Sales & Marketing: Making Social Media an Asset for You Hotel
[This is the fourth posting in our article series, Making Social Media an Asset for Your Hotel. The previous article is available here.]
Marketing using social media requires a different discipline and expertise from traditional and online marketing. Just as radio ads don’t translate well to television, branded online ads typically don’t work well in social media. Marketers wanting to utilize social media will need to think differently, and this section explains how.
Given the speed and reach in which information travels, a brand or property’s messaging must be consistent with its social media feedback. For instance, if a hotel communicates its strength as being its exceptional service, but it has reviews on Expedia with complaints about its check-in, check-out, concierge, and housekeeping, then there is a gap between its marketing and how it is being perceived. In this situation, the hotel will have a harder time attracting guests who are willing to pay the advertised rate. Conversely, if a hotel communicates its strength as being its style and décor, and it has photos on Flickr that depict its beautiful furniture, mood lighting, unusual lobby, and exclusive see-and-be-seen bar, its social media reinforces its marketing messaging and makes it authentic.
Branding in an era where social media is constantly validating or negating your stated brand promise requires a hotel marketing team to stay on top of this buzz, and to ensure that the strengths emerging out of social media match the features that consistently achieve operational excellence (as described in the previous section). From a marketing perspective, a hotel’s strengths must also outshine those of its competitive set. This is where social media provides tremendous insights.
Discovering a hotel’s differentiators
In markets where there is more supply than demand, or in markets where there are numerous hotels in the same price range, a hotel needs to stand out to win a potential guest’s business. In the past 18 months, the economic situation has caused many suppliers to lower their price to maintain occupancy rates, further increasing the need for hotels to rise above the rest. Therefore, finding your hotel’s unique selling points and marketing those features is critical to winning the right customers who are likely appreciate your product and become loyal guests.
With social media, understanding your differentiators is easy since the public comments about your hotel can be analyzed alongside the comments about your competitors. By understanding how your hotel compares to its competitive set, marketers can be very targeted in promoting strengths that are backed up by positive customer comments. Hotel marketers can also set the right expectations to prospective guests; expectations that can be met because specific features have historically been differentiators versus the hotel’s competitors. As customers can and do talk about anything they want to within social media, we encourage hotel marketers to stay up to date on their strengths and weaknesses relative to their competitive set.
In the past, features like “free wi-fi,” “smoke-free,” “halal food,” “l’occitane toiletries,” “rain shower,” “shuttle service,” and “flat-screen tv” have been examples of differentiators that have helped to set hotels apart from their competitors. As consumers use social media about your hotel and your competitors’ hotels to compare and contrast, these attributes are key to attracting new guests from the competition.
Once the differentiators are identified, marketers should promote them aggressively. Anywhere you describe your hotel – on your web site, third-party distribution channels, and in marketing collateral – your differentiators should be emphasized and clearly communicated. In marketing campaigns involving paid search marketing and search engine optimization, these differentiators should be the primary focus to encourage consumer discovery of your brand via search engine queries. Finally, on social networking sites, a hotel brand should consistently underscore its differentiators via its postings, photos, and videos.
At first, this practice may seem counter-intuitive and uncomfortable. In our experience, many hotel marketers like to remain focused on what they have traditionally promoted: rooms and restaurants. But most travelers already know that you have those, and they are unlikely to set you apart from your competitors. What a prospective guest really wants to know is what’s special about your property. We encourage our clients to communicate these unique selling points immediately. Do not bury them behind more commonly marketed features that your competitors have as well.
Finally, assess whether your competitors can easily replicate your hotel’s differentiators. If they can, today’s differentiator may be tomorrow’s standard. Leading marketers in all industries think about building and maintaining barriers to entry; hotel marketers should think along these lines, working with operations to define differentiators that are protectable for an extended period of time.