Hospitality Marketing: Going Mobile in the Digital Age

Hotel management consultant Robert A. Rauch of R.A. Rauch & Associates recently hosted his second annual Hotel Forecast and Digital Marketing Conference with additional presentation by e-marketer Adam Brownstein. Brownstein is co-founder of buuteeq, a firm that provides a digital marketing system for hotels. Both presentations offered great food for thought for hospitality marketers.

In his opening, Rauch boldly stated that the information age is over and that we have entered a “digital tsunami age.” He explained that the hospitality landscape is evolving quickly as customers increasingly turn to online and mobile platforms for all forms of communication, sharing, planning and booking. But, now more than ever, the digital landscape is also driving all aspects of customer service and engagement, before, during and after a trip.

Brownstein later noted that while mobile traffic makes up 15 percent of current hotel website traffic volumes, smartphone activity has tripled in the last year alone. Approximately 30 percent of website traffic and 65 percent of same-day hotel reservations now come via mobile phones. He also noted that 57 percent of mobile users will not recommend a hotel with a bad mobile site.

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What makes a good mobile site? In a nutshell, it should automatically deliver a tailored experience. A few ways to accomplish this include:

  • Resizing and compressing images and enlarging text
  • Displaying contact information prominently
  • Linking seamlessly to maps
  • Not using outdated flash technology
  • Using a mobile optimized booking engine
  • Running mobile-only promotions to target on-the-go travelers with last-minute deals

But having a mobile site is only one piece of the puzzle. Both Rauch and Brownstein agreed that in today’s instantaneous speed of ingesting information, a hotel’s main site and mobile site also should:

  • Not skimp on high-quality photos! Photos sell a hotel even before marketing copy, with nearly 73 percent of users clicking on photos of rooms after visiting the homepage.
  • Keep things simple. As soon as a guest decides a site requires too much focus, effort, or time to find what they need, they will likely move on with without booking a room.

More advice for hoteliers included making sure their brand is on social media, and providing guests the opportunity to book through every applicable platform, such as the hotel’s Facebook page. Rauch also recommended that hotels integrate their TripAdvisor feed on their website. His reasoning? TripAdvisor is a great driver of bookings but also a leak. When potential guests are forced to leave a hotel’s site to read reviews of the property, they end up also reading the competitions’. Lastly, while TripAdvisor is still the leading trusted source of travel reviews, Rauch said to keep an eye on Google. The relentless competitor has made strong forays in hospitality and therefore hotels should at the very least have a presence on Google+ and Google Places.

The lessons imparted by Rauch and Brownstein can be applied to just about any business. Is yours effectively capturing today’s digital generation?

Hashtags: You’re Doing it Wrong

twitter-hashtags

You just wrote a solid 115-character quip on your deeper analysis of a common observation that you’re sure will get at least five retweets and a handful of favorites from your followers. But you have 140 characters worth of space. You can’t just waste 25 characters, but the current draft already reflects perfect wording. What do you do? Of course! Add a hashtag!

That seems to be the thought process behind many of the tweets I see stream across my somewhat-cluttered Twitter stream. As a professional communicator, it’s bothersome that these tweeters don’t have the courtesy to ask themselves, “How does this add value to my message for my followers?” Meaningless hashtags are so prevalent that I considered whether or not the majority of tweeters understand what a hashtag is and its purpose. It’s not as absurd a question as I thought, made apparent when lifelong broadcaster and Emmy Award recipient Vin Scully asked “What is hashtag?” on live TV.

The simple answer to Scully’s question, of course, is a search indexing tool for Twitter that allows the site to more easily sort messages focused on a specific topic. The hashtag allows for a collective discussion around a single topic, whether it be a conference or trade show, current event of interest to masses of people, or an informational theme such as “dailymotivation” or “fitnesstips.” This helps the Twitter community build their social network with people who provide content they’d enjoy.

But just how the use of texting has evolved from its initial purpose as it’s been adopted, so too has the hashtag.

We’ve seen the “hashtag as the punch line of a joke” tweets. Ending a message about a trip to Dog Beach might be #Wetdogsmellairfreshener. Capping off a confession of love for Nutella we could expect #NoreallyIcouldeatNutellaateverymeal. Or concluding an observation of road workers sitting down on their lunch break someone might announce #Mytaxdollarsarepayingforyoutoeatasandwich. I’m not convinced others will search any of those hashtags with interest in joining the conversation.

Then there are hashtags that were invented specifically so that anyone interested can join the conversation and offer an opinion. These are hashtags like #WeCan’tDateIfYou and #ThingsshorterthanKimKardasiansmarriage. Rather than being a reactionary product to something else, there is no reasoning for these hashtags to exist beyond the fact that they can exist.

The variations of hashtags are so vast that, in their quest for constant irony as a counter culture, hipsters adopted the hashtag #hashtag. Is it ironic? More like self defeating.

So are hashtags a trend? Will they go the way of Ed Hardy T-shirts and Von Dutch trucker hats?

Essentially, as online conversing continues to become the status quo, the hashtag is showing characteristics of natural language. People are manipulating, misusing and experimenting with it. They’re the opposite of a trend because they’re not one thing and are constantly evolving. In that sense, I guess, explaining the “right” way to use a hashtag is like explaining the right way to deliver a joke or what facial expression is correct for the subject of discussion. You can’t define what’s “right.” In the same way you can’t stop that one co-worker from winking after each sarcastic statement he makes, you can’t stop tweeters from hashtagging every other word in their message. But you can unfollow them. #Winning

Four PR Trends

trendsLooking at past trends in an evolving industry can be a poor predictor of future trends—whether you’re talking about the stock market or the PR field.

