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High-tech companies like Airbnb, Bumble, and Facebook are finding new ways to engage their audience via a medium that may surprise you: print.

We all know and enjoy the advantages of digital marketing. Quick editing. Detailed targeting. Instantaneous deployment. Fast feedback. So why are some of the brightest companies in tech investing in print publications? It’s not just the travel and hospitality industries creating their own custom magazines, anymore – and we’re not just saying that because we’ve been in the custom magazine publishing world for years. See for yourself:

Bumble – Bumble Mag

Bumble, the dating app that encourages women to make the first move, recently partnered with Hearst to launch Bumble Mag, a lifestyle magazine for women. The sections of the magazine correspond to the sections of the app, including dating, friends, and careers. Bumble’s ambitions have outgrown the confines of an app, and the magazine serves as a channel that makes it easier to build a real-world connection with their customers. One of the most interesting parts of Bumble Mag: how it’s distributed. They have 3,000 brand ambassadors that will roll them out, but users can also request delivery of one in-app. How’s that for integration?

Airbnb – Airbnb Magazine

We’ve touched on the brilliance of Airbnb’s content strategy before, and a pillar of that is the Hearst-produced Airbnb Magazine, which provides a window into an eclectic mix of destinations all over the world. Distributed via direct mail to top hosts and guests (think of it as their equivalent to in-room magazines) as well as in newsstands, bookstores and airports – and now, online – Airbnb Magazine aims to be in the right place at the right time. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the Wall Street Journal that print intrigued him because “It isn’t ephemeral, as opposed to content on a feed that expires.” His team uses data to help steer the editorial direction of the magazine, a strategy that any hospitality business with a content marketing presence could emulate.

Casper Sleep – Wooly Magazine

Mattress company Casper took a more premium approach when they partnered with McSweeney’s to produce Wooly (the name aims to evoke feelings of comfort, as in wool socks) and kicked things off with a 96-page print debut, charging a hefty $12 per copy. The magazine is filled with essays and stories about “comfort, wellness, and modern life,” and, appropriately for a mattress company, has irreverent sections like “sloth.” While there is a web presence too, the bulky print version put the publication on the map, and gave it a more durable, we’re-here-to-stay feel that some of the other content producers in the industry don’t have.

Away – Here Magazine

If you’re not familiar with Away by name, you’ve probably at least seen their luggage in the airport or on Instagram. Print is in the company’s DNA: to help fund early operations when they were pre-product, Away co-founder Jen Rubio had the idea for “The Places We Return To,” a hardcover book filled with 40 interviews with creatives – artists, writers, photographers – on topics like food and fashion. The book was a hit, and quickly sold out, which perhaps helped lay the foundation for Here Magazine. Aimed to inspire wanderlust in their young audience, the magazine features cultural reporting, travel journals, photo essays, interviews, and city guides.

Facebook – Grow

Last summer, Facebook launched Grow, a quarterly print magazine, as part of their marketing efforts with business leaders in the United Kingdom. There are Grow articles available online, but print has been framed as an exclusive channel and “available to those on a special mailing list,” according to CNN. Grow spotlights businesses and business people, with the subtext being that Facebook wants Grow readers to continue investing in Facebook ads.

Here, we outline an entirely new way for restaurants to push the boundaries of Instagram and serve their followers in a more purposeful way.

Instagram might seem like a simple app – post pretty pictures, get likes – but that straightforward, traditional usage might offer diminishing returns to small businesses like restaurants, especially as organic reach on the platform continues to decline. Fortunately for marketers and others charged with managing the social media presence of any small business, such as a restaurant, several tools and spaces hidden in Instagram’s easy-to-understand interface offer plenty of flexibility and room for creativity.

As a hospitality marketing agency, we’re always seeking new ways to reach audiences by looking where others haven’t. Inspired by a tweet, we had an idea for how a restaurant could re-purpose their Instagram account into a sort of “Ultimate Menu” – one that takes over your entire feed, is easy to update in real-time, is interactive and easy to explore (and share!) for customers, and provides plenty of context for each dish, making it very useful. Here’s how it would work:

Your Feed Would Be Comprised Entirely of Dishes

Each dish would take up one “line” of your Instagram feed, occupying three photos. The photo on the left would show the name of the dish, and the center and right photos would be one big image of the dish. Customers would stumble upon (or purposefully navigate to) your account and be able to scroll through your offerings in a highly-visual way instantly, and quickly understand exactly what you have to offer.

Individual Photos Would Provide Plenty of Context

Diners could ask questions about specific dishes in the comment sections of individual photos. You, as the restaurant, or other customers could answer them. If a dish looked appetizing to someone browsing your feed, they could tap one of the photos and instantly understand much more about it, based on community feedback. Also: your captions would be significant. It’s there that you would creatively describe the dish, maybe include a quote from your chef, mention any dietary restrictions that it does or doesn’t satisfy, and share a unique hashtag (#amazingburgeratyourrestaurant) that links it together with the other two photos in your feed that represent that dish.

Dishes Would Be Shareable and Up-to-Date

If a customer ate at your restaurant, thought you had the best burger in town, and had a friend who loves burgers, they could easily tag that person (“you have to try this!”) in the comments. If you pull a dish off the menu, you could simply archive the three photos of the dish, or bring them back months later, if the dish is seasonal or part of a rotating menu. If you have something new to add to the menu, simply post a new line (those three photos) to your feed. That alone – the excitement of a new dish, made apparent by its presence in your feed – may nudge customers to come in or give it a look. The purity and straightforward nature of your feed would make your new posts more interesting to followers.

Hashtags in Your Bio Would Make it *Really* Easy to Browse

You could use hashtags to spotlight dishes that satisfy dietary requirements and link those hashtags in your bio. Maybe you have #veganatrestaurantname, #glutenfreeatrestaurantname, #paleoatrestaurant name, etc. You could remove hashtags from (or add them to) individual photos whenever you want, based on what you want to feature at that moment (or character count limitations). Hashtags would enable people to quickly tap to see what they could eat based on their dietary preferences.. The hashtag system would also work for specific parts of the meal – #saladsatrestaurantname, #appetizersatrestaurantname, #brunchatrestaurantname, etc. (By the way – while we’re on the subject of your bio – if you have OpenTable, consider making that the link in your bio. With the Ultimate Menu, people wouldn’t need to go to your website, so you may as well save them a step.)

Stories Highlights Would Do the Rest

Your Stories Highlights would spotlight everything else that someone might want to know about your restaurant (but nothing more!): “Drinks,” “Weekly Specials,” “Inside the Restaurant,” and “Our Team,” to name a few. Stories Highlights have long been part of Instagram best practices for restaurants, but some go overboard (including unimportant or disorganized content), while others don’t do enough. With the Ultimate Menu, maybe you would do only entrees in the feed, and do appetizers and desserts as Stories Highlights. The goal – between your bio, the menu in the feed, and the Stories Highlights – would be to answer every curiosity that someone had about your restaurant, instantly, all within your account.

