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Ms. Horwell

Sales & Marketing

How to Market Your Hotel Today for Success Tomorrow

By Vanessa Horwell, Founder & Chief Visibility Officer, ThinkInk & TravelInk'd

In today's operating environment, hotel marketing strategies have put an overwhelming emphasis on immediacy. And with good reason; with demand and average rates at or near historic lows in many markets, marketing is needed to reinforce occupancy and keep a property fresh in consumers' minds. The fact is, hoteliers are more concerned about their marketing programs drawing in new guests right away than about developing a brand or laying the groundwork for a successful 2013.

While understandable, this is ultimately a shortsighted approach to hotel marketing. Setting a discounted rate and blasting out an announcement about it may yield some short-term results, but at what long-term cost? How will heavy discounting affect the brand over the next year or 18 months? How will loyal customers react to the initiative? These considerations should be weighed as carefully as ROI projections.

Fortunately, positioning your hotel for future success and accomplishing your short-term marketing goals are not mutually exclusive concepts. There are several ways to market your hotel for future success without compromising the pressing needs of today. In many cases, these tactics don't even involve large financial investments, but rather rely upon a focus on multiyear aims; good analysis of markets, customers, strengths and weaknesses; the utilization of emerging technologies; and a strong brand identity.

Many of the marketing hints below are rooted in common sense, and can seem quite obvious when taking the long view of things, but often get trumped by the unrelenting urgency of now. So let's get started sowing your property's seeds of success.

Reach the right demographics

This is marketing 101 and it holds especially true when you're planning for long-term success. Define your audience, segment it in terms of demographics, and target them with relevant messaging. Too often hospitality marketers cast the widest net possible, acting under the rationale that a mass market approach will attract the most potential customers.

But are they the right customers?

This question goes to the core of brand definition. It doesn't make sense for a super-luxury resort to reach out to short-haul business travelers, just as it may not make sense for a boutique center-city property to target the family leisure travel set. Complicating matters further is the fact that there are different optimal channels for reaching each of these demographics. Social media may be the fastest-growing marketing tool available, but will it resonate with the doyenne planning a 3-week stay at a historic five-star hotel? Likewise, will a national ad campaign effectively reach the Gen X citybreak weekender? These basic questions must be the jumping-off point of a successful medium-to-long range marketing strategy.

Embrace non-traditional media

There are some outreach channels that are growing across all demographics. Online has become the booking standard, but both web 2.0 (social media) and the mobile web have become crucial standalone marketing channels in their own right. Take mobile for instance: with more than 82% of US residents owning and using a mobile device, and 24% responding to a mobile offer of some sort within the last year, this single channel represents a huge opportunity for both outreach and interaction with a valuable segment of consumers. Seizing this channel also represents a competitive advantage for hospitality organizations willing to engage in mobile marketing initiatives, as only 12% of mobile offers are centered around vacation or travel.

Value is timeless - and universal

Of course, the number one competitive advantage is- and always has been- value. The concept of value, most often associated with budget or discount properties, actually applies to all ends of the quality and price spectrum. Value has taken a prominent position in the minds of both consumers and marketers recently, and it is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. The trick for hotel marketers is to find the value inherent to the property's operation and to then define the property's value proposition succinctly. This simple message will resonate with potential guests- irrespective of demographic- and, if delivered correctly, serve as the cornerstone of a long-term marketing strategy.

Get social - establish a strong social media presence

Once the value proposition is defined and established as the core of all marketing messaging, the question of how to disseminate that messaging arises. The old-school approach was simple (and costly!)- educate travel agents, take out newspaper ads, launch a regional or national TV or radio campaign, all relaying an integrated marketing message. But the landscape is changed, and these tactics are irrelevant to much, if not most, of your target audience. Unilateral communication, the fundamental milieu of mass media, has given way to a more interactive, multilateral ecosystem, the most visible example of which is social media. Any forward-looking marketing strategy must incorporate a strong social media component, from engaging profiles to timely updates to relevant postings. After all, what social media is really about is the oldest-school marketing approach there is: word of mouth, gone digital.

tweet!

No social media discussion could be complete these days without a mention of Twitter. This section could stop right at the imperative heading above- tweet!- or go on for the length of a book. This is the irony- and beauty- of Twitter: it is at once incredibly straightforward and incredibly complex. No matter how familiar you are with Twitter, there are a few important "rules" to follow for effective tweeting. Emphasize value (as we've already mentioned), leverage your reputation, tweet regularly and during peak times (US business hours), address larger issues other than the goings-on at your hotel, provide actionable incentives, and (most importantly of all) be responsive.

Tell your story

Blogging is a critical component of getting your marketing message out, and a core aspect of controlling your own story going forward into a long-term marketing strategy. Unlike space-limited tweets or interactive social media sites, blogs offer a way for hotel marketers to deliver their messages without the interference of customer interaction. This is not to say that blogs are a digital op-ed column for your hotel; blogs can be quite useful at gathering feedback in the form of comments, and diagnostic in terms of tracking what readers are interested in concerning your property. But ultimately, blogging is about telling your story to the public, on your own terms.

Pay attention to your rankings

Blogging and other marketing tactics all hopefully lead to one thing: more bookings at your hotel. Just because a marketing strategy considers and plans for the long-term, doesn't mean it lacks a concrete business objective, which is, of course, more bookings at higher rates. The single greatest determining factor for these business goals is online rankings, both on user-generated review sites like TripAdvisor and on search engines and OTAs like Expedia and Orbitz. Search engine optimization must be a key component of a long-term marketing strategy (the implementation of which will certainly have a positive short-term effect as well), and maintaining positive consumer reviews should be the most prominent objective of all facets of a hotel's operation (not just the marketing efforts).

Listen to your guests

Maybe the most effective means of boosting your hotel's consumer rankings is to simply listen to your guests. This may be the most common-sensical of these marketing tips, but it is one that is absolutely central to a long-term marketing strategy. Opening a dialogue with existing guests, either through social media, loyalty programs, or other touchpoints, will open the doors to a wealth of usable information on which to base an effective marketing push. Your guests know you best; it's important to leverage that knowledge to your advantage.

Knowing how to market your hotel not just for short-term occupancy gains but for future growth is a hallmark of a successful hospitality organization. It is always the laggards in an economy that sacrifice strategic goals for immediate returns, and in a recession it is those businesses that keep their eyes on the future that find themselves in the best position after the storm. These marketing steps should put you on the right path for long-term success, without compromising your immediate objectives (or breaking the bank).

So what are you waiting for?

Chief Visibility Offer, ThinkInk & TravelInk’d Vanessa Horwell is the founder and Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk & TravelInk’d, a public relations and visibility firm that shuns press releases in favor of storytelling. She has spent the past 18 years working with companies in the US, UK and Europe, developing successful campaigns and strategies for their brands. Ms. Horwell is a senior level strategist who works with companies in North America, EMEA and Asia-Pac in developing winning media campaigns, building relationships with influencers, and improving visibility through a unique style of public relations. Ms. Horwell can be contacted at 305-749-5342 or vanessa@thinkinkpr.com Extended Bio...

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