Digital marketing – breaking geographic borders for the accommodation industry
By Luke Edwardes-Evans 24 May 2016
The ultimate goal of any successful accommodation provider is to develop their profile and positioning as a provider of choice to their consumers, obviously being potential guests or tenants. The issue with traditional marketing techniques and methods is that the strategies usually used follow a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Unfortunately, in the modern marketing environment, this method does not work anymore. Consumers are more informed, engaged, and in touch with what they are looking to ‘feel and touch’ when sourcing their next accommodation location. This poses a problem for accommodation providers who do not invest the time into understanding the fundamental reasons driving location choice for consumers.
At the same time, this issue provides an excellent opportunity for innovative accommodation providers, regardless of location, to invest the time and effort in developing a value proposition that can be executed on a truly international level.
The above key themes link back to the purpose of this piece, that being:
- The use of digital marketing technologies and concepts to develop and profile specific audience segments; and
- Utilising the latest marketing techniques and technology to deliver targeted messages to prospects.
Breaking down the one size fits all approach
I’ll take a step back before I dive into this particular element of the discussion and acknowledge that most accommodation providers do have a primary digital presence (being a website), a presence on some accommodation directory sites and possibly the occasional newsletter.
This is a good start but it falls under the one size fits all approach that is rife in the industry. It is a static approach that although may generate some bookings, particularly during peak times, does not do anything in regards to profiling your business and creating that unique selling proposition (USP) that only your accommodation business has!
Finding this USP is a critical element of developing a digital marketing strategy that will take any business to the next level as it will facilitate the ability to formulate a strategy around marketing to specific consumer segments. As much as a visitor wants to stay in a perfect location, your business should be focusing on attracting your perfect guests, the ones who blog about their visit, share photos, tag their friends and write a glowing review on trip advisor. These are the visitors you want to attract, and there are ways to do it…
Know your customer
It may seem a little complicated and time consuming but investing the time and effort in sourcing valuable data at all stages of the consumer's journey is important. Make sure you capture everything from the moment they email you a query or complete a form – from recording ages, family composition, travel dates and even the activities they want to undertake while they are with you.
Find out what they are looking for in an accommodation provider by offering something for free - maybe a discount or a dinner on the house /gift voucher. If they do stay, find out what they enjoyed the during their stay. A post guest survey emailed immediately after and then a week later to get in any lingering thoughts about the experience is a great way to do this. If not, find out why they didn’t say anything and try and entice them to provide feedback. Pre and post visit surveys, as well as surveys for leads that did not opt to stay, are also very useful so using something like SurveyMonkey to evaluate all elements of the journey is helpful. Gather intelligence off those who didn’t stay by offering something to them to complete the survey. On the other hand, providing previous guests something special for their next visit is always a nice way to promote survey completion.
Using this information, you can start to identify your specific segments and tailor some communication activities to their particular tastes!
I think I know my customer, what now?
This is where the opportunity for accommodation providers to be different lies. As most businesses use the one size fits all/set and forget method of marketing, those providers who invest the time and effort into understanding their consumers and then introducing some basic content generation strategies will see results. Pair this with an existing base level plan (i.e. directory sites, website and a basic social media presence) and it will be extremely effective.
Make sure you can be found!
It is important to be aware of the fact that your business’s digital profile is one of billions on the internet. Speaking figuratively it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and if your business’s digital presence doesn’t follow the basic steps to allow your website to be found online, traffic may only drip through.
Ask yourself or your web developer the following questions:
“Has google analytics been setup for the website?”
If not, you won’t be able to see how effective your site is performing.
“Has my sitemap been submitted for indexing?”
If not, then Google’s little bots will not crawl your website properly, and it will take longer to drive traffic to your site.
If the answer is 'no' to any of the above then you need to make each a priority item before moving on any further in enhancing your digital presence.
Pinpoint your geographic location
Google works hard to provide businesses to punch above their weight in targeting specific consumers. For regionally based businesses this means being able to target consumers in metropolitan areas or other countries. A high volume of accommodation provider searches will start with a generic search, such as “Accommodation Cairns”. This may be with the focus of identifying accommodation near the lagoon, or further up near the beaches. As an example, the above search string will produce the below result:
As you can see some local accommodation providers’ jump off the map and this is not just a result of having a website. To perform more effectively on Google, businesses need to set-up a Google Business profile. Setting up a verified Google business profile will ensure you appear on search results for generic location searches as well as providing a direct contact link to your business and directions.
This simple step is often overlooked by businesses but can have massive repercussions in driving traffic to your site as well as reducing the contact points a potential visitor has to your business. Once the basics are established, it is then easier to work with the digitally empowered consumer.
