It’s all about keeping my ears and eyes open and being open to learning from others.
With a background in advertising and a decade-long tenure as the head of marketing for Wahaca, a renowned Mexican Street Food restaurant group, Oli Ingham brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Now working as a consultant, helping hospitality brands achieve growth, we explore Oli’s unique perspectives on hospitality marketing, including his thoughts on customer understanding, the role of influencers, staying up-to-date with digital marketing trends, favourite marketing tools, innovative promotional techniques, and the importance of tailored social media strategies. Let's dive into this insightful conversation and discover the secrets to successful hospitality marketing.
1. Can you tell us about yourself (background, current position)?
Growing up in North Wales in a very food-focused family, I became obsessed with restaurant trends from an early age and moved to London to get closer to the brands that were creating those trends.
I kicked off my career working in advertising, managing the accounts of a bunch of global drinks brands, which really opened my eyes to how much fun there was to be had in the world of hospitality and leisure.
After a while spent juggling my time between being an advertising account manager and launching a small consultancy helping start-up brands, I moved in-house to run the marketing team for Wahaca, the Mexican Street Food restaurant group launched by MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers.
10 years at Wahaca gave me the chance to really get under the skin of what makes a successful hospitality business, what makes today’s customers tick and to really try every marketing trick in the book, from launching and growing social channels to creating and managing festivals for 5000+ people.
Now I work as a marketing consultant in the hospitality industry, taking my learnings from over a decade of experience to other hospitality brands looking for a similar growth journey.
Working as a consultant gives me the chance to support businesses outside of the hospitality sector, and pick up some incredibly valuable learnings, that I was surprised to see passing many hospitality and leisure brands by.
I now work with a range of clients in traditional hospitality and leisure sectors, as well as with the tech platforms that help power them and expedite their growth.
2. What is one of your unpopular opinions about hospitality marketing?
In general, as a hospitality marketer, I’m regularly amazed by how little some people tend to really understand their customers. In my experience, many brands and business leaders fall into the trap of assuming every customer is just like them and don’t spend enough time focussing on what really makes their customers tick.
In an industry where there’s so much noise, it can be really hard to cut through. My advice to hospitality marketers is to take a step back, listen to your customers, put yourselves in their shoes (start by booking and paying for a meal in your own restaurant!) and see what you learn.
3. What role do you think influencers have to play in hospitality?
It’s no surprise that the industry has spent the past 5+ years trying to crack the influencer marketing thing. It offers the perfect recipe for widespread awareness, positive endorsements within new, relevant audiences and a good pinch of credible advocacy. If you set that alongside snazzy photos and videos of your product and venue, you’re onto a really good thing.
But unless you’re already super well connected, that often comes with huge agency or platform fees and it can often be challenging to generate a tangible ROI, so brands lose interest.
I think influencer marketing needs to be an always-on, affordable and measurable channel that’s easy to manage.
4. How do you stay up-to-date with the latest digital marketing trends and techniques?
It’s all about keeping my ears and eyes open and being open to learning from others. I love to follow what my favourite brands are doing across different sectors and keep a note of what engages me as a consumer.
I also follow accounts such as The Marketing Meetup and Instagram for Business (and of course Gary Vee for a regular dose of hard-talking motivation), plus subscribe to Newsletters like The Drum and get hospitality focussed marketing news from Propel and Caterer.
5. Your favourite marketing tool and why?
It’d definitely be a CRM platform, whether that’s Klaviyo for eCommerce brands or Airship or Acteol for Hospitality brands.
Investing and working closely with your CRM platform will not only help you to keep on top of all of your data, but it’ll also enable you to understand much more about your customers, deliver the right brand messaging to them in a timely and personalised way, in a comparatively low-cost way.
6. What innovative techniques have you used to promote your business/client’s business?
In the early days at Wahaca, we found that our lovely branded dessert spoons were being stolen in the thousands yearly. So each January we’d set up a Mexican Spoon Amnesty, where if you returned a stolen spoon, we’d reward your honesty with free tacos.
Of course, the number of people brazen enough to turn up with a stolen spoon was never huge, but people loved the idea and it created a great tone for the brand on social media. We had a load of fun with it, so much so that it was independently picked up by BBC’s Mock The Week and QI and the concept still gets replicated by brands every year.
It was a great lesson in not taking yourself too seriously or always being tied to running footfall-driving campaigns.
7. Which is the most important social media platform for your business and why?
As someone who works with a range of clients, one of the really important lessons I’ve learned is to not assume that what works for one brand will be right for another. It goes back to the importance of understanding your customers. If they’re on Instagram, that’ll be your most important platform, so invest in it. If your audience are TikTokers that’s where you should be focusing your time and attention.
Oli Ingham, a seasoned hospitality marketing professional, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. Through this insightful conversation, we explored various aspects of hospitality marketing, including customer understanding, the role of influencers, staying updated with digital trends, favorite marketing tools, innovative promotional techniques, and tailored social media strategies.