Blue Magnet Hotel Online Marketing Guide

Is Your Hotel Trapped In A Relationship With Its Online Marketing Vendor?

We’ve recently heard many stories of hotels feeling stuck with their current emarketing provider.  Sometimes hoteliers are immobilized by ironclad contracts giving all website rights to the emarketing vendor. Other times a hotel is locked in a perpetual relationship with an emarketing provider due to proprietary technologies and accounts.

Of course, these types of lock-ins are never a problem when the customer is happy, but when things go south that’s when the swords come out and the legal dogs are let loose.

Nobody likes to be locked in a partnership, particularly with a business that has let them down. Maybe the product you purchased didn’t live up to the marketing hype. It could be the customer service just stinks. Or perhaps the quality of the service provided is the pits.

Regardless the reason, you’re disappointed. You paid the big bucks and you’ve got nothing to show for it but frustration.  In the best case scenario, you complain directly to the company via social media or navigate the dreaded automated phone maze in order to reach a live human being, only to get platitudes about “quality” and that company’s commitment to “service.”

Most of the time though, you make a mental note of the offending brand and vow never to support their evil empire of shoddiness again! Unfortunately, in some instances you’re met with a dead end: you’ve purchased a product or service that locks you into some sort of agreement that you are unable to break without some sort of severe psychological or financial cost.

How To Trap A Client

Here are just a few examples we’ve seen of hotel clients who have been locked into unhealthy relationships with other vendors. The hotel names have been removed to protect the innocent.

It’s clear why these companies choose to do businesses this way. They assume trapping customers with contracts, proprietary formats and locked data is a way to ensure continued revenue streams. Let’s face it, new business acquisition is challenging and comes at a significant cost to any business (time and money). It’s tempting to lock someone into your services.

But forcing customers to stay with your company against their will is a shortsighted solution. Once that barrier is removed, that customer is going to bolt, spewing obscenities about your company in their wake. Putting up false obstacles is never good for customer satisfaction either.

Blue Magnet was founded on the idea that customers would want to stay with our agency because we’ve become a valuable part of their team, not because they’ve been trapped by a proprietary product or slick contract that grants us rights to all their website content.

How To Protect Yourself

There are a lot of sketchy characters out there, and not all of them conspicuously don the Snidely Whiplash mustache with matching “bad-guy” cape. In fact, many vendors appear to be acting in your best interest, and for the most part they are.

You just have to make sure you read the fine print on the agreement. The best defense against getting trapped with an unscrupulous emarketing vendor is the same in any industry: do your homework! In addition, these simple tips will help keep you free from the shackles of an unhealthy business relationship.

  1. Call vendor references – Investigate the company with which you are considering doing business. And don’t just call the clients the vendor provides you. Snoop around the internet. Google’s great for sleuthing!

    And because many vendors will place a link back to their own company website in the footer of their clients’ websites, you have an easy way of tracking down potential references (even ones they may not want to explicitly advertise). Another good tool for investigating this beyond the search engines is to run a search for the vendor’s website in OpenSiteExplorer.org.

    Here are the results from a search for BlueMagnetInteractive.com. You can see many of the sites we built for our clients.

  2. Use open source solutions – If you think you may switch emarketing vendors at some point, make sure your website isn’t built on that vendor’s proprietary framework. Some examples of content management systems that are open source are Joomla!, Drupal and WordPress, among others.Unless you really need a custom CMS, many of these open source solutions will be able to accomplish the same goals. More importantly, they can easily be transferred from one vendor to another without having to worry about breaking the system.
  3. Purchase your own domain – Make sure that when you purchase your domain name (examplehotel.com) that the WhoIs information (contact info for the domain) is in the hotel’s name. There is no reason for the vendor to own this. In addition, the contract that the client enters into with the vendor should clearly state that the domain is property of the hotel, not the vendor.
  4. Request full access to the hosting – Many vendors will host a client’s website on their own servers. This is fine, as long as the client is given access to manipulate content on the back end of the system.  Some vendors prevent outside access to their systems.
  5. Set up accounts in your name – Should you ever choose to leave your current vendor, you’re going to want to take all your hard earned data with you. Otherwise, how will your new vendor know how to benchmark your performance?

    Let’s take Google Analytics as an example. The vendor should set up a separate Google account in the hotel’s name in order to track your website. Vendors that insist on setting up the account under their own vendor profile are only setting you up to lose all your historical web data when the day comes that you choose to leave that vendor.

    Ask that any new accounts for your hotel be set up independent of the vendor’s other clients, for portability’s sake. Also, make sure you request admin access to any accounts they set up for you.

  6. Own all creative rights – This should be a given for any kind of work-for-hire, but ensure that when your vendor builds your website that they transfer ownership rights of all design and development work, all copy on the site, all images to you.

    The vendor is building the website for you. You should not need to license the site from them. If you paid them to build it, you should own it. Make sure the contract says as much. There’s nothing quite like spending thousands of dollars on a cool new website, only to find out that you’re not the real owner–the vendor is.

  7. Review the contract carefully – This tip covers many of the items above, but it’s important to list on its own. Many clients who think they’re free to leave with everything they’ve already paid for are often shocked to find that the simple agreement they signed states otherwise.

    Have your legal team review the terms before you give the final sign off on any vendor contracts, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the technologies referenced in the document.

  8. Ask questions

    Grill your vendor with some hard hitting questions. This is your money!

    Make them work for it. It’s harder to walk all over a client when they’re knowledgeable about the emarketing industry. When I bring my car to a mechanic they look at me and see a sucker.

    That’s when their eyes quickly flash dollar signs, a cash register chime is heard, and with a wry smile the mechanic assures me, “We’ll take it from here, chump.” A little knowledge goes a long way in showing the vendor that you’ll call them out if they try any funny business.

    You don’t have to be a jerk about it–just be knowledgeable and ask questions based on the list in this blog post.

  9. Understand what you’re purchasing – Finally, just make sure your vendor tells you, in plain English (not legalese), what your business has purchased from them. What do you own at the end of the day when you decide to walk away? How long are you in the contract? What does the vendor own?

    How easy is it to migrate the website, hosting, domain, services and accounts over to a new vendor? Even if you’re on good terms with the vendor now, always make sure you have an out.

Most client/vendor problems can be avoided by simply understanding what you’re buying into as the client. Admittedly, emarketing can be a confusing industry; there are a lot of technologies, intellectual property rights and participating parties involved in website development and marketing the site online.

Keeping it all straight can be exhausting. Just be sure to use these tips as a guideline so you can understand what your hotel will walk away with after the relationship has ended. Contracts in themselves aren’t inherently evil, and in many cases should serve to protect both parties; however, as identified above, when put into the wrong hands they can certainly be used for nefarious purposes.

The more you understand before signing the contract, the less pain you’ll experience when you and your vendor decide to part ways. Fortunately, most reputable hotel internet marketing vendors won’t need to rely on underhanded contracts to secure their business model. Vendors that rely on the strength of their performance and the quality of their support will never need to rely on fine print agreements to lock in their clients.

Quite the contrary–those clients will never want to leave!

We are ready to discuss the importance of website portability and how the lack of being able to take your domain name, your website, and your data to another internet marketing agency can negatively impact your hotel’s internet marketing needs. Contact us today so learn more.