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.

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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.