Set a strategy
You have to set a strategy and follow with a tactical plan. This all comes down to understanding your marketplace – understanding exactly who your customers are. Once you have defined your target audience, you need to find out where those people are, how to capture their attention and which marketing channels would be best to use. When you have defined your market place and customers, you can begin the process.
Understand your own offering
You need to define exactly what it is that you are offering and understand where you are positioned in the market. Do you want to be high end, luxury, or budget? In order to market your hotel, you need to really understand what it is you are offering a potential customers, so you can help them choose if you are right for them.
Once you understand your strategy and product, you have to make sure that your brand is aligned. Branding is absolutely key for independent hotels, and it is not just a smart logo. It is ‘your brand world’ – everything that sits within your company. Your logo and identity is part of that but you also have your image and photography style, colour palette, tone of voice, culture, how you meet and greet people and all of the marketing collateral. Ultimately, it’s the perception of an individual from the outside in.
Keep it simple
Always keep it simple for yourself – if you are going to use a branding agency, try not to engage with several agencies which all do different things. Try to work with an integrated agency so you only have one point of contact that manages all aspects of your marketing for you.
In order to keep things simple, you have to go back to basics. I use the below diagram:
Often, owners and marketing managers go straight to the marketing channel, as that is where they believe they are going to see an instant return on investment. It will generate activity and a level of enquiries, but in order to market effectively you have to start from the very beginning. The first two elements are often overlooked but these are the foundation blocks needed in order to deliver successful marketing campaigns.
Whenever any marketing activity is done, nine times out of 10 the traffic will be directed back to your website and often the website experience isn’t as good as it could be. This is generally because the branding hasn’t been thought through properly. It’s a knock on effect. The branding is where you need the planning and strategy up front: always start from the beginning and identify exactly what you are trying to achieve. Your return on investment will be a lot stronger once you get the basic steps right.
Digital marketing is vital. And when I say digital, that’s not just your website. Your digital footprint covers a lot more: it’s your social media, email marketing and also making sure your website is mobile responsive. People will now look at your website on a tablet PC or smartphone instead of on a traditional desktop or laptop, which means you have to make sure their experience is just as good, if not better. When developing anything on a web platform, you should always consider mobile as a priority.
So, what’s really different about marketing an independent hotel?
When marketing for an independent hotel, your process needs to be a lot more tactical. Unlike big corporate hotel chains that have large budgets and can wait a longer period for a campaign to bear fruit, you need to see quick results. You want to see your return on investment a lot faster which means you need to have lots of activity going on in order to get those results.
- Cover all marketing channels
You need to use various marketing channels but not spend fortunes on lots of different ones. When marketing an independent, you have to be smart and choose your channels wisely. There are lots of routes to market – social media, Google adwords, traditional press ads, email marketing and the list goes on. Every hotel is different, the key is to measure, make sure procedures are in place so all marketing activities are monitored and you can understand your return on investment. Know your numbers.
- Make your marketing collateral last
One of the key aspects is also being clever with marketing materials: you want a brochure or leaflet which is going to last for a couple of years. Obviously things will change in your hotel so choose a template where you can change inserts. Be smarter about your choices and think about the longevity of your collateral and have long-term goals in mind.
- Engage with the right partners
Surround yourself with key partners that understand your sector. Do some research and find out who would be the right partners for you to help get your hotel to where you want it to be. It is crucial to make the right decisions as an independent, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes.
- Positioning and pricing
A lot of hotel owners ask about pricing strategy and it all comes down to positioning. A lot of the time, it’s the fear of the unknown and not knowing how much to charge for certain things, but you first have to get your positioning right in the strategy phase.
Additionally, a lot of independents rely on online travel agents (OTAs) and this can cause a bit of a trap, as they can be quite costly. If you build the right brand and marketing strategy, you should be successful in your own right without having to rely on them to fill rooms.
Knowing your competitors is essential. Understand who they are locally and nationally. Look at their marketing and see what they are doing well, more importantly see what they aren’t – learn from their mistakes. Find out what deals and offers they have, it’s good to position yourself against a brand or hotel you want to be most like. Follow success.
Simon Bullingham, is group MD of Creative Network, and managing director of Journey, a hospitality digital marketing agency in Cheltenham. This feature first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Hotel Owner