Monday, December 9, 2019

Your ad agency has one? Do you?

Your ad agency has one. 

Your web design firm has one.

Your PR firm might even have one.

Do you have a creative director?

Hold on, you might be asking what do I need a creative director for? Good question.

With a good answer. Unless the idea is to somehow blend in with your competitors, it’s a good idea to deliver your Brand position at as many touchpoints as you can. And if you do it with some creativity, that’s even better.

Remember, every guest is a potential return guest – and if they found the experience more engaging at your hotel than Some Other Place, it’s more likely they’ll come back. And not just when you have a special offer that appeals to them, either.

And, if you’ve ever read anything we’ve written about hotel marketing, that pretyy much fits right in with our belief that competing mostly on price is no way to run a railroad.

So, circling back to our initial premise, there’s a good argument to be made for someone thinking about the on-site experience. Is everything about your hotel or resort expected? Look at things like the Do Not Disturb door hanger, the card keys, the names of drinks in the bar, what you call your specials and offers, holiday decorations in the lobby, signage, wi-fi sign-on, in-room cards . . . all of it.

It’s unlikely you’re going to hire a property creative director. And you may or may not feel you can cover the responsibility in-house. That’s cool. Lean on one of your outside agencies for some creativity and spread it around. If they are any use at all they’ll be happy to do it. Eager, in fact.

The point is, creativity is a practical tool for delivering your Brand in a point-of-sale kind of way. It shouldn’t be confined to your ads and your website.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Has SEO overrun your website?

Has SEO overrun over your website?

It’s pretty simple, really.

Branded searches are far and away the most effective searches. That means if you deliver your Brand in external communications, people are likely to come looking for you, not just people who look like you.

Which is kind of the idea.

It’s not that you should ignore the potential of SEO. It’s just that maybe it’s not a good idea to let SEO-driven web copy overrun your website. The point, after all, is to communicate. And using 12 words when five will do, makes communicating more difficult. Especially, for example, if you're using some of them over and over in an attempt to manipulate search engines. Keyword stuffing is a big mistake and can actually hurt your SEO performance. So pace yourself.

There's this from an article in Search Engine Watch last year (emphasis added):

"Search engines are in the business of connecting an audience with the content that will satisfy their search intentions, which means they use algorithms that do their very best to favor high-quality, informative content. When content isn’t written for a human audience, but is instead structured to game an algorithm, the result is usually a spammy and artificial read that doesn’t serve a site visitor’s needs and (in almost all cases) doesn’t deserve their attention.

"Consequently, keyword stuffing is rightfully considered a black hat technique that goes against SEO best practices."

Say you’re a South Florida hotel. Don't load up on "South Florida" ticklers, like mentioning that you’re in South Florida and the weather in South Florida is pretty terrific and there are great restaurants in South Florida and the whole family is gonna love it in South Florida and South Florida is easy to get to and those South Florida beaches  . . .  hoo boy!

Never mind the problems keyword stuffing presents, is that sort of thing going to draw people to your property? 

And then there are the sites full of references to “downtown” or “center city” when the property, well . . . isn’t. That’s not even honest.

There’s real value in SEO, just don’t count on it for everything and don’t turn your website into a word-heavy SEO repository. B
ecause your primary target ought to be people, not algorithms. 

And you reach people with advertising, PR and social media.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Is your website ADA compliant?

Is your website ADA compliant? It better be.

This may or may not be something you’ve paid a lot of attention to, but the Americans With Disabilities Act now includes regulations for websites.

Colors, font sizes – that sort of thing. According to an article in Forbes earlier this year "Your website, of course, isn't discriminating based on not having an elevator or ramp, but it may not be using appropriate colors, fonts and file types. Hard-to-see colors and fonts can discriminate against people with visual impairments, as can certain file types that don't allow computers to read text out loud for those who need such an accommodation." 

Read the whole thing here. It’s worth the time. Here’s another good read. Obviously, there is plenty more out there.

Your web firm is probably on top of this, but just in case, it’s not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with it . . . 

. . . if for no other reason than to avoid the expense of fighting a lawsuit. There are legitimate suits being filed, but these days, nuisance suits (the kind where the plaintiff knows it will cost you less to settle than to pay the legal fees involved with fighting it) are a fact of life. In any event, don't think you'll be able to simply point to your web design firm if the government or somebody's lawyer comes calling.

If you Google something along the lines of “is my website ADA compliant,” you’re going to find a lot of sites where you can enter your web address and get a free test. Obviously, almost all of these free checks are sponsored by companies who want to sell you solutions. But you can run the test, sometimes without even giving up your email address. Some of them will offer a detailed summary of any problems they have identified and others will just tell you how close you are to being in compliance and leave it at that.

Again, these people want to sell you something, but if you run your site through two or three and get similar answers, you’re going to get a pretty good idea as to whether you ought to be concerned or not. 

Here are two of those we’ve tried to get you started. Surely you can find more.

AudioEye Marketplace

Web Accessibility by Level Access

There are good reasons for ensuring that your site is ADA compliant. Obviously, you don’t want to run afoul of the government. Or risk a lawsuit. But if you want to be crassly commercial about it, you wouldn’t want to lose any business because someone can’t navigate your website, either.

However pure or commercial your motivation, it can’t hurt to take a few minutes and see what's what with your website.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Size matters. Just maybe not what you were thinking.

Size matters. Just maybe not what you were thinking.

(Up front: We’re a smaller agency. On purpose. This blog post is about the value of small and mid-size companies like us and whether the big celebrity firms are really a good match for an independent hotel. So yeah, this is sort of a pitch on behalf of us and all our small and mid-sized brethren in the business.) 

Maybe smaller is better.

Which is why it doesn’t always work out when a single property or smaller management company signs on with an outside advertising, PR, digital or web firm that is simply too big for them. 

