If ever there was a need for the hospitality sector to look again at their marketing strategies, now is that time and Victoria Searl is perfectly placed to help shape a new post-pandemic future.

Victoria, a hospitality professional with over 27 years of experience – from pulling pints to pulling data and board level decision making – is the Founder of disruptive hospitality marketing business, DataHawks.

The business analyses customer data to identify and profile each client’s most valuable base – forming the basis of an often business changing acquisition, conversion and retention strategy.

“The buzz and excitement of working in hospitality drew me away from university. So, from pulling pints at 18 to waiting tables to then making my way up the ladder and taking on operational and marketing roles, I got to know the industry inside out.

I worked for brands such as TGI Fridays, Strada, Byron, Café Rouge and others. My time in all these restaurant groups taught me huge amounts and have set me up perfectly to be leading a business that now serves that industry.”

Born out of frustration
In 2019, Victoria founded DataHawks largely out of a feeling of frustration of watching an industry she loved not making the most of the information they had to inform their strategic plans.

“Whilst I love the hospitality industry, it is an industry that is resistant to change and I watched the same decisions being made by the same types of people. I could see that there was a need to further understand who customers were, their behaviours and what they wanted from their experience, however there was such reticence to embrace data in a more meaningful way.

I would say hospitality is 25 years behind the likes of retail when it comes to capturing data and using it to understand their customers. This means businesses are literally leaving money on the table by presuming to know exactly who their most valuable customers are and what they want.”

Despite being a small new business, DataHawks counts the likes of Leon, Pizza Pilgrims and Tenpin among its clients and all despite running mainly through a pandemic, which has left many hospitality venues closed for months at a time. It is particularly within this context that Victoria is determined to support hospitality businesses to understand their data in order to generate as much revenue as possible.

Victoria explains: “When I work with brands now, I regularly reveal their most valuable customer to them through our data analytics and 9 times out of 10 it is not the group they thought it would be. I knew setting up a business that would require decision makers to think differently and take a punt on data to help them increase profits, added to that the business was established in late 2019 – with all we’ve had to face – has certainly added to that challenge. However, I’ve already witnessed clients benefit from truly getting to know their data.”

In the 27 years Victoria has been involved with the industry, much has changed, and the current pandemic will be creating even greater change and at a pace.

Victoria summarises those changes across the decades: “While the way we deliver hospitality has remained relatively unchanged since I started my career, the drivers of it have shifted significantly. The 90’s were all about choice and innovation – new cuisines and products, delivered in unfamiliar and, compared to the 70’s and 80’s, exciting ways. The huge shift to digital in the 00’s put hospitality operators head-to-head, as customers made their decisions where to visit by visiting a brand’s website, and the arrival of Instagram in 2010, brought with it the era of the ‘experience economy’ – people wanted to eat, drink and have fun, but in ways they could really show off on social media. Now the oldest millennials are turning 40, and Gen Z are setting the agenda. Gen Z still absolutely want to eat, drink and have fun, but like everything else in their world, they want to do it on their own terms. We are now firmly in the era of personalisation, and brands who don’t get to know and understand their customers in intimate detail risk losing them to brands who do.”

In the context of both that shift to personalisation plus the impacts of the pandemic, the hospitality industry in the UK remains in uncertain and unknown territory.

“Fundamentally, I do believe the industry will weather this storm – and even adapt because adapting is the key to surviving. Of course, there will be businesses who do not make it but the social and cultural (let alone economic) value the industry means it will bounce back when it is safe for people to return to venues in a meaningful way.

Some ways hospitality can use this time to make sure their bounce back is strong, is by considering how best to capture more data from the customers they are getting – through their takeaway services and the like. Then taking time – or even taking on a professional – to begin to really interrogate their data would put them on the front foot when things begin to look a bit more normal here in the UK from spring 2021. Hospitality is here to stay, but decision makers need to be open and aware to the fact that who they customers are and what they want, or demand might have shifted significantly since the pandemic.”

Victoria is set to grow both her team and client base in 2021, with positive signs that more and more hospitality businesses are acknowledging the need to be more in control of their businesses by better understanding who really their most valuable customers are. (DataHawks.)