Digital Marketing in the Hospitality Business
The Hospitality business continues to evolve in many areas, however, one area of the business has witnessed more of a revolution than an evolution in recent years, and that area is marketing. Since the dawn of the internet and the invention of online travel agencies and booking engines, hoteliers have had to adapt to a new way of putting “heads in beds.” Smartphones have become ubiquitous, mobile searches have surged ahead of desktop, and this new reality has given birth to a new form of competition. The networking effect created by the internet and accelerated by mobile, has given way to new entrants into the market like Uber and Airbnb. Airbnb’s two sided marketplace now allows anyone with a spare bed to let access to a centralized booking system that would have only been available to brand affiliated properties just a few years ago. In the wake of these changes in the industry, the necessity to develop a dynamic digital strategy has never been more important for brands and individual hoteliers alike.
In today’s marketplace high quality booking engines such as Kayak, Trivago, booking.com, and many others, have captured a huge share of initial searches, so if someone searched for your hotel or is on your web site, chances are you have developed some loyalty with this customer or have attracted them through other marketing efforts. Now that you have them driving through your porte cohcere, so to speak, make sure you’re doing everything possible to have that customer stay on your site until they have concluded a booking. The best investment you can make in digital today is ensuring that you have optimized your own sites for conversion, or what I call “Look to Book” rate. In this regard I strongly suggested a Lean management approach. Test and iterate, test and iterate, test and iterate… As well as we think we know our customers (and that’s a whole other question, and a blog for another day), we might not really be able to anticipate their preferences’ relative to site design, layout, color schema, or logic flow. Obviously, you can learn from others in this arena but once you have a site you are reasonably satisfied with from your existing knowledge base and whatever you have learned by evaluating others sites, then you can start to test a few things. You’ll be surprised just how many of the otherwise lookers you can convert to bookers through changing the artwork and testing different colors or layouts. It’s very important that when you’re testing you only test one or two items at a time; isolating the variables so that you know exactly what the change you made was and how it is now impacting your conversion rate. The great thing about the tools available today is they allow you to test changes and gather results very quickly. Be sure to gather enough data so you know it is the variable that is being tested that is causing the fluctuation. I have found that the vast majority of sites I look at can improve their conversion rate. Even if you have a site that is converting at 100%, over time those numbers will drift. The world is constantly changing, Google’s algorithms’ are constantly changing and so, too, are your customer’s perspectives. Seasonality can change the value of your graphics in the equation. You may find you need to have different photography for different seasons, or different graphics for different segments. The point is, you should constantly be applying lean development methods and keep iterating and improving your site to improve conversion rate and up your page ranking. In the old days, we could create a print ad and then just run it as prescribed on our Marketing Calendar to reach a desired number people, with a desired number of impressions. The process then wasn’t nearly as interactive. You really have to think of your site and your digital strategy as constant evolution, as an activity you need to be doing constantly. Gone are the days of creating ads or commercials, letting them run and hoping for results. Although working with Digital media may be more time consuming and interactive, it also provides us tools to target so much more effectively, and even adapt content for different customer groups. Today we truly can market “one to one.” Although it requires a significant amount of work and a disciplined approach to your testing, the end result can result in far more cost effective marketing. And done correctly you can positively impact your guest’s experience. The guest experience begins with that very first interaction. As managers and leaders in this business we must pay attention to every aspect of that experience, from the booking process all the way to when the guest gets home and receives a copy of their folio. Once we have defined the guest experience as the entire time from booking to receiving a copy of their bill, it’s natural we would want to look at how mobile can help us to make for a better guest experience.
The hospitality industry, as with most others, has experienced a dramatic shift in consumer engagement via mobile devices and this has changed the prioritization for digital investment. Gone are the days when we could just book some base business with crew rooms and wholesalers and count on our stay controls to do the rest. Today, a good site optimized for mobile is simply the table stakes we need to pay to play the game. However, the information and tools available today offer an incredible opportunity to drive Revpar to new levels. Don’t think about digital as something you have to do (it is, but…), think of it as a new tool set that will allow you to get far more bang for your buck across the marketing spectrum, and at the same time an opportunity to improve the guest experience. In the process itself, but also to glean new information about your guest that will allow you to personalize the guest’s experience both on property and off. Most people’s favorite word is their own name; you’ll be surprised just how much something as simple as calling the guest by their name throughout their experience impacts the guest’s perception of the quality and the value of their stay with you.
Take a look at these four basic marketing trends you’ll need to include in your marketing strategy.
MOBILE SITE OPTIMIZATION
On average, 21% of accommodation bookings are placed via mobile devices and this number is rising exponentially compared to other channels each year. This is no surprise considering that more and more consumers are relying on mobile to book their accommodations on the go. Yes, that’s exciting….but the really exciting aspects of mobile are the new capabilities and opportunities to improve the guest experience they have enabled. Guests can check in with their phones, and there are even a few key systems available that are allowing guests to use their mobile devices as a key to their guest room. We have the ability to be in constant communication with the guest when traveling to and from your property, as well as when they are on it. We can let them know when their room is available. We can send them texts with information regarding their stay; they can request their car be pulled up to the door or alert the maître d’ they are on the way to the dining room with the push of a button. Putting some thought into how you can improve the guest experience with mobile and a property or brand application offer us ways to improve the guest experience that simply weren’t available before mobile phones became ubiquitous. Like your overall digital strategy, don’t think of mobile as a have to, think of it as get to. We get to improve the guest experience in ways that simply were not previously available. Can you think of a new way in which your property or your brand could use mobile to improve the guest experience? Ironically, many of these guest experience improvement strategies can also result in cost savings by allowing your employees to work more efficiently.
