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Making Marketing Work What works, what doesn’t and what hoteliers should expect for 2012.

Sep 14, 2011

Hoteliers need to think beyond the press release. That’s the philosophy at ThinkInk, a public relations company that deals with the travel sector.

Chief Visibility Officer Vanessa Horwell said the idea is to use creative thinking and experience that goes beyond PR to develop compelling stories as a more effective way of generating coverage and interest. She said this approach has generated better results for clients – results that change perceptions, shape opinion, and create new business opportunities.

Buyer Interactive asked Horwell to share her insights for marketing in 2011: What works, what doesn’t and what hoteliers should expect for 2012 and beyond.

As far as marketing: why don’t you start by giving a definition of what marketing is, and how it differs from public relations, advertising, or social media. Then, please explain how these four disciplines intertwine.

It’s easy to see how public relations, advertising, and social media can be related to or confused with marketing – particularly with mentions of new hybrids and the overlap of these industries. Differentiating marketing from public relations has a lot to do with agenda: marketing is concerned with the public and selling, whereas PR starts with the relationships both interoffice (a CEO and employees) and with those linked to the company for a variety of reasons (such as shareholders or investors) – and it’s seen as a two-way street. Marketing’s goals are business driven and customer focused.

That said, marketing and public relations do overlap. They are complimentary; a public relations team can create the company reputation that a marketing group seeks to promote. As for advertising? It’s a single component in the marketing process that can create positive talk and awareness about a product, a business, or service. Social media marketing is an additional component of the marketing process recognizing that we can influence a consumer both before and after sales – and it’s best when combined with other forms of marketing. There should also be a lot more discussion between these groups as the outcome can be so successful. When we integrate our efforts with a client’s ad agency, creative team and/or marketing department, the results are incredible.

What marketing does work for hoteliers?

Recent observations about the hotel industry can rattle hoteliers who aren’t entirely engaged with marketing. Value is king; consumers want to be more comfortable than ever – with perks – but they also don’t want to overpay. They know they have the power to affect a hotel’s reputation with a few clicks, too which has created an entirely new breed of hotel guest. Before settling on a marketing campaign, hoteliers needs to dig deep and ask themselves what reviews they’d like to see in a best-case scenario perspective. After they envision the hotel they’d like to be known as, they can begin making that a reality. Developing a service culture starts with such a vision, and that is what guests buy into. Some basic marketing strategies that work for hoteliers include:

Refining Copy and Being Consistent – this may sound trite or very common, but many hotels are repeat offenders. Copy and layout across all the channels you use (web, email, print) need to be professionally polished and completely in line with your marketing goals. Who is your audience, and does your site/channel speak to them? Too many hotel marketing campaigns lack creative spark, are template driven, and are not sufficiently targeted or personalized.

Using SEO – Organic search results are a great place to start refining your marketing efforts, and it reduces or balances dependence on OTAs. This latter point, reliance on OTAs, is a theme we are going to see come up again and again over the next year as hotels (and travel operators) try to regain control of their customers and those relationships.

Engaging Mobile Travelers – The mobile channel opportunity is immense, as is the market potential for relevant ancillary services. Aligning yourself with a mobile-ready site and strategy can help you attract the always connected guest whether for business and pleasure. More and more travelers are also using location-based services, and combing mobile commerce and social into their travel purchasing patterns.

Promoting Your Hotel’s Green Side – It’s not a trend that you should approach through greenwashing, but if you have made real attempts to be green, you should find a way to make the most of it. I don’t think green has ever realized its full potential – certainly not from a hotel marketing standpoint. But it can be a differentiator, and it will appeal to a passionate and dedicated demographic.

Developing Appealing Special Offers – The more you learn about your visitor profile, the more you’ll be able to appeal to them – and through a variety of channels. But beware of “the deal.” While deal platforms may be all the craze this year, like social media, consumers are going to experience deal fatigue quite soon. Establish your value proposition and stick with it. Don’t undervalue your brand for the sake of a short term cash spike.

What doesn’t work, marketing-wise and why?

Following trends won’t necessarily help attract new customers. As I mentioned above, deals are the new marketing go-to for some hotels, but dangerous in my opinion. Any initiative that devalues a hotel brand through discounting tactics also works against building loyalty. And while maybe old-school, communicating value, service, and most importantly, relevancy is very effective. As is personalized communication. I can’t tell you how many times I have received the most off-target emails and offers from hotels – and ones that I am loyalty program member of. If hotel marketers thought more like retail marketers, the end results would be drastically different. Hmmm, now that’s a thought…

We’re entering 4th quarter 2011, and travel is going to ramp up with the holidays. How can hoteliers take advantage of this busy season?

Strategy is key. In order to maximize bookings, make sure that everything is functioning on your sites and on all partnership sites/OTAs. Think about solutions that maximize revenue opportunities. It’s a basic step, but you’d be surprised how often a booking bug can affect performance, particularly in the case of high-volume traffic.

Look at previous numbers to determine accurate patterns of traffic surges to better time promotions and special offers. Consider what perks – not discounts – you can use to enhance the booking experience this season since we know that customers have become more demanding in terms of value-for-money. Seasonal social media promotions are just as important as they are year-round.

What should hoteliers expect in 2012?

Market predictions provide the most eye-opening glance at 2012. A new PhoCusWright report reports that by the end of 2012, one in three hotel stays will be booked online. Social media will continue to play a large part in online promotions, and we can expect even more customer service issues to be handled in an accelerated manner online, thanks to social media. Leading on from that I think that experiences will be key for hotels in 2012. Creating experiences “beyond the room” will drive incremental value and turn hotels into destinations. Look at SLS. Hoteliers can bank on that.

What’s the best piece of free advice – that hasn’t been heard before – that you can give our readers?

Pay attention to developments like Google’s Hotel Finder, which can help fine-tune online efforts for maximum bookings. While still in beta, Google’s experiment has opened up a lot of opportunities to examine best practices from a new perspective and re-evaluate hotel sites with the most current recommendations in mind. Work with channel partners that can help your brand grow. There’s a lot of new information about what travelers need and want. The booking window has shrunk, booking behaviors have changed, we are dealing with mobilized consumers, and strategies and tactics need to change as a result. Hoteliers by and large are risk averse, but a degree of risk taking is absolutely needed in this market. I hate to use the cliché “adapt or die,” but it’s true. Many hotels are marketing like it’s 1999, not heading into 2012. I was recently brought into a project to work on a very large chain’s loyalty program, and the marketing they were using was the same as it was five years ago. Look head, not behind. This may not be said often – or at all (because no one really wants to hear it), but that is my free advice.

Article by Erica Lamburg, posted on Hotel Interactive: http://bit.ly/mVt17i

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