Hotels today face a lot of pressure. Competition in the marketplace, the struggling economy and lower consumer spending requires hotels to do more to acquire and engage new customers and create repeat business. It is hard to stand out, and to create a point of difference that not only matters to the customer but breaks through. This is why integrated marketing, the marriage of traditional marketing, event or personal engagement, and social media, is so very important to create a relationship with the whole customer. It feeds both rational and emotional needs and enables dialogue with the customer when he or she wants to be engaged. Integrated marketing tools provide the opportunity to get closer to that customer. And today, closest to the customer wins.
STAY TRUE TO YOUR BRAND
No matter what marketing initiatives you engage in, from advertising to social, you must be true to your brand. And while many in marketing throw out the term brand, few understand what a brand really is. Simply, a brand is your name, logo, product, service or company. But it is also a set of expectations and a commitment of benefits. And more importantly, a brand is:
- a promise delivered through experience
- attractive to consumers because of how it makes them feel
- clearly defined and provides an emotional connection
- a trusted, reliable and valuable identity
Consumers have a belief about your brand that is created as a result of how they come into contact with your brand – through images, sounds, experiences and dialogue. And those contact points create and form the perceptions that determine whether someone wants to start and continue a relationship with your property or stop being a patron altogether.
These contact points are the integrated marketing tools that touch customers daily.
Print advertising, broadcast advertising and digital communication create opportunities to appeal to the visual sense in a consumer. It sets the tone and mood for your brand and can create appeal and aspiration. Traditional tools do a great job of educating, creating awareness and touching the surface of your brand in a mass way.
One glance at the Trump Hotel Collection’s traditional marketing initiatives and website, and it is crystal clear the message they are sending – if you want to live THE life, stay with us because we are the next generation of luxury hospitality. Their images evoke a sense and vibe of upscale luxury, and perfectly reflect their brand.
The advertising lays the groundwork with a customer. In order to resonate with consumers further, it is important to take the unidirectional outbound communication and create a two-way dialogue through a physical activation. This will create personal engagement with the consumer and allow purchasing decisions to be made on a more interactive and emotional level.
To effectively communicate your brand’s messaging, personal engagement through tools like experiential marketing is essential. Experiential marketing combines both rational decision-making with emotional desires, allowing the consumer to have a memorable, multi-sensorial interaction with a brand. Under the umbrella of experiential is event marketing, an important tool that includes a physical event or campaign.
To help launch Cambria Suites, Choice Hotels International used an integrated marketing approach that included personal engagement through physical activation that really sold the brand to business travelers. The targeted audience was introduced to the new upscale offering in the hotel portfolio through a pop-up replica hotel suite, which appeared at airports and malls. The 20’ x 37’ exhibit consisted of a full size king suite replica complete with bathroom, sleeping area, living area and exterior building replication that included curb appeal and shrubbery. The exhibit was identical to what a potential guest would find in the actual property, which enabled people to engage with the real thing. Would-be guests could lay in the bed and feel the high-end linens, use the technology laden environment and experience the rest of the property through a virtual goggle tour given via VR technology in the living area.
Within the pop-up suite was a portal where visitors could make an actual reservation and join Choice Privileges. Brand ambassadors educated visitors on Cambria Suites while providing promotional giveaways.
By creating a replica of Cambria’s King suite and then taking it directly to travelers, the brand didn’t rely solely on traditional marketing. It added a unique event marketing element that gave people the opportunity to experience for themselves how business travel should be.
Event marketing is versatile enough to accommodate most budgets and marketing platforms. For a Holiday Inn promotion, the brand created Towel Amnesty Day. At six beaches, brand ambassadors handed out Holiday Inn-logo towels. Beachgoers could trade in old towels, including ones they were “forgiven” for taking from the hotel. Holiday Inn reps communicated with guests and potential guests, and gathered e-mail addresses, which were later used for business development purposes. Towel Amnesty Day received plenty of attention on the local news, which further helped communicate the brand’s messages.
In both cases mentioned above, the hotel brands used physical activation to start a relationship that enabled personal two-way dialogue designed to engage and understand customers.
SOCIAL AND DIGITAL
Contrary to popular belief, social media is not a current-moment experience with the mere purpose of sharing the freshest information. Social media is an anthropologists dream because the Internet never forgets. Instagram, as an example, isn’t popular just because it adds filters to digital photos. It’s loved because it allows people to visually document their lives as it is happening. And, it allows the great opportunity to page back, and once again experience what was back when.
Your brand needs to remember this because you must connect with customers in a way that better tells the stories of their lives and defines moments within it. Let them experience your experiences over and over. Tools like mobile apps, geo-location services (Foursquare, Gowalla) get consumers to properties, and the likes of Pinterest and YouTube allow consumers to share their experience.
Social networks provide channels for content curation and digital conversations that procure feedback, share insight and get consumer information. It not only provides ways to better the customer relationship to get them to keep coming back, but it also drives meaningful dialogue. You must pay very close attention to this dialogue, let customers be part of your brand, and be open to changing your business model if you uncover consistent feedback.
Deloitte’s 2013 Outlook on Travel, Hospitality and Leisure (THL) states “in the current challenging economic environment, leading THL companies are leveraging social media and business analytic platforms to gain insight into customer preferences and drivers of customer loyalty.”
That is something Hyatt obviously agrees with. Hyatt listened to its customers who expressed the need for better arrival and departure procedures. In several of its innovative “lab hotels”, they did away with the front desk. As guests arrive, they are greeted by a host with a tablet that allows for easy, personal check-in. It also allowed staffers the opportunity to communicate with guests on a more friendly, one-on-one level. Technology allowed for easy credit-card swiping and encoding of room keycards. This effort caters perfectly to our wireless, high-tech driven society, and has provided the opportunity for guests to now positively experience the check-in process. Hyatt’s customer-friendly, tech-savvy, we heard you and listened messages have been well received and appreciated.
Your brand messaging should instill in the consumer the notion that since nothing compares to the feeling and results of your hotel, he or she should not spend one extra minute looking to book elsewhere. If you use that as a guide, and remain consistent in messaging across traditional marketing, events, and social media, you’ll create memorable, positive, and consistent experiences for your guests now and in the future.