A renewed desire to book rooms through direct channels requires an efficient, complementary marketing approach.
Published by Hotel Interactive
Written by Josh Gordon
The recent economic climate is forcing changes for hotel marketers. Statistics show that corporate travel and leisure guests are two important categories where booking volume dipped in 2009, and 2010 is forecasted only marginally better. Less overall booking volume is not the only outcome of the economic downturn for hotels. Travelers are now more sensitive to the economic environment, and booking windows are shorter than ever.
The knee-jerk reaction is for hotels to buy business with big discounts. However, hope comes in the form of a strategic marketing shift with greater emphasis on direct selling channels where margins are best.
Having success selling through direct channels is not without marketing challenges, though. Emphasizing direct channels requires the tools to communicate directly with guests in order to build and maintain strong relationships. Therefore, the marketing imperative for 2010 is to identify marketing opportunities that satisfy both a renewed effort to sell through direct channels and the need for greater return on any marketing investment. While online retail travel agencies, call centers, and global distribution systems are all still in the mix, the biggest and best opportunity for efficient and effective improvements to marketing in 2010 come from direct digital marketing.
Direct digital marketing is defined as relevant digital marketing communications that are addressed to specific individuals with an email address, Web browser cookie, or mobile phone number. The three primary channels of direct digital marketing – email, Web, and mobile – also provide the greatest reach and accountability in marketing. Direct digital marketing leverages the communications channels consumers use most.
Multi-channel content execution is one foundational element in direct digital marketing. The other element is a direct digital marketing data mart, more commonly referred to as a universal profile management system. A universal profile management system, for example, captures a variety of behavioral information like Web site visits, keyword search activity, and click path while also storing known guest attributes like past stay information, preferred amenities, and other guest preferences. The system allows for completely unique, smart marketing segments that incorporate a great deal of information about the guest, enabling marketers to create a white-glove, personalized guest experience while avoiding “Have you stayed with us before?” type questions that are historically off-putting to guests.
The quest to secure the services of a good direct digital marketing partnership is important. The natural evolution of the marketplace has left a fractured provider landscape in its wake, and marketing departments suffer as a result. Hotels have been forced to engage one provider for email, another for onsite upgrades and enhancements, yet another if mobile marketing programs are planned, and the list becomes longer and longer. The historical approach is now cumbersome, difficult to manage, inflexible – expensive – and it perpetuates the slow, reactive marketing that plagues hotels. A new solution is needed. The future of the interactive marketing space is a multi-faceted specialist capable of marrying capability and efficiency. The future is direct digital marketing.
The best way to understand the value of direct digital marketing is to examine three condensed, real-world examples of it in action.
Shoulder Stay Up-Sell with Onsite Targeting
Onsite targeting – plug and play technology that transforms formerly static website real estate into a “live zone” featuring dynamic content based on individual website visitors – is ideal for an easy shoulder stay program. Since a smart shoulder stay program is especially useful for targeting leisure and business travelers, use onsite targeting to offer a specialized incentive to extend a visit to the weekend if the guest indicates their stay will begin on a Monday or end on a Friday. A simple shoulder stay program with cost-neutral onsite targeting should be in the conversation for 2010, especially with extra emphasis on improving a Web site’s ability to capture and boost sales.
eConcierge Email Program
Because direct digital marketing is founded in a data-driven approach, it transforms a stagnant email marketing program into a valued guest interaction. Once the booking event is complete, an eConcierge program sends three emails to guests leading up to their stay. The content can be property dependant, but a good standard approach first sends a personalized thank you from the property manager, the second educates the guest on amenities and specifics about the hotel, and the third offers a room upgrade or golf package, depending on the property type and the guest’s preferences.
Express Mobile Check In/Checkout
The positive, personalized guest experience created by the shoulder stay and eConcierge programs can be extended to a guest on property with express mobile check in and express mobile checkout. Allowing a guest to begin and complete their stay by simply using a mobile device avoids the hassle of waiting in long lines – giving the guest more time to explore the property.
The key differentiator for direct digital marketing is the fact that the data necessary to run each of these programs lives in the same software that executes them. All three of these programs – though they use different channels to communicate with prospective and current guests – are connected by the universal profile management system. It is important to remember that capturing enormous amounts of data is worthwhile only if it is used to power smart, efficient marketing.
Dips in important metrics like average daily rate (ADR) and revenue-per-available-room (revPAR) are unwelcome but they do help clarify that leisure travelers and transient business travelers are important target audiences for 2010. Opening up a direct line of communication with both audiences is crucial, and direct digital marketing is the best method for initiating and sustaining guest relationships while improving efficiency and overall marketing ROI.
Now more than ever it is important for hotels to avoid settling for the easy booking. Hotel Web sites can and should become more productive, with coordinated help from the email and mobile channels which are capable of easily redirecting traffic. Call centers are historically excellent at successfully up-selling guests, but smart direct digital marketing programs are as effective, easier to run, allow for more control, and considerably reduce overhead while improving revenue.
The quick and easy program execution inherent to direct digital marketing – from a simple shoulder stay to eConcierge to mobile check in/checkout – is possible because of the proximity of the multi-channel content execution and universal profile management system. Hotel professionals universally recognize direct selling, especially through proprietary Web sites, is necessary to increase booking volume and revenue. Direct digital marketing is complements the required investment in the Web site, improves direct sales, and makes dramatic improvements to guest relationship in the short and long-term.
Josh Gordon is the Editor-in-Chief of the popular direct digital marketing blog The Lunch Pail http://lunchpail.knotice.com and Director of Marketing at Knotice, a direct digital marketing solutions company. Contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.