The 2 Massive Gaps in Most Hotel Marketing Plans

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The best hotel marketing strategies feed all three phases of the traveler marketing lifecycle. Here, we share how we’re executing on that framework for one client.

Is your hotel marketing strategy a start-and-stop series of tactics, or a cohesive plan in which each component feeds into the others? Hopefully the latter – but if you’re like many hotel marketers, you add channels one by one (“email seems good,” “let’s do social now,” “we need an SEM strategy!”) and could be losing out because you’re focusing nearly exclusively on acquisition-based tactics rather than taking a holistic approach and considering the entire traveler marketing lifecycle in your plan.

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Let’s back up for a minute. The traveler marketing lifecycle consists of three stages, each tied to different phases of the Travel Consumer Journey: Engagement (the Dreaming and Planning phases) → Acquisition (Booking) → Retention (Experiencing and Sharing). Many hotels and resorts make the mistake of focusing only on the Acquisition phase, underestimating the value of building a relationship with the traveler in the Engagement phase or keeping the conversation rolling in the Retention phase. The hard truth is that as the OTAs continue to invest heavily across all stages of the traveler journey and their corresponding marketing phases, independent hotels must make sure their marketing strategy is solid across the board to claim their fair share of business.

It’s understandable that Acquisition gets so much attention from marketers, as this is the phase where you’re trying to close the deal and where your efforts (and ROI) are most measurable. Tactics include website optimization, retargeting, display advertising, paid search, metasearch, affiliate marketing, and email marketing. If you’re heavily into paid acquisition, you may find yourself at the mercy of the platforms (including OTAs!) when ad prices fluctuate and you have to reckon with shrinking margins. If you have strong Engagement and Retention strategies, the paid spends you do invest in will be more effective, as you’ll have a stronger sense of who your target audience is and segments of warm targets that you can market to, thanks to email collection, social follows, and website visits.

As a hotel marketing agency, we never lose sight of the entire traveler marketing lifecycle. We help you see and clarify your strategy through that lens and understand how the right marketing tactics can capture guest attention at every phase.

Here, we walk you through the tactics that shine in those other two, most-neglected phases – Engagement and Retention – and share how we work with one client, Opal Collection, to drive traveler attention throughout the entire traveler marketing lifecycle.

Customer Engagement

The Engagement phase includes tactics that aim to connect with travelers perhaps even before they’ve started thinking about their trip. Social media (including the increasingly relevant but evolving influencer marketing), PR, and content marketing are a few of the major pieces here and can help the traveler dream and start to imagine the shape that their trip could take. Content marketing, in particular, is the bedrock of a strong marketing strategy, as it feeds so many other channels, across all phases, by appealing to travelers on an emotional level. All the work you put in the Engagement phase will make your job in the Acquisition and Retention phases that much easier. This is where you lay the groundwork.

How We Do It for Opal

We publish Opal Unpacked – an editorial website full of stories relevant to Opal Collection properties and destinations – which draws about 30,000 unique visitors per month and drives first-touch interest for travelers just beginning to consider their trip. (Think topics like “A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing the Best of Bar Harbor,” “Exploring Jupiter on Two Wheels,” and “5 Nature Preserves & Parks in Jensen Beach to Suit Your Style.” The overarching Opal Collection social media presence is also a focus, and we’ve boosted the Instagram followership by 275% in under two years with consistent posting, smart hashtag use, and varied imagery.

Customer Retention

You may think that the Retention phase happens only after a guest’s stay, but that’s only part of the picture. Before and during the stay, you should educate guests about all there is to do on-property and in the destination so that they maximize enjoyment and are more likely to return for more. Email marketing (including drip campaigns, event-triggered campaigns, and loyalty campaigns) is the major driver in the Retention phase, but not the only one – engaging with social followers and responding to reviews are important parts of the puzzle, too. Ultimately, the goal of the Retention phase is to keep guest acquisition costs down. According to Phocuswright, acquiring a new guest is 8 to 10 times more expensive than retaining an existing guest, so investing in Retention marketing tactics favorably impacts your bottom line.

How We Do It for Opal

Our hotel email marketing campaigns for Opal drive an average of $340,000 in booked revenue on every send. Remember Opal Unpacked, the editorial site driving the content marketing strategy for Opal that we discussed during the Engagement phase? That comes into play here, as it’s those stories that feed the emails and help guests understand what there is to do in and around a given property. In our most recent email, for example, we shared three stories (one about wellness in Lake Placid, one about SW Flagler Avenue in Stuart, Florida, and one about last-minute adventures in various Opal destinations) and highlighted one property in particular for recipients to take a look at.

Want to learn more about the work we’ve done for Opal? Check out our case study discussing the projects – including an in-room magazine, email marketing, a destination website, social, branding and collateral, and more – that have helped them achieve eye-popping results.

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