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  • Claire Rowland

I tried to write a short paragraph...

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

...about what I thought hotel marketing teams should be doing now and found I couldn’t stop.

If you are running an independent hotel or a small/medium sized hotel group - regardless of your financial position to survive, cash-rich or not - what should your marketing department be doing today? Leisure and Corporate prospects are not buying for the foreseeable future. So how should you talk to them? How should you manage your marketing budget to ensure the department “does their part” to protect cash flow? And how do they ensure your brand isn’t forgotten?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer, a good marketing to-do-list or a bad one. Let’s be honest, everyone is winging-it. And if I was running an in-house hotel marketing team, I would be winging it too!

There is no shame in this. As all that "winging-it" means, is that I cannot predict or forecast the outcome.

But rather than staying quiet, I realise it is better to have a voice that offers genuine support and advice, that comes from years of experience, than not to offer any help at all.

So, here are some of my tips for your hotel marketing team…

Protect and amplify your brand for the long term.

It’s your job (in marketing) to consider the long term value of your brand; If your business has cash worries (who doesn’t? I hear you cry), then reviewing your budget, showing ROI, cutting and justifying spend is a priority. But this should not take up hours and days of your time, unless ROI and analytics isn’t a regular activity for you. In which case, good luck, give me a call and I will help (*not a sales message).

Brand marketing, not direct response commercial marketing is required. This isn’t about a re-brand exercise; it’s about doing cost effective planning and activity to support your brand to last beyond this crisis. Be truly helpful in a big way and people (your customers and fans at least) will remember it afterwards. This also means managing the employer brand. So, don’t think you can do this alone. You need to help manage comms about any unpopular decisions that may need to be made and understand the perception of your business decisions now will shape your brand/business’ future, especially where people are concerned.

Don’t be invisible I’m assuming all hotels (brands and independents) have emailed their databases and posted on SM about the measures they are taking to support their staff and customers. So, what’s your next message, piece of communication?

Use this time to nurture your customers. Don’t try to sell. Give them light relief, and something to look forward to. Write inspiring, educational, entertaining posts. Send emails, although potentially not as frequent as before (more on that later). Do not use a price point, talk about your rooms packages. Remind people of your brand values, connect and be relevant to your audience, show them your open for business, without a "book now" button. you can do this with minimal spend. If you can offer your hotel as a makeshift hospital, then do it (well done Best Western!). If not, think of something else that will help. And in the meantime, do things that are easy and simple to deploy. Be visible…

  • Create and share a playlist, to help relaxation, WFH productivity, exercise etc

  • Share lunch ideas that help concentration levels for people WFH - M&E hotel chefs are good at this, share the knowledge

  • Daily Facebook live - 10-minute HIIT videos for EVERYONE, not just for your health clubs/leisure members

  • Create friendly spa-at-home experiences – using ingredients from the kitchen (I know spas and health clubs are still open but there are those in self-isolation and some schools are staring to close - your brand can help)

  • Teaching Videos - how to make an elephant or giraffe out of a towel, ask people to share their attempts! Get the kids involved if you have a family proposition

  • Create a competition for innovative ideas on how your hotel can help the community

Now for something practical. Switch off anything that is no longer relevant. It is quite disappointing to still receive offers today, to take my mum out for lunch or afternoon tea for Mother’s Day, when the content/copy is no longer relevant. Look at what you have scheduled please and adapt – home deliver that afternoon tea now that rules have been relaxed, or at least acknowledge your restaurant is still open for those who still choose to go out. Don’t forget your automated emails too – pre and post stay emails and what about those birthday emails? Double check the content and make sure its still fit for purpose in this new world. PPC is one of the thirstiest of hotel marketing costs. But I would advise not switching it off. Well, not completely.

  • Keep your brand terms ticking over for rooms revenue, but possibly at a lesser rate than before– a 10:1 ROI will be hard to achieve with lower conversion rates being witnessed across many groups and independents, but agree what is affordable, and don’t be tempted to drop lower. For some brands this will be 6:1, which is still better than OTA commission. Don’t forget, price is no longer a core deciding factor so change your ad copy.

  • I’d switch off any brand non-rooms activity e.g. F&B, understanding that it’s difficult to manage and deliver an ROI at the best of times. Hopefully your previous SEO efforts will keep you visible on the first page.

  • Generic campaigns have always been tough to measure and deliver a strong transparent ROI even with attribution modelling, and at this time I would say to let the OTAs have them. Concede that fight.

  • Ensure your re-targeting activity is well managed. If people are looking on your website you need to do everything you can to convert them and re-targeting them across the google and social media platforms will keep your brand front of mind now, and in the future. If you’re not already using display , then I wouldn’t advise starting now. But if you are using it, then don’t look to switch it off completely. Keep that budget if you can afford to do so.