Witness Facebook (a 9-year-old), Twitter (a 7-year-old), Instagram and Tout (both 2 year olds). These are among only a few of the game changers that disrupted the publishing industry. Each is a relative toddler by traditional business standards, and not that many years before their existence I don’t recall anyone predicting them. But their global impact on the human condition is already established.

The trend impacting the PR industry, therefore, is not which new social tool will take off, but that game changers are now the norm. Expect and anticipate them.

Here are four things (among many) I see near through long term impacting PR.

The Story Stays

We like a good yarn. Stories have been told throughout human history and they’re not going away anytime soon. So while the delivery method may continue to break speed records in the unprecedented data age we’re now in, if there isn’t a compelling story to whatever the communication is, it won’t leave the station.

In creating your communications, think about your story. How compelling is it or could it be, and why should others care? And if you don’t have one, then either create one or rethink your communication strategy for most effective resource use.

Multimedia Explosion

multimedia

We are a sensorial species, and with the written word there’s a terrible lack of engagement of the senses. True, imagination can help make up for that. However, the way I imagine Utopia and you do can be very different, meaning there’s a significant control loss of the intended message. But what if I could not only tell you a story, but also engage you in it by your five senses? Instant communication around the planet is now possible with video covering sight and sound that will only increase. But I think it’s only a matter of time before technology allows for an online cook ‘book’ to not only convey with what and how something’s made, but also how it should look, feel and even smell and taste.

Additive Manufacturing

3d printing

…aka 3-D Printing will change everything, and this means for PR too.  I think 3-D printing is trul yRoddenberry’s Star Trek replicator come to life like the cell phone, and why I see it profoundly impacting PR is that currently the world’s societies are built largely around traditionally manufactured goods and related services – shoes manufactured in China are consumed in the USA; medical implants created in New York are used in Canada; an airplane is created and assembled from many different places; etc. Things today are still made for us and we don’t make things for ourselves. PR supports all of this ‘traditional’ world commerce that in the next decade will dramatically change with the advent of 3-D printing for the masses. Like intangibles such as information value decreasing with increased accessibility, so will the value of physical goods change. As it does, PR will change as well, becoming less about conveying a compelling call to action to buy consumer products, say, and more about strategically helping communicate things like B2B opportunities, services expertise, key events, experience opportunities, and political and societal agendas.

Local & Smaller

It’s well established doctrine for good communication to know thy audience, and reach them where they are. With billions of us now having our heads buried in our smartphones more than we’d like to admit, guess where audiences are? Sure, we’re still driving down the freeway ready to notice a billboard, pouring over that quaint thing called a newspaper at Starbucks occasionally, and watching commercials whip by as we watch our favorite DVR’d show.  But increasingly we’re more interested in our immediate environs – our local neighborhood – than otherwise. So as opposed to a broad shotgun approach, PR will increasingly need a precise rifle approach tailored to local geography and interests. And in doing so rely less on large real estate like a full magazine, in-depth television reporting or a regional newspaper spread, but instead plan for consumption to be increasingly on a screen just four or five inches wide—that if it’s showing a picture of a rose, soon enough will probably smell just as sweet.

Public Relations is More Than Order Taking

waitress

Recently at a luncheon for hospitality sales and marketing professionals I heard the phrase, “I don’t care if you’re an order taker, be the best order taker you can be.” I suppose the phrase makes sense for a restaurant server, for example, since what typically sets the best servers apart is their ability to upsell: As you’ve each selected the same glass of wine, how about sharing a bottle? But could the same phrase also be applied to a PR professional? I certainly hope not.

At (W)right On we take ‘project orders’ from our clients all the time. In any given month we fulfill a myriad of requests from writing a press release or designing a brochure, to producing a video or strategizing an email marketing campaign. But it’s not our goal to simply be great order takers. As PR consultants, our goal is to help our clients achieve their communications goals while helping them to see a bigger picture. And that means steering them to the right strategies to reach their goals.

For example, before we ever sit at the table to create compelling copy for a brochure, we may first have to spend time gently explaining to a client why his company jargon isn’t compelling or why a brochure is not the communications vehicle in the first place. Or when a client comes to us with a “great idea” for a press release, we can’t be afraid to ask: so what? We’re in the business of communications, so it’s our job to pinpoint the “so what?” in every project we collaborate on.Is this idea newsworthy? If not, let’s come up with an idea that is! Will anyone care? If not, let’s look at why and figure out how to make it so! Is there a different marketing route we could take instead of a routine press release? Let’s brainstorm the possibilities!

When I heard that phrase, “…be the best order taker you can be,” I immediately thought of (W)right On’s Core Values and how five of them illustrate why we will never consider ourselves order takers:

We act with intention. When we know the outcomes that are being targeted and how these will help our clients reach their goals, we make the best use of client and agency resources and we can anticipate problems before they arise.

We focus on the important. We don’t confuse flash for substance. And we don’t confuse activity for productivity.

We are relentless about results. We are creative and thorough in helping clients achieve their goals. And we accept that we won’t always be successful, but when we aren’t, it won’t be because of something we didn’t think of or do!

We embrace and lead change. We accept and strive to stay ahead of changes in our industry and our clients’ industries.

We do what’s right. We always act with integrity and don’t compromise on excellence. We don’t take short-cuts that sacrifice quality or our reputation. When we make a mistake we own it and make it right.

Fact of the matter is, for us, relationships rule, and you can’t really have a relationship with a client if you’re just an order taker. Order takers are a commodity. Leaders add value. We take the time to build relationships with our clients by adhering to our Core Values and setting clear expectations and goals, having open communication channels and showing mutual respect.

How do you build relationships in your industry?