In today’s competitive and dynamic market place, hotels and serviced accommodation providers have a big challenge preserving their margin.
With bookings aggregators aggressively marketing “Best Price” deals and holding most of the aces for organic search on cheap rooms in any location, hotel groups and individual brands can pay out a big chunk of their profit to these useful, but costly go-betweens.
It’s unrealistic to expect most customers not to want cheap rooms, but how can accommodation providers get deals direct to the customer and retain the best margin possible?
From our experience of working with local and global brands in the accommodation market, we can see a blue print for success using a light touch strategic approach that leverages your USPs through social media.
By blending this approach with tactics to deliver new leads and promote offers, we’re certain it’s an approach to help accommodation brands stay front-of-mind, encourage loyalty – and enable their businesses to reinforce a hard won market position and defend precious margins.
How to protect your position in the marketplace
One of the most effective and ultimately commercial approaches to social media is telling the story of your product or service.
It tightly binds customers to your values, driving advocacy and loyalty – the two most powerful weapons in retaining customers and driving direct sales.
Yet hotels and chains have many common selling points. Everyone markets location, value or luxury, connectivity, food, décor and so on – but they also each have key USPs that no other hotel can replicate.
Those are customer experiences and the people who craft it.
With the right set-up you can tell the story of your hotel or chain simply and effectively – through words, images and video created by your people and your customers.
It’s the best way to bring to life what makes your most loyal customers book direct and book again.
Step 1: Right social media channels, right structure
An obvious first step, but concentrating efforts in channels where your customer base is most active is a must. Management of your profiles must be considered as much of a priority as any other business function and operate under clear guidelines on customer service and tone of voice.
We already know the goal is direct sales, but benchmark the key metrics in social that indicate you are heading in the right direction then communicate some targets to aim for.
Step 2: Harness the potential of your team
Within every hotel or serviced apartment provider are social media natives. They may be on front desk, chefs, back office, the janitor or concierge. Whoever they are, they are a great resource for creating decent quality content cheaply and effectively. Think about how many people you need to tell your story well, then train them to create and manage the content you need to tell your brand’s story. Clearly paint your social team a picture of what your accommodation brand should look like in social media and what you need them to contribute.
Step 3: Plan and create content that tells your brand’s story
Before you start producing content, create an editorial calendar, highlighting key times of the year for bookings and events. Guided by this, produce monthly content plans and communicate this to your team. Use some of the fantastic technology available to manage the inbound flow of content – enabling you to moderate what goes live. Give your social team freedom to own the process as long as they follow your rules – authenticity is a very powerful tool.
Step 4: Attract and engage customers
Now your channels are live, work to attract your customers to share experiences. Use on and offline messaging to highlight your channels. Ask questions to engage – answer every question customers ask back – like every comment and show you are listening. Be diligent in the same way you would if the phone on the front desk rang.
Step 5: Gather high quality customer data & drive traffic
With the removal of the “like gate” on Facebook, building a meaningful community there can be costly. A quality audience is best delivered now through organic liking and following – it’s the ultimate opt-in from a customer on each network.
With this fact in mind, focus attention on acquiring new customers through smart tactical campaigns and highly targeted media investments – especially on Facebook and Twitter. Use compelling campaign mechanics that further depict your brand’s USPs. Use great offers and incentives to gain participation, then capture high quality opt-in customer email addresses as people enter. This is your first concrete move to side step aggregators.
The traffic that some campaigns can drive can also be a first step at delivering a definitive ROI from your activity. It’s a fact that traffic from your social channels can drive more valuable, longer lasting customer relationships than most other channels. If you’d like to see an example, have a look at our work for IHG Rewards Club.
Step 6: Incentivise customers & prospects around loyalty and convert them
Now you’re clearly demonstrating your offering and are being consistent about it. You’ve used your USPs to flavour the experience in social and your tactical campaigns – just like you do in real life – and customers will see your brand experience and values lived out in social.
It’s time to remarket to your new audience using carefully planned email marketing and social media. Develop sales focused offers and incentives that highlight your unique offering – the thing that attracted them to you in the first place.
Offers that bring your people and service to life further will be more effective, driving the best response and they’ll critically enable you to introduce your loyalty offering.
If you don’t have a loyalty offering – develop one!
Loyalty is your ace, if defence of your margins is a long term goal and it’s the one thing that all social should ultimately drive towards.
Step 7: Measure, measure and measure again
Set out to track everything you possibly can from your content plan and measure it against conversion goals on your website analytics. Set the right goals and you can clearly see where a first click in social leads to an enquiry or booking, or even a sign up to your loyalty scheme many – months later.
Also make sure you keep your email data from different sources separately. This way you can measure results of addresses gathered from social against others. It only takes and little time to check the conversion insights and plan to improve.
Loyalty is the best way to defend your margin!
For the foreseeable future, review sites and aggregators aren’t going to disappear as they play a valuable role in filling late availability and satisfying price conscious customers.
But they don’t even begin to tell the full story of the experience that customers have staying at any hotel – that’s up to individual businesses to show and tell.
In todays connected world, if you aren’t telling that story in social – you lose the potential to nurture key relations with your most valuable customers and leverage their influence as advocates.
From advocacy comes loyalty – and from loyalty comes profit.
For help with implementing any stage (or every stage) of this blue print – get in touch or call 0117 9111420.
Digital Visitor is the UK’s leading strategic agency in travel, tourism & hospitality. For any more information of how we can help, get in touch.