…So, Why Not Try It?

As far as we can tell, nobody else is using the “Ultimate Menu” Instagram approach yet. If executed well, changing course and going this route would certainly make your Instagram account more accessible and useful to people and could drive more business – plus, it would be easy to switch up if you weren’t happy with the results. If you’re starting from scratch and just beginning to explore how to use Instagram for restaurants, this would be a logical – and bold – place to begin your efforts.

No need to overhaul your hotel marketing strategy in response to Airbnb – in fact, be sure to play up the key strengths you offer that Airbnb can’t touch.

There are plenty of things hotels can (and should!) borrow from Airbnb, like their content marketing strategy, their super easy-to-browse website (and app), the way they incorporate data science into their marketing strategy, and how they collect and display guest feedback. But hotels won’t win this battle (though let’s be clear – it’s not winner-take-all!) by out-Airbnb’ing Airbnb. They should zig where Airbnb zags and lean into their strengths.

Predictability

For some, the variance that you experience with Airbnb is exciting. While the listings may have plenty of photos, you never know exactly what you’re going to get until you arrive. We’re not saying every room of your hotel or inn should look the same, of course, but there’s some comfort for guests in having a baseline of what to expect, and you should lightly emphasize this point in your messaging. Vacations (and business trips, for that matter) can be stressful, and having one less variable to stress about – where you stay – can strip away some of that anxiety.

Safety

Similar to “predictability,” safety is an issue that you may not think prudent to address in any way with customers, but we’ve all seen the Airbnb horror stories in the news, and it’s opened up an opportunity. Safety doesn’t just mean security, but cleanliness, too. Be specific with your selling points – more specific than you would’ve been a decade ago – and give travelers peace of mind that they can’t get with an Airbnb. Make investments in this space and share your advances proudly.

On-site Expertise

The robust Airbnb content marketing strategy aims to make them an authority in destinations all over the world. But you (presumably) have a concierge service. Make this person recognizable on your social media channels and exceedingly accessible in-person. Give them their own social media channel that guests can engage with and quickly exchange DMs with. Further than that, you employ a building full of (presumably) locals – consider empowering them. Let them occasionally do takeovers of your social media accounts and take visitors around some of the best spots around your property (and on Instagram, make sure to make this a Story Highlight!) Finally, consider investing in an in-room magazine that reaches guests in the right place and at the right time.

Service

Last time we checked, Airbnbs don’t tend to come with daily housekeeping services or a front desk to handle billing issues face-to-face. If any number of issues go awry with the TV, plumbing, heat or A/C, etc. in an Airbnb, who’s there to help when you need it? The people who operate a hotel often fade into the background as part of a guest’s stay, but it’s worth highlighting that they’re there if you need them.

Amenities

It should be thought of as a luxury to get away from home. A stay at a boutique hotel or inn should be considered a vacation in its own right. Room service, pools, fitness centers, spas, and on-property restaurants punctuate this point. Knowing that you can eat and work out on-property takes away some thought and stress from the larger journey for leisure guests. For business travelers, this is even more true. Position these premium services accordingly, because that’s what they are.

How is your hospitality business represented on Google? Google My Business is a search engine optimization layup – if you know what to look for.

Whether you’re a hotel, wedding venue, winery, event management company – or any location-based business, really – Google’s unique ability to capture consumer intent makes it the channel to optimize for. As a hospitality digital marketing agency, we’ve paid keen attention to Google My Business, which launched in 2014 as a way to give businesses more control over what appears in the search results (both on Google.com, and in Maps) when someone searches a business’s name. Basic information (think hours, address, etc.), photos you want to spotlight, messaging, and Q&A are a few of the features that comprise GMB. While the suite of tools is a boon to those eager to use it, it also puts less-digital-savvy businesses at a disadvantage. (By the way: if you’re completely new to Google My Business, this article walks you through how to get set up.) With that in mind, we outlined six ways to build a strong profile so that you get the most out of Google My Business.

Consider it an Extension of Your Website, and Update Often

All the basic fields – name, address, website, phone number, and business description should always reflect your business’s reality right now. When any of these things change, your first instinct may be to update your website, and then your social media profiles – but don’t forget Google My Business. Remember: about 80% of searches happen on Google.

Monitor and Manage the Reviews

Google My Business offers excellent visibility to businesses – but if you’re not good to your customers, this is the area you’ll be exposed. Make sure you respond to negative reviews, in particular (others are watching!), and check this section frequently. When you’re logged into your GMB account and tap the “Reviews” tab (next to the star icon) you’ll be able to see, filter, and respond to your reviews using three tabs: “All,” “Replied,” and “Haven’t Replied.” Google makes it easy to immediately see and reply to all reviews – good and bad – so you can thank a customer for their positive feedback, set the record straight, or apologize, if needed. Just click into the GMB settings tab and check the “Customer Reviews” box to be alerted to all new reviews via email.

Take the Conversation to Text

Have you noticed that nobody wants to get on a phone call these days? Wedding venue marketing expert Alan Berg told us as much, and the reluctance to jump on a call applies to other businesses, too. iMessage has conditioned us to send messages and expect quick replies, rather than picking up the phone. Google My Business offers a mobile app that lets you opt to receive and respond to messages from customers (prospective or otherwise) with your mobile device. You probably won’t want to use your personal phone number, but there are also third-party apps that will give you a second phone number that you can use for your Google My Business listing.

Curate the Imagery You Want Visitors to See

When reading about a business, people want to feel a sense of place, and even the most descriptive writing is no substitute for vivid photos and videos. The photos you upload to your Google My Business profile will be mixed with the photos that your customers upload, but you can tag them (think “exterior,” “interior,” “food and drink,” “rooms,” etc.) to make it easy for visitors to browse through. Be sure to keep your photos fresh, too – if you only have imagery that’s a few years old (or more), people will wonder what’s changed. Finally, if you get just one thing right, make sure it’s your profile picture. It’s the first thing people see on this page. Imagine, “If this were the only photo someone sees about my business, would I want it to be this one?” Choose carefully.

Don’t Forget the Extras

If you’re a hotel, sometimes it’s the amenities you offer that are the difference between you and a competitor getting the booking. Have laundry service? Pet-friendly rooms? A spa? Google My Business makes it easy to denote these things so that people quickly scanning a listing can qualify their choices and make quick decisions. Be comprehensive with the details – sometimes it’s something little that drives a booking.

