Last Thursday, Phil Lemler led an audience of Villagers through a brief “marketing 101” for Hot Springs Village at the Coronado Community Center. His presentation would focus on Hot Springs Village but the marketing concepts were not his; it was not the “Phil Lemler marketing plan for Hot Springs Village.”

The audience, including newly elected POA board members Tormey Campagna, Diana Podawiltz and Dick Garrison, current board member Cindi Erickson, Cooper Communities’ Jody Latham, and more than 40 others listened to Lemler’s presentation about developing a marketing strategy that would work for any business or entity, not just for the Village.

He began with a caution, “the biggest mistake made in marketing is marketing to ourselves,” he said, adding it was not easy. After 45 years, he said, he still had to consciously prevent himself from marketing to himself.

Marketing is not just advertising and promotion, Lemler said, “it is understanding your customer extremely well, then managing everything in that process from making the customer aware of what you have all the way through until the product is delivered into his hands.

“When you create a business plan for any organization,” Lemler said, turning to write on a white board, “the first thing you create is the marketing plan.” Everything else is then layered on top of the marketing plan. “The marketing plan is the foundation because everything we do is affected by the marketing plan.” The marketing plan spells out all the things decision makers need to know to base everything else on. “It tells us how we’re going to communicate, who we’re going to communicate with, and ultimately, the market plan creates the revenue that drives the business,” Lemler explained.

He quickly defined the four basic Ps in marketing: product, price, place and promotion. The product is who we are and who we target. Price, sometimes referred to as the “marketing mix” as it relates to HSV, includes lots of things that are not within our control. The place is everything involved in getting the product to the customer, including distribution. The biggest element of place is sales, or, for HSV, prospect management. Examples of promotion include ads, direct mail, websites, brochures and social media.

“Customers buy on emotion.” Lemler stated, adding “when someone buys a product there’s really a psychological connection to that product. And, there’s a mental buying process that people go through, and typically, especially in larger products, people will rank products. And, they’ll usually select one of the top two or three to go through their decision-making process.” As an example, Lemler cited John Deere as a company that had successfully marketed its tractors so that it was a “top of mind” brand for farmers selecting which tractor to buy.

The first building block of a marketing plan is to determine what and who we are, and what the market perceives us to be, Lemler said, quoting the sentiment, “perception is the product, not the product itself.”

“Hot Springs Village, in the marketplace, is perceived as a retirement village,” he said, adding, “We can’t change that perception without millions and millions of dollars of advertising and promotion.”

We are perceived as a retirement village, and “if we try to change that perception, we begin to erode that brand,” Lemler said. “The perception of the product determines who we are as a village, and it’s counterproductive to spend money to defeat what the marketplace already has in its mind.” It wastes money, taking it away from using that perception to our advantage.

In determining a target market, Lemler described a few broad considerations. It must be a large enough market to be a viable source of revenue. It should be substantial enough that we can focus advertising dollars. A target market needs to have what Lemler called “splashover,” which he described as all the other people that are affected by the targeted marketing, such as neighbors and friends who might see ad brochures.

And, we need a “pipeline.” “When we choose a target market, we don’t want to choose something so specific that it doesn’t have value to people coming down the line. Targeting into the pipeline builds a future.” If we want to set a goal of building, for example, 300 houses each year, “if we market into the right pipeline, these people will continue to come,” he added. “Then it becomes a matter of managing that market, rather than recreating an image in that marketplace.

“Most important about what we want to do is called product differentiation.To do that, we need to determine what makes our product different. How can we differentiate ourselves within this target market that makes us come to ‘top of mind’ so, when someone says ‘active lifestyle retirement community,’ they say Hot Springs Village. That is where we want to be.”

“The one substantial thing we have over everyone else in the marketplace, is golf,” Lemler said. “Golf is our best target market and where we should be spending our promotional advertising dollars.” He continued, “there are over 23 million golfers in the United States. Between 2011 and 2016, the golf economy, golf revenue, rose 22.2% or, over 4% annually. And, 2.5 million people played golf for the first time in 2016.”

Lemler added, “250,000 golfers retire every year.” And, $25.7 billion was spent on golf tourism in 2017.

Communities with golfing assets have grown in value, from $1.6B in 2011 to $2.5B in 2016. New home construction in golfing communities grew to $2.7B in 2016, up from $3.1B in 2011. “So, people are building new homes in golf communities.” The number of golfers age 65 or older increased by 13% in 2017, and the number of people who wanted to learn to play golf rose to 14.9 million, an all-time high.” Lemler said. “This is our pipeline,” he stated, adding, “63 percent of PGA television viewers are 55 years old and older. So, golf is still very healthy as a national market.

“Golf is such an emotional sport,” Lemler continued, “Our ultimate goal is to get people here. Most people, if we can get them here, they’ll fall in love with the place. Our prospect management plan should be built around getting people here.

“We’ve got nine golf courses here; it takes a long time to build nine golf courses. We’re way ahead [of the competition] here. We’ve got a story to tell; we need to take advantage of that,” Lemler said. “Mr. Cooper gave us a gold mine of an opportunity. We’re the king! We’ve got the best product on the market.

“Ultimately, we can’t fool the customer,” he said, “and, we need to deliver what the product is, and it must last for as long as they live here.

“Happy customers are the best marketing tool that anyone, any kind of business, can have. So, we must make sure we deliver that product.

“This is the best golfing destination in America,” Lemler opined.

Focusing our promotional money on golf, Lemler said, is more effective that spreading that money around on other aspects or amenities of the Village. “Don’t tear up the brand.”

About the Comprehensive Master Plan, Lemler said he believed it was built on an ineffective marketing strategy, describing the CMP as a development plan from which a marketing plan was created, rather than, as Fortune 500 companies do it, creating a marketing plan upon which future development would be based. He emphasized that we should start with who we are.

Marketing concerns everything from who the customer is, who we are, who the market thinks we are, and continues until customers get the product and for many years after they get here.

In conclusion, Lemler said, “We need the right target market, we need the right product, and we need the right message.”