In the first article in this series, we looked at general trends on the social web, the second article talked about trends with reviews and consumer-generated content.
In this final article we’re going to look at the big picture and go through some high-level marketing trends we saw over the past year.
International marketing became very important
With different countries and economies recovering at different speeds, a global communications strategy helped maximize revenues and reach new markets. This is obvious for large, multinational hotel brands, but we saw that even small independent hotels can do something similar.
For example, Isabelle Lozano at the Apostrophe Hotel in Paris creates unique versions of their site in French and English to reach different audiences:
"We noticed that there’s a slight difference between the English part of the website and the French part. The French part has more articles and talks more about things that are less-known than in the English part. We’ve realized that the French customers were really reading alot of our posts.
"After arriving at the hotel, after their booking, they would say: 'I’m going to go see this exhibition that I saw on the website.' The English part follows the same idea, but talks more about the hotel itself, because that’s what English clients want to learn about, we’ve realized.
"At first we were just translating, but we asked customers what they thought, and we found out that our English and French customers wanted different things. English and Americans were saying: 'That’s too much information; we just want to learn more about the hotel.'
"I’m not working only for my own pleasure; my main aim is to please customers, so I keep asking them what they think.
For executives at travel companies that oversee multiple properties in multiple locations around the world, understanding specific cultural travel trends - like this piece from New World Hotels - can be very useful.
I talked about the trend towards image-based social networks in part one of this series, but it’s interesting to note here that a focus on images in your marketing not only taps into a hot trend - what Robert Scoble calls "the currency of Facebook" – but it transcends language barriers to tell your story to potential visitors from around the world.
We saw this with the unveiling of the Four Seasons’ new $18 million website – the pictures do the selling:
Increasing blur of "online" and "offline" worlds
This is increasingly happening with mobile technologies such as augmented reality. Yelp and other review sites launched mobile applications that display a live overview of reviews:
Google Googles identifies things you see on the go, and Amazonintroduced its Flow app to help you discover products around you - and buy them - using image recognition.
But beyond these technologies, the basic truth is that real life happens offline. It seems the best marketing campaigns understood this - such as the Swiss village that became a worldwide hit after printing out profile photos of all their Facebook fans.
That’s why I expect to see more companies trying to bridge the gap when it comes to online-offline activity:
[NB:Trendwatching has an interesting report on the OFF-ON trend that you may want to explore in more detail]
Real-world events and "Advertainment" becomes critical for branding
Online and offline are more than just blending – offline experiences and promotions are increasingly critical for generating online buzz. Attention is the most valuable commodity today, and companies are increasingly trying to combine entertainment, media, and advertising to raise awareness.
Fast Company recently profiled this trend in its feature, Co.Create Nation: The worlds of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue have blurred, and a new realm of business has emerged.
"Once upon a time, entertainment and advertising were two separate lands. Each land was dynamic and cool, in its own way, but their denizens rarely commingled.… And then the winds of innovation blew through. Everything has changed.… The barriers between these businesses [are falling] away..."
Hewlett-Packard launched its Music Influencer program last year as a way to spread the word about HP products through traditional blogs and giveaways. Building on the success they acheived there, the company expanded to real-life parties to engage some of the web’s most influential people.
"We measured success by who we were able to get into the room, the amount of content generated (about 330 pieces) and the reach of that content."
In hospitality and travel, this becomes even more natural. People like James Kinney have been doing this for a while in New York and beyond through music and events:
"Hotels have an extraordinary opportunity to become mavens of culture, which increases their brand impressions and their bottom line. In the case of the Forty Four Music Series that we have at the Royalton… we’ve had Grammy Award nominees, Grammy Award winners – literally the best in New York City – play right in the lobby of the Royalton and people absolutely have that WOW factor, like: 'Wow, I never expected this to be here.'
"We’ve seen an increase in sales and in their social media and digital assets as well, because the artists are tweeting about the property."
"Content is key, and there’s this big thing around social media where people say: 'Oh, if I tweet that you get 25 percent off of your next drink,’ then I’m going to have a herd of people coming over to my hotel.
"As you and I know, that’s not the case. Whether you’re doing music or a movie screening or live dancers or whatever you’re doing, the content itself is how you communicate the property’s brand.
"We have so many artists that are on the verge and that are famous coming to the property; when they’re tweeting and they’re taking pictures — 'Oh, we’re at Royalton NYC at Morgan’s Hotel', we’ve automatically increased their content strategy and their social currency and, specifically, their digital assets; all these things are very real in the digital world that we live in. But saying that you have a special on pancakes just doesn’t work anymore."
