Hoteliers need to hire the right digital marketing agency if they want to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, digital marketing can occasionally seem like a confusing, constantly shifting landscape for many hospitality professionals; therefore, determining the right agency for your needs can quickly become daunting. With any new partnership, the best way to set the proper expectations is to ask the right questions of your digital marketing agency before you even begin working with them.
While there may someday be a Match.com-type service for conveniently pairing hoteliers with starry-eyed agencies based on personality, life goals, and shared interests (we both like to travel!), for now, a solid Q&A session can go a long way towards partnering you with the right agency. With that in mind, here are ten important questions every hotelier needs to ask a digital marketing agency before hiring them:
1. Does the agency specialize in the hospitality industry?
Make sure the agency has experience dealing with the unique challenges of your industry. Hotels have very specific needs that a hospitality digital marketing agency should know how to address. An agency of this caliber would easily be able to craft custom solutions for unique hotel challenges concerning seasonality, booking engines, group business, ADR, OTAs, occupancy rates, and more.
2. Does the agency provide a cookie-cutter, checklist approach to digital marketing or is it customized to the hotel’s goals?
Some agencies provide a very templated approach to digital marketing that does not take into account the unique qualities of the hotel, its location, its competition, its goals, and its challenges. Regardless of the hotel and its needs, these agencies’ digital marketing services never deviate from the checklist they have created. Be certain the agency supporting your hotel is equipped to handle your unique property with a custom marketing plan designed to meet your specific goals. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to hotel digital marketing, despite those kinds of solutions being fairly widely offered throughout the industry.
3. How long will it take to see results?
The time it takes before you will start seeing results from your digital marketing agency can vary greatly depending on 1) what your goals are; 2) where you focus your digital marketing budget; and 3) the size of your overall marketing budget. If an agency promises you great results overnight, chances are they are telling you want you want to hear in order to secure your business. For example, paid search (PPC) is a great way to quickly target potential customers with relevant ads; however, a strong media spend budget is required to ensure sustainable results within that channel. Social media and SEO take time to build powerful campaigns. A social media reputation is not built overnight, and effective SEO requires time to build domain and page authority in your niche. In fact, according to Google’s own Youtube channel, SEO can take anywhere from four months to a year to have a noticeable impact on your website’s performance:
4. What is an appropriate budget to get the results I am looking to achieve?
While paying a higher price for digital marketing services does not always guarantee better or faster results, on the whole, a larger budget does allow an agency to tap into a greater array of services to help you achieve your goals. The benefit of such a multi-channel strategy is that you may target consumers at all stages of their booking process. Make sure you make it clear to the agency what your digital marketing goals are and what your budget is. A true partner should tell you if your budget is appropriate for the goals you have set. In some cases, a hotel’s budget may not be enough to achieve a given goal. The agency should be prepared to advise the hotelier what an appropriate budget should be and what impact can be made with the current budget. It’s never wise to spread a marketing budget too thin across too many channels. Get the agency to focus efforts on the channel or channels that will have the greatest impact per the budget and make sure you understand what that impact will look like.
5. Am I buying a dashboard where I am required to publish/manage my own content, or is your agency performing the marketing on my behalf?
Make sure you ask the agency: what are you doing for me? Ask them what services they provide and what items are the responsibility of the hotel? For example, some hotels buy into beautifully designed social media dashboards that allow them to see all social media content across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more aggregated into a single interface. That may sound like an enticing product, and there is certainly value in such a dashboard, but it is not marketing. It is a marketing tool. Is the agency posting content? Are they devising a strategy? Are they analyzing user behavior to refine your property’s message to its community? If they are not doing those things, then that responsibility likely falls on your hotel. Do you need full marketing support or just a do-it-yourself tool? Make sure you know what you are buying.
6. What is the agency’s core competency?
How does the agency see themselves? Are they a technology company? Are they a marketing company? Or do they claim to be both? Many agencies that claim to be marketing companies are really in the business of building technology. Their core competency is in software development–not marketing. Their software product is designed to be easily replicated and sold to hotels to reduce their involvement (and overhead) in servicing a hotel’s digital marketing campaign. Technology and automation are critical for properly gathering and analyzing data–just be cautious of the agency that fully automates your campaign and leaves little human strategy in the mix. It is best to find a digital marketing agency that employs software and digital tools to augment their human-powered marketing strategy.