Use Insights to See How You’re Doing

The information offered within the “Insights” tabis perhaps the richest section of Google My Business, helping you understand the rewards you’re reaping after configuring your profile. In this section, you can see things like the queries people use to find your business (sorted by unique users), a pie graph breaking down how customers are finding your business (divided by Direct, Discovery, and Branded queries), and where customers view your business (search vs. maps). You can also view the types of actions they take on the page (visit your website, request directions, call you, message you, etc.), how often they’re looking at your photos, and how many photos you have compared to competitors. It’s a treasure trove of information, and you can use the results to refine your listing and drive even more attention.

We pored through The Knot’s annual report and picked out key wedding venue marketing takeaways.

Each year, we wait with bated breath for The Knot Real Weddings Study, an industry-trusted report that surveys over 14,000 brides and grooms across the United States who were married the prior year, about all things wedding-related, including spending, planning, personalizing, and more. While wedding venue marketing professionals realize that real change tends to evolve slowly, they nonetheless look to the report to help shape their strategies. With that in mind, here are a few of our takeaways from this year’s report.

There Was a Slight Uptick in Average Cost

Last year’s edition of the Knot’s study reported that the $33,391 average cost of a wedding in 2017 was a slight downturn from the prior year. But in 2018, that cost jumped to $33,931, just over a 1% increase from 2017. The average venue spend was $15,439, or just over 45% of the total wedding cost, and 86% of couples invested in a professional wedding venue.

The Most Popular Month to Get Married: Not June, Not July, Not August…

September is the most popular month to get married – not overwhelmingly so, at 18% of the responses, but some will be surprised that it’s a more popular date than earlier summer months. Note: this means that September is the most common time to get married, not necessarily the most desired time.

The Most Popular Month to Get Engaged: December

No surprises here. With the holiday season and the approach of a new year, December has long been one of – if not the most – popular months to get engaged. Remember to time your social ads accordingly!

Almost Every Couple Contributed to Paying for the Big Day, and Most Set a Budget

91% of couples contributed to the total cost of their wedding, and 9% of those couples paid for the entire wedding. In the past, when parents picked up a larger slice of the bill, they may have had more say than they do now, according to wedding marketing expert Alan Berg. Also: 80% of couples surveyed reported setting a budget beforehand, though 45% go over their budget.

The Average Marrying Age Continues to Tick Up

Men averaged out at 30.5 years old, while women were at 29.1 This is an important consideration, especially when using newly engaged social media ads to reach couples.

Destination Weddings Drove Many Bookings

Nearly a quarter – 23% – of couples reported having a destination wedding. If you have a venue (and a destination) that affords it, consider casting your marketing net a little wider to try to capture some of these bookings.

It Still Takes A Team To Help Pull Off A Wedding

Those vendors who help pay for your event brochure are as important as ever: 95% of couples hired a professional caterer, 68% hired a florist, 67% hired a professional cake baker, and 29% hired a designer/planner to help execute their vision.

…Plus, Other Revelations in the Original Report

While these are the data points we noted, you might want to check out all of The Knot’s findings for other interesting bits of information, like average engagement length, traditions that are being tossed (and those that are still going strong), how day-of timelines are changing, and many more nuggets.

Content is a required ingredient for any modern wedding venue marketing plan – and producing it doesn’t have to be a pain.

Wedding venues: when you produce evergreen content, you get value that more than makes up for the time and/or money invested. Think about it – content can be used to feed your SEO, email, landing page, and social strategies, just to name a few. It can also be chopped up (think images with quotes to share via social media) and re-purposed in different forms. The bottom line: content is one of the best marketing investments you can make.

With that in mind, we shared five easy pieces of content that any wedding venue can produce.

1. Checklists

No wedding plan is complete without a robust checklist. Checklists bring peace of mind for brides and grooms as they’re able to tick off the many tasks leading up to the big day. They also serve to remind couples about all the things they need to consider. Organize the checklist so that it’s viewable in a blog post format, but also create and link to a public Google Doc version of the checklist that couples may download and manipulate on their own to remove the bits that they don’t need and add anything special that they do need.

2. FAQs

Couples will be full of questions when they begin to consider your venue – and while your website and photos can do a great job helping show off and explain the most important items, there are always more questions to answer. Save your sales team some time by compiling a list of your 15-20 most frequently asked questions and create a post around it. Experiment with putting a link to this post on your weddings page and removing it (instead, only sending the FAQ post to couples far enough down the funnel) to determine whether including the post impacts inbound inquiries. Maybe you’ll find that the added context drives more inquiries – or at least warmer, more carefully considered ones.

3. Ceremony Templates

With non-religious wedding ceremonies on the rise, some couples may be undecided – surprisingly late in the game – about how they want their ceremony to unfold. While some officiants will help with this process, others (like family friends) may not, leaving it up to the couple to dictate the ceremony. Create content around ideas and inspiration for wedding ceremonies, and let couples mix and match the elements that fit with their vision. Even producing a single, catch-all post that links to other websites with popular readings and other resources would bring value to the couples who check out your post.

4. Local Expertise

It’s likely that your couples will have guests arriving from out of town who may have a day or two to explore the area before or after the wedding. Produce content highlighting different things to do – shopping, food and drinks, cultural landmarks, natural attractions – and make it easy for your couples to include the link on their wedding website.

5. Fun, Useful, Stress-Relieving Content

Content marketing for wedding venues can be fun and still align with a sophisticated brand. Think posts like, “How to Decide Whether or Not to Invite those Guests on the Bubble,” “The 5 Little Things to Remember to Do on Your Wedding Day,” or “How to Pick the Right Wedding Vendors.” These posts may point less directly to your venue (though never forget to include a CTA at the end!) but they could give you some SEO authority, feed your marketing channels, and entertain and inform your readers.

Your brand isn’t just a logo and a few colors – it’s what people think of you. Done well, brand research can help guide you to your true north.

We’ve worked with happy clients across a handful of industries on their brand research and development over the past year – helping them discover exactly who they are and where their aspirations lie – and, from that point, helping them course-correct their brand so that all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction. Whether you enlist outside help or choose the major undertaking of a DIY brand research project, the benefits are clear. Here, we outline the main steps and our approach:

Become Familiar with the Current State of The Brand

First, we seek to understand the company and its existing branding through qualitative research. We look at their website and other materials, conduct employee and customer interviews, review competitors, and comb through customer reviews and surveys to gather information about brand perception. It’s important to not make assumptions about why we think customers value the brand. Instead, we need to hear it straight from them, and several others.

Interview Stakeholders

We conduct interviews with numerous key stakeholders including senior leadership, employees, current and lapsed clients, and vendors and partners. Ideally, these are 1:1, in-person interviews to try to get as much in-depth information as possible. When we interview a client’s senior leadership, we try to get a sense of how they see the company. What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses? Who are the competitors? Then, we pose similar questions to lower-level employees. Interviewing people both high and low on the org chart gives us a good sense of how the brand is seen internally. Interviews with clients allow us to see how their answers track with what the internal stakeholders said. We love to talk to past clients, but they can be tough to pin down, so often we’re able to interview just current clients.

