What you need to know.
Ok, there are more than 8 but I couldn’t help but share these, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the level of understanding of digital strategy is generally weak or the industry has become so mired in tradition that bad practices are being mistaken for best. Here’s my list:
1. Website’s are for e commerce. Wrong, websites are for clients (guests). If a booking engine is the only thing on your site that engages them, then the answer is yes. If, however, your clients want and need more out of your digital platform that dates, rates and space, then this is a seriously flawed assumption. The fundamental question is one of strategy not e commerce tactics. And that question begins very simply, What are your clients looking for online? Do you know or are you assuming?
2. Style over content. I didn’t originate it but truly, CONTENT IS KING, repeat CONTENT IS KING. Every top performing site in every single industry has content directly relevant to their client base. If your web experts are showing you visual designs before addressing strategy, substance or content…start over. Or if you think you’ll have a better website if you have more FLASH or another visual design…start over. The point is that a strategy about your content is fundamental to increasing the performance of your site.
3. Don’t use a Copy Machine. Don’t copy other hotel’s websites and don’t hire web development companies that give you the same site they gave somebody else, unless of course your hotel owner, asset manager or board has asked you to finish in second place. If you are considering web developers or agencies, look at their portfolio, if their portfolio sites all have similar IA (Information Architecture) run away.
4. Go Big. Mad Men is a fictitious television show. In the digital sphere, innovation and great marketing can come from a one person shop, a small firm or a mega agency. Big does not guarantee success. Recently I worked with a client that used the “biggest name in Hospitality Websites”. Sounds good but too bad that firm didn’t know squat about strategy. This is not about buying power, the ability to run focus groups or massive staff. It’s about finding a partner that can understand your clients and what they need in an online experience and creating a strategy that is unique to you…and measurably effective in adding value to your hotel.
5. Non-expert experts. The IT Department is not synonymous with web development or digital strategy. True professionals that they are, they are no more qualified for web strategy than the rooms executive is in designing a Food &Beverage POS system. All geeks are not alike. Beware of advertising agencies masquerading as web development companies, those are not the same. Marketing Services has increasingly become a niche industry, don’t be afraid to mix and match. The bottom line is to drive the value to your hotel.
6. Misunderstanding web metrics or worse, ignoring them. Do you read and actively analyze your metrics to understand what your clients are doing, consuming and most importantly, ignoring on your digital platforms? Do you know the percentage of your visitors that watch your virtual tour? all of it? And if they bounce or exit from that page? Is your web development company digging deep into these metrics or are they touting the growth in visits? Have you asked about your PageRank and how this strategy will raise it?
7. SEM solves everything. Yes indeed, if you sell SEM (Search Marketing). But if you are a hotel marketing chief then you need to be as concerned about quality as quantity. Do you know if more visit traffic has a strong positive correlation to increased engagement, bookings or loyalty? Think of SEM (Marketing) as a tactic but SEO (Optimization) as a strategic outcome. There is a very big and important difference to the value you add to your hotel’s revenue strategy.
8. Digital Marketing = Website. Wrong. Digital marketing is a cobweb of interconnected pieces, in fact I’ve diagrammed this cobweb on the FORMO website. The silk that connects the pieces is your brand positioning. From Facebook to Websites, SEM, SEO, micro-sites, Twitter feeds, advertising splash pages, and YouTube videos ~ these are components of an underlying digital strategy. This strategy should form the basis of your marketing plan. If it’s not, which in the hospitality industry is very likely, then you need help. Seek expert help before your competitors find it.
I hope this is helpful, my list is not all encompassing and I’m absolutely certain that my peers in the digital sphere can add another copy block, but the point is that a Digital Marketing Strategy is perhaps the single most important factor for any hotel.
If you are the equity fund owner, the General Manager, The Marketing Director or even a bellman, it is the factor that will ultimately add the most value to your hotel. If you don’t believe me, then ask your General Manager how much business they got through Expedia back in the day.