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In The News
How Hotels Can Use Direct Digital Marketing

November 17, 2009

Published by Lodging Hospitality
Written by Brian Deagan

While the recession has been difficult for the hospitality industry, several emerging trends give reason for increased optimism among hoteliers. At the beginning of 2009, in the midst of the recession, Forrester Research predicted websites will capture 65 percent of online leisure travel bookings. Additionally, a modest but important prediction of a five-percent increase in sales for the U.S. travel industry added another layer of optimism. Opportunity follows good news in the industry.

Though more consumers book travel online without human interaction, their expectations for how they should be treated remain the same. Hotels must do as much as possible to preserve a positive perception and maintain strong guest relationships by extending the white-glove treatment guests are accustomed to receiving on-site to the various digital touch points. Demonstrating attentiveness to guests online is paramount and best facilitated with sound direct digital marketing.

Hotel guests value personalized, relevant interactions whether they’re on property, reading an e-mail message, visiting a hotel's website or reviewing a text message. Direct digital marketing—a digital marketing method that delivers relevant marketing communications that are addressable to individuals through primary online channels of web, e-mail and mobile—is for hotels that emphasize premium guest service both off and online.

Executing great single- or multi-channel direct digital marketing programs requires expert data management and a close proximity between the data environment and the content execution. A universal profile management system satisfies both mandatory criteria. A universal profile management system captures and stores data from known profiles, e.g. customer preference information and past stay information, and anonymous profiles, e.g. online behavioral data like website browsing activity, interaction with online advertising, and paid or organic searches. Connecting a universal profile management system to the content environment in a meaningful way—ideally by coexisting within the same software platform—is crucial to executing, measuring and automating direct digital marketing programs.

A valuable hotel-guest interaction occurs when a hotel communicates a discount to a potential guest during the online booking process. Direct digital marketing, with the specific use of onsite targeting technology, creates a valuable interaction by easily communicating a shoulder-stay program. Onsite targeting transforms formerly static space on a webpage into a "live zone" capable of rotating dynamic content based on the website visitor's browsing activity or information they share.

A direct digital marketing shoulder-stay program is simple to setup and execute. When a guest inputs his or her arrival or departure date, the data is immediately captured by the universal profile management system. If a guest inputs an arrival date of Monday, a live zone in the booking engine displays an offer for that guest to extend the stay by arriving on Saturday. If a guest inputs a departure date of Friday, the same live zone within the booking engine displays an offer for that guest to extend their stay and depart on Monday. A shoulder-stay program is an example of the value direct digital marketing holds for marketers. The program is specifically designed to increase sales and fill beds, yet it requires little day-to-day maintenance.

An eConcierge program is a must for any hotel with ambitions of improving its online guest experience. Once a guest books a hotel stay, an eConcierge program delivers e-mail messages to guests 30, 14, and seven days before arrival. Each e-mail contains a different message designed to welcome guests, educate them on hotel amenities or events in the area and up-sell them. The universal profile management system records data such as a guest's past bookings (regardless of what property they stayed at), if the guest ordered kids meals or movies, if the guest prefers a non-smoking room with two beds, even golfing preferences.

Using the data from the universal profile management system, personalized, relevant e-mail messages are delivered to the guest at key intervals. The message delivered 30 days from the beginning of a stay contains a special thank you from the property's general manager and tips for how a guest can get the most out of their stay. The e-mail message delivered with 14 days until the stay includes information about concerts in the area or on-property restaurants and spas with special offers. The final seven-days-out message is even more targeted with offers for kid's meal discounts or a link to book a tee time at a local golf course.

The eConcierge concept is simple: maximize the likelihood that a guest will have an online experience that mirrors the attentiveness customarily delivered only on property.

Since guests are increasingly mobile, hotels must adjust by offering guests premium services at the guest's convenience. Simple mobile programs like express mobile check-in and express mobile check-out—using Microsoft Tags or QR codes—reduce the amount of time a guest waits in line at the front desk and increases the likelihood a guest will explore the hotel’s various amenities. Though geographic targeting while a guest is onsite is difficult with the fragmentation of GPS, the booking process provides a great opportunity for guests to sign-up to receive mobile alerts during their stay. The alerts are triggered upon check in, and automatically stopped upon check out. Mobile apps offer another way to provide guests with meaningful digital interaction.

Hotel guests only want to receive communications that have value. Understanding what a guest needs is mandatory in order to maintain a consistent and enjoyable guest experience both online and off. Analyzing massive amounts of data is helpful, but leveraging that data in real-time with specific direct digital marketing programs creates the type of experience the guest craves while allowing the hotel to develop high-margin direct-to-guest transactions. A solid direct digital marketing strategy, fueled by a universal profile management system, is the ideal approach for translating valued offline service and attention to online relevance and personalization.

Brian Deagan is a thought-leader in direct digital marketing and co-founder and CEO of Knotice, a direct digital marketing solutions company. Contact Deagan at bdeagan@knotice.com. For more information about Knotice visit www.knotice.com or its blog, http://lunchpail.knotice.com.

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