Organize and Analyze the Data

By this point, there are usually commonalities in stakeholders’ answers (if there’s a big difference, then there’s a problem we need to address). We take all the interview data (plus any other data we’ve gathered) and quantify it. What words and phrases (whether positive or negative) are often said about the company? How can we piece those together and see patterns? What are the top themes and descriptions? What verbatim interview responses really resonated? Soon we get a real sense about what the company’s all about.

Establish Brand Identity

After distilling and analyzing the information gained via interviews, competitive research, and customer reviews, we establish the brand identity. Here’s where we determine the brand differentiators and the core pillars the company should stand on and carve out the following core components of the brand identity:

Discovery #1: Brand Attributes & Core Values

Understanding stakeholders’ views and the company’s aspirations, we develop a list of brand attributes and group them under core values. Core values are the guiding beliefs and behaviors that the company strives to identify with.

Discovery #2: The Positioning Statement

The positioning statement is what you want your clients to think and feel about your company. It defines your core value proposition, target audience, and competitive position. It’s not a mission statement or a vision statement – it’s rooted more concretely in fact. It’s about where you stand in the market.

Discovery #3: Brand Essence

The grand finale. Your brand essence is the simple phrase that defines the heart and soul of your brand. It’s your fundamental nature or quality. It’s the ultimate distillation of everything we’ve learned and should guide you in every client interaction, decision, or piece of work. It takes many hours to arrive at a brand essence, but clients cherish the clarity that it brings.

Then What?

Clients take the findings and deliverables from our brand research and use them to give their website a proper makeover, improve their social media presence, update old photography, create a new template for their proposal document, or intelligently revise any other pieces of marketing collateral.

So, Why Do It?

How long has it been since you’ve really thought critically about your brand? We urge you to consider it. Not just because developing the right marketing collateral will be easier – though it will be – but also because all stakeholders, both internally and externally, will better understand where your company is positioned in the marketplace. Just as it would for a person who takes the time for self-reflection in order to better himself or herself, companies that take the time to reevaluate who they are will be able to pursue their mission with more clarity. Interested in working together? Click here to learn more.

The contact form: a small but pivotal part of your marketing funnel, as the point that a couple can choose to enter your world. Here’s how to do it right.

Let’s imagine that your venue’s wedding webpage is in great shape. You’ve invested your time and money to make sure it has the right images, elegant (and readable) type, and all the information a prospective bride or groom could want before deciding to schedule a site visit with you. How are they going to reach you, though?

Remember: the bride or groom probably already has a bunch of tabs open, with other venue options just a click away. If there’s too much friction to contact you, they might click away and forget about you. All that is to say: getting your contact form right – to help you generate those valuable inbound leads – is a small but essential element in your marketing funnel and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Think about it – if you improve your form and see even a modest uptick of 2-5% in your form submissions, that could well have a measurable effect on the number of site visits you host and, consequently, the number of weddings you book.

Here, we share five factors to consider when it comes to your contact form.

1. Remember, a Form is Better Than an Email Link

If your website has a link that says “Contact Us” or “Email Us” that links to a mailto email address, you might be unintentionally turning away leads. For example, if an engaged couple is browsing your website on their desktop and click your email link, which triggers email software they don’t use (maybe they use the Gmail website for email purposes, for example), it might cause just enough of a pain for them that they click away. Using an email link rather than a form also can limit your ability to track the source of the leads you’re getting. If you’re using social media ads to drive newly engaged couples to your website, you’ll want to track how many of them converted into actual leads. While tracking those leads is easy to do with a form (since they stay on your website and Facebook can still “see” them), it’s not as easy with a “Contact Us” email link (since it opens another app, where Facebook loses the trail.)

2. Nail the Form’s Design

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a well-designed form. “But it’s a couple of boxes, a few words, and a button,” you may think. It turns out, there’s a lot of art and thought behind those elements. Mono has an excellent blog post, The 10 Commandments of Good Form Design on the Web, that’s well worth a read. It might not all directly apply to you unless you’re a web designer, but you’ll know what to look for (or ask for) next time your site is up for a redesign. A couple of takeaways from Mono’s blog: “provide clear, always visible labels for each field” (rather than the field’s name going in the field) and “provide easily tappable areas” – because remember, many of the people accessing your website won’t be navigating with a mouse (on their desktop browser) but with their fingers (via their phone). Also: use radio buttons where you can to make it easy for the users to respond to a query and easy for you on the back-end when you sift through the submissions to qualify the leads.

3. Place the Form at the Bottom of the Page (In Most Cases!)

Think about any landing page – like your weddings page – as a “give,” and an “ask.” The “give,” in your case, are photos and information about your venue. That’s the reason why couples are on your site. Naturally, the “ask” should only come after they’ve gotten what they were promised. Therefore, venues that have a persistent form on the side of the page (or even at the top) are misguided. Keep the form at the bottom of the page (though if there’s a convenient spot to have an in-page link that jumps to the bottom of the page, that’s OK too), and you won’t use up valuable screen real estate before visitors are ready to see the form and engage with it. Instapage has some good further thinking on this topic. Additionally, make sure to clearly title the contact form to draw people in. “Contact Us” is OK, but something more personal to the visitor’s intention and tailored to the process would be appropriate, too.

4. Adjust the Form to Turn Your Lead Volume Up or Down

We work with some venues that are so in demand, the issue isn’t getting more leads, but getting better leads – and efficiently sifting out the poor ones that come in. If you’re constantly dealing with unqualified leads (which wedding venue marketing expert Alan Berg cites as a common issue), you can add some fields to your form to better qualify your couples. Asking for details like estimated spend range, preferred wedding date, number of guests, and phone number requires more effort and commitment and can, therefore, reduce the overall volume but increase the quality of the leads you receive, saving your team time. Conversely, if you know you’re getting plenty of qualified traffic to your weddings page, but not many visitors are filling out your contact form, consider whether the form is too much work to get through and experiment with reducing it to just the basics – name and email address. Another lever to pull to affect the volume of leads: Autofill. It makes forms quicker to fill out, so adjust accordingly.

5. Tell Them What’s Next

After the form is filled out, there should be a message thanking the visitor for his or her interest and also saying what happens next. Will they get a follow-up call? Email? When will it happen? What are the next steps? Define this so that it doesn’t feel like they’re submitting their contact information into the void.

With the new year and engagement season upon us, do you feel ready? These resolutions will have your digital and print efforts working in tandem to drive bookings and make 2019 your best year yet.

6 New Year's Resolutions for Marketing Wedding VenuesIf you haven’t noticed, we talk a lot about wedding venue marketing. As a hospitality marketing agency, it’s one of the markets we know best. But it’s easy to miss a post of ours every now and then – so we decided to share some of our best nuggets from the last year to help you establish your marketing resolutions for 2019, so you’re able to take full advantage of engagement season.

