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Leveraging Limited Time and Resources for Maximum Marketing Return

woman looking at computer pensively

Today's hospitality marketing executives have a daunting task ahead of them.

They are, in fact, tasked with doing as much as possible to recoup COVID sales losses with less, and by less I mean fewer labor resources as well as more modest marketing budgets.

It's a challenge nearly everyone at the hotel property level is faced with, but the good news is this is not an insurmountable undertaking. When approached with laser-focus and a high-level view of key priorities, implementing a hotel marketing effort becomes much more understandable and achievable.

A Shift In The Director Of Sales Role
It wasn't until the early 1990s that the role of a hotel Director of Sales morphed into the role of a Director of Sales and Marketing. Even then, DOSMs didn't have computers on their desks, social media to think about, or even review sites to consider. Marketing was about producing hotel collateral and possibly placing an advertisement in a newspaper. However, with the onset of the Internet, sales distribution channels increased dramatically and marketing evolved to encompass digital merchandising, search engine optimization, and online reviews. Social media added further complexities to the roles and responsibilities of a hotel DOSM as everyone struggled to understand not only what to do with social content, but to understand if it actually drove any business.

The breadth and sophistication of these hotel marketing channels- which include paid media, social media management, and search engine optimization - have made it difficult for any single hotel marketer to be an expert at all of them. And in reality, a DOSM needs to be spending the majority of his her or time selling and managing the overall sales production of the hotel.


How COVID Changed Marketing In The Hospitality Industry
To date, the world has only recognized the short-term impact of Covid on the hospitality industry. This includes permanent and temporary hotel closures, hotel outlet closures, labor shortages, and RevPAR declines. Now that hotels are gaining momentum and even outpacing 2019, the long-term impact of Covid is becoming more evident within the hotel marketing sector of the industry. Many of the large hotel companies were forced to furlough their hotel marketing teams which left permanent gaps in the marketing infrastructure and hotel marketing support network. These seasoned hotel marketers were absorbed outside of the hotel industry, therefore leaving hospitality with a shortage of talent during a critical time when hotels are doing whatever they need to in an attempt to bounce back and recoup market share.

To compensate for a lack of corporate marketing support, hotels are tasked with hiring their own marketing resources. Due to the lack of seasoned hospitality marketing experts, many hotels are reaching out to marketers outside of the industry and expecting an industry outsider to master all of the complexities and subtle nuances of hotel marketing. Without a corporate marketing organization to report to, these new hotel marketers often report into an on-property team member who may not even have hotel marketing experience and is just as unsure of what to do.

And although hotel marketing budgets have historically been lean, this post-Covid world has put an even stronger focus on cost containment. Marketing budgets must be justified and optimized - and without access to seasoned hotel marketers, properties have a difficult time determining the most effective use of their limited budgets.

Properties which find themselves in this situation should prioritize the following: 1) stay focused on the hotel's positioning; 2) support the fundamentals; and 3) remember marketing must support business needs.

Stay Focused On The Hotel's Positioning
The most effective way for hotels to drive premium rates and command market share is by delivering on the hotel brand promise. This means the hotel is offering the right products and services at the right price point.

A single hotel can't be everything to everybody. As such, the hotel should optimize what they currently are instead of trying to be something they are not. Flagged hotel brands are already attached to a brand positioning. Individual hotel positioning does not replace the parent hotel brand - it is an interpretation of that brand at the local level.

An effective hotel positioning considers the brand, destination, competitive set, and existing facilities. For example, a Westin-branded hotel should lean into the wellness positioning that is already established for this brand and not focus on any services, programming, and/or marketing communications which deviate from this brand promise. A select-service hotel should not strive to offer a luxury product loaded with added amenities as the efforts won't justify the perceived return. A luxury-level hotel should not jeopardize services or rate integrity. An airport hotel with limited meeting space should not focus on social groups.

If a hotel can stay focused on its hotel positioning, it stands the best chance of driving premium rates and commanding market share in the long run. It is important to note that hotel positioning goes well beyond hotel marketing. Hotel positioning is a business tool, not a marketing tool. Hotel positioning touches every customer touchpoint within the hotel - from the sense of arrival to the services offered, to what is served in the restaurant. Hotel positioning impacts the revenue strategy, operational standards, and service delivery. A blatant example of a misaligned service offering would be a fine-dining restaurant at a select-service hotel. Although a fine-dining restaurant would likely offer a lovely guest experience, the guests are not staying at a select-service hotel for fine dining. The hotel service offering is not aligned with the positioning of the hotel and the purpose of why the guest selected the hotel in the first place.

Support The Fundamentals
Before a hotel goes out and spends money on elaborate sales proposals or extensive media plans, it is important to start with the fundamentals of hotel marketing. The most important element is photography. Great hotel images power ALL sales channels, regardless of segment. Without impactful photography (this translated to high-quality, high-resolution images, which clearly depict the facilities and offerings), hotels cannot optimize their hotel website, sales collateral, or any third-party channels. Once effective photography is in place, it is important to review the content on hotel sales channels.

Website content should be updated regularly, particularly content which may change such as area attractions and promotional landing pages. Sales materials should focus on the core competencies of the hotel and speak to the target audience appropriately. Third-party channels should tout all of the images and amenities a hotel has to offer. Partnership websites such as CVBs and area attractions should be audited to ensure the hotel images and content are current. If a hotel does have a small marketing budget, dollars should be allocated to support search engine optimization and paid search.


Remember Marketing Must Support Business Needs
If a hotel does employ marketing resources in the form of a full-time employee or agency services, those resources must be deployed to specifically address the hotel's business needs. If the property focuses on group business, the marketing resource must understand the various group segments and channels. This resource must have the ability to support the sales organization with appropriate sales materials and tools and merchandise the hotel on third-party channels such as CVB sites and Cvent. Conversely, transient hotels should focus on digital merchandising and digital media. Whatever the business need might be, the marketing resources deployed for the hotel must be well-versed and effective in that specific marketing discipline to be able to drive the much-needed business from your target market.

The more complex a hotel is with multiple outlets, amenities, meeting spaces, and room types, the more sophisticated marketing is required. In addition, renovations and brand conversions add a layer of complexity which requires seasoned hotel marketing resources. Not only should renovation marketing drive awareness and generate excitement for the new hotel product, but it needs to mitigate the impact on the guest experience and optimize revenue throughout the renovation. Brand conversions cannot disregard the current brand. Hotels undergoing a conversion must drive new brand awareness and remember to mitigate the previous brand footprint, particularly on digital channels.

It is also important to consider the opportunity cost of doing one marketing tactic over another. This is often seen when a hotel employs a marketing resource who is also expected to support social media. Developing an effective social media strategy requires expertise, and without social media know-how, only 2% of hotel followers will see organic content. This resource will be spending time producing content that followers are never going to see anyway. Furthermore, curating social media content is a time-consuming initiative. If the marketing resource is spending time on social media, this resource is not spending time on another marketing tactic which may be more effective.

Just as a hotel can't be everything to everybody, neither can a hotel marketer. It is not realistic to think that a single hotel marketer is going to be able to effectively support the sales and revenue strategy, on-property programming, search engine optimization, paid media, social media, and graphic design. Rather than attempting to stretch hotel marketers across all hotel marketing responsibilities, it is more effective to prioritize the most important marketing needs and deploy resources specifically against those needs.

Now more than ever, hotels must know what to focus on. Hotel positioning must be clear to drive premium rates and increase market share. Marketing strategies and tactics must target the right audience with the right message while the hotel must deliver an on-brand experience at the right price point.





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