Top End Tuesday: If I owned the Elliott Roadhouse

UFOs at Elliott (Photo: DragonRal via Flickr)Have you ever driven up or down the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin?

About halfway along you hit Elliott, a small town with a golf course and a couple of roadhouses.

Jack Hughes from the Business Enterprise Centre in Darwin mentioned he was chatting to someone from one of the roadhouses recently about a few issues and it got me wondering about what I would do from a marketing perspective, if I ran a roadhouse in Elliott.

There are many fundamental questions I would ask regarding target markets (it is not as obvious as you might think) and business goals, but the RITE Series this year has a focus on the use of Social Media, so I will concentrate on that for this article.

What is particularly interesting about this challenge to me is that it is quite understandable for roadhouse managers to screw their noses up at fancy schmancy gadgets and ‘silly networks’ but I imagine it would take only one operator to become really switched on and milk the Stuart of as much travelling money as possible for the others to take note.

Target market

In chatting to a number of Top End travellers (locals) who do the Stuart Highway drive, most have their routine and petrol stops planned.

For some there are simple logistics involved, for others they have very strong opinions on where NOT to stop along the highway.

A couple singled out Elliott as a place they avoided because they’d had bad runs of getting some stale items.

So, what does this mean to me, the incoming operator? It means I have some thinking to do.

I need to determine how frequently your typical Top End traveller makes that journey and compare that to truckies and tourists. If these locals are regular travellers then it is worth my while to make them a high priority. However, I will need to do some very hefty work in convincing them to change ingrained habits and suspicions.

On the other hand, tourists are a blank slate, the trouble being you typically get one bite at them and you have to make sure they spend up to make your efforts worthwhile. In effect, these one-off customers are the worst nightmare scenario for business planning because we all know that new customers are more expensive than existing customers because you need to recruit them, not just service them. Of course, if we strike some tourists who have their own social networks of likeminded, would-be travellers, we could be onto something valuable.

Truckies would fit somewhere in between and then there are coaches which most likely have pre-standing arrangements made at head office which will take a whole lot more work to challenge and change.

I have not researched this (it is just a hypothetical after all) but I need to define a target market for this exercise so I can be more specific.

I think I’ll choose tourists for this exercise.


Listening is a great place to start when planning some online social marketing.

I would set up listening posts on Twitter and in Facebook, centring in on towns along the highway, north and south, within a fuel tank’s distance, to see if anyone is checking in on their travels.

A cheap, small computer or iPad behind the counter would not take up much space and allow staff to watch out for new mentions as they arose. We covered how to do that in a previous post.

Saying g’day

When a comment is found by the listening posts, there are a few options.

A quick reply to say ‘g’day from Elliott Roadhouse – we’ll have the fuel ready for you and your car when you get here in a few hours’, would shock the socks off most people and intrigue them enough to want to come in and see who the mystery Tweeter is in a roadhouse in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

Better still, a comment that invited them (by name if you had time) to stop in on their way and recharge their phones/ipads/ipods while refueling their cars would be welcome by most.

And better again, if I had some money and some creative friends, I think I’d want to cash in on the resurgent round of UFO stories by going all out science fiction.

An extraterrestrial tangent

Can you imagine building a UFO landing pad in any patch of ground being underused OR in the middle of the driveway area with notices to be prepared to move vehicle quickly with the ‘UFO approaching’ signal is sounded, etc? Can you imagine rigging up a large aerial or radar-dish to look like it is there to communicate with the UFOs but also lets people know you have FREE WIFI (you can also name the WIFI channel too, known as the SSID, and make it ‘UFO Priority Channel’ or similar).

Some creative presentation of UFO stories, the stocking of some Moon Bars and other ‘space program’ food bars (popular again because many of them are high protein which is not only all the rage for those of us getting fit but PERFECT for keeping drivers alert). They would keep well.

Painting a wall with a lunarscape or other more creative space effect for tourists to photograph themselves in front of, would add extra gravity to site, so to speak!

Although this might all sound silly and fanciful, can you imagine the pester power youngsters would exert over parents to make them stop for UFO toys, icecreams, pictures, etc, while mum or dad check emails and recharge gadgets?

I’d be tempted to do up my bowsers like Dalecs (or similar) without upsetting oil companies or insurance companies and give my menu a space-lift.

There is also the opportunity to aggregate UFO stories from the web, invite people who’ve reported sightings to sign my restaurant wall (just like some restaurants allow celebrities to do), and so on.

It’s about fun and breaking the ice

Too often, we go through our lives following routines and spreading sourness. Or we go through life being how others expect us to be (how others expect a roadhouse to be).

This does not have to be the case!

Even running a roadhouse where there would be spikes of busy stress and patches of quietness with ‘mundane’ tasks to perform, the more fun we could inject into the experience of visiting, the more enjoyable we can make the experience of working there.

I have not really talked much about Social Media tools and Social Networking. This is because the more I started thinking about this challenge, the more I realised that something Seth Godin once said is very true: our challenge when using social marketing is to be REMARKABLE. If we cannot make our roadhouse remarkable (to visit or to work within), we could spin our wheels a lot, playing with different social tools, only to find that nobody really cares.

But a major UFO attraction, created with some clever creativity rather than big budget, some extra work above and beyond the call of duty in the early stages, would surely be worth REMARKING about on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, via videos on YouTube, via photos on Flickr, and, most of all, among friends and families and other patrons you meet at the roadhouse and beyond.

Have you ever noticed how doing creative things (like visiting crazy UFO roadhouses or giant pineapples or attending fancy dress parties) breaks the ice and makes it easier to chat with strangers?

My Elliott Roadhouse would be that kind of place – an actual Social Network that would propogate its own reputation through the chatter of others over virtual Social Networks. We might even get some help from above!

Your thoughts …

Right now, I am going to allow myself to dream a little of kids making parents stop, young adults planning to stop at Elliot to recharge gadgets, and tourists mutinying on their coachline to make sure they get a chance to take photos and buy a cup of tea at that UFO Roadhouse, even though the head office refused to take my calls to persuade them to make me a stop on their itinerary.

This article has just scratched the surface – what else would you do?

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