1. Invest in Social Media Ads

With just a small ad spend (and a management fee, if you’d rather we do it) you can reach newly engaged couples in your area and drive them to your weddings page, achieving a towering ROI, like this venue.

Excerpt: “In just the first month of Bluemont Vineyard’s social ad campaign, they saw 24,005 impressions, 4,210 people reached, 210 clicks, and a whopping 31 leads (brides and grooms who filled out the site inquiry form on their website) – all thanks to a $400 ad spend, plus our management fees. All told, the first month saw a whopping 33x return on investment.”

The Full Story: How Social Media Ads Delivered a Massive ROI for This Wedding Venue

2. When it’s Time, Follow These Steps to Nail Your Photo Shoot

High-quality photos are the lifeblood of wedding venue marketing, so we put together a list of things that anyone – even those of us who aren’t professional photographers! – can look for and request to ensure the perfect venue photo shoot.

Excerpt: “If your wedding venue recently had a big renovation, your old photos are looking a little tired, or it’s just been a few years, it may be time to hire a photographer to do an original shoot of your venue. These shots will make your marketing team’s job easier, as they’ll better reflect your property and be specifically composed to portray it in the best light, as opposed to a real event, in which certain elements out of your control. Here are some tips to help the photographer capture the photos that’ll put a punctuation mark on your wedding venue marketing and help you capture bookings.”

The Full Story: 10 Steps to Nailing an Original Venue Photo Shoot for Wedding Venue Marketers

3.Understand Exactly – Down to the Dollar – How Valuable Site Visits Are

Venue tours are valuable – we all know that. They’re almost always a prerequisite to booking, so it’s logical that you should try to drive as many qualified venue tours as possible. But did you know it’s possible to assign a dollar value to those visits, making it easier to determine your marketing spend?

Excerpt: “After answering just four questions, there are a couple of simple calculations you can perform to figure out how to put a dollar value estimate on each step in your sales funnel. From there, you can dive deeper to figure out how different marketing tactics for your wedding venue are performing, based on how qualified those leads are. The result is a simpler, smarter, more informed marketing plan that you can tackle, regardless of how much time you have to devote to marketing.”

The Full Story: How Wedding Venues Can Simply Calculate the Value of a Site Visit Inquiry

4. Make Sure Your Brochure is Worthy of Your Venue

When you have the right kind of wedding brochure, it’s doing a bunch of vital jobs for you – not just showing off pretty pictures of your venue.

Excerpt: “Wedding planning is inherently social. We talk to our friends and family and bounce ideas around regarding the guest list, color scheme, food and beverage, and perhaps most importantly, the venue choice. The wedding brochure can serve as a talking piece and a focus for the couple’s conversations with others – both those who may have attended the venue tour and also those who didn’t. When the bride describes the perfect spot that she’s thinking about saying “I do” at, she’ll be able to tangibly hold it in her hands, pass it to a friend or parents, and bring it alive more fully by pairing her description with your visuals.”

The Full Story: The Five Jobs Your Wedding Brochure Should Be Doing for You

5. Remember: There are Different Kinds of Millennial Brides

There are different kinds of brides and grooms, and different marketing materials that appeal to them. In this piece, we match personas with the ideal marketing tactics.

Excerpt: “Many wedding venue marketers may bemoan the millennial generation with their quick, staccato, and often incomplete requests for information that then require near-instantaneous responses. But there’s also so many new opportunitiesto find and engage with today’s millennial brides. And while no two brides fit perfectly into any one bucket, the three personas we’ve outlined should sound familiar to anyone who has been involved in marketing a wedding venue. (For the record, we say bride, but this could just as easily be the groom.) Here, we share a particular marketing tactic to focus on when trying to reach each persona.”

The Full Story: How to Market to Three Types of Millennial Brides

6. When in Doubt, Use This Scorecard

The marketing tactics on the scorecard linked below total 100 points – if you tally up the ones that you’ve got covered, how close do you get to a perfect score? This is a quick exercise to see where you’re on the right track and where you should spend a little more time.

Excerpt: “Are you confident that you’re doing enough with your wedding venue marketing? We thought through the whole process – from that moment just before the newly engaged couple finds you to the point after the vows have been said, the cake has been cut, and the wedding is over – and took a go at giving you a scorecard to vet your current marketing efforts.”

The Full Story: Wedding Venues: Are You Nailing Your Marketing? Use This Scorecard to Find Out

Destination and hotel Instagram marketing requires more than slick visuals. Instagram is an ever-evolving product with a broad, fast-growing audience, and a basic understanding of its nooks and crannies will help you get ahead.

5-Creative-Ways-for-Hospitality-Marketers-to-Use-Instagram

“OK,” you say, “I’ve posted pretty pictures. Now what?”

It’s true – whether you’re a boutique hotel or a regional DMO, hospitality marketers understand that a strong Instagram presence requires compelling visuals. There are other things you can do, too, though, and with time spent on Facebook down and time spent on Instagram up, the younger, fast-changing platform demands your attention. If you see Instagram as a place to re-post your Facebook content, you’re doing it wrong. The good news? There are new tools in place to let anyone (even those of us with little time to spare) put together an engaging Instagram marketing strategy.

Here, we profile some of the best ways beyond the PPP (posting pretty pictures) method that can make your hotel or destination stand out on Instagram to potential new and repeat visitors.

1. Enrich Your Stories with Visitor Posts

Many of the people who follow you do so because they want a little glimpse into what’s happening on-property (or in a destination) at this place they care about – either because they’ve already been there and hope to return, are visiting soon for the first time, or are thinking about visiting someday. The right sort of pictures can transport them for a moment and allow them to daydream about their next trip. Who better to get these inspirational photos from than visitors in the thick of experiencing your destination? For example, if you’re responsible for a DMO social media strategy, and you get tagged in a post (or someone uses the hashtag for the destination), Instagram now lets you quickly add that post to your story – just tap the messaging icon on the post and select “Add to Story.” This is a low-effort way to keep your story filled with interesting, relevant content – and you’re also free to annotate the person’s post with text, GIFs, or other stickers to help give your followers some context.

2. Make Instagram a Two-Way Channel

Social media can often feel like a broadcast medium, so it’s notable that Instagram has introduced ways to hear from your followers (in more sophisticated ways than the old standbys of likes, comments, and messages). Three quick examples: The polls sticker lets you pose a this-or-that question. It’s a quick way for you to engage your followers, who can’t help but choose one of the answers so they can feel heard and see how many agreed with them. The emoji slider helps you gauge how strongly your followers agree with something. The slider works by dragging an emoji left to right, making it bigger in size, and lets you stop somewhere to indicate how much you agree with (or like) a statement or picture. Finally, the questions sticker gives your followers the power to ask you a question – when you answer, your response shows up to your entire audience, and the person who asked is made anonymous.

