In a sea of Facebook status updates, endless tweets, and widespread online customer reviews, every marketing department in the hospitality industry has experienced the impact of technology on their creative advertising strategies. With the digital market changing rapidly, hotels are becoming flexible, smart, and more tech-savvy than ever—all while simultaneously evaluating results and tracking ad trends.
With the rise of social media and mobile technology, digital advertising has become complex and fragmented, and can be often confusing. In addition to Facebook ads and Twitter promotions, review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are often considered go-to tools when planning travel.
“We continue to see a significant shift in hospitality marketing dollars from print to digital channels,” Charles Deyo, president of Cendyn, a hotel industry sales and marketing agency, says. “Some of our clients have shifted upwards of 50 percent of their traditional budgets into digital media plans over the past year.”
As advertising campaigns are interactive, a hot trend is behavioral marketing, which anonymously tracks consumers’ online behavior (purchases, searches, content preferences, and interactions) to build profiles. This information can be leveraged to create an audience of like-minded guests who have an affinity for a particular product or service, like a golf vacation, or spa retreat.
“We are experiencing nothing short of a data revolution in online advertising, and we have seen an astonishing increase in efficacy and performance as a result,” Deyo says. “Never before in the history of advertising have we been able to so accurately target the right consumer, with the right offer, at the right time, and the results have been extraordinary.”
However, glossy printed posters and splashy taglines are not exactly a thing of the past. In fact, these types of ads can often translate to online promotions and clever social media campaigns.
Cari Ruppert, senior sales and marketing manager at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, Md., believes there will always be a budget for traditional advertising, whether it is print, billboard, or direct mail. “We still participate in traditional print advertising, tracking the ads with specific 800 numbers,” she says. “We agree that online ads can be more measurable, but there should be a balance of print and digital.”
The property continues to focus on Facebook, as many guests have become “fans” and look to the Facebook page for updates regularly. They pay close attention to TripAdvisor, photo uploads, and people expecting faster replies to online questions and comments.
In addition, Ruppert has received a positive response to direct mail campaigns, which include color printed postcards and magazines sent to previous guests, showcasing hotel promos. The pieces also highlight the beauty of the Chesapeake area, featuring articles on activities and restaurants. Most important, the glossy pieces make a point to thank their loyal customers and repeat guests.
“If you connect with past guests and they had a good experience, they will also relay that message to their friends and family,” she says. “That is how we attract a lot of new guests as well.”
SCAN AND GO
Today, print ads and direct mail brochures also have their own slice of technology incorporated into the design. Consumers have become familiar with a company’s website address or phone number on an advertisement, but technology does not stop there. Influencing the advertising world, QR (Quick Response) codes now allow consumers to “scan” a matrix code with their smartphone, obtaining additional information about a product, service, or hotel.
“Mobile bar codes are something we are definitely looking into to see what our options are,” Ruppert says. “Mobile is the new wave and it’s not going away.”
NeoMedia is a leading mobile bar code company. “We have seen substantial growth in the adoption of mobile bar codes in many different industries, including the hospitality market,” CEO Laura Marriott says. “The reason is that mobile bar codes bring any piece of content or an advertisement to ‘life,’ allowing consumers to interact with the brand in a mutually beneficial way.
“Mobile bar codes can be scanned by any device with a camera, so by using bar codes to enable consumers to access services and product information via their device 24/7 is an outstanding opportunity for brand and consumer alike,” she continues. “Mobile bar codes offer a fast and convenient direct response mechanism, connecting the consumer to information and services in just one click with no need to remember a search term or long complicated URL.”
With mobile bar codes tossed into the mix of advertising tools, hotel companies have more options than ever to interact with guests and actually measure the results—and success—of their promotions.
“2-D bar codes are also an ideal means of enabling and influencing purchase decisions, particularly on impulse—allowing a consumer to scan a print ad for example and access a promotion on a hotel or flight, ensuring they don’t miss out on a good deal no matter where they are,” Marriott says. “Mobile bar code interactions are also measurable, on a code-by-code basis, so brands can focus their spending on the most profitable channels or media locations.”
POINTS AND REWARDS
Not to be left out, loyalty programs and frequent stay points are continuing to influence hotel advertising and promotions, sweetening special offers and encouraging potential guests to stay extra nights in order to cash in on big bonuses.
“Points are everywhere,” says Brian Kelly, travel blogger and founder of ThePointsGuy.com, a popular website that focuses on travel points and rewards. “Almost every major hotel brand is now offering points with a co-branded credit card. Hyatt launched the Chase Hyatt Visa last summer, Marriott continues to run their popular Mega-bonus program, and Priority Club is offering free nights. Even Ritz-Carlton is now in on the ‘points’ game for the first time.”
Considered an expert in points and promotions, Kelly follows rewards programs and shares tips with his readers, alerting them of new Twitter offers or 24-hour sales. “I think hotels need to get more creative. They seem to recycle the same points and free night type promotions,” he says. “I really liked Starwood’s ‘You Choose’ promotion (2008) that allowed each guest to choose a promotion. I’d like to see them all adding more variation—and implementing social media in new and engaging ways.”
FUTURE OF ADVERTISING
Sharing his views on future hotel advertising trends, and how it impacts loyalty programs, Kelly predicts, “Less focus on print and more emphasis on social media presence. Overall, I think hotels will really amp up their marketing strategies and focus on loyalty programs as the economy picks up and business travelers get back on the road. I definitely see a lot of room for improvement with social media marketing and promotions, although we won’t see a complete shift to that medium as there are still a lot of travelers, especially business travelers, who are still motivated by traditional media.”