Many hoteliers reach out to digital marketing agencies like Blue Magnet looking for a panacea. “What is the one thing we should be doing that will put us ahead of the competition?” they ask with a hungry look in their eyes. That one thing could represent anything: a new digital marketing tactic, an untapped ad distribution platform, a powerful reporting/insights tool, or perhaps nothing more than a well-marketed magic legume.
But more often than not, it is a digital marketing silver bullet that is sought–a legendary tool, said to reap a 500:1 ROI at the click of a button; a supernatural technology so radiant and powerful one must avert one’s gaze; a weapon so destructive that competition trembles at its name; and all this power for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Hoteliers are looking for a digital marketing silver bullet…
…and it doesn’t exist.
Of course, that does not mean all is lost. Fortunately, there are very effective marketing solutions that can achieve a business’ ambitious online goals, particularly when those solutions are integrated effectively. And while these more common marketing options may not carry the same cachet as some of the flashier new tools, their role in steady revenue growth has been well proven time and time again.
The One Solution for Your Digital Marketing Challenges
When most hoteliers ask for a silver bullet to resolve all their occupancy and revenue woes, they are typically asking for a single digital marketing tool that fits the following criteria.
The tool must be:
- New and undiscovered by competitors or the greater hotel industry
- Data-driven and highly automated
- Revenue generating
- Proven ROI
- Provide immediate results
- Relatively inexpensive
- A single channel in which to invest, rather than marketing through several complementary channels simultaneously (eg, SEO, PPC, social media, etc)
That wish list is problematic for a number of reasons we will get into later. Before we do, it is best to understand the common challenges facing many hotels.
What problems are hoteliers trying to solve?
Hotels are often afflicted by a host of nasty, but all-too-common, hospitality maladies that hoteliers are required to treat: low occupancy; dominant OTAs; slow group business; slow seasonal business, weak ADR; aggressive competition, saturated market, poor Google rankings, dismal TripAdvisor reviews, and decreased market share, among others. Given all that, one can certainly appreciate the appeal of the silver bullet and its simple cure-all properties.
The good news is, these are not rare diseases; they are the common cold virus to which even the strongest properties eventually succumb. Still, each affliction has its own symptoms that must be treated before the hotel can fully recover. Treating each pain point requires different tools, though. Just as you wouldn’t expect the flu vaccine to prevent the flu AND treat allergies, don’t assume a single new marketing tool alone will resolve both poor search engine visibility AND a weak ADR.
Fortunately, the medicine to remedy these ailments is plentiful and comes in a wide variety of trusted chemical compositions, doses, and applications: search engine optimization, social media marketing, paid search, display ads, meta search, email marketing, and more.
Your Shiny New Digital Marketing Toy
The draw of the new, untested tool is its novelty. It is the starry-eyed potential for greatness. It is the thinking that maybe–just maybe–this will be the tool with the 100:1 ROI we have been searching for all these years. Perhaps this is the tool that will instantly fill the dark void in my hotel left by that large group who canceled their annual conference next month.
The truth is that for most hoteliers, SEO, social media, pay-per-click advertising, reputation management, and email marketing simply are not sexy anymore. It is not that these methods have lost their effectiveness–they have just lost their novelty. If you think about it, SEO is over 20 years old. That’s like 100 in internet years! Email marketing was born in 1978 and it has no plans of retiring anytime soon. In fact, today it is more effective than ever at reaching and converting its intended targets. Not bad for a 40-year-old marketing tool!
Returns on those tried-and-true strategies are strong and steady, but strong and steady rarely turns heads. Flashy new tools have been known to conjure up claims of generating untold fortunes for hotels, curing world hunger, and restoring sight to the blind. Those claims get hoteliers talking, but they should be considered with a degree of skepticism.
Where should a hotel spend its budget to be most effective?
The question of where a hotel is best advised to spend its marketing dollars is a complicated one, and one that has different answers depending on the goals of the hotel. Any agency that tries to tell you otherwise probably has some snake oil they can sell you.
As a general, very high-level rule, it is typically best to think of investing your marketing budget in the following areas:
Your product – This refers to both the hotel itself as well as the property’s official website. No amount of marketing in the world will save you if your hotel is a wreck. While renovations are a major step towards this end, at the very least make sure you have some current, professional photos taken of your hotel. Also, make sure your website reflects the style and personality of your property. After all, your website is the hub of your digital marketing efforts. Invest in it before you start driving traffic to it.