3. Use Story Highlights Like a Mini Brochure

Make it easy for those who visit your Instagram profile to find what they’re looking for and maximize the time they’ll spend there. Creating and organizing Story Highlights as if they are the pages of an immersive brochure spares your visitors from having to sift through your feed to find what they’re looking for. For example, if you’re building a hotel social media strategy, and you have an amazing rooftop pool with sweeping panoramic views, make one of your story highlights “Pool,” making sure to include the best shots of the view in there. You could do the same for your rooms, the restaurant, spa, the destination, and so on. Now, when people visit your profile in a quest to get a feel for your hotel, they’ll be able to explore some of the main elements that best define your property. Last tip: Keep the names of these Story Highlights short – never more than one word. You want people to be able to read them from the profile view.

4. Make Smart Use of Your Profile

You don’t get much room to tell your organization’s story in your Instagram bio – which is why it’s so important to maximize the space that you do get. The goal is to give visitors context – if their first point of contact with you is your Instagram profile (which, in 2019 and beyond, it very well could be) are you doing a good job sharing the essentials? Start with your Instagram name (not your username, though that’s important, too.) This should be the full name of your organization. When it comes to your bio, remember: you only get 150 characters. You don’t have to use every character, but consider how you can best use the space to share your greatest value proposition. Remember to include a hashtag. Finally, use that link box religiously. It’ll become your best friend, and you may change it frequently, depending on promotions, or content you want to share – at least until you hit the 10,000-follower threshold required for posting links within stories.

5 Take an “All-of-the-Above” Approach to Growing Your Following

Many of our clients are eager to grow their Instagram followings. You can do so organically –
by following these guidelines and other Instagram best practices – but if you want to spend to get there, know that there’s no specific ad unit for growing an Instagram following like there is on Facebook. However – you can run ads to people on Facebook (maybe your followers and their friends) and Instagram in an effort to entice them to tap over to your profile and then follow you there. The bottom line: To grow your following, make your existing followers happy (they’ll like, comment, and share), cross-promote on channels where you have more followers, and, if you can, put aside some ad dollars (or work with us) to develop a campaign designed to show a targeted audience why they should follow you.

There are many details you can get wrong with your wedding venue or hotel website design – some functional, some aesthetic – but these minor improvements (super easy to fix!) can have a major impact.

You don’t need to be a hospitality marketing agency to quickly evaluate your website for these ten mistakes. Remember – design isn’t just how something looks, but how it works, too – and whether you’re a wedding venue, DMO, or boutique hotel, you’re in the business of customer service and attention to detail, meaning, these are things you should be getting right. The good news? There are easy fixes for all of them.

Here are ten (very fixable!) flaws to check your website design for:

1. Failing the 3-Second Test

Can a visitor who has little-to-no context understand exactly what your business does when they land on your homepage? You have 3 seconds – if that – to make your case. There should be text (no more than a sentence) and an image that, together, tell your story effectively. To measure this, keep an eye on your bounce rate in Google Analytics. This is the percentage of visits in which the people browsing your site leave without exploring it any further. The lower the bounce rate, the better.

2. Using an Email Address Rather Than a Form

You should always use forms on your website rather than just directing people to an email address. It’s the only way to get complete visibility into what’s converting business on your website and what’s not when looking at your analytics. If you just feature an email address and a phone number, you’ll never know! And remember – there’s an easy way to calculate the value of one of these leads.

3. Looonngg Forms

Now that we know you’re using forms, the question is whether your form is serving you well. You need fields for name and email, but beyond that, ask yourself if you really need the field, because you want to limit the friction to someone pressing that “submit” button. Do you really need a phone number at this stage in the qualification process or will your potential customer find it obtrusive? In our messaging-dominated world, some people get skittish about the idea of a business calling them, so they may abandon your form. Also, carefully consider what other information you need to begin a conversation. If you have a long form, but only a few of those fields are required, it will still look daunting, and many will skim past it. Depending on the quality of the leads you’re receiving, tinker with the length, format, and fields of the form to strike the right balance between volume and quality.

4. Fumbling the Navigation

Hopefully, you’ve only included the most important things in your navigation – and hopefully, that navigation is at the top of the page. Assuming you’ve done that, remember that people generally scan left to right. Put the most important things on the left, in descending order of importance. Also, if you have drop-down menus, put navigation links in there that make sense – don’t use any of them as a junk drawer. Finally, label menu items clearly. Don’t get too cute or vague with any of them. The point of menus is to help people find what they’re looking for quickly. Don’t get in the way of that.

5. A Buried CTA

CTAs are supposed to funnel people into the behavior you most want them to take at a particular stage. If you have a CTA in your header (and you should, since it’ll be consistent on every page) make sure that it’s a different color (or at least bolder) than the other menu items, ideally in the form of a button. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but most people expect CTAs to appear on the far right of the navigation.

6. Hard-to-Read Typefaces

The rule of thumb: Any more than two typefaces on a page (one for headers, one for body text) is probably too many and detracts from readability. If you’re going to use a serif font for body text, make sure it’s not too busy – some old ones have a lot of curvature and flair that make them hard to read. In the same vein, don’t use fonts that are too thin, or too light-colored, and avoid lots of text in all caps (it’s hard to read). Your webpage’s text may look great on a big, high-res iMac screen, but how does it look on an old monitor, or a phone? To sum it up: Keep the body text between 12 and 16 points, make sure it’s easy to read, and test it on different types of screens to make sure you get it right.

7. Daunting Walls of Texts

Never trust that your visitors will read a passage of text. Tell the essential story with your headers. Assume that they’ll scan your page, and make it easy for them to do so by breaking up text with subheads. Otherwise, long blocks of text are one of the dead giveaways that you have a DIY website.

8. Poor Photos

If your photos look like (or are!) old iPhone pictures, they’ll send the wrong message to visitors, particularly for those marketing wedding venues and destinations. Make it a priority to get higher quality, updated photos – even the iPhone camera has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Just look for detail shots that will still be relevant and make sense for your business. A restaurant, for example, shouldn’t use a photo of a wedding-dressed dinner table. It’s OK to be aspirational, but don’t stray too far from reality.

9. Background Photos with Sloppily-Overlaid Text

The background photo with text overlaid is a popular look for websites, particularly in a lot of WordPress and Squarespace templates. The one simple mistake that way too many are guilty of is not considering whether the text will be legible with the photos you’ll actually be using. It can be tough to picture when looking at the design, but what you want to consider is how much contrast the photos will have and is there a drop shadow or other element that allows the overlaid text to be legible. If you go for this sort of design, just make sure you evaluate the legibility after you load the content, and swap (or adjust) the photo as needed.