It’s an old story in the ad business. Some agencies will pursue almost any piece of business with a pulse whether it’s a size match or not. The big guns come in to pitch, the fabulous portfolio is presented, the client signs on and then . . .

 . . . they never or rarely see those big guns again and their budget doesn’t allow for the fabulous video or ad campaign that wowed them in the first place. And sometimes, a firm will outgrow some of its original clients.

If you’re Marriott, Choice or a large national management company with a few dozen properties in your portfolio, you’d better have big-time marketing communications support.  It just makes sense. And you’re paying enough in fees to that big firm that you can be sure of getting all the top-shelf stuff.

Then again, if you’re a single property with somewhere between 75 and 200 rooms it might not make sense to sign on with a big firm.  Here’s why:

An agency is a business with all the expenses that go with it. And the bigger it is, the bigger the monthly nut. The more profitable accounts are going to get the most attention and the best (and most highly paid) staff. It just makes sense. In order to make a smaller fee work, they logically have to either assign junior staff to the account, farm it out to freelancers, limit the hours applied to it or even put it on the back burner.

That’s why maybe that ad campaign seems kind of ordinary to you or those changes you need to your website seem to take forever to get done.  Or why your calls and emails don’t get answered very quickly.

In a very real sense, you’re competing for attention with other clients your agency, PR firm or web firm has. They simply cannot afford to give you the same grade of service their gorilla accounts merit.

There are a lot – a whole lot – of terrific small and mid-sized web firms, digital agencies, PR practitioners and ad agencies out there who can do great work for you.  And, as a mid-sized account, you’re more likely to have a team of experienced seniors on your account at a small or mid-sized agency than at a big one. It’s just the mathematics of the thing.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not a hit piece on big firms. We respect them and admire their work. But we wish they wouldn’t take on clients that are too small to merit their “A” material.

Think about this. Who is more likely to know your name, greet you, call you up if there’s a problem you need to know about or work with you to reach your financial goals – one of the local branches of a big national bank or a local community bank? At which one do you deal with a teller and at which one do you have a relationship with management? And which one is going to be more focused on the big corporation in your town than your small business?

Sure, it might be nice to tell people that you have the same agency that works for, say, Hospitality Megabrands Worldwide, but what does that actually do for you?


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Can't buy me love

Can't buy me love.

Everything isn’t always all the time non-stop about making money. At least not directly. Sometimes, it pays to look at the bigger picture.

Here’s an example. We stayed at a Kimpton once that held a two-hour happy hour every night, free for guests. They rolled up a keg of beer and some wine, laid out a bunch of nuts and snacks and let it go at that. Easy-peezy. In a sea of free continental breakfasts, this was different.

Another hotel might not want to have such a reception because it won’t make money. Making money isn’t the point. The point is to deliver the Brand. A clear Brand can drive Brand preference, and Brand preference is what leads to more repeat business and higher rates.

So it’s about making money, just not directly.

Same thing with special promotions. Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Summer Solstice, Valentine’s Day – whatever. Every one of them is an opportunity to do something other than just offer discounted rates. Do something fun and engaging. Put a rose in every room on Valentine’s Day, dress the staff in green and have a green beer special in the bar for St. Patrick’s Day, bring out the ghosts and goblins for Halloween.

And be sure to tell people you’re doing it – in your email blasts, on your website and Facebook and Instagram pages and in your advertising.

Remember, it all boils down to two words: “Do good. Tell people.”

No, nobody is going to book your hotel instead of somewhere else strictly because you’re having a Halloween Party. After all, Halloween is only one night of the year. But they are probably going to be more aware of you and pay more attention to you because of the collection of events like Halloween parties and green beer specials you’re having.

That whole “penny-wise and pound foolish” thing probably applies here if you think about it.


A hotel without a Brand is a commodity

A hotel without a Brand is a commodity.

And the primary driver for a commodity is price. You don't want to go there.

This is some of what we say about Brand on our website:

"Your Brand is not your logo, ad campaign or tag line. It's a supportable differentiation around which you deliver a unique value. And the moment you stop being just 'a hotel with this many rooms in this place' and start to tell the world that you're 'a hotel that is unique for these reasons,' you narrow your competitive set."

(By the way, anything with the word "luxury" in it is definitely not a unique value. Google "luxury hotel" and you will get 699 million hits. We know this for a fact because we did it.)

A Brand is what can keep you from competing on price. Without one, you may just be a commodity.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

You're getting ripped off with programmatic advertising

Clickbait. A low-down dirty shame, that's what it is.

If you want to know why some of us are so opposed to programmatic digital ad placement, all you really have to do is click here.

Bob Hoffman of the Ad Contrarian ( calls it the "most eyeballs possible on the cheapest possible website." And it's a crime.

We've all clicked those sort of things now and again, but as a standard medium for advertising a reputable product or service? Please.

And yet, people do it all the time. And every one of those ads you see on one of these horrible sites counts as an ad placement. Somebody is paying for it.

Better? Place your own digital ads and don't let some heartless, non-thinking computer do it for you.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Too many toys

Too many toys.

Chats, nudges, undercuts, email captures, things sliding up and down, shooting in from the side, blossoming and this and that . . .

Websites are just too damn busy these days.  And for no good reason.

Apparently, there are droves of computer types out there working like dogs to develop a whole bunch of gimmicks and gadgets and whirley birds to clutter up your web site.

What - exactly - is wrong with have a clean, informative, well-designed website that can entice your target? In the minds of the techno-crowd, apparently, a lot.

But perhaps all these distractions just make it more diffcult for your target to get the point?

Just because somebody dreamed up some new intrusion into your website that will draw the attention of your reader, doesn't mean it's going to help.

"Less is more" has a lot of relevancy here.


Friday, October 4, 2019

On and off only works for electric cars

Off and on only works for electric cars.

