A panel of hotel marketing executives discussed the challenges of keeping their properties relevant in metasearch and crafting personalized campaigns amid a sea of advertisements online.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Life as a hotel marketer in the digital age involves a lot of cutting through the clutter in managing advertising campaigns and gaining exposure with guests over social channels.
But maintaining a responsive website and cultivating an engaging social media presence doesn’t mean traditional marketing techniques have been retired.
Lori Kiel, chief revenue and marketing officer at The Kessler Collection, said her company has 600,000 email subscribers, which makes email marketing a cornerstone of her strategy, along with ensuring Kessler hotels are easy to find via search.
“We do traditional, pay per click, retargeting and banner, all of those what we’re calling traditional digital marketing, because it’s where you have to be,” Kiel said on the “Clicking through the effectiveness of digital campaigns” panel at the 2019 Hotel Data Conference. “It’s all about search. When you’re talking that traditional piece, it’s so you’ll show up in a search.
“Sometimes the analytics are as much as going on Google and searching ‘art gallery in Charleston’ and seeing if the art gallery in my hotel shows up. It’s really just as simple as that; it’s not any kind of rocket science. And when we don’t show up, well we need to put a few more dollars there so we can see ourselves.”
Kiel added that the best way to reach a consumer is to think like one.
“A lot of times, that’s the low-hanging fruit that I go after, because isn’t that actually what the consumer is doing?” she said. “You just try to mimic that and if you get there, well then you know the ad’s a success, and then what happens after that, hopefully you’ll see wedding sales skyrocket or see more visitors in your gallery.”
Tomo Kakegawa, director of revenue management and digital marketing at Access Hotels and Resorts, said there is value in social media platform filters that segment different customer types, but email marketing builds its own guest profiles, which affect design, timing and targeting of sales strategy.
“It’s coordination and timing and who you want to target to, then you create a segment, but not necessarily by market segmentation for revenue management, just more of a customer profile,” Kakegawa said. “The more targets you have, it’s highly useful.”
LaDonna Gerhart, EVP of sales and marketing at Remington Hotels, said her company has deployed successful marketing campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to reach its target guests.
“In the social (media) aspect, you have to figure out what your returns are,” Gerhart said. “How many clicks does it take to get people to your website and get them to book?”
The thing to remember about social media campaigns is they require a lot of trial and error.
“You need to continue to test and fail, then you’ll get really good at the social part of it, because this is even more complicated,” Gerhart said. “You’ve got to develop a target audience. What are the attributes of that audience? Then what site is available to you that you can buy media in that will reach those consumers or those guests?”
Using the right metrics
Leading a successful digital marketing campaign requires understanding what works and what doesn’t, which means first understanding the metrics behind ad performance.
Cree Lawson, founder and CEO of Arrivalist, said hoteliers must align their metrics to gain the best insights, and sometimes that means coordinating your vendors.
“When you measure the response, it’s not only you measure this through click-through rate and this by video-completes and this by page visits. By the time you get to the end, you have a fruit salad of metrics, and that almost always sets off a food fight,” Lawson said. “To the extent possible … force all of your vendors toward one measure.”
Kiel said it’s difficult to have complete confidence in the metrics to determine which channels should get the credit for converting a booking.
“I’d love to see the path of my consumer; today I don’t have a report that gives me that,” she said.
In some ways, hoteliers have some catching up to do in the marketing game, Gerhart said.
“Incrementality is very difficult to measure and so is attribution,” she said. “There’s lots of different ways to provide attribution models, and it’s very difficult to get it right. In some of the other traditional marketing industries, like consumer marketing, they’ve perfected it over a long period of time, and hospitality is just now getting into that, getting into the 1-to-1 personalization in marketing. It’s going to take a while to get there, and we’re going to have to be patient and try a lot of different things.”
Where digital marketing goes from here
As the average web page or email inbox is saturated with advertisements, it can be discouraging to spend too much time thinking of the perfect digital campaign to reach guests. Kiel said her best advice is to not overcomplicate marketing strategy.
“Be where your consumer is; your consumer can be anywhere, but so can you,” she said. “Years ago that was harder; accessibility is now realistic.”
She added digital marketing is much more refined today than it was in the beginning.
“What I would do in the future is look at your sales, find out is room revenue up or down, and what’s making that move?” Kiel said. “Is it because I’m throwing everything at the wall or because I’m doing two things and those two things are working? When we did everything, the reality is I didn’t know what was working, then I became hostage to that. It’s like having 10 bills that come to the house and you don’t know which ones keep the lights on.”
Lawson said he envisions a future where a digital marketer’s bread and butter—web browser cookies—will no longer be available as governments step in to better protect consumer data online.
“We could be looking at the death of the tracking cookie in the next year,” he said. “Imagine your online marketing without cookies. That’s going to turn the world upside down in a short period of time. I don’t know if you remember this weird period when the market crashed in 2008 and 2009, when digital marketing got really aggressive. No matter what site you went to, you got a pop-up with something related to that website, and these companies did great overnight because they were targeting ads based on what you were searching for. You can’t do it anymore.”