You can learn much about winning business from marketing mistakes of your competition by looking at two Chinese lantern festivals. Both the LA County Arboretum and the Pomona Fairplex put on spectacular Chinese Lantern Festivals this past December and first week of January. When you plan an outstanding, several week-long event that you want and need lots of people attending, you really need to make it spectacular enough to standout amid all the chaff – and they did. Nevertheless, there are some marketing lessons your small business can gather from these events.
We originally wanted to go to the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival at the LA Arboretum because its display at the Santa Anita Westfield Mall in Arcadia grabbed our attention. Now alert to the idea of a lantern festival where these art pieces or sculptures are lit up, we also saw a billboard for a lantern festival at the Pomona Fairplex.
Overall, the arboretum’s Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival website was great and very thorough. In fact, it was far more attractive than the Pomona Fairplex’s Magical Chinese Lantern Festival site. Yet when the arboretum site made it harder to register, the Pomona Fairplex won the toss for our purchase.
It made the following mistakes which made the difference:
- It was unclear how much time we had to wander the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival displays
- They lacked a consumer-friendly bad weather policy as the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival was a “rain or shine” event
- Information on the discount for members of the LA Arboretum was hard to find despite being prominently mentioned in some of the promotional areas
- Therewas no place on the Eventbrite.com order site to enter a discount code
Tickets were for 5:30 PM, 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Notice how there is a 1.5-hour gap between the first two times and a one-hour gap between the second two times. At any other event, like a movie or concert, when I purchase a ticket for a set time, at the end of that performance, I must leave so the next group can get in. There was no one to ask in the evening when I was ready to buy – and it was one of the questions that the FAQs failed to answer.
In contrast, at the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex, I could enter at any time and stay until closing.
After I made my purchase, the next day, I found out that I could have entered at 5:30 PM and stayed until closing. This begs the question, why did the LA Arboretum restricted entry to those three times in the first place?
By the way, you could enter at anytime if you chose to use Lyft or Uber to bring you to the arboretum. While some of you might think that is a great thing, Dorothy and I resented it. The LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a quasi-governmental service to the community. My impression is that Lyft and Uber operate without paying the licensing fees regular taxi cab companies must pay. Giving an incentive to use one of these companies over registered taxi companies seems like biting the hand that feeds you.
2. Poor Bad Weather Policy
This past December had a lot of rain, so we were naturally concerned about being rained out. As it turns out, these two Chinese Lantern Festivals treated rain differently.
· LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest was a rain or shine event.
· The Pomona Fairplex canceled in the event of high winds and rain allowing you to use your tickets at another time.
I love supporting the LA Arboretum, but I lack the financial resources to just donate the cost of entry to this event if it rained out. The Fairplex policy was definitely more attractive.
The discount for members was mentioned in occasionally on the site. but it was located way down on the page (https://www.arboretum.org/moonlight-forest-magical-lantern-art-festival/) after two other "Buy tickets" buttons:
When I went to the purchase screen from the Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival site, there was no place to enter the discount code that I was to get from the membership department. (Why did I need that extra step anyway when I should have merely entered my membership number and their software could have checked the validity of it. As we have a senior membership, our membership would have even accounted for our being seniors.)
Equality of Features of the Chinese Lantern Festivals
The Fairplex gave specific information on other entertainment times plus shopping options. While the LA Arboretum had entertainment, I did not find times mentioned. Nevertheless, I feel that the Moonlight Forest had more food options because of the variety of food trucks.
The parking was more at the Fairplex, i.e. $12 versus free at the Arboretum. However, the tickets were less: $19 with no fee versus $25 (less the member discount of 15%, so $21.25) plus the fee from the ticketing site – Dorothy got a price of $58 when she checked the LA Arboretum originally. So, $38 plus $12 equals $50. Additionally, the Fairplex is closer to us, and we could enter anytime between 5:30 PM and 9:20 PM.
Additionally, you can cancel your tickets for a refund up to one day before the event. With the LA Arboretum, if you need to cancel, you just donated to the LA Arboretum Foundation because there is no refund possible.
Interestingly, the two events seemed to be about equal in overall value. As the cliché goes, “All things being equal…” In the end, we were finally ready to order our tickets and didn’t want to wait to call for answers:
- The uncertainty about how long we had in the event
- The discount code for members
- No place to enter the discount code even if we had it
Also, we did not like the bad weather policy at the LA Arboretum.
Despite these disappointments with the LA Arboretum’s marketing decisions this year, we look forward to next year’s Chinese Lantern Festival at the LA Arboretum.
When all other things are equal, the marketing mistakes your opponent makes can mean additional sales for you. As a small business, you can ensure that it is your opponents mistakes and not yours deciding who wins by thoroughly testing your marketing materials to ensure that it is easy for the prospect to buy. And while you are at it, make decisions in setting up your program that make sense to your prospects.
As a small business, you can ensure that it is your opponents mistakes and not yours deciding who wins by thoroughly testing your marketing materials to ensure that it is easy for the prospect to buy.
These experiences with the two competing Chinese Lantern Festivals provide powerful marketing lessons for small businesses. As both had similar additional attractions and food, the final decision came down to who made it easiest to purchase including discounts, such as for being seniors or for being members. The ambiguity about the time to wander and enjoy the extra attractions as well as concerns about weather made the Magical Chinese Lantern Festival at the Pomona Fairplex the winner over the LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest Lantern Art Festival.
Open your heart in selling,
John R. Aberle
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