  • If you’re paying a digital agency a retainer fee, then have a conversation about the length of time being spent on the account with less budget to manage. Can it be put on hold? Can efforts be diverted to support long-term search strategy such as SEO (if it’s with the same agency)? With regards to SEO make sure you're clear on the type of activity the agency team should be doing, review their objectives. HINT: Digital PR is probably not going to be a good use of time.

Email. CRM. Your Database. We all know the brands that hammer your inbox. Offers every week that you ignore until you’re ready to buy and if it’s annoying enough you’ll unsubscribe, or your ESP will mark them as spam. Now is the perfect time to give your database a breather – whether or not you are communicating weekly or bi-weekly. Change strategy. See it as a chance to reinforce the value of your brand values. Offer value in terms of knowledge and inspiration. Segment that database and understand their interests and feed it. If you do this, then I promise that when the time comes to do an offer your customers will be in the right mind set. And internally you will unlearn a brand damaging habit.Your database is marketing gold, it’s the most efficient and effective cog in your marketing mix. That’s the easy bit. Now you need to build your database one subscriber at a time… Social media. Continue to spend to get the reach. Just because we are in crisis and people are at home, it doesn’t mean your organic posts reach is going to improve significantly. But stop trying, or don’t try, to make this a direct revenue response channel. It’s not going to generate sizable revenue directly. Use this opportunity to convert your followers into subscribers. Use this channel to bolster your database. Email will be your #1 channel when “we” (aka this industry) bounce back. Ensuring you have a clean and up to date database will be a key to winning your fair share when the time comes. Truly think about why someone should want to be on the list. Why would someone want to ask you to be on your list? That's the dream, not coercion. Use social media platforms to communicate those reasons and grow. Use ad spend to amplify your message, impressions and engagement are your key metrics. I know many brands will opt for SM competitions to grow their database. But currently social media competitions are for entertainment and kudos only. No-one wants a luxury 2-night break for two with a bottle of fizz! Although perhaps if you were to offer a huge prize, such as a weekend break for 40 friends and family to celebrate and reconnect once this crisis is over – that might be worthy of my data! But not yet, be creative and use common sense, good timing and sensitivity – hopefully this will be easy and sit with your values. CRO – Conversion Rate Optimisation This goes without exception. You are still selling rooms, and you have traffic coming to your site, so the better your conversion rate the more likely you are to get market share. If you’ve not started a CRO programme already, then I suggest you at least use this time to give your website CR some serious thought. Request an audit from your dev agency, get another opinion if needs be, and understand what needs to happen, before this crisis is over. This could be one of those projects you’ve been putting off due to BAU activities that can now be a priority. Achieving 15% conversion rate (CR) on hotel booking engines and 7% CR on hotel brochure sites consistently is quite exceptional, but I assure you with the right programme (and revenue team support) it is achievable.

What would a 2% (pt) increase in CR on your website deliver for you in monetary terms? Start there and work back. You do need to consider that any A/B testing done now may not be as effective when we are "back to normal". If this is a concern then look at other metrics such as data capture and challenge your agency to change strategy and focus. Content creation

If your marketing team have more time, if projects are on hold and budgets have been cut, they can make content a priority.

Often PR and SEO are outsourced, but one of the big wins is to create on page content for your website. Use this time to understand your customers and give them value but rather than just focusing on short form (such as text/image combinations), think long form. Consider video – it does work, honest!

Interview general managers; provide housekeeping tips on cleaning; green keepers on the golf course preparing for the summer – apparently a golf course is the perfect place to self-isolate, if you like that kind of thing! Think about your brand, your values, your purpose and create, be creative. For those hotels where M&E is a key focus, use this time to do room set ups and get your photography and 360s done. Use contra deals with your local (and talented) photographer, who will also be struggling. This doesn’t mean asking for a freebie - they have to survive too - but ask for a fair deal. Perhaps offer a free stand at your Autumn wedding fair, or to be their recommended choice for future event organisers when the events come back. Or even give them a photo booth for free at all your Christmas events….be creative.

I have many years of experience but nothing that fits our current situation. I can give you a fresh pair of eyes from a marketing director’s point of view.

I can bring clarity and solutions to marketing problems.

And right now, I’m doing this for free. I want to help. So please contact me if i can help you. And if I reach out to you it’s to offer support nothing more.

I want independent hotels and small/medium independent hotels groups to come through this. I want the local competitive landscape to stay that way – competitive. I want people to keep their jobs. The alternative isn’t worth thinking about.

PS. Did you notice that the only C word I used was for Conversion Rate! 😊

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