(Actually, it works on other things, but this is a snappier headline than "Off and on only works on a lot of different electric things including cars.")

“Occupancy is down next month. We need to do some advertising!”

That was the essence of a panic call we used to get on a regular basis from a client who never quite bought into the fact that a steady, ongoing presence would go a long ways toward eliminating those occupancy black holes that can ruin your day.

Thing is, it’s a lot more cost effective to maintain an ongoing presence than to start from scratch over and over. Keep your creative fresh (just one ad over and over and people tend to look past it) but don’t disappear. It’s going to take more to get yourself back into your targets’ heads than if you just keep yourself there. Holding or saving your budget until you feel like you absolutely have to do something to increase flat business is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As flattering as it may be to us Ad Folk to think that all you have to do to create a bunch of short-term business is run an ad or two right now, it just isn’t so.

And even if that ad or two is built around a dramatic price-busting short-term deal, a) who wants to make a living on price-busting short-term deals and b) who wants to make a living on price-busting short-term deals?

It’s not exactly a “slow and steady wins the race” kinda thing but there is certainly a lot of currency in the “steady” part.

Remember, if you’re an independent hotel or resort competing with the big brands (and if you’re reading this you probably are), those big brands absolutely do maintain that steady stream of advertising and maintain a share of mind among your common targets.

Darting in and out of the marketplace can be hard marginally productive work.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Lust is more profitable than likes.

Lust is more profitable than likes.

One of us has been judging an advertising awards show over the last few weeks and was struck by how often results were measured strictly in terms of clicks and likes with no mention of bookings, revenue, occupancy or ADR.

You know, revenue-producing stuff.

Some of the results pointed to X-number of website visits, but never said anything about conversions or even bounce rates, both of which seem kind of important as far as performance measurement is concerned.

Sure, clicks and likes are good things. But it occurs to us that in any advertising or marketing communications, the point of the exercise ultimately ought to be to create desire for the client - specifically in our case, for a hotel or resort.

Desire can lead to measurable results, as in bookings, revenue, occupancy or ADR.

It's not enough for people to just show up. That's kind of like measuring success only by how many people walked into your retail store without taking into consideration how many of them bought something. The goal is to get people to buy something, preferably without having to put it on sale.

That's what creating desire can do for you.

Because lust is more profitable than likes.


Friday, September 6, 2019

The red-headed stepchild of the hotel business.

The red-headed stepchild* of the hotel business.

When it comes to marketing communications and advertising in the hotel business, transient is usually the Glory Road and groups, well, aren't.

Typically, groups get a very small dedicated chunk of the marketing communications budget. Which is kind of odd, because hotels will sometimes shoot for more than 60% of their business from groups. Even though meetings and social affairs are usually lower-rated business, they can still help your bottom line. And your sales team can only do so much.

So what are you planning to do for groups? Besides just pushing the sales force to get out there and work harder. Marketing communications has a longer and wider reach than a sales team and can multiply the effect of whatever they can do. 

Why not spend a little money to beef up the groups section of your website so it’s something besides floor plans and “click here for an RFP?" Sell the place. Create some desire.

Or run an actual ad campaign. Tell the world what you have to offer. Use traditional and digital media and LinkedIn to talk to a larger group of prospects than a sales group could reach in a year.

Do some cross-selling on-site. Many of your guests have some sort of a connection to groups or events. Even just something as basic as a rack card (remember them?) in every room or a message that pops up on the in-room television or when they log on to your wi-fi can make an impression. One that doesn't cost you much. It's almost like an instant fam trip. 

And finally, recognize that, in a very real sense, you have two different businesses operating under one roof. So brand the groups experience at your property. And by brand, we mean a supportable distinction around which you deliver a unique value. Not just “luxury in the city” or something. 

Your transient brand – if you have one – doesn’t automatically translate to groups and meetings. See more about Brand and its value here.
The point of all this is that marketing communications can do a lot for the bottom line. More than just sending the sales force out with a new e-brochure.

*This is where we are in America today. Is "red-headed stepchild" offensive? Jeeze, we don't know. Maybe? But what's done is done.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

This is different

Admit it. You'd like to be able to do stuff like this.

By Guarda(Chuva). It's different down there.

Via Ads of the World.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Advertising is getting over-complicated

Advertising seems to be getting a little too complicated these days.

by Woody Hinkle

My favorite quote in the movie “Art & Copy” is from George Lois. He’s talking about getting excited about what we do.

“Wow, look at that pen. Yeah, it’s a little this. It does this. Wow, that sounds interesting. Let me sell that motherfucker.”

Hold that thought.

After a recent LinkedIn exchange about Jerry Della Femina’s classic “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” I went back and re-read my copy. (I read half of it during those long waits while having a stress test, which gives you an idea of both how long and boring a stress test is and how old I am.)

Advertising looked like so much more fun then. Not just because of the mythical fooling around and drinking and craziness that may or may not all be true, but also because what they did then was, for the most part, use creativity to sell their clients’ products or services.

You know, “Let me sell that motherfucker.”

Fast-forward to today and the mixed-blessing that All Things Digital have brought us and we’re busy with analytics and clicks and complex tracking links and such. Creativity in advertising hasn’t exactly taken a back seat, but it’s not always riding shotgun, that’s for sure.

Too often, I think, creativity in this digital age comes mostly in the form of what whistles and whirly-birds you can deploy in your leaderboard, cube, takeover or expandable. This is technical wizardry that doesn’t have a lot to do with concept, writing or art direction. (Unless you are big enough with a client well-heeled enough to be doing television, of course.)

The propeller-heads (if you will forgive a pejorative use of the term here – and even if you won’t) who created and manage the various media channels and platforms we use, don’t all have backgrounds in the creative arts and many don’t really understand the role of creativity in advertising, I don’t think. And they have limited us to very small spaces in which we’re as worried about k-weights as we are about concept.