ONLINE ADVERTISING & MOBILE SEARCH
Mobile search is now predominate, more than 3 out of 5 searches are now accomplished using mobile devices to search. With new algorithms from Google, it is crucial that your mobile site is fully optimized for mobile search for higher search visibility and better page ranking.
Again, this is an area that needs constant attention. Just like the focus on conversion rates, we need to constantly be optimizing our sites for search, and mobile search. Firstly, we have to continually monitor Google’s changes to their algorithms’, and make appropriate changes to keep our search ranking high. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile it will be very challenging to get a high page ranking. If you used paid search, maintain a continual focus on scrutinizing your paid keywords, observe their performance and ensure their relevance (to your guests). Just because a keyword has a lot of hits doesn’t mean it’s the right keyword for your hotel. Finding keywords that relate to your specific audience will help to improve your look-to-book ratio and your cost of conversions, and that will in turn enhance your search results. Your goal here is revenue generation not simply traffic generation.
ONLINE PRESENCE / SOCIAL MEDIA
Social Synergy is another trend that you cannot afford to neglect when it comes to building organic traffic. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have revolutionized the way we socialize, and are growing in importance for companies to attract, engage and to retain their customers, as well as employees. Instagram, with its strong focus on visuals and exceeding 400 million active users is an underutilized platform for hotels. Research has demonstrated that people who socialize together often vacation in the same or similar destinations. So in addition to using the channel to advertise, engage your customers to promote your property to their friends by providing “selfie stations” or pre-set scenic locations with your property information plainly visible. Offer prizes or contests to promote a #hashtag for your Guests…on-site and off.
In today’s media heavy world, video and visuals are more effective than ever. The majority of modern consumers respond better to audiovisual content, so including video in your marketing strategy is a necessity. With much lower bounce rates, videos will also improve your website’s overall SEO as viewers tend to stay on your site longer, which will, in turn, award you with better page ranks.
It’s a small world after all…and the majority of your guest feedback probably won’t come from your comment cards anymore. Guests now broadcast their reviews of your property all over the world on sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Certified Consumer Reviews, and more. So encourage your guests to leave reviews after their stay, offer links to review sites in any thank you notes or with emailed Guest folios’. Feedback is the breakfast of champions; use it aggressively to improve the experience you are offering your guests. Even negative feedback is an opportunity to build loyalty. If you handle complaints quickly and completely you can win their business back. Now given the social feedback channels in use today you’re response to feedback from one guest will undoubtedly impact the purchasing decisions of many others. Never fail to respond promptly, politely, specifically, and completely. Leverage the benefits of social media to drive new revenue, and greater loyalty.
PERSONALIZATION / CONSUMER CENTRIC CONTENT
Step up your game by providing personalized guest experiences, and build loyalty by knowing your customer and delivering to their individual desires. Customers share so much information about themselves both by their communications and their actions, and indirectly through social media. Record the information and use it to improve the guest experience. Personalization begins with your first marketing message, not just after they’ve walked through your doors. Now it’s possible to deliver personalized or segmented content in your marketing. It’s not just enough to find the right people to market to anymore, we must market “to the right people” with a message that is more focused and relevant for that individual or segment. And preferably the message needs to be delivered at the right time. Craft specific content to target customers based on their search preferences, reason for travel, and/or anything else you might know about a customer or group of customers. People have a tendency to act faster and more positively when they are addressed by their name. We certainly know this to be true once they are on property, but the same holds true online. Using a guest or potential guest’s name, and presenting a personalized offer with a call to action will guarantee improvement in your Look-to-Book ratio.
Digital gives you the opportunity to stay ahead of the competition but given the time and attention it also offers a path to getting way ahead of your competition in this ever more dynamic and competitive business. If you want to win in the online travel market, your marketing creative needs to be combined with a detailed and knowledgeable marketing strategy. Peruse the strategic options and effectively employ the most appropriate sites and direct marketing tools for your property or your brand. Obviously, the very best and most effective marketing of all is delivering on your brand promise and exceeding guest expectations, one at a time and every time they interact with your business.
The environment that we as hoteliers have to operate in has changed and has become more complex. Undoubtedly, the area that has changed the most is marketing with the introduction of Digital Marketing. Digital has changed the playing field, and has even changed the players allowed on the field. You have to invest in Digital just to be competitive and keep up with the competition, but the silver lining with digital is the extraordinary ability it gives us to focus our marketing on a more and more specific target and then to curate the content and marketing messages to that target audience and ultimately improve the guest experience starting with the very first interaction and continuing for as long as we continue to deliver our promise and exceed the expectations of our guests. Do this and you will be way ahead of your competition.