a free vacation for them to return to Ocean City.
Joe Hall also suggested the town could sell the bracelets and buttons to local businesses at cost. He said in doing so the program would become “self-propelling” and turn into a continuing effort in saying thank you.
Communications Manager Donna Abbott reminded the council and public this week of the town’s ongoing effort of welcoming and thanking Ocean City visitors through signage around town.
“The messaging is out there,” she said.
Since the last discussion on the thank you campaign, Abbott has surveyed the local business community on input over the bracelet and button concept.
The Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) and the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce polled their members in their opinion or interest in participating.
One anonymous responder said, “Concern about the fact that this initiative is not very “green”. <ost of these bracelets will be thrown away. Was that brought up by any council members? Also, could they consider not charging the businesses, would garner much more town wide support.”
A hotel owner wrote, “Another idea that sounds good in theory but operationally would not work. Most of the bands would find their way to the garbage can, the reward is not great enough for the time and energy required to follow through. The buttons, if you could convince employees to put them on at the beginning of each shift (your average supervisor is not going to put this at the top of his ‘issues’ list), might have a positive effect. Gimmicks don’t work unless there are ‘eyes and teeth’ smiles and a positive attitude behind them.”
A local family-operated hotelier wrote, “Sounds like a good promotion. I will take 50 buttons and 250 bracelets. In my opinion, the city should roll the promo in with their other marketing costs. The hotels should not have to buy the buttons and bracelets. If we run it for the entire season, I guess I would want about 500 bracelets.”
The Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) has also reviewed the concept of the distribution of thank you bracelets. According to Abbott, TAB members thought it would be an individual business decision to purchase the bracelets or buttons.
TAB noted that business responses to the bracelets including the town’s website may not be such a good idea because the site would direct them to posted businesses that are considered competition. They also pointed out that many properties already thank guests and they retain them by providing discounts for returning customers.
Councilman Brent Ashley found it unbelievable that the majority of business responding were not in favor of the wristband idea. He reminded the public that the campaign stemmed from what the city did in the 80s, when tourism was booming.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that doing a campaign is very beneficial to the image people have of Ocean City,” he said.
Joe Hall reiterated that the campaign is not just about saying “thank you”.
“It’s about how we take saying ‘thank you’ to expanding into a retention program,” he said. “To be able to engage the customer with a thank you and then have a mechanism to engage them again in a future time, hopefully right when they get home or have a chance to get to a computer.”
Joe Hall added whether the silicone wristbands are bio-degradable or not is a moot point because every retailer in town is selling merchandise that isn’t bio-degradable.
“This is only one idea … ideas are out there that we should be doing to retain and getting our customers to revisiting us, in my personal opinion it’s a weakness in our marketing strategy,” Joe Hall said.
Council President Jim Hall asserted that it is too late to start a marketing strategy this far into the summer season. He suggested waiting until the fall season to set a meeting up with all of the town’s partners, such as OCHMRA, the chamber and TAB to discuss ideas in developing a retention plan and its funding mechanism.
Joe Hall said developing a retention plan should not wait. It’s something that the town and its businesses should be involved in every day of the year. At this point, he set his original motion to allocate $20,000 toward the silicone bracelets and buttons for the thank you campaign and to later expand the campaign into a customer retention program.
His motion was immediately met by resistance from the other council members. Jim Hall said he is not ready to allocate any funds toward the idea without even having talked to TAB yet. Councilman Doug Cymek agreed and reminded the council it had allocated TAB $300,000 for marketing strategies.
“TAB has got the money, let them do what they want,” he said. “If they decide it’s a good move, let them fund it. I don’t think we need to.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight agreed with Cymek and thinks a customer retention plan is a perfect project for TAB to embrace. Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed in needing a little more time to discuss the idea but also felt it needs to move forward immediately and not wait until next season to discuss it.
Joe Hall decided to remove the allocation of $20,000 from his motion and re-set it to instruct city staff and its partners to work with the business community to develop a thank you campaign that transitions into a comprehensive retention program.
“Whether its buttons, or wristbands, their all great ideas,” Jim Hall said. “The thank you campaign I think is wonderful.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the way to repay customers is to live up to their expectation in customer service.
“I like the thank you campaign but I think you need a buy-in from all the restaurants and hotels,” he said. “You need them to commit to be part of it.”