Maybe I’m just not too bright, but it seems like we’ve over-complicated the thing. Something has been lost. Not just much of The Joy Of Advertising As Many Of Us Knew It, but also the use of creativity to excite people about our clients’ businesses. It’s getting nudged aside in favor of the pursuit of analytics. The goal is often to talk to an algorithm rather than people.

Analytics are important. So are tracking links and k-weights. But I hope we don’t lose sight of what an awesome tool creative advertising can be. That is, if you think that the job is creating desire.

Which I do. I’m in favor of generating lust, not likes.

Let me sell that motherfucker.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Everybody likes to laugh

Everybody likes to laugh.

Over the years, we’ve used humor in hotel advertising. Like these ads for the Pier House Resort in Key West – for the hotel and one of the bars there.

If you Google “funny hotel advertising” you are guaranteed to come across a wide selection of very funny ads for a happily (even proudly) shabby hotel/youth hostel/something-or-other, the Hans Brinker Hotel – “quite honestly not the best, but definitely the most memorable hostel in Lisbon and Amsterdam.”

Definitely not for everybody, but very much for their target. Their ads have been winning awards for years – and this budget hotel is known around the world. This is fairly typical of what they do.

They have a great not-for-everybody-but-just-right-for-the-right-people website too.

A salesman once said “nobody ever bought anything when they weren’t smiling.” We’d suggest that perhaps a casket for a loved one might be an exception, but the point is well-taken. And a bit of humor could be just what we all need these days, don’t you think?

Humor isn’t all that easy and not everybody is good at it, but here’s a little secret: Your ad agency loves. So maybe let ‘em take a run at it.

Everybody likes to laugh.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The path to direct bookings

The path to direct booking is really pretty clear.

In almost any Google Analytics report you see, branded searches produce the most website visits. That is, a search for "Your Hotel," not "Hotels in Town."

So it seems to us to be fairly simple:

Increase awareness for "Your Hotel" . . .

        which will generate more branded searches . . .

                which will generate more website visits . . .

                        which, if your website is doing what it ought to do, will generate
                         more direct bookings.

Of course, if your goal is increased occupancy at any rate, garden-variety PPC alone can do a fine job of pushing discounted rates. But in a way, that sort of fights with the goal of increasing revenue with more direct bookings. You can give away revenue on an OTA. So maybe PPC alone isn't the answer.

So it begs the question - how do you generate more awareness for something other than discounted rate?

Advertising (online, print, social media, etc.) and public relations.

It really doesn't have to be that complicated.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The difference between a Brand a a tag line

That's not a Brand. That's a tag line.

It's probaby a good idea, now and then, to remind everybody the difference between a Brand and a tag line.

A Brand can be a tag line, but not all tag lines are actual Brands. (Sort of like all hens are chickens, but not all chickens are hens. Or something like that.)

A Brand is a supportable differentiation around which you deliver a unique value. It’s a guide and a way of thinking that can drive everything you do to market yourself.

A tag line is something else altogether. It's an expression of your Brand or a hook to illustrate your Brand. A couple of Brand positions we developed and like are "Undeniably Key West" for the Pier House Resort, "Sensory Magic" for Sunset at the Palms in Jamaica. "Sensory Magic" is also used as a tag line.

In the case of Pier House, over the course of eight years, we used both "Flagship hotel of the Key West state of mind" and "This is Key West" as tag lines. The Brand is reflected in both of them.

Both of those Brand positions are supportable and deliver unique value. Something like "Timeless Luxury" or "New England's oldest all-inclusive" don’t either one deliver anything unique.

The idea of a Brand is to distinguish yourself from your competition. Sometimes people come up with tag lines they think sound pretty snappy, and think they've got themselves a Brand.

Maybe. But probably not.

Monday, August 5, 2019

So what?

People don't buy features. They buy benefits.

It’s one of the first things anybody studying or breaking into advertising learns. At least it should be.

Good advertising is built around benefits, not features.

Truth is, people don’t come to your hotel for the beach or the restaurant or the 300-thread-count sheets. They come for the joy of the beach, the culinary thrill of a good restaurant or the comfort of those sheets.

Maybe even the escape from reality you offer or all that extra legroom in your oversized suites.

In fact, ad agency creatives often use the “so what?” test when evaluating headlines or ad ideas. Answer the question and lead with that.

So take a look at what you’re saying on your website or in your ads.

Are you selling benefits?


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Squirt guns and budgets

An inadequate ad budget is like bringing a squirt gun to a street fight.

Maybe it's because people don't think advertising is worth spending anything on or it's because they think advertising is such a powerful tool that they don't need to spend much on it to get a benefit.

Maybe they think that simply throwing up a Facebook page or hopping on the Twitter Autobahn is enough. Or they are thrilled that social media seems to be free. 

Who knows?

But we do know that when someone is investing several million dollars in a new property or improvements to an existing one, it is the height of folly not to make an adequate investment in telling people about it. It seems a bit shortsighted not to include a healthy marketing communications budget as a key part of the up-front planning.

Because, make no mistake about it, the whole arena of getting attention for your business is a big, nasty, wild-west street fight. With some smart, aggressive characters in it. 

Whether you do it on the web (in paid or social media), in a newspaper or a magazine or on a billboard, radio or television, if you want people to know about whateverthehellitisyou'redoing, you're going to have to tell them.

It doesn't matter how nice your hotel is, how great your restaurant will be or how much meeting space you have. It won't count for much if nobody knows about it.

"If you build it they will come" only works in the movies.

And only in one movie at that. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Five chefs make a meal together

Five chefs make a meal together.

Each one is on his or her own, with his or her own ideas about what makes a good meal. And his or her own particular strengths, specialties and abilities. Naturally, each of them wants to be the Big Dog in the Kitchen.

