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For hotels, the first priority in online marketing is to make sure travelers find you when planning trips. That’s become increasingly challenging in the realm of paid search, where online travel agencies, big brands and now Google Hotel Finder dominate results, driving costs up and organic results down.
Why even try to compete? Instead, shift resources to where you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck: owned and earned media.
Paid vs. Owned and Earned Media
Whereas paid media is purchased content like cost-per-click and display advertising, owned media is content you own on platforms you control: your website, social profiles and listings on third-party sites like TripAdvisor, Google Places and OTAs.
Earned media is user-generated content (UGC), or content your guests and other third parties post about your business. It includes reviews and ratings, blogs, media articles, photos, videos and social endorsements like pluses, shares and likes.
Unlike paid and owned media, you can’t control earned media, but it’s more influential because consumers trust the opinions of other consumers more than any other advertising source. (Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising survey, 2012).
Plus it’s free. Well, almost. To maximize reach and impact you must incorporate earned media into marketing strategy.
But first, how to generate earned media? Above all, it’s cultivated on property, in that fertile ground between guest expectations and results. Simply put, pleasant surprises generate positive reviews, social endorsements and visual content sharing. Then it’s a matter of leveraging the power of this content on the social Web.
Search Meets Social
Online we have two primary audiences: travelers and algorithms. Google, Yahoo and Bing run on algorithms, as do Facebook and TripAdvisor. They decide how content is displayed based on ingredients like relevancy, quality and importance.
Increasingly, the type of content that influences travelers also influences algorithms. This includes fresh, local content and “social signals” that a business is popular and relevant. Social signals are essentially earned media.
The integration of search and social is everywhere. TripAdvisor was an innovator with its Facebook integration, and Yelp offers a similar feature. Facebook friend activity is layered into Bing search, and Google+ activity into Google search. Most recently, Facebook’s Graph Search allows users to search within a walled garden of friend activity and interests.
The Social Website
Don’t let Facebook and Twitter distract you too much; your website remains the primary platform for promoting your hotel online. But to maximize effectiveness it must become a living, breathing, social entity that integrates fresh, local content with user and expert content. In addition to social icons and widgets, many brands now feature a review feed on their website. Why compromise this last bastion of control with raw, unedited guest feedback? Because it increases conversions—even when reviews are less than glowing. Travelers aren’t seeking perfection, they’re seeking the truth. And if they can’t find it on your website they’ll look elsewhere.
It’s not just the quality of reviews that’s important. Travelers and algorithms, including TripAdvisor’s popularity index, lend greater weight to a high volume of recent reviews. This has ignited an arms race in the hotel industry to stockpile reviews.
And don’t overlook the other type of earned media travel planners seek: expert content. Post or link to the latest media articles and blog posts that mention your hotel, and include travel journalists, bloggers and influencers in social networking activity.
To please algorithms and travelers, your website must be user-friendly and well designed, with high quality, optimized content and lots of visuals. To take it to the next level, post fresh content regularly that answers questions travelers have before and during trips, whether searching by desktop, smart phone or tablet.
This includes information about local activities, businesses, restaurants and current events, such as a list of top ten things to do in your destination in May. Add social plugins to encourage sharing.
Publishing helpful information indirectly related to your business is called utility marketing. It’s the next generation of content marketing, with benefits to SEO and guest satisfaction. (Check out Avinash Kaushik’s blog.).
Done well, a blog is a great platform for utility marketing. Check out the Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize, Sands Beach Resort in Canary Islands and Thompson Hotels. For a social website on steroids check out Whistler Blackcomb’s The Movement.
This isn’t to say that paid media is a waste of money. Paid media can amplify owned and earned media—and vice versa. According to Altimeter Group, the future is converged media.
“Welcome to the empowered buyer: a savvy and dynamic customer, armed with information, multiple options, and devices, and backed up by an ever-expanding network of peers and references,” say Rebecca Lieb and Jeremiah Owyang. “Marketers who fail to learn to reconcile paid, owned, and earned media today will be at a distinct disadvantage in the future.” (The Converged Media Imperative, 2012).
An example of converged media: a hotel introduces and a new eco-friendly package with a contest and promotes in on its website and Twitter feed (owned media), advertises it on Facebook (paid media), and invites fans to share contest details and photos with their social networks (earned media).
Do content integration well and deliver on your promises, and on the next visit your guests may skip search entirely and go straight to rebooking your hotel.
Building a direct revenue channel has become paramount to any other marketing effort. And the hotel website is a critical component to selling room nights, preserving rate, and building market share.
We’ve seen the pendulum shift to and from the bargaining power of buyer and supplier, a constant push and pull between OTAs and hotels. Scholars of Porter’s Five Forces take note.
Generation X and Millennials, the next generation of hotel owners and marketers, are digitally savvy and have begun reducing the marketing spend on print, radio, television, and even call centers, and have opted for a nearly all digital marketing strategy.
