A panel of hotel ownership and asset management executives at the HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference told digital marketers that smart communication makes the difference when talking strategy.
NEW YORK—To best use the vast amounts of digital marketing data being collected, the experts in that growing field need to build trust and communication channels with their property owners and managers, said sources at the HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference.
“We often talk about the silos in our business—from ownership to management to franchisors and so forth,” said Donna Quadri-Felitti, director and associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University School of Hospitality Management, who moderated the “Executive insights” panel at the conference.
“It’s important to talk about more people understanding (digital marketing),” a discipline which is maturing along with e-commerce and revenue management, she said. “We want more people to understand it.”
Executives from hotel ownership and asset-management companies on the panel shared some tips for digital marketers on how to navigate conversations so both sides can understand the data, the strategies and the return on investment involved.
Here are four takeaways from the conversation.
1. Know your audience
Owners and asset managers on the panel stressed that digital marketers must be concise and to the point when it comes to translating data.
“I am not an expert in digital marketing, but I have an awareness and curiosity about the data,” said John Rosen, founder and president of Wexford Lodging Advisors, an asset management and investment advisory firm. “You (digital marketers) are going to be providing a lot of information to people not equipped to digest and understand all of it. It’s not the job of the owner or asset manager to figure it all out; it’s your job to distill it in a way that gets your point across and opens good dialogue and discussion so you can be efficient.”
2. Know your material and be able to answer questions about it
Rosen said it helps digital marketers to know and understand their “elevator speech” about the data. That way they can help all stakeholders within an organization understand what’s important about the data and the strategies it supports.
“First I ask people, the key people in the room, to speak to (their strategy) directly,” he said. “Speak concisely about what they think the strategy should be. I find that people stumble here—not because they don’t understand it, but because they don’t know their ‘elevator speech.’”
Liz Uber, VP of asset management at real estate investment trust BRE Select Hotels, said a big part of her role is asking questions to bridge the gap between digital marketers and asset managers.
“People will come to me and say, ‘this is our strategy,’ and I’ll play devil’s advocate,” she said. “My role is to create relationships that lead to that buy-in. You can’t go into a hotel and say, ‘your strategy is wrong.’ If they don’t buy in at the hotel level, nothing will happen. It’s about working with teams to challenge their strategies at times.”
3. Have confidence in your metrics
The panelists agreed that digital marketing metrics can be tough to quantify and communicate to owners who sometimes think strictly in terms of profitability. But they recognized that digital marketing performance often is measured much more holistically.
“There’s a general sense that overall it’s just about deducting costs versus how things are tracked, like how does digital marketing influence sales?” said Jeremy McBride, VP of GFI Capital Resources Group. “But the job is to influence the customer; it’s not necessarily sales, so it’s a little lopsided. You’re all competing for dollars in operating budgets that are shrinking, and it’s increasingly difficult. So I look at it more globally to get a sense of how we’re spending the dollars and where.”
Uber said “it would be great if (digital marketers said, ‘If we spend $500, we’ll make $15,000,’ but that’s not realistic. Maybe the measurement isn’t what you’re putting into the till. Maybe it’s impressions. Maybe it’s engagement. But we rely on the (digital marketing) team to decide how they will determine whether a project is successful. ... Sometimes there’s an ROI, and sometimes it’s just sharing a message. Give us bullet points, and let us dig in and follow up.”
4. Get buy-in from the GM
Having support from the property’s GM, and educating that person on the importance of digital marketing strategy, is critical, panelists said.
“GMs need to understand the impact of the websites and how to disseminate information, and I’m not sure enough know enough about digital marketing and e-commerce,” Uber said. “It’s absolutely an opportunity.”
Rosen said that GM buy-in is more important than some digital marketers realize.
“Digital marketing is an area that’s perhaps most important yet occupies a bit too small a spot in the marketing budget,” he said. “A lot of it is because we’re undereducated on it as an industry and a lot of the GMs are as well. It’s difficult for me to sit in a room at the property level and have someone pitch me on why we should move $200,000 from direct sales to digital marketing, without having the GM on board raving about it, too.
“One thing that would be helpful would be to have a GM start a presentation with (that buy-in),” he said. “We want to impact the way people feel about a property, and that helps.”