This is kind of like hotel marketing today. There's an ad agency for the ads, a graphic designer or firm for the collateral, a digital firm (or maybe just a "web guy") for the website and PPC. There’s someone doing the public relations – maybe a firm and maybe just somebody internally who isn't too busy. And e-mails and social media in there somewhere.

That's a lot of people. And it's easy to see how each of them could sincerely believe that their particular channel is the best for the client. (Just look how often you read some digital agency executive proclaim that print is dead or television is dead or social media is the only thing that matters anymore.)

It's a lot to manage. Especially for a DOSM who already has a full plate.

Doubling up may seem to simplify things, but it usually doesn’t work so well. A web firm can’t do collateral or advertising as well as a design studio or an ad agency. Nor can a PR firm do a website as well as a digital firm. And an ad agency usually can’t do PR nearly as well as a PR professional. Design studios are rarely built to handle social media. And on and on.

Point is, almost nobody does everything best, but everybody does something best. But how do you to make sure those everybodys are all rowing in the same direction while they do what they do best?

Have a clear Brand position and an equally clear strategy for delivering it, that’s how. A Brand your whole team understands and a strategy they all know how to deliver.

Almost nothing can make your marketing as effective and cost-efficient as a clearly defined Brand. With a clear Brand – and a clear strategy for delivering it – all of the players on your marketing team can more easily work together. And what one does will enhance and reinforce what the others are doing. Not fight with it.

Investing in Brand development or Brand clarification is what's known in the biz as a "Good Investment." Read more about Brand here

Remember, a moose is a horse designed by a committee. Or a bunch of chefs. Or a thousand monkeys with typewriters. Or something like that.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Good hospitality print advertising

Just because you haven't them doesn't mean there aren't some really good print hospitality ads out there.


Monday, July 15, 2019

"I'm putting it all in AdWords."

"I'm putting it all in AdWords"

For some time now, PPC has been the go-to marketing channel for smaller companies like independent hotels and resorts. PPC in general (and AdWords in particular) can do a lot of things. But not everything.

In fact, some GMs and marketing directors are complaining that they seem to be spending more but getting less. And that’s probably true.

Not only are costs going up, but also, because the AdWords arena is more crowded and chaotic than ever, it takes more to stand out. Common wisdom among many digital marketing firms is that you’ll need $10k a month to get any value out of it.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the name of the property is still the most effective driver of AdWords responses. So ask yourself – how would anybody come to know the name of your hotel in the first place, and how can you get your name out there more?

Here’s another thought: AdWords is a great transactional tool – especially when you’re selling rate. Not so much for creative delivery of your Brand position. That’s not what AdWords can do. But a clear Brand position – one that creates desire for your property – is something you can use to drive both rate and occupancy.

This is not to say that PPC doesn’t have a role to play in marketing. Clearly, it does. But perhaps rather than put more money into AdWords look at what other channels can make your AdWords work harder. Sure, there’s a spending minimum you need to maintain, but if something isn’t working as well as it should, simply increasing your budget on it is a bit like that continuing-to-do-the-same-thing-over-and-over-and-hoping-for-a-different-result thing. The answer is to do something different.

Don’t abandon AdWords, but if you want to succeed, you should have a good understanding of the other channels open to you.

Or work with someone who does.


Influencers Pay Double - by Bob Hoffman

(This came in a newsletter from the brilliant Bob Hoffman.)

Influencers Pay Double

by Bob Hoffman
"I have a new hero. His name is Joe Nicchi. Joe is an aspiring actor. He and his wife run two ice cream trucks in LA. In their first year of operation they were named "best food truck in the city" by LA Weekly.

"Joe is sick of douchebag "influencers" trying to hustle him. So this week he instituted a new policy -- influencers pay double.

“They love to use the word exposure,” says Nicchi. “They’ll promise me all of this social media exposure in exchange them all free ice cream.”

"His response? "Are you out of your mind? This is $4.”

"Recently Nicchi was approached by an "influencer" to cater a 300 person party for free. “I said ‘Enough is enough,’" and he put up the sign on his truck -- "Influencers Pay Double."

'I have a suggestion for big brand CEO's. Are you tired of pissing away money on stupid social bullshit? Fire the idiots and hire an ice cream man to run your marketing department."


Thursday, July 11, 2019

We have no idea where this hotel room is

We have no idea where this hotel room is.

Couldn't tell you if our life depended on it. 

But you've seen this picture a zillion times. Or one exactly like it, right?  

Drop in on a few hotel and resort web sites and see if you don't agree. In many cases, you'll see well-lit and propped photos with high production values. Gorgeous photography. But no people. Like everybody got wiped out in some sort of plague or ran off into the nearest forest for some reason.

We know all the reasons you might not want to use people in your photography. The need to have racial and gender diversity, the cost of models, the prospect of changing fashions and all the rest. But in our mind, none of them outweigh the compromise you're making to your marketing effort by leaving people out altogether. 

Hospitality is a people business. 

So the next time you go to the trouble and expense of a property shoot, get some humanity and context into it. It's going to make your hotel marketing more visually effective. And you don't even really have to hire models. You'd be surprised how many family, friends or even guests would love to be in a photo shoot. Real people look more like real people than models do anyway.

And while you're at it, think about shooting a the view from a room or that room at night, or the lobby looking out in the early morning –  that sort of thing. Think about what your guests will actually see.

Our friend Ira Wexler, a photographer who specializes in hotels, says "Just ‘taking pictures’ is no longer enough. It’s all about creating a compelling emotional user experience that guests can see themselves in – crafted with ‘fresh eyes’ and vision to show the ‘magic’ of the space. We’re not just ‘shooting the property,’ we are creating impressions, and earning trust."

He's right. Otherwise, you could just buy a stock shot.

Like we did for this post.


Friday, July 5, 2019

Money is always an issue.

Money is always an issue.

So spend it wisely.

