The NOT So Obvious Insights & Lessons from an International Hospitality Marketing Agency
While there historically has been a largely standardized framework for developing a hospitality marketing strategy, a “Sales and Marketing Plan” at the end of each year for the following, we have seen the need for businesses to be more flexible in their approach and to not follow these outlines or guides verbatim. We have worked across a variety of geographies, hotel sizes, prices points, and variations which has provided us a breadth of visibility and insight to what factors work for hotels and how to reposition the strategy. The following are guidelines to take into consideration while creating a hotel marketing strategy with some additional insights and lessons that aren’t as obvious for the brand’s consideration.
Define Your Authentic Brand Persona
Defining an authentic brand persona means honing in on the mission vision and the brand identity of the hotel. Whether an already established hotel or a developing one, property aesthetics and design are very influential and will complement the brand identity. Having a congruent brand identity that reflects the hotel’s values is critical for consistency and the brand image in the eyes of the guest. This can be done throughout the online experience and the in-person collateral that is shared with guests. This brand persona shouldn’t be static but should be derived over time as the brand or hotel evolves and becomes a dynamic entity. It should grow and mold in response to the customers and the hospitality industry trends at large.
Understand Your Competitors Locally & Globally
Knowing the hotel’s competitors on a local and global level is important to be able to see what others in the area or industry are doing. Hotel owners may look at what other successful hotels are doing from a marketing standpoint and revenue standpoint, as well as in their meetings, events, and promotions. Being able to connect the dots and see which competitors attract a similar type of guests will allow for opportunities to differentiate the hotel from others. A comprehensive SWOT analysis can provide a good sense of what is successful for others and what is not. From there, some of the successful approaches can be translated and applied to a new hotel marketing strategy that both works and stands out from competitors.
Know Your Audience(s) & Most Profitable Customer
It is important to know that the brand’s audience is composed of multiple segments, buyer personas, and types of guests that are going to visit the hotel or resort. Knowing this information and breaking down the most profitable customer will be critical to the strategy for attracting these guests and for marketing to them consistently. If it was not for segmentation, the hotel would be marketed to everyone. This will result in a gamut of people that don’t all want the same experience and in turn, will dilute the brand value. Knowing the right audience and how to attract the guests will create a filtering mechanism for the people that are or are not the right fit for the property. When the marketing strategy is crafted to inform these people, there will be more satisfied guests and staff.
Review The Numbers
Ensure that the numbers in the marketing strategy are reviewed and substantiating what audience the brand should actually be marketing to. Looking at the numbers and these different customer personas, consider how much is being spent on the marketing mix, versus government costs, versus event production, etc. One might find that the hotel historically got a lot of business from a certain audience but that recently the profit margins are weak. There may also be another subset of the audience that is more successful for targeting. Help validate and align the numbers with the revenue and marketing strategies so that they parallel and work in tandem to drive the right types of guests and reputation.
Meet Each of Them Where they are At
The whole idea of marketing is to reach the customers where they are at. Once the different types of customer personas are identified, the hotel owners will be able to start to see where these different individuals spend their time- whether it’s social media, certain news publications, specific TV channels or radio stations, or in-person experiences like concerts or sports events. Knowing where they’re at and what they like to do then allows for crafting unique and personalized messages depending on the medium. Each message should differ significantly depending on if it is marketing to the feminine, a family, or marketing to a remote worker.
Have a Vision & Clearly Communicate to Everyone
It is important for the brand to have a differentiator, a direction, and a vision of what it’s looking to do. Brand identity is key to ensuring that the hotel is marketing to a specific audience and not attempting to sell blankety to everyone. When there’s a clear understanding of what groups of people the brand identity is geared towards, then the brand can own that segment of the market and does not have to try to be all things to all people. Clearly articulating this vision through visual brand aesthetics, as well as through messaging and positioning, will resonate with and attract a certain type of person, demographic and/or psychographic. Owning the space and playing in the right lane for your brand is the key to a successful marketing strategy.
Develop a Congruent Strategy to Get you There
Once the hotel is owning its space, it is time to develop a congruent strategy to get you there. Ensure that there is a pivot point for everything that the marketing revolves around and then slightly change the messaging and positioning per that outlet to the target audience. Know the boundaries that the hotel is confined within and what kind of minimum threshold the brand needs to be able to abide by and play within. From there, the visuals can support and supplement this aesthetically so that there’s brand consistency for the guests to differentiate the hotel.