Location-based services grew up
…and they became an important part of how hospitality and travel companies encouraged loyalty, discovery, and service. Again, this is right in the center of all that’s hot in marketing today - social/mobile/local - and it helps hotels and travel companies bridge the online-offline gap.
With the sale of Gowalla to Facebook, Foursquare has become the king in the space and matured beyond checkins to present expanded opportunities for advertisers and a very solid business case. Radar makes it easy to find what’s cool around you. Companies can create curated experiences with lists.
For example, The Ritz-Carlton introduced World Concierge on Foursquare as a way to extend their brand to a mobile audience. The project was a simple concept: taking internal knowledge and making available it outside four walls of hotels.
The team collected the knowledge and the tips from concierges at each property, and collected it all into central account.
The company got the whole team to contribute through close collaboration between the agency, brand, and staff at each property. There are 76 Ritz-Carlton locations around the world – representing a huge infrastructure of knowledge – so it was just a matter of collecting this and putting it online.
Travelers have two ways to access this information. The first is to follow The Ritz-Carlton on Foursquare, where you can see every new tip that is published. The other way is through traditional check ins.
The program was designed to not be exclusively about The Ritz-Carlton, and you don’t have to be a guest to engage with the brand. For example, if you are at the Red Square in Moscow, you might see tip or something special about the neighborhood. Promotional messages are not the priority.
Using location-based services and other similar technologies are a powerful way to create a curated brand experience. Which is crucial, because…
Branding became paramount
As time-starved consumers, we crave direction – and brands often provide this by making buying choices easier. Today, we’re seeing social media increasingly used to define and shape the way successful brands are built.
Product design – and in the case of hospitality, experience design – is an integral ingredient in branding. We’re seeing hotel and travel companies increasingly use customer feedback to share this design process – and then increase the amount of buzz around these great designs.
CitizenM is a powerful example of this in the hotel industry. They aim to provide a new type of hotel experience for a new type of traveler: guests that may not want to stay in their rooms for the entire duration of their stay.
"Our guests just want a good bed, a good shower, and then they spend most of their time out in the city or in our hotels’ social spaces,” says chief operating officer Michael Levie. An innovative building system (hotels are constructed from pre-fabricated modules) in offsite unit factories allows the company to consistently maintain high quality standards while accelerating the building process.
The story of how their hotels are built is remarkable, and the impact of design on their brand, reputation, and overall success is undeniable. Among other awards, citizenM was voted The Trendiest Hotel in the World by TripAdvisor two years in a row – in 2010 and 2011.
Systems for constant improvement
The link between design, branding, and the social web takes place when online feedback is used to guide the design process.
Many of the strongest brands were created through more than just big-picture brainstorming – it is also the result of daily, consistent operational improvement. Constantly refining and tweaking the way service is delivered leads to remarkable experiences – which, as I mentioned – is how the best brands are built today.
Until recently, hotel managers have relied upon some combination of internal guest satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping and intuition to understand sentiment and improve service.
It took a herculean effort to collect these, and since each of these feedback channels is somewhat self-selecting, there are significant structural flaws that can prevent gathering an accurate understanding of satisfaction.
The social web changed that. Today, online travel agencies, review sites and social media platforms have provided the potential holy grail of customer insight.
Since customers now share unsolicited feedback everywhere and anywhere they are, the challenge is now how to collect all of the relevant conversations, separate the signal from the noise, and create insight for action to improve guest satisfaction levels.
Insight for action is key. Your brand is defined with every single interaction each of your employees have. This makes intentional experience design and excellence in service delivery critical parts of this brand building process.
Create that set of tools and operational processes so you can continually incorporate customer suggestions into your product improvement process, and along the way, build a brand that sets you apart from the competition.
The importance of branding is clear once we see how it affects everything social media: the type and format of content you publish, the tone of that content, and the platforms you will distribute it on. In fact, branding activities touch multiple departments:
- Strategy: How will you define the message in a way that instantly communicates what your brand stands for?
- Marketing: How will you distribute this message?
- Operations: How will you deliver on that promise?
- Service and Reputation Management: How will you defend and stay true to that message?
Because the social web plays a key role in each of these activities, it has become the biggest brand-building opportunity the travel industry has had in decades.
In this series of articles, we’ve examined some of the most interesting and engaging opportunities that exist on the social web.
What are you doing to take advantage of this opportunity?
John M Richardson Jr:
"When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened."
You don’t have to foresee the future. You have to create it. Go make something happen.
NB:Email me if I can help you or tweet @HmarketingHelp.
NB2:Image via Shutterstock.