To begin with, don’t be seduced by low cost. "You get what you pay for" is almost always true. Low cost and high quality are rarely compatible. Make one or the other a priority.

With that in mind, here's a three-part approach that we think works well for independent hotels and resorts.

Focus your target - Start with geography. From your own records and your local CVB, determine where most of the traffic to your area hails from. Focus on the top four, or maybe even just the top one or two, depending on your available resources. A geography that is already sending guests your way is an opportunity. Unless you're a destination resort, your CVB should do the heavy lifting of getting them to come to town. Your job is to get them to stay at your place when they do.

Creative message delivery - Now go beyond PPC or ad-tech placement. Don’t drop your PPC campaign, just augment it with some strong brand-message display. And don’t put all your eggs into an ad-tech basket with computer-generated placement.

There is life beyond cubes and leaderboards, and there are a lot of attention-getting toys out there you can use. So talk to ad reps for the media outlets in those targeted geographies. Newspapers, radio and TV stations all have websites – with leisure/travel sections. Those folks can offer you an impressive array of creative tools, like geo fencing, channel roadblock, video, pre-roll, contextual re-retargeting, page takeovers, sliding billboards and more.

Those sorts of things are not typically available to you with ad-tech. And, although totally discounting any medium but digital could be a mistake, you don’t have to be running print or broadcast to make use of them, either. Besides, placing your own ads in a target geography will generally get you a better, more focused audience.

It’s also important to stay away – well away – from lookalike creative that makes it more difficult to distinguish your property from the competition. Make a little noise of your own.

Close the deal on your website - Think about what happens when you pull someone to your website. Don’t just send them to the home page or specials page and stop there. Have your advertising agency and your web firm work together to create a landing page that will connect your advertising and your website.

And while you're at it, make sure your website is interesting and engaging – not just a brochure on wheels. Your advertising should bring them to your site for a reason other than price. Your website should close the deal.

Marketing and sales communications today is a fairly dizzying arena with many choices and options and various experts whispering in your ear. And there are a lot more ins and outs and details and side roads than we could cover in a single email. But as a general rule, we think you can get a lot out of a limited marketing budget if you do a few fundamental things and do them well:

1) aim at the right target, 2) send out a strong message and 3) close the deal.


Where to Google?

Any old hotel won't do.

Search has become an important element in hotel marketing.

A look at any Google Analytics report will show you that branded search terms like “Your Hotel” generate far more website visits and more conversions than nonspecific searches like “Hotels in your general neck of the woods.”

Not only that, but people who search “Your Hotel” are searching for, well, your hotel. Not just the lowest rates in town.
Which means it’s good business to give people a reason to search for your hotel. That doesn't mean just SEO and PPC. It means brand value advertising and public relations, too. With a brand value message. A reason to, well, you know.

________________________________________________________________________________ . 

Creativity rules

This is proof.

Proof that - if you want to - you can do creative advertising for anything.

That hotel down the street

You're not competing with the hotel down the street.

Not if it's part of a national or global brand. You're competing with the entire brand and the budget and marketing resources that go along with it. 

So how do you get a competitive edge? With a clear Brand of your own. Your own 

supportable differentiation around which you deliver a unique value. And the moment you change your Brand from, say, "a hotel with this many rooms in this place" to "this hotel that is unique for these reasons," you narrow your competitive set. 

Suddenly, you're not just another pretty face with packages and special offers.

What's so great about Starbucks?

There's a Starbucks close to our office.

Yeah, well, there’s a Starbucks close to everybody’s office, isn't there?

Anyway, the one by our office is small, poorly designed for traffic flow – and packed with customers. 

There's also a Quartermaine Coffee Roasters near our office. Quartermaine is a local coffee shop with only a couple of retail stores. This one is comfortable and well-designed with excellent coffee and espresso products at better prices than Starbucks. But it's almost never crowded. 

Apparently, people in this part of Bethesda, Maryland, would rather wait in line in a small, crowded shop and pay a higher price for Starbucks coffee than go across the street to a Quartermaine that is less hassle with better prices and is just as good. 

And that's what a Brand can do for you. 

Starbucks has the Brand. Quartermaine doesn’t have any sort of Brand position beyond "We've got coffee if you want some." It’s just there. If they were inclined to develop a Brand position – that is, identify and promote a unique value for customers – Quartermaine could almost certainly boost both their business and raise their prices. 

It works in the hotel business, too. Honest.

You don't have to be big to have a clear Brand. You just have to recognize its value and go to the trouble to develop it.

On social media

Don’t use social media to promote your property.

Use it to make friends.

And another way to spell "friends" is "g-u-e-s-t-s.” That is, people who aren’t just shopping price.

Let's back up a second. Think, for example, about Facebook and what you follow. Could be a friend who puts up a regular stream of good jokes. Or a Game of Thrones page. You follow these pages because you like what you get from them.

OK, now take a look at, say, the Nordstrom page. "Here's a sale, there's a sale and here's something else wonderful about us." Who wants to read a steady diet of that?

On the other hand, Washington DC’s Georgetown Suites often celebrates the joys of being in Georgetown and all that goes with it. That’s personal, and it conveys the humanity of the property. Ace Hotels' pages are interesting, too. And for a steady stream of marketing-relevant personality, check out Denny’s Instagram stream.

Think of your property's social media the same way you think of your personal social media. “Here’s what's interesting in my life right now, something I want to share with you, something I found funny, touching, beautiful or just plain interesting.”

The point is, social media can be a really inexpensive tool to make friends and, in the process, market yourself. But if you're only going to use it to announce special packages or a new menu in the tea room, well, you might as well not bother. You probably don’t actively seek out ads and press releases to read do you? Nobody does. People read what interests them. (And if those of us in the ad biz do our job right, sometimes it’s an ad.)