7. Where should I focus my digital marketing budget?
Once you share your goals with the agency, it should have a good idea of where you should focus your budget. Unless your pockets are bottomless, participating in all digital marketing opportunities is probably not very practical. There is no marketing silver bullet that will instantly yield massive amounts of revenue, and every hotel will have unique challenges that will dictate which marketing channel will prove most effective. If an agency claims their digital product will yield an unusually high ROI, dig in a bit more and ask them how they are calculating the return on their product. Beware of snake-oil tactics that promise a panacea.
8. Should all my digital marketing efforts contribute to direct revenue? If not, what are their roles?
Make sure the agency explains how each digital marketing channel will contribute to your goals. Not every channel can easily facilitate direct bookings for your property. Social media, for example, serves a very important role in a potential guest’s overall travel planning cycle, but often does not play a very significant role in direct bookings for the hotel. Social media is great for branding, reputation management, direct communication with your customers, and spreading experiences had at your property with larger communities. That gets potential customers talking about your property and complements other efforts like paid search and content marketing that do have a greater impact on direct bookings.
9. Do you own your digital assets?
Do you own the website this agency will build you? Do you own the rights to the written copy on the site? Can you take the site with you should you decide to terminate services? Some agencies use proprietary content management systems (CMS), to offer hotels an easy way to manage their own websites; however, these proprietary systems essentially lock hotels into using that agency. Switching to a new agency from one that uses a proprietary CMS can be an expensive, frustrating endeavor. In order to migrate a proprietary site over to a new agency, oftentimes the site has to be ripped out of the proprietary framework and put on a new hosting provider. This ends up breaking the site and removes all the easy-to-use functionality that caused you to buy the site from that agency in the first place.
Additionally, keep in mind that even though some agencies may entice you with promises of month-to-month service agreements, first determine how portable your physical website is. If you decide to host your site on the proprietary CMS of certain agencies, it is the CMS that will lock you into their services rather than an a signed contract.
Before you build a site on a proprietary CMS, ask the agency if you really do own your website or are you only leasing it from them? How easy is it to move the site and retain all its current functionality (“current functionality” being the operative phrase) over to a new hosting provider? Chances are you are only leasing the site. And it is likely some functionality will break should you choose to move the site to a new agency. Choose open source CMS platforms that are portable from one agency to another and can be serviced by just about any developer. The worst offenders also claim to own the copywriting on your website. In short, make sure you own the rights to all your digital assets.
10. Does the agency automate the entire digital marketing process? How much human thought and strategy are involved?
Automation can simplify repetitive tasks and reduce costs through efficient campaign management. Every agency should be equipped with a certain level of these systems. On the other hand, ask your agency what kind of human strategy is behind the wheel of these automated systems. Is your campaign running on autopilot? Just make sure your agency has not completely removed human thought from your marketing efforts. Automation is only as good as those individuals pulling the levers, and because the world of digital marketing evolves quickly, not every system is able to adapt to these changes in a timely manner. Make sure there is a human brain behind your campaign.
These ten questions are just the start of a thorough interview you should be conducting with any agency before hiring them to manage your hotel’s digital marketing. It is important to understand what you own, what the agency is responsible for, and what will be delivered and when. But there are more specific questions relevant to each digital marketing discipline (SEO, social media, paid search, email marketing, etc) that you should be asking as well. You do not want to have to switch agencies after a year because you neglected to ask these important questions up front.
While switching agencies does not necessarily mean you have to start your digital marketing efforts from scratch, it does mean that the new agency will have to take time to audit your current situation, familiarize themselves with your business, and start implementing their own unique marketing practices. That transition is essentially down time you will be paying for. Make sure you properly vet your digital marketing agency before signing any agreements, because once you find that agency that truly knows your business and meets your expectations, that long-term partnership will pay for itself every time.
If you are ready to start asking questions, please contact Blue Magnet Interactive at 877-361-1177 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to provide some answers.
This post was written by Chris Jones and Matt Bitzer.