Some of the top digital marketing officials in the hotel industry shared their takes on where they believe the industry is headed.
NEW YORK—Personalized and tailored marketing messages are increasingly important for success in the hotel industry, according to a panel of experts speaking at the 2019 HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference.
“About three or four years ago, we came to the conclusion that the vast majority of marketing is falling on deaf ears,” said Jeff Doane, SVP of sales and marketing – North and Central America for AccorHotels. “We never watch live TV; we all listen to streaming music; and we all recognize now that the right side—or now the top—of Google is all advertising. Our brains are filtering this all out.”
Flo Lugli, interim chief commercial officer, Americas for Radisson Hotel Group, said that’s a big reason why there is increasing emphasis on emotional connections in marketing.
“Emotion is the number one reason why people keep coming back to make a connection to a brand,” she said, noting that after years of trying to refine conversions, companies like hers are now “focusing back on all areas of the funnel.”
Tammy Lucas, VP of marketing for Best Western Hotels & Resorts, noted that marketers in the hotel industry need to be very results-oriented.
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your campaign is; it’s about if it drove revenue,” she said. “Our job is to drive both the top line and bottom line.”
While panelists agreed on the value of more personalized messaging that leverages data, there is some pushback among consumers. To avoid that, Lucas said it’s important to not lean on generalities or assumptions based on data.
“It’s a balance between using quantitative and qualitative data because we’re so data rich now,” she said.
Lugli said it also comes down to how you end up using information to reach those customers.
“The creepiness factor comes in when they feel like they’re being stalked (online),” she said.
How marketing is changing
Jessica Davidson, SVP of digital for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said innovation in marketing for her company has focused on optimizing the mobile experience and adding more mobile-friendly content, such as video.
“Over half the traffic is coming via mobile, and we need to meet (guests) where they are,” she said.
Doane said marketers have to carefully balance restrictions on how they handle data, for example those defined in Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, with using data to get the right message in front of the right consumer.
“There’s a tremendous amount of innovation in the industry that now revolves around that,” he said. “It’s about speaking to people in a one-on-one way. … To me, that’s the full circle of figuring out when and where and who to market to.”
But innovation is in short supply in the hotel industry, Lugli said.
“Ninety percent of companies say they’re dependent on innovation to remain competitive, but a majority feel their organizations aren’t innovative,” she said.
Panelists urged the audience to find ways to foster a culture of innovation at their companies. And if that can’t be done at a company-wide level, they should prioritize sparking innovation within their teams or departments.
“I don’t think you can sell (leaders) on innovation,” Lugli said. “It’s a culture. It’s created. It’s a mindset. … You can sell a solution or process or initiative you want to do, but if you don’t have a culture (of innovation) then it’s that much harder to sell things through the innovation. You need leadership that walks the talk and empowers employees.”
Lucas agreed “it’s a culture, and it’s not coming from the top down.”
“I still believe you can be a leader and cultivate it within your team,” he said. “That’s one thing we try to do within our organization. We believe in challenging people’s thinking and allowing that to foster different opinions.”
Continued technology challenges
One of the biggest challenges in the hotel industry from a marketing perspective is varied and often outdated technologies that make it harder to share important data that can improve messaging to specific guests and even improve the guest experiences.
“To the extent that we have tech stacks in siloes, you never really get a clear view of what opportunities you have,” Lugli said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges.”
Lucas noted many companies across the hotel industry are decades old and are still working off antiquated legacy systems.
“IT makes it very difficult because you’re constantly running APIs and plugging into 20 to 25 systems while you’re trying to deliver that one-to-one marketing,” she said. “One of the things I think we can take away is the fact that marketing and technology have to figure out how to work together. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be seamless, though.”
Putting together an “integrated marketing platform” has been one of Davidson’s top objectives at Wyndham, she said.
“If you’re building the right infrastructure and suite of connected technologies, then you’re well positioned for the future,” she said. “(The hotel industry isn't) there yet, but at least we have greater capabilities.”*
Panelists agreed this is a problem that will take a considerable amount of time and energy to fix, but in the interim it could be useful to key in on the most profitable business and make sure hoteliers are getting the right marketing messages out to their most important clientele.
“There’s opportunities to focus on those high-value customers; that’s something we rely on heavily,” Davidson said.
While M&A and legacy systems make tech improvements and integration difficult across the board, the pain is not felt equally across the industry. Some have a considerably steeper curve than others.
“We’re in a unique position where I think we bought 47 different hotel companies in the last year, each with a different platform,” said Doane, referring to AccorHotels’ recent wave of acquisitions. “We have to create a single level of connectivity across the organization, but you can’t wait for that (to move forward).”
*Clarification, 25 January 2019: This quote was amended to show Davidson was referring to the broad hotel industry and not a specific company.