The Digital Decade of Marketing
The Digital Decade of Marketing

Glancing back at the decade I think many of us have forgotten where we were, and just how dramatically things have changed in ten short years. Hotels were still printing brochures by the thousands and stacked them in back rooms. Travel agents still got commissions paid on flights and wholesaler allotments were still valid occupancy estimates.
Today we use the latest product from Google or Apple to guide our consumer behavior and the way we communicate. We all know where we are.
In 2001 Bill Gates coined the past decade “The Digital Decade” and he was absolutely right. Consider the facts:

•    When the last decade began, there were 2.6 million broadband households in the US, one out of every 40 homes. Now there are 80 million, or two thirds of the population.
•    Digital video recorders reached 31 million homes from Zero when the decade started and HDTV reached 51 million in this decade. Together with online video and video on-demand, these gadgets have completely transformed the television experience.
‚Ä¢¬†¬† ¬†Mobile phones subscriptions are now 270 million, out of 307 million US adults. (For a comparison, mobile phones were in 51 million households at the start of the decade, but back then having more than one phone per household was unusual.) Back in 1999 phones were phones. Now they’re iPhones, BlackBerries and Androids — computers and internet access devices.
•    Portable digital music players have reached 76% of all US households. At the start of the decade, they were in practically none, because the iPod had yet to be introduced.
And finally, it’s worth noting that Google just celebrated its 10th anniversary. In 1999, most of us hadn’t heard of it yet. And forget social technologies — in 1999, most of the social activity online was in chat and discussion forums like ICQ.

So looking back on all this from the perspective of media and marketing, it’s clear that a.¬† consumers lead, b. media stumbles along behind, and c. marketers follow along behind.

But what you can also learn from this last decade is that consumers move quickly, models move slowly, and marketing moves conservatively. When you see a technology shifting, that’s the time to begin close observation of the models behind it. It will take a few years for those models to take hold, and in those years, you get the chance to learn. That’s when you need to experiment and figure out how things work, because that’s when it’s cheap and the competition is hanging back. Because when the transformation happens — and it will — then you will have the advantage of knowledge.

In the Travel and Leisure business the most recent Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 Internet consumers determined that 70 percent trust online guest reviews. That’s almost as important as saying that once the destination has been selected, the accommodation largely depends on peer recommendation. Peer being someone who left a favorable review of the property.

The CEO of TripAdvisor stated during an interview on Center Stage at the PhoCusWright Conference in Orlando on November 19, 2009 that “perhaps 60% of travelers start their trip-planning searches on Google (while the rest may be using Yahoo or Bing). Google has made hotel guest reviews a key part of its Google Local Business Search so that any search for hotels in your city will display a listing of hotels and a link to reviews for each hotel. The more reviews you have posted on your webpage, the more reviews you will have displayed in Google local search.

In continuation of yesterday’s story on how and where to find and attract visitors to Amelia Island and its wide array of accommodations from luxury resorts to out of the way mom and pop motels for surfers and hikers, the following information gives you a good start with defining how marketing and sales can be integrated into technology. I’ve tried to give every random idea an entrance point to for you to write CONTENT.

It’s all about content; as 86% of all travel sales leads are generated by organic content. Here are some ideas.

Website

•    Give visual priority to the most important elements of your site.
•    Put your offer front and center – make it extremely clear (”What do you want me to do?”)
•    Booking modules should be prominent and above the fold
•    Create guest personas to help you develop content for each target audience
•    It can be a daunting task for many to consider who, exactly, is visiting your site.  But if we break the hotel buyers into distinct groups and then catalog everything we know about each one, it makes it easier to create content targeted to each important demographic.
•    Think about all the people that visit your hotel for a moment.  How many distinct groups can you create from your regular guests?
•    If your hotel is like most, there are several categories.
•    Business travelers.  Leisure travelers. Conference attendees. International visitors. Families. And the list could go on and on.
•    Each group has different needs, and uses a different set of criteria to select hotels. The business traveler might want a staffed business center and would be attracted by your city center location. Leisure travelers may appreciate a guide to local attractions. Visitors from abroad may need staff that speak their language. Conference attendees may be looking for a hotel with a great fitness center.
•    Everyone is looking for something different from your hotel. For this reason, you need different messages for each major category of visitors. Doing this helps you communicate your value offering, and improves the effectiveness of your overall campaign.
•    The “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work anymore.
•    People scan web pages, and probably won’t take a long time to read all the text.
•    Include stunning visuals. People buy travel on emotion.
•    Write page content from the mindset of the customer. Use their language.
•    Publish guest comments, reviews, and feedback directly on your website
•    Leverage social proof. Everyone likes what everyone likes.
•    First impressions make or break landing page conversion rates
•    Provide “next steps” for all web content
•    Organic traffic provides you with a low level of control, so make sure these pages appeal to everyone. With paid search & advertising campaign traffic you have a higher level of control. Create landing pages that match the ad creative for higher conversions.
•    Use video to convey emotion or compelling visuals that are hard to show through written words
•    View your main website not as the final destination, but a hub to refer people elsewhere in your online network