This brings us to our second point. All these things are not the sorts of things an employee at a social media company could possibly do for you. It's not their fault. They want to do the right thing. But they don’t know what’s going on. They didn’t see that especially beautiful sunset or sunrise over the water or the trees. They can’t be familiar with a local character, resident cat or the youth sports team you may sponsor. They didn't meet the people celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary or the people who booked 75 rooms for a sales meeting. They aren’t excited about the progress of that renovation or the new restaurant.

And they probably also have to manage Facebook pages for anywhere from five to 15 other properties. So, out of necessity, they may tend to default to posts that are just pickups from the local CVB or “TGIF! Who’s ready for the weekend?” stuff.

If you want your social media to show you in a genuine, human way (and you should), it’s a good idea to do it yourself. There’s bound to be someone there who would love the opportunity. Someody would would really get into it. But if you just absolutely, positively can’t find anybody anywhere at your property to do it, at least get everybody to share thoughts and tidbits with the distant employee at a social media company.

Be a storyteller. Put up things that interest people.

(Or just run “TGIF! Who’s ready for the weekend?” every Friday and be done with it.)

Creativity is your friend

Creativity is your friend.

If nobody notices you, nobody will know what you have to offer.

That's not good for business.

And the best way to get people to not notice you is by doing what everybody else is doing.

You've seen the ads. A hero shot of the property or the best room in the house and a headline that usually revolves around clicking here for the best rates ever. Not very attention-getting when everybody is doing it. Same goes for websites. Lookalike doesn’t work in any corner of the marketing realm.

Creativity is the most practical tool available to hotels and resorts today. With all the messages coming out on our computers, phones, televisions, radios and everywhere else, the competition for attention is stiff. You have to either earn it or demand it. Not necessarily by running a lot of ads, but by running ads that deserve attention.

Of course, even the worst advertising ever done will draw attention if you run it enough. But that’s expensive, and independent hotels and resorts don't have the luxury of the big-brand budgets.

But creativity isn't expensive. Actually, your biggest investment isn't even in money, but in being willing to resist the usual.

And the ROI on that is pretty good.

Running with the bulls in a pair of flip-flops

Running with the bulls in a pair of flip-flops

Weak advertising - maybe it's not actually as life-threatening as running with the bulls. And it definitely won’t give you the same sort of adrenalin rush. 

But in the world of marketing communications for independent hotels and resorts, predictable advertising can be dangerous.

So don't do it – don't pin your hopes on advertising nobody is going to notice.
Sure, it’s easy to drop in a room shot or a restaurant shot, a spa shot or – if you’re on the water – a beach shot. Add a little copy about luxury, elegance and a great rate. Anybody can do that. Actually, nearly everybody does. 

But whether it's digital, print or broadcast, it's a simple equation: Before anybody can be motivated by whatever it is you have to say, they have to see it. And it’s always a nice touch if they remember it. Which isn’t usually the case with lookalike advertising. "Safe" advertising isn't safe at all. It's risky. 

And it’s a risk independent hotels and resorts can’t afford to take. 

Like running with the bulls in a pair of flip-flops.

Don't mess with Mr. In-Between

Don't mess with Mr. In-Between. 

"Go big or go home." "No guts no glory." They mean pretty much the same. And here’s how they relate to a couple of things we believe in when it comes to hotel marketing. 

We don’t think there’s a lot of potential for success with quiet or expected advertising. There’s enough vanilla, everyman, nothing-special hotel marketing out there already. Don’t add to it. The goal is to stand out, not blend in.

So go big on your brand. If you’re a price-based property, by golly, be one. And make sure everybody knows it. If you’re focused on building your ADR and want to command a premium rate, own it. Make damn sure your website, your public relations and your advertising make it crystal clear why you’re worth more. Make some noise.

That said . . . 

If you decide to have a special or a promotion of some sort, have one. Make it too good to pass up. Be sure you get something in return for the offer, like a minimum number of nights, advance booking, no refunds or something, but make it an offer someone just has to consider. The internet and everybody’s PPC ads are littered with 10% or 20% off offers. The world doesn't need any more.
And remember the most important words in hotel marketing: “Based on availability."

But whatever you do, just don’t mess with Mr. In Between.

Back story: Don't mess with Mr. In Between comes from "Accentuate the Positive," which was written in 1944 and has been recorded by artists as varied as Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, Perry Como, Paul McCartney and even Clint Eastwood. Our favorite version is this one, by Dr. John.


Problems - Solutions

We talk to a lot of hoteliers, and when it comes to what keeps them awake at night, there are a few recurring themes. And if there's one thing you can do to address all of them, that thing is Brand.

See if these problems strike a chord with you.

Problem: Who is your best target? Almost nobody – but especially not an independent hotel – can be all things to all people. So who are the right people?

Solution: A clear Brand will absolutely help you define your best target audience. It only makes sense that having a crystal-clear picture of what you're best at clarifies that who-you-should-be-selling-to picture. Right?

Problem: There are too many media channels to choose from. SEO, re-targeting, AdWords, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, newspapers, magazines, e-mails– it goes on and on and something new shows up every week. But which ones are best for you?

Solution: You can make a better, more informed decision as to which media channel is best to use if you know your target (and their behavior, passions, and friends). And there we go. A clear Brand can tell you who that target is.

Problem: You don't have the business you want at the rate you want. Competing on price is a dangerous habit. And OTAs aren't helping.

Solution: A clear Brand is your escape route from selling on price, because your Brand can give your guests a reason to pick you over The Other Place – something that has nothing to do with rate. Think about it. A commodity can't command a premium price.

Problem: The number of different marketing firms you work with is overwhelming. There's usually a web company, an SEO/AdWords company, PR firm, ad agency and sometimes a design studio in the mix. And often they all have their own good ideas of how to approach the problem.