Map Your Guests Customer Journey
As the strategy starts to develop, an important thing to do is to map the customer’s journey and see where customers are coming from. Look at what multitude of touchpoints that people are experiencing whether it’s word of mouth, social media, OTAs, or search engines. Understand what the path of least resistance is to be able to build the rapport and trust needed to convey the message and value proposition. This will then guide people towards committing and booking their stays. Beyond just booking rooms, look at other ways to build loyalty and trust. In what ways can their experience be personalized before and after they step foot on the property. The key is to understand how to add value to the dozens, if not hundreds, of micro-moments that guests will experience and engage in throughout their customer journey.
Understand How to Leverage Each Micro-Moment
Expanding and elaborating on mapping the guests’ customer journey, it’s important that if at any point one of these micro-moments becomes negative, that you know how to turn it around and make it positive. This may mean verifying that loyal guests’ data is properly linked to their profiles so that staff is able to provide a better and more personalized experience. Turning what could be a negative guest situation into a positive one can help build brand advocacy that would have otherwise been discrediting.
Be Flexible & Agile in HOW You Get There
More often than not these sales and marketing outlines don’t show the strategy and how to actually get there. When there are approaches for things such as soliciting more government, leisure, local, or international travel it’s important to remember that the journey won’t pan out exactly like it’s planned and to remain flexible through it all. Roadblocks happen whether it’s the weather, a problem with supply chain, or a global pandemic, so flexibility will keep the hotel going in the right direction.
Get Everyone on the Same Page – A Vital Commercial Strategy
When looking at the Vital Commercial Strategy it’s important for everyone to be on the same page and to know the direction in which the brand is going. Once everyone has the same vision, ensure that the sales, marketing, and revenue management are all aligned in how to get there. It might take a slightly different shape, or the brand might need to pivot the strategy; however, everyone knows where they’re going and can adapt their tactics and tools to be able to get there. The hotel might have to take a detour but it will still end up at the final destination.
Leverage Social Proof to Drive Social Capital & Financial Gains
For hotels, social proof comes in many shapes and forms. Historically, the first and most natural way to build social proof is from people walking by the crowded venue and seeing that it’s a popular place. People are way more likely to eat at a restaurant or make a purchase if they know the item or place is in demand. Ecommerce sites also do this when showing the customer how many other people are viewing a product or how many people have also bought it today. The best way to build this proof offline is to create a false sense of demand. For online rapport, reviews across OTAs and other directories like Google, Yelp, Expedia, and Facebook are able to reinforce the validity of what customers like. It’s important that these online reviews are diversified and consistently distributed across platforms. Ensure every platform has a substantial amount of reviews and that they’re not all on one platform. There are also tools that allow the ability to pick and showcase good reviews from Google or Expedia on the hotel’s website to help reinforce and drive that notoriety for future visitors.
Be Consistent & Congruent Across Outlets
From the messaging to the visual, having the same brand approach and aesthetic across outlets is going to be key for prospective and current customers to be able to understand and see consistently who the brand is. Adding cohesive stylistic components on property, on social media, in videos, on menus, etc. is imperative to ensuring the guests are ingraining the hotel brand image throughout their journey. This will also build trust, rapport, and equity for the guests over time.
Use email Intentionally
Email is now like what traditional mail was back in the 20th century. It’s overused and not effective unless the brand is really clear on developing a strategy that engages and adds value to the customers. This means deeply thinking through what the customer would want to see. Consider the length of the email, the value within the messaging, the frequency, and the conversion to a video or website depending on the desired action. Email is an extension of the hotel’s brand and is part of having every micro-moment add value to the guests. Once a guest books their stay at the hotel, email can also be a very useful way to connect with them, keep them updated, and to collect customer data (e.g. allergies, preferences, requests) about them for their guest profiles. These emails can engage and add value to the customer journey by asking guests about activities they want to do and getting them signed up before even arriving on the property. Email can be very advantageous but needs to be approached the right way as to not overwhelm or annoy guests.
Personalize the Experience Online & Off
Hotels that are delivering the exact same message regardless of who they’re talking to are doing themselves a great disservice. We now have the technology and data to be able to personalize experiences and to craft meaningful messages to our guests. Presenting a blanket statement to everyone will only end up hitting a small percentage of people within the target audience. Once we fully understand our customer personas, we can then craft and personalize unique experiences for each of them. It’s critical to take the time and to be intentional about creating a customer journey both virtually and on property. Guests will recognize the details and will see the quality of their experience across touchpoints. This can be a complicated process but understanding just 6 to 8 customer personas and which are most profitable will make good use of marketing time and resources, as well as will create a successful strategy.