Search Marketing

•    The top 3 results on a search results page gets 79% of the clicks while in the middle only gets you about 25% click through; interesting is that indentured listings catch an easy 65% of clicks
•    Result #10 gets a remarkable 43%…but appearing on page #2 and onwards means you are practically invisible for that particular keyword
•    Travel queries have increased 40% in 2009 (over 2008)
•    SEO (organic search) can give much better returns than SEM (paid inclusion). Up to 86% of travel sales leads are generated by organic search listings (content).
•    Don’t worry about how search engines work as much as how customers use web search
•    When someone types in a search query, they’re giving you the opportunity to solve their problem; the more problems you solve with content, the higher your ranking;
•    The search funnel typically follows this pattern: Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Purchase; the old AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action)
•    Identify keywords that are relevant to your hotel, destination and popular with searchers. Use research tools so you don’t get mislead.
•    Consider targeting 2-3 word phrases that are more targeted and obtainable, long tail keywords
•    Blogs can be your #1 tool for building search visibility
•    Organizations that blog get 97% more inbound links to their website, and 55% more website visitors according to Hubspot research
•    Reciprocal links less valuable than one-way, because it tells Google that you’ve arranged it, rather than earned the link through creating great content
•    The best incoming links are earned by merit. Create content people can’t help linking to.
•    See SEO as a profit center, not a cost center
•    You cannot have a ’set it and forget it’ approach to SEO. Constantly create fresh content.
•    Be diligent – search marketing is an ongoing process
•    Your online reputation plays a huge role in the level of success you achieve
•    Nine out of Ten travelers today use the internet to make travel plans, and say the reviews they read from other guests influence their buying decision
•    Reputation management begins by listening to what people are saying about you online
•    Use tools like Google Alerts, Technorati, and Radian 6 to track praise and criticism
•    Monitor all important terms: your hotel name, any old hotel names, your restaurants, the names of your manager and concierge
•    Review sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Qype allow management responses, and this is a good chance to participate in the conversation.
•    A recent survey by TripAdvisor/Market Metrix found that 85% of hotels have no guidelines on how to handle negative guest reviews published online
•    Develop your response policy ahead of time, and make an effort to followup with all feedback
•    Complaints can be an excellent opportunity to improve your hotel
•    If you get legitimate negative feedback, thank the reviewer for pointing it out…and explain the steps you’re taking to ensure it never happens again
•    TripAdvisor: The most important thing a hotel can do to improve rankings is provide a great experience for their guests
•    Effective online reputation management is more than just playing defense – it’s all about proactively building a positive buzz. Social media is a great way to begin doing this.
•    The conversation about you will go on with or without you. It’s better to be involved.
•    Serve as a concierge of the organization – “how may I help?”
•    Start by figuring out your social media goals. Is it education? sharing? community? Charity
•    Present your blog and social media presence as a way for people to connect with their peers, not just receive your marketing messages
•    Embrace a light branding approach – let your customers tell the story and build the brand.
•    “Guestsourcing” is the technique savvy hotels are using to involve their guests in the content production process. It’s the combination of user-generated content and crowdsourcing.
•    Guestsourcing can build loyalty and raise your online visibility. Active participation in content production creates a sense of brand ownership.
•    If you’re small, people may not be talking about your business by name….but they’re probably talking about your region and issues you care about.
•    Monitor who writes about the topics you care about. Build relationships with them.
•    If your online content sucks, you’re wasting your money and my time. Make something remarkable.
•    People love to look at pictures…are you giving people lots of pictures online? Encourage your fans to take & upload their own photos.
•    Add photos of your hotel’s design to the Hotel Design Blog
•    Hosting your hotel photos on Flickr increases your web presence, building awareness among potential guests
•    Use Creative Commons licensing on all Flickr photos to increase distribution
•    Introduce your staff with video interviews, and post to YouTube
•    Viral video is for generating buzz and awareness…but it’s not the best way to generate sales
•    Hyatt Hotels launched @HyattConcierge to provide 24/7 global concierge services via Twitter. Could you do the same?
•    Use Twitter search to locate people searching for solutions
•    Facebook marketing is all about “transitive trust” – reaching people through people. Helping your fans tell their friends.
•    Facebook isn’t about answers. It’s friends sharing with friends, which makes Facebook a poor platform for direct marketing.
•    Facebook adds new features fairly rapidly, so take the time to educate your readers about how they can use the new tools.
•    Encourage people to like and comment on your Facebook content as much as possible to raise visibility.
•    Get a “vanity” personalized Facebook URL as soon as you can for search optimization purposes (you need 25 fans first)
•    Employee blogging is more powerful than executive blogging. According to research, readers find them five times more credible. Get your team involved.
•    Consider using multiple sites/blogs for each of the niche audiences you’re trying to reach (Golf РTennis РPetanque etc.)
•    Use destination blogs to attract corporate and leisure travel planners. Especially in rural or remote areas, your biggest competition is not the hotel down the street but another location.
•    Get your social media fans to meet up offline as much as possible. “Tweetups” are a popular way to do this.
•    Create a social media management routine to ensure consistent participation
•    You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

