Digital marketing and e-commerce experts weigh in on trends and best practices to successfully market a hotel—especially amid pressure from owners to cut costs.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Maximizing a hotel’s online presence comes with a cost, but digital marketers are often challenged to keep spending at a minimum.
Experts shared strategies for meeting that challenge during a panel titled “Digital marketing drill-down” at the recent Hotel Data Conference.
One factor driving up digital marketing costs, particularly cost per click, is new entrants into the market, said Scott Bacon, VP of business development at Miles Partnership – Hospitality.
“When you think off all of the different platforms now that you have to distribute content, and when you think of how much Google’s encroached into the market space, it’s pretty tough to contain and maintain the same budget you had,” he said.
Meanwhile, owners want marketing costs to flatten or reverse in terms of both percentages and dollars, Carolee Moore, VP of revenue management and e-commerce at Crestline Hotels & Resorts.
“Our challenge for 2019 is to sit back and look at all of our costs (for) marketing to see if there’s a way to identify … whether or not we still have some old-school methods in place that we need to eliminate or reduce,” she said. “And if there’s some things we’re still dependent on that aren’t giving us the same return on investment that we need to move away from.”
She said her team at Crestline tries to budget flat, but sometimes market conditions make that tough. For example, when new supply crops up or there is a demand shift, “you’ll overspend your budget in order to drive additional revenue,” she said.
Lisa Giaimo, VP of sales and marketing at OTO Development, said over the last several years she’s seen more of a shift in how resources are deployed, with an eye toward curbing spending.
During budget planning, it’s important to fully communicate to owners and management companies the return on investment in digital marketing and e-commerce, though that can be difficult to articulate, said Liz Uber, VP of asset management for BRE Select Hotels.
The key thing to consider is e-commerce is not one size fits all, she said.
BRE Select Hotels has some smaller hotels in downtown markets, she said, where it’s important to consider: “What type of e-commerce support do you need above and beyond the brand, and what’s the cost to that and what truly is the ROI you get from that?”
But ROI isn’t everything, Bacon said. It’s important to not be laser focused on ROI, because data can be deceptive and there are other ways to measure success.
Moore said she finds value in constantly looking at what works in each market.
“The one thing that we don’t talk about enough is that these things really do vary to a certain degree by market,” she said. “There are many choices where you can spend your money that will be very different if you’re in a suburban business hotel or if you’re in a resort luxury hotel—very different clients and very different channels.”
A holistic approach is needed in which revenue, e-commerce and sales and marketing teams are all having a conversation about what the overall strategy for the hotel is, Giaimo said.
What to invest in
Sophisticated and user-friendly content management systems are allowing team members to be better digital marketers without a high degree of technical expertise, Bacon said. That also allows digital marketing teams to focus more attention and investment on content.
“For us … social (media) is where … there’s tremendous opportunity, and it takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of energy—and you have to make an investment,” he said.
Another smart investment, he said, is tailored content, which is deployed to a specific property to create or highlight uniqueness. Focusing on content can save marketing headaches with search engine optimization.
“Those are the areas where you can achieve some efficiencies through programmatic marketing platforms, through DIY digital marketing platforms … and then reinvest that into some of the areas where you are able to differentiate yourself (and) talk to different audiences in a very precise way,” he said.
Giaimo said her team invests in email marketing, although that space has changed a lot due to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect on 25 May.
For branded properties, the primary focus is on social media and digital ads, she said, adding her company doesn’t compete “with brands for keywords” and search engine presence. With smaller hotels, the biggest investment is in salespeople and internal e-commerce departments.
Moore said a targeted marketing push is especially key for independent hotels, which need a focus on broad awareness.
Ensure basic functions are working
To drive organic search, Moore said her team spends a lot of time ensuring basic digital marketing components are pure and clean. This includes making sure the website URL works and addresses and phone numbers are consistent on all websites.
She said OTAs are spending a lot of money to push organic searches down, and some companies don’t have the capital to enhance websites to combat that.
“So we’re looking at backlinks,” she said. “Make sure you’re checking backlinks; make sure they work. It seems really basic, but we spend a lot of time on that, and I think it helps tremendously.”
These are “simple things that make a big difference for searchability,” she said.
Paying attention to how the hotel is being represented across the spectrum is key, Moore added. That includes assessing quality of photos and wording of descriptions to maximize the value proposition, she said.
If your hotel’s website contains errors, “you’re going to get dinged,” Bacon said.
To ensure accuracy, invest in people and provide training opportunities so staff members have the needed knowledge to write content and adjust to algorithm changes, Giaimo said.
Moore also suggested corporate teams partner with property-level staff to identify and communicate when there’s outdated information online.
“I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve done a call with the hotel, and we start reading their own website to them and (they say) ‘oh no that hasn’t been true for a while, that changed a couple of years ago,’” she said. “But our e-commerce team doesn’t know that. They’re not on the ground in 68 markets, so it’s critical. It takes a lot of grassroots effort … to get that information updated.”