10. External Links in the Same Window

When linking to external websites, make sure that those links open in a new tab, not load in the same window. It bears repeating: Anything that’s not living on your website should open in a new tab. You did work to get the visitor to your website; don’t let them leave unless they absolutely intend to. This is a simple step that’s easy to update when inserting links, just one that you never want to overlook.

For those in hotel and destination marketing who have heard all the buzz about content marketing but still don’t really get it, we distilled some of the top questions and answers you may have.

Content marketing: You’ve heard of it, you could’ve dabbled in it, but maybe you’re still on the fence – what is it, exactly? Is there a quantifiable ROI? Who else is doing it? Is it right for your hotel marketing strategy?

As Contently points out, content marketing has existed since the late nineteenth century. At that point, it was done almost exclusively in the form of magazines produced by brands like Michelin, John Deere, and Procter & Gamble. Later, it was radio and television programming. In the twenty-first century, it spans all corners of the media landscape, both print and digital, and has trended dramatically upward for most of this decade.

It’s not just big brands doing content marketing – it’s small businesses, too – and many hotels and others in the travel marketing world have reaped the benefits.

What is Content Marketing?

This blog – the very one you’re reading right now – is content marketing for our hospitality marketing agency. “But this is informative and interesting,” you (hopefully!) think. Good – that’s how it should be. Content marketing isn’t a vehicle to overtly push your products and services; it’s to bring value to your audience via information and/or entertainment, and over the long run, be seen as a trusted source that they may turn to when they’re in the market for your products and services. Practically speaking, content marketing can be in the form of a blog, a magazine, video, audio…really, any sort of media.

Why Is Content “King” Today for Hotels and Destination Marketers?

Content doesn’t just sit idly on your blog. It can power your SEO (remember to build your posts around keywords!), social, and email strategies. It’s not enough to just create content and expect bookings to flow in – content is important, sure, but distribution is the gas that makes the car drive. The payoff? Getting consumers back to your website. It’s one of the main weapons hotels have in their arsenal in their fight against OTAs. It starts top of funnel at the awareness level (paid, SEO), then moves into the consideration phase as you bring the property to life in a way standard marketing simply can’t, and finally leads to a conversion by aligning the topics you talk about with perfectly matched CTAs. In other words, content plays an important role cross-channel, and up and down the funnel.

What Are Some Top Examples of Content Marketing for Hotels and the Travel Industry?

We produce a blog for Ocean Properties called Opal Unpacked, highlighting ways to take advantage of their properties and destinations. Social media and email are then core parts of the strategy for how that content is distributed. Written content doesn’t have to take the form of a blog, though. Field Guide, which we produce for Hotel Saranac, has a handful of sections (Adventure, Explore, Drink & Dine, Unwind) that explain how to take advantage of the region. If you have an Activities or Things to Do section on your website, it’s a natural spot to build a content strategy around. Airbnb famously has a slew of content marketing initiatives, from their print magazine to their blog to Guidebooks, their version of Zagat. You don’t have to be a big brand or have a robust marketing arm to get going – you could start by publishing one piece of content per month that’s helpful, informative, and/or entertaining for travelers, see what works, and go from there.

How Can I Measure the ROI of Content Marketing?

There are a couple of ways to think about this. On one hand, content isn’t necessarily the last touchpoint in the sales funnel – it varies dramatically by industry. That means it may play an important role, but not necessarily lead directly to tons of sales. Views and unique visitors are easy metrics to look at to determine a piece of content’s effectiveness, but shares (if someone uses their personal social feed to give your content a lift, you know it has some sort of value) and time spent on page (are people just dropping in because of a well-written headline, or staying and appreciating the content?) go a little deeper. UTM codes help track referrals and make more sense of the raw numbers. Finally, for the vast majority of content you produce, there should be a CTA somewhere in the piece – near the top of the page, if that’s where most of the value is, or toward the bottom, if it’s a longer article. Maybe it’s for a special room rate that a guest could unlock, or a deal at a particular restaurant on-property. If it is some sort of giveaway, collect their email addresses and build a list. There are plenty of ways to “win” in content marketing; you just need to define what that looks like for your business.

How Is Content Marketing Evolving?

As the internet somehow gets even noisier, content needs to be better and better in order to cut through the noise. Something that grabbed our attention in 2013 won’t necessarily do the same today. Many marketers are investing in longer, higher quality “10x” pieces built around their most important SEO keywords to combat this (think: “Things to do in town X.”) Others have switched mediums and explored the promise of video and all its various-length edits for best social and web consumption. Some have even branched out into podcasts, a format that fits conveniently with many of their consumers’ media habits. One of the easiest ways to stretch your content marketing is to make it native to social media – use the space and tools these channels provide to communicate the same message, without requiring a click-through.

Bluemont Vineyard made social media ads part of their wedding venue marketing spend and saw a massive 33x return on investment in just one month. Here’s how.

social media ads for engaged couplesThe Client

The family behind Bluemont Vineyard can trace the business’ ancestry back to a small homestead farm in Lincoln in the early 1970s that grew sweet corn, mums, pumpkins, and vegetables. Today, the business has extended into Bluemont, Virginia, where they’re more than a decade into a thriving wine business and produce about 6,500 cases of wine each year. In addition to the wine business, the grounds serve as a prized venue for private groups, particularly for weddings, throughout the year.

The Project

The Stable at Bluemont Vineyard has a clear selling point over competing wedding venues: the gorgeous panoramic view of Virginia Wine Country. However, in order to get couples there for a site visit, Bluemont Vineyard first has to generate leads, making them an ideal fit for our Newly Engaged Social Media Ads product, using both Facebook and Instagram and their ad networks to target couples who have changed their relationship status to “engaged” within the previous three (or six or nine) months. Combined with other targeting (age ranges, feeder markets, ad types, messaging) and lessons that we know will drive optimum impact for other clients’ newly engaged social ad campaigns, the ads put the venue front and center in newly engaged couples’ social feeds, right when they’re deciding where to host their wedding.

The Results

In just the first month of Bluemont Vineyard’s social ad campaign, they saw 24,005 impressions, 4,210 people reached, 210 clicks, and a whopping 31 leads (brides and grooms who filled out the site inquiry form on their website) generated on Bluemont Vineyard’s website – all thanks to a $400 ad spend, plus our management fees. All told, the first month saw a whopping 33x return on investment.

Our Take

Sometimes, clients ask us: “couldn’t I do social media ads on my own?” And the answer is…yes! Facebook’s ad platform is a self-serve model – anyone can set up an ad account within minutes. If you’re curious, go in and experiment. That said, remember: When you work with us, you’re getting all the knowledge we’ve accumulated through our past campaigns. We’ve also been a fixture in the hospitality marketing world – and specifically, wedding venue marketing – for more than 15 years and understand this business intimately. Finally, the importance of good creative (which we pride ourselves on) is uniquely important in social ads. Imagine this: On TV or in print, Company A spends $500 and runs a great ad. Company B spends $500 for the same space and runs a poor ad. The ad space costs the same, no matter how good or bad the ad is. On social, it’s different. The more engaging your ad is (as deemed by Facebook’s algorithms), the less expensive it is, making smart creative especially important.