For many hoteliers, the hotel website drives as much as seventy percent of all hotel revenue. While the previous generation of hotel owners may have looked to the web as an experiment, a gimmick, or at most some incremental business, the next generation sees necessity and the future.
The patriarch of a family-owned hotel in midtown NYC shared a story about his youngest son, who, while in grade school fifteen years ago, purchased a domain name for $8.95 on GoDaddy.
Today that domain name has become a lucrative asset responsible for processing over $45 million a year in direct revenue.
But the website is only the beginning. Chris Anderson of MIT and editor of Wired Magazine wrote a 2010 article titled: The web is dead. Long live the Internet.
Anderson explains that the traditional web browsing that began in 1995 is a passive use of the web quickly being replaced with active media and push data through mobile apps and social connectivity.
Jim Lecinski of Google in his book Zero Moment of Truth describes that because of interconnectivity with the web we are all part of a conversation even when we may not be aware of it.
For example, a friend’s hotel experience shared on social media may influence your decision-making process and in turn may impact your purchasing decision, all during the normal course of checking your smartphone.
The internet has become part of our DNA and is a major economic force in the nearly $1 trillion global travel marketplace.
Travel has always been a data-driven business and online is no different. Hotel marketers increasingly rely on web analytics, web traffic and web conversion reports, and other digitally driven metrics to evaluate overall performance.
Hoteliers segment distribution into categories: web-based, call center, GDS, group business. Within the web-based category the world is divided into direct versus indirect.
Data is further segmented by desktop, mobile, and tablet and from there by customer segmentation, by geo-location, and even by time of day. The depth of intelligence is phenomenal and grows deeper as the industry evolves.
More information can be gleaned about your customers and where the revenues are to be made than ever before.
The role of revenue manager and marketing manager have blurred as both roles are responsible to maximize revenues. The industry has seen a rise in channel managers as a job class and a new breed of hotel general managers more accountable to the bottom line.
They primarily use data to drive contracts with the OTAs and to formulate a direct sell strategy. In many instances the toughest competition is not the hotel across the street but the OTAs and indirectly their own hotel on the OTAs.
Today’s hotel marketing mix looks a lot different than in the past. The cost of selling has not changed but there are new major players and market forces dictating the distribution model. Today’s hotel marketer must factor these realities into his every day practice.
The direct online channel is a significant revenue source. It is the first, and for some the last, touch point ever with a potential customer.
The hotel website is a means to create new customers, convert the undecided, retain the existing, and reward the loyal. It is a tool to up sell, cross sell, and repeat sell.
The mobile website may capture short stays with an under-24-hour booking window, a tablet device may be used to accommodate the dream stage when planning on the couch, while the desktop at the office is used for various things from scouting reviews to completing the transaction.
The bottom line is exactly that: the influence of the internet directly impacts the hotel’s bottom line and nowhere is this greater than through the direct channel.
More hotel professionals understand the value of the direct channel. At the executive level management considers the online assets in their strategic acquisitions.
CFOs closely scrutinize payments to OTAs. The hotel marketer is reshuffling the marketing mix to in order to accommodate more toward the web. Overall there is an elevated level of sophistication on the questions we receive at HeBS Digital.
Hotel Internet Marketing Florida | ” Clarion Hotel Pairs Up With ICND for Internet Marketing Campaign”
When it comes to online marketing, having a strategy is key. However, if you’re not an internet marketing specialist it can be an overwhelming task. InterCoastal Net Designs is excited to announce their new partnership with the Clarion Hotel of Myrtle Beach. We recently launched not just one campaign for this well-reknowned hotel, but three! Clarion chose Pay Per Click, Social Media Marketing and a kick-off social media contest to stay at the top of mind of their client base.
We often tell our clients, if you want quick results, then PPC is the way to go! Our PPC specialists are experienced in managing accounts that result in ROI and high quality scores, and in the long run a projected lower Cost Per Click.
And if you’re still in the dark on social media, it’s safe to say your company is dropping the ball! We are excited to take over Clarion’s social media marketing and foster brand awareness and client engagement for our new client! ICND is also handling the ins and outs of a social media contest for Clarion. We recently saw one of our client’s company pages grow from around 1,500 fans to 40,000 in the span of a week! With Facebook’s current algorithm in place, this kind of growth ensures that your brand will be all over the Facebook newsfeeds of your potential clients. When it comes to the vacation rental industry, fans are engaged with scenic photographs and the promise of the perfect getaway and Facebook is the place to start dreaming! We can’t wait to see the results of the Clarion Myrtle Beach contest.
If you feel like your company isn’t getting the online attention it deserves, it’s time to nail down an online marketing strategy. Any combination of our services from SEO to social media will increase the visibility of your brand and the combination of campaigns is sure to bring home the bacon.