SEO & PPC – SEO growth is a long term investment that builds steadily over time. Do not expect to optimize for a keyword (e.g. hotel + city name) and suddenly have a surge in search traffic due to a page 1 ranking on Google. SEO is a never-ending battle of optimizing, measuring, modifying, and optimizing again. Paid search, such as Google Ads, compliments your organic efforts in guiding customers through the 5 Stages of Travel.
Social Media – If you want every revenue dollar to be tracked back to marketing efforts, social media is going to be a thorn in your side. While it serves an important role in brand awareness, customer communication, and reputation management, do not activate social media channels if you have not first addressed other marketing priorities.
While there are many more digital marketing verticals to consider (eg, email marketing, reputation management, meta search, etc), these are the three initial focal points that have proven effective for many hotels.
No Quick Fix
There are no quick fixes with hotel marketing. Even pay-per-click search ads–with their seemingly instant rankings–take time to test and refine in order to secure strong conversions at a low cost-per-click. While there are marketing channels that allow for targeting both long term (organic SEO) and short term needs (paid search, email marketing), the overall digital marketing strategy for your hotel should be a long term one. Hopping from channel to channel, tool to tool, or marketing agency to agency every few months will prove to be an ineffective marketing plan.
While it is prudent to keep a watchful eye over marketing channels that are consistently underperforming, hotels that expect fast results and then jump ship after only a few months of lackluster results are doing themselves a disservice. Uprooting your campaign just means having to start from scratch on another platform with an entirely new strategy.
This is not to say that a hotel and its digital marketing agency should remain complacent and leave an underperforming campaign untouched. To the contrary, a digital marketing agency’s obligation is to understand the cause of the poor performance and then modify the campaign to see improved results down the road. Marketing is not an exact science, so not every campaign is going to be a grand slam. Channels are tested, theories are executed, and campaigns are modified based on the results. Search engines do not disclose their algorithms, so much of SEO involves experimentation and systematic testing of trusted theories and successful precedents. If a campaign is terminated before enough data can be collected, it can be difficult to really learn anything from those results that would truly benefit the hotel.
Like Investing in the Stock Market
In general, Blue Magnet recommends investing in your hotel’s digital marketing efforts the same way a financial planner would advise investing in the stock market. Both require long term, properly diversified strategies to yield significant results. Like the stock market, many variables create a very volatile environment for the digital marketing landscape as well. Taking your money out of the stock market and investing in something new every time the markets drop is an excellent way to lose a lot of money. Smart investors, on the other hand, realize that there will be ups and downs in overall performance from day to day–even month to month. They realize that looking at an isolated day of the year presents a very distorted picture of gain or loss in their investment; however, seeing an upward trend of investment growth over 5 years smooths out the day-to-day peaks and valleys for a much clearer picture of true performance.
Similarly, many digital marketing verticals require a long term investment to see the kinds of gains that make hoteliers cry tears of joy. Consider that Google changes its algorithms over 600 times per year. Those changes are sure to cause occasional spikes and drops in hotel visits and revenue from month to month. The key is to learn and adapt to those changes to improve SEO performance. By continuing to invest in ongoing SEO efforts, traffic and revenue results can be compounded each month for even greater growth.
Digital Marketing Thrives on Experimentation
We are not saying to blindly write off every new tool. Digital marketing is about controlled experimentation to see what tools are most effective for each business in its distinct market. Whether you employ a tried and true marketing tool like email marketing or a new way of targeting your desired audience, it is important to see through the novelty and hype surrounding the product and critically evaluate its effectiveness.
Testing new tools and strategies is essential to finding the most effective means of promoting your unique property. Just do not expect to invest in a single tool and solve all your hotels problems. Instead, partner with a veteran agency who knows how to properly manage your digital marketing arsenal. Ultimately, while hoteliers may never truly find that elusive silver bullet, finding the right digital marketing agency can be just as effective. Blue Magnet has plenty of experience replacing silver bullets, so please reach out to us if you need help with all your hotel’s digital marketing woes.