Solution: If you must have a collection of marketing firms working for you, they will all do a better, more effective job with the same Brand and Brand strategy driving them. And, if each part of your marketing wheel is reinforcing what every other part is doing, your overall effort will be more cost-efficient.

Of course, creativity and industry expertise count for a lot in each of these areas, but that's a topic for another day.

You can't really measure the ROI of everything

You can't really measure the ROI of everything.

Especially not in the advertising world.

Management often wants proof that for every dollar they spend, they're going to get three, four or five dollars back. This can drive you to use the same advertising channels exclusively, because they lend themselves to measurement, if not marketing effectiveness.

But those channels best suited for measurement are also the ones best suited for direct transactions (spelled p-r-i-c-e), not brand-building (which is what will drive rate). And that measurable ROI is usually going to be fairly low if you're selling on p-r-i-c-e. It also assumes that the last touch was exclusively responsible for the purchase decision. Which is almost never the case.

Think about full path attribution (and you should). This includes everything that affects that decision to book – the commercial they heard that made them more receptive to the ad they saw that nudged them to click through the Google listing they saw to the website where they actually reserveda room.

A smart independent hotel will move away from spending as little as possible on low-cost digital channels and think more about spending on an overall effort. An integrated family of tools. Don't base your media decision solely on what is the least expensive. After all, if the only thing that counts is the cost, then doing nothing at all is free, isn't it?

Besides, how did you calculate the ROI of whatever that recent renovation cost you?

Small ad budgets demand big ideas

Small ad budgets demand big ideas.

So, the other side of that, of course, is that the smaller your ideas are, the bigger your budget has to be. You have to spend more to make them work.
Small ideas mean big money.

Sure, the lamest, most irrelevant ad on the planet can work if you throw enough money at your media plan. The same goes for ads that look and sound like those everybody else is running. Run enough of them and they're impossible to escape. But who can afford to waste money like that? Nobody, that’s who. 

Doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to have a strong, compelling creative idea that can stand out and demand attention? 

Money is an issue for independent hotels and resorts. And small ideas are expensive. Big ideas, on the other hand, are cost effective. In your advertising and everything else. 

Big ideas will make you a hero with your owners.

Do It Yourself is often a false economy

Do It Yourself is often a false economy.

A few years ago, we did a small groups brochure on a project basis. We quoted a price that included preparation of some specific meeting-room floor plan artwork, but the client wanted to do that work themselves to save money. So we adjusted our proposal to get to their price point.

Long story short, that artwork became a colossal pain in the ass and delayed production of the brochure by several weeks and knocked a few years off everybody’s life. God bless ‘em, but the client wasn’t really equipped to deal with this sort of thing and had some real issues properly preparing the artwork.

We were equipped to deal with it. And we could have done it. Of course, if we had done it, it still might have been a pain in the ass, but it would have been our pain in the ass, not theirs. Our nickel too. But, well, you know . . .

The point here is not to disparage a client, but that there is often a false economy when you Do It Yourself. Certainly many of us who have tried to fix a broken something-or-other-around-the-house know pretty much exactly how true this is.

When you get a proposal from an agency or design firm and you want it done for less to save some dough, think about whether or not you can really take up the slack. Whether it’s photography, social media or preparatation of pain-in-the-ass artwork, it’s often a good idea to let people who know how to do certain things do those certain things. As often as not, it works out to be more cost-efficient.

Of course, there is the school of thought that says if the most important thing is how cheaply you can get something done (as opposed to, say, how well it can be done), then don't do it at all.

That's the cheapest way there is.

At the taffy stand

At the taffy stand.

So you're walking down the boardwalk. And you find yourself at the salt water taffy stand.

What was it that got you there? Or, more accurately, what combination of things? The signage? The aroma as you got closer? Someone you saw with a box? Maybe an ad or a poster? Something somebody said?

This is what journey maps and full-path attribution are all about. The journey map is that walk down the boardwalk and full-path attribution is the combination of signage, scents and ads that created your desire for some taffy. Which is to say, it wasn't necessarily just the last thing you saw.

Here’s how that applies to marketing your hotel or resort:

It’s almost never as simple as “See ad. Book room.” or “Search Google. Book room.” It just isn’t. There are a lot of things that influence a consumer’s decision to buy. Not just the last thing they clicked before they did. So if you make the effort to identify your targets' journey map and understand your full-path opportunities to influence them along the way, you can make better use of your marketing dollars.

What do they see and when? And what do you want them to do next? What combination of things got them to actually make a reservation?

If you think about it, it’s really not all that different from selling salt water taffy.

Selling on price is like crack

Selling on price is like crack.

It's easy to get hooked on sacrificing rate for occupancy or short-term results. And it's a damn difficult habit to kick.

Any salesman will tell you that price is the easiest thing to give away and the hardest thing to get back. And selling on price puts you in a brutal competitive arena. It's an addiction to be avoided. But how?

With a strong brand, for one thing. A clear brand is a way to reduce your competitive set, maintain guest loyalty in the face of price-based competition and help you get premium pricing.

And when you deliver that brand message, deliver it everywhere from your website to your advertising to your property experience. Be creative about it. Make a little noise. Demand attention. Resist the usual.

Don't go dark when business is good. That's actually when you need to do your selling to avoid the occupancy holes in your calendar. Keep your name and brand message out there. Consistently. We’re going to assume you've got something going for you besides just a lower rate than the guys down the street. Make sure people know what it is.

Stay in touch with guests and followers with a regular e-mail program and regular updates in places like Facebook and Instagram. Hit those business travelers on LinkedIn. And as far as soial media goes, don’t just deliver a series of posts about this offer and that offer and another offer. Use your social media channels to deliver your brand. To build relationships. Tell stories. Convey your personality. Make friends.

But the biggest thing you can do for yourself is to recognize in the first place that selling on price is like a drug. It's easy to get hooked, hard to get clean and it's going to get more and more expensive as you go along.

Just say no.