Rally Your Employees & Your Guests
An underutilized and often overlooked marketing strategy tactic is looking at the employees as brand assets. We’re starting to see private equity firms evaluate brand values by looking at the human capital component side of the equation. Without the employees, the brand doesn’t go anywhere, hence the importance of employer branding. The key is for the employees to be an extension of the brand and for them to be advocates for the hotel even when clocked off from their shift. The best hotel marketing strategies look at their prospective and current employees to better see how to market to them. Having employees that effectively represent the brand and its values will build a community that both the staff and guests will recognize and appreciate.
Referral & Word of Mouth Marketing Is NOT Dead
We all know the power of a friend recommending a certain restaurant or movie. These suggestions go a long way because of our relationships and the trust we put into other’s opinions. Clearly articulating and creating exceptional experiences for the guests will build that trust, loyalty and advocacy with them over time. The ROI (return on investment) is very high for word-of-mouth marketing because it doesn’t cost anything for guests to share their experiences with friends and it builds a strong reputation. This will even build more brand equity and rapport as these friends of guests book their stay and experience the same great customer journey. Even better, the cost per acquisition for this referral is next to nothing.
Not So Obvious Marketing Strategies Most CMO’s Won’t Tell You:
Simpler is ALWAYS Better
One of the hardest things to do is to summarize and synthesize thoughts, but authenticity and simplicity is going to win every time. It takes a lot of effort but it’s critical to distill the brand’s messaging, positioning, and value statements to be as clear and concise as possible. This enables guests to easily share the brand story on the hotel’s behalf. There won’t be any need for a video, a complicated press release, or a big billboard for guests to share about the brand.
We are All Human, Leverage this – emotional
At the end of the day, we are emotional creatures and people are more willing to pull out their wallets if the brand triggers a human emotion and creates meaning. While we at SoCap never use a fear-based approach to get customers to buy, there are many positive ways to convey and prompt emotion and the feeling of freedom, liberty, quality of life, and happiness that a guest will experience at the hotel. Using a fear-based approach will cause guests to associate the brand and experience negative sentiments. That negative connotation and feeling is hard to disassociate from, even if it’s an uplifting, fun hotel. This can be complicated and if the hotel finds itself needing help navigating it, SoCap is here to help facilitate these conversations and strategies.
Identify 2-3 Brand Aesthetics that Are YOU & RUN with Them
Brands either do one of two things that are ineffective – they don’t have any identity or differentiator and they blend into the sea of mediocrity, or they try to be too fancy and take on too many brand aesthetics so that it is overwhelming to the guest. It’s comparable to walking into a really cluttered store that has too many options and variety. The most effective brands will take a few thematic or stylistic elements and imbed them across all marketing assets and touchpoints. It’s important to consider not just colors, but also patterns, images, and design components. This should be applied to the menus, PDF documents, flyers, throughout social media, and across every step of the customer journey. Visual association for guests is key both online and off.
The Bigger the Vision the Easier it is to Rally Others
No matter the size or type of hotel, creating a vision and a larger impact will give the employees something to rally behind. This may just be on a regional level as the hotel services the guests and community, but showing the employees how they’re contributing and making a difference will bring them more motivation and enthusiasm. This may mean providing yoga and peace of mind to guests or even could be creating a sustainable eco-friendly tourism experience for them. Whatever it is, take the time to discover the brand identity and how it can be used to make an impact. Owning the vision is essential for employees to feel that they’re contributing to something bigger than just themselves. You’ll find that the brand will become magnetic and will attract like-minded individuals that have the same values as the hotel. This vision will result in brand equity, differentiation, and a rally from guests and employees because everyone is sharing the same energy and goal.
Here at Social Capital Agency our passion is and always will be to support small and emerging independent hotels, whether they are boutique or luxury resorts. We’re here to enable and empower the hotelier that has an unbelievable vision and that provides a great experience on property, but who might be having trouble translating that through marketing. We know and recognize that these brands oftentimes have limitations in their time and resources and may need to focus on a different priority. Thus, this guide is here to provide comprehensive and effective hotel marketing strategies for hoteliers and owners. This outline may be used as a roadmap, but don’t be afraid to take a detour along the way. We want to help make a difference for your brand and we’re here to help, whether it’s as a full-time agency of record, or as a part-time Fractional CMO as an extension of your brand.