Advertising

•    Present a realistic picture of what people can expect at your hotel. (There is nothing worse than a disappointed guest)
•    Test advertising messages in low-cost online channels before investing in big-budget media
•    Test using feedback from your guests in your advertising. It’s more credible, and makes your ad stand out. Stories sell.
•    Educational-based advertising works best in today’s environment of empowered buyers
•    Audit your advertising performance frequently. Ineffective advertising must be stopped immediately.
•    Email may have taken a backseat role to social media hype, but it’s still a very powerful tool when used correctly. It is the cornerstone of permission-based relationship marketing.
•    Email usually has higher psychological value than other types of online communication.
•    Email is an effective branding tool for creating top-of-mind awareness
•    Email drives action and profits
•    Messages don’t always have to be sent to your guests and customers. Build systems to nurture partner relationships. Fairmont Hotels sends nearly half of their newsletters for other business partners.
•    You must create your lists organically with the explicit permission of your prospects.
•    Always provide a strong benefit for the person signing up for your list. Receiving updates (marketing messages) alone isn’t usually a very strong offer. Exclusive discounts and preferred service are more compelling.
•    Choose a publishing frequency that works for you. Too often, and people will unsubscribe; not enough, and they will forget. If possible, ask your subscribers how often they want to hear from you.
•    Test, test, test. Email marketing success comes through continual testing…and making changes based on what you learn.
•    Ideas for testing email campaigns include: sending day and time, frequency, personalization, subject and contents, prices, and call to action.
•    Segment your list as much as possible to deliver relevant messages.
•    Some Hotels built lists around affinity groups for subjects like wine, pets, and dining – and increased average revenue generated by a customer email campaign from $70,000-80,000 to $350,000-750,000.

Press & Media

•    Traditional PR assumes media editors & journalists are gatekeepers
•    New PR understands consumers will decide for themselves what to view
•    Savvy “PR 2.0″ organizations are using social media to communicate with journalists and increase their media coverage.
•    Involve your fans and customers in your PR distribution – get them to pass information along
•    Social Media Press Release Builder can help you create stories to share via the social web
•    LinkedIn and Jigsaw can be used to find reporter contact info and start conversations
•    Media on Twitter is a more focused directory of journalists on Twitter
•    Web analytics more important in consumer-directed PR than traditional PR measures of success

Customer Service

•    Getting a new customer costs approximately five times what it costs to keep an existing one
•    Make collecting guest feedback a top priority. Make sure employees understand the value of this.
•    Biggest operational challenge for hotels today is showing staff how company values look in action.
•    Never ask a guest “Have you stayed with us before?” Build a great recognition system so you know that answer already.
•    Collect as much information as you can about your guests. The more details you know, the higher level of service you can provide.
•    Offer free WiFi. It makes for happier guests, and just might help you rank higher in TripAdvisor.
•    Understand the power of consistency. This is crucial for building loyalty, and there is nothing worse than letting a customer down after they have a good experience. Use operating procedures and training to provide consistent excellence.
•    Build loyalty through offering unique amenities, not just slashing prices
•    Get inspiration from Ritz Carlton, which empowers each employee to spend a respectable amount to “move heaven and earth” to satisfy a guest – without obtaining prior permission

Going Global

•    60% of online searches are conducted in a language other than English (Forrester)
•    Potential guests from abroad prefer information about your hotel in their own language… even if they speak English
•    The best translator translates into his/her native language (watch for dialects)
•    On your website, don’t use flags to link to alternate language versions. Use text links in the top right corner so search engines can read them
•    Alternatively, present a one-time landing page when someone first visits the site that says “Welcome” in different languages. Use coding to remember the guest’s preference.
•    SEO optimize each page on your local sites for the local language.
•    Make sure to promote local content online (social media, etc) as well as the English version.

Measurement & Metrics

•    What is measured gets improved
•    Metrics can (and should) determine the direction you take your internet marketing campaign
•    New technology requires new metrics.  Create new, insightful measures of success.
•    Metrics need to be put in context to make any sense. Raw data is useless unless it’s viewed in relation to something else.
•    Top email marketing metrics: open rate, clickthrough rate, and conversion rate (people taking the next step)
•    Top website metrics: average page views per visit, average time on site, booking engine abandonment rate
•    Use Analytics to show which keywords are most important to your website (by time on site, bounce rate, etc)
•    Determine which keywords produce the most conversions (sales), and build your search marketing plan around that
•    Always ask guests, “How did you hear about us?”
•    Build a statistics dashboard that shows the money. You must know which tactics are actually providing revenue.

And last but not least, in economic hard times margins and room rate differentiations can be the difference between surviving and making a profit.
Cornell University just did a study on how customer appreciate knowing more about the why of differentiation.

You can download the PDF file [download id=”9″] .

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