The digitally empowered consumer
Having a basic digital presence is the first and most straightforward objective to achieve, a website and directory listings will ensure that potential guests may stumble across your business via some general searching. At this stage it is important to understand that the modern consumer is empowered, they have all the tools in their armoury to research, analyse and form an opinion on your business via your digital presence.
Your potential guest will search for your geographic location, the top accommodation providers, restaurants and activities in that area as a part of their research. Social media pages will be critiqued and past guest reviews read on TripAdvisor, so it is important to have all of these potential contact points identified and time and effort invested into ensuring they are optimised and a consistent message deliver, ideally, the USP you have identified in determining your key segments.
The first step in preparing your business for the digitally empowered consumer is to conduct a low-level social media audit; this includes ensuring that your accommodation business has a social media profile on key social media platforms, at a minimum this includes:
- Google +
Having a social media presence that includes the above mentioned social media platforms will ensure that you can engage with past visitors, entice new visitors, all while creating a unique profile as a destination of choice. A well-managed social media presence is a highly efficient business development tool as it breaks down the barriers of communication with your target segments.
It also places some power into the most influential advocates of your business, previous visitors - who can share their experiences, highlight the positives and relate more efficiently to potential visitors. Another positive is that it allows instantaneous marketing via guests who can engage with your social media platforms while they are actually with you!
Encourage users to share their experiences
By now you have optimised your digital presence and have established an outlet for guests to engage with your business. The next step is to encourage them to do it! This is easier than it sounds, as people, by nature, like to ‘show off’, especially when they are having a great time.
Basic ways to do this are to provide a handout when they are checking in with all of your social media accounts advertised. Setup some special hashtags specific to your business and incentivise location check-ins and page follows. Offer free drinks, or discounted/free access to your Wifi for guests that follow your page and check in.
At a basic level, the above will drive engagement with your social media presence and build a profile but there is more opportunity to drive a deeper standard of engagement (and content generation) by encouraging more substantial blogs and accounts of a guests experiences. Once again special offers like meals/coffee or discounted future accommodation could be great offers to entice visitors to consider producing something a bit more substantial. Be sure to promote to this them at the start of their stay so that they can consider what to create during their visit.
Profile your business by sharing content
This is a critical step in developing and optimising your digital presence. Obviously, the first element of this is pushing it out via your social media channels as content is produced and driving engagement and traffic. The second element is distributing this content via electronic direct mail (EDM). Given the data that is provided to your business via booking accommodation or when sourcing information from you, there is an opportunity to disseminate this content easily via a newsletter. This is where you can refer to guest blogs and updates, photos and reviews, etc. The best thing about EDM’s is that you can invest time in developing a content strategy based on timing and frequency. Specific campaigns can be set-up to target people based on their age, family composition or preferences. They can also be developed to target specific timeframes, i.e. hitting targets in the off-season for mid-year getaways, or relaxation busters, maybe even a romantic getaway deal. The key thing is that by knowing your customer (based on actual data), developing a digital presence and investing time in a coordinated approach you can build a profile at all times.
Using content that you have developed as well as user-generated content will allow you to build a substantial content library that can be repurposed for a variety of uses, newsletters, blog posts and social media updates.
There are plenty of free/cheap online newsletter platforms that will help you get started, these include MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, both of which provide some great free templates.
Engage with your audience
The final and most important element of developing your digital presence as it involves dealing with your audience in a pro-active and positive manner. Developing your social media presence is only one part of the equation; the most important part is dealing with your audience. Monitoring your profiles is of critical importance as you need to deal with negative feedback and/or offensive content as it is posted.
You would have read about instances where a company has not dealt with a social media issue rapidly and massive repercussions it can have when it goes viral.
If guests do raise a complaint on social media deal with it transparently. Review the complaint, acknowledge that it is being dealt with and then advise of the outcome via that channel. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram do allow you to delete comments and ban people from commenting and as much as it is not advisable to censor it does allow you tighter control in the event of something blowing up.
TripAdvisor is a different kettle of fish and we have all seen accommodation providers crucified by visitors. As a platform, TripAdvisor is extremely well regarded by the online community so a bad review, left unchecked, can proliferate into something extremely ugly. Be sure to constantly review your TripAdvisor profile and set alerts for bad ratings. Deal with them in a positive manner and the guest may opt to review their original rating.
Engaging with your audience also means sharing the good experiences, encouraging your audience to interact with you via different channels and driving the development of a living and breathing profile. Done properly, digital will drive your business in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
It is a brave new world but can absolutely be conquered!
This article first appeared in the Informer Magazine, published by Resort Brokers.