Last Thought

It’s important to remember, but easy to forget, that leads have inherent value. No, not every lead converts to a sale, but a lead does give you, the business, the opportunity to continue the conversation with an interested potential customer until you close the deal. Believe it or not, it is possible to calculate the value of an inquiry or site visit, helping you better understand the ROI you’re getting from ad channels, like Facebook ads. Use this simple formula to figure out your numbers, and let it help you guide your ad spending.

Twitter isn’t a major part of most hotel social media marketing strategies – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of fertile opportunity.

Twitter may be as culturally relevant as ever, considering the obsession celebrities, athletes, and the President have with the platform, but it’s fallen by the wayside compared to Facebook and Instagram when it comes to hotels’ marketing mix. It shouldn’t command as much of your time as those channels, but it can still be a valuable tool. In addition to using it for occasional wish-you-were-here visual type posts, it can also be used for customer service. Here’s how.

It’s Not a Megaphone

There’s a misconception that Twitter is for blasting out messages and talking at your followers, almost like a megaphone. You won’t get much traction using it like that. Your messages will fall on the deaf ears of your overstimulated followers. Instead, listening is what should shape your hotel social media strategy.

Listen to Your Guests

By listening, of course, we mean customer service. Sure, you can (and should) still retweet the occasional tweet of praise from a happy guest and share a gorgeous photo of your property every once in a while, but the vast majority of your time on Twitter can be spent replying and messaging with people. Your KPI on Twitter isn’t followers; it’s the number of people who you can help. Sometimes, people will @mention you directly – those tweets are easy to see and will appear in your notifications. Other times, you’ll have to search for your hotel name (and variations of it) using Twitter’s search function to find people talking about your hotel. There’ll be questions, complaints, compliments – address all of them. Make them feel heard. The person managing your Twitter account should feel empowered to do so. If you reply to a specific tweet, understand that your followers won’t be able to see it in their timelines unless they follow both you and the person you’re responding to – so don’t worry about clogging up their feeds. If you feel more comfortable, you can always take the conversation to DM.

Listen to Others, Too

There’s opportunity to be had even if people aren’t mentioning your hotel specifically, but you have to go out and grab it. Twitter has a very powerful search functionality (twitter.com/search) – just hit “Latest” to sort it by the most recent tweets. With search, you can use queries like “traveling + [your city]” or “things to do + [your city]” or “places to stay + [your city]” and jump in and assist people. We understand that not every hotel has the bandwidth to be engaging with non-guests, but for those that do, it can be a helpful way to get on the radar of travelers who may not have otherwise considered you.

It Only Works if You Stick with It

A customer service–centric Twitter feed is only helpful if someone is actively managing it, so make sure that they’re checking it regularly. Twitter makes it easy to save searches (such as anyone mentioning the name of your hotel, or any variation of it) so you don’t have to type them in manually each time. It’s important to get to these queries as quickly as possible. Many are time sensitive, and responding days later isn’t very helpful. There are some things you won’t be able to solve on Twitter, via DM or otherwise – and that’s OK. Have a special customer service email address ready to share so that you can take deeper conversations with the privacy and space of email.

Examples of Hotels Doing It Right

Here, a concerned guest reached out to Kimpton ahead of their visit to their Washington, DC, property and received a prompt reply to their inquiry. It’s important that the person managing the Twitter feed has this sort of information in-hand, or quick access to someone who does.

London’s The Savoy was tagged in this guest photo and made sure to express their gratitude and offered well wishes, too. This light digital touch is an easy, personal way to show guests that you hear them and appreciate their business.

Hilton operates an account called @hiltonsuggests, through which they give tips to travelers, almost like a Twitter concierge. In this case, they responded to someone who didn’t even @mention them – they likely searched for some combination of “to + do + STL” and this tweet came up.

The former VP of Sales at The Knot drops some truths on everything from the underappreciated value of every single inquiry to why getting them on the phone may be the wrong move.

Alan Berg has had a long, winding career in the wedding marketing industry. Since leaving his position as the VP of Sales at The Knot seven years ago, he’s become one of the world’s leading event and wedding marketing speakers and consultants. Here, he shares a veteran perspective on a variety of tactics in the wedding marketing mix from social media to reviews to your website and also drops some truths such as the underappreciated value of each inquiry and why getting your inquiring couples on the phone may be the wrong move.

How can wedding venues drive more couples at the top of the funnel and convert at the bottom?

“So there are four steps to getting more sales. Getting noticed, getting them to take an action, having a great conversation, and making the sale. By the time you get an inquiry, there have already been several steps taken. They’ve seen your wedding advertising and/or website and social media. They’ve eliminated most of your competitors from the running. So you need to take those inquiries very, very seriously.”

Do you feel like most wedding venues are not taking those inquiries seriously enough?

“We do a lot of secret shopping in our consulting, and we find that people aren’t responding personally enough. They blame it on the fact that they’re busy. But if you’re the customer, and you’ve cut your choices down to five businesses and just want a real person to respond and take an interest – not copy and paste a reply, not a 10-page PDF, no links – just reply to me like a human being. I always think, why are you dumping this content on us? We just came from your website. If the phone rang, you wouldn’t just start reading from a price list. Why is that OK in an email? It’s not.”

What about the medium that couples use to reach out? Does that matter?

“Millennials are resistant to picking up the phone. Venues always want to get them on the phone, but it’s often the wrong move. If they inquired via email, respond to them via email. 48% of brides and grooms surveyed by WeddingWire expressed frustration when you don’t reciprocate their method of communication. The more channels of communication you give them – filling out a form, texting, live chat, Facebook message, email, phone – the more easily they’ll connect with you. Some businesses like DJs and photographers don’t need to meet with you at all before booking. Others, of course – like if you’re buying a dress or booking the venue – you do. But converse with them to begin on the channel of their choice.”

Let’s switch gears. How can wedding venues market on social media?

“They need to keep their message focused. There’s so little space and such a small sliver of time in which you have their attention. What’s the one thing? Is there a certain date available, maybe Friday or Sunday weddings? A promo giveaway? Create a sense of urgency. Considering that you can target couples by their engagement status, it’s a mistake to not take advantage. You should also cast a wider net than a narrower net. I’d rather throw back some minnows then miss out on some real prospects.”

What’s the biggest mistake you see venues commonly make?

“Venues that don’t reply to inquiries at all. The one thing I thought I’d never have to track [in our audits work for venues] is ‘will they reply?’ I think part of it is that there are so many channels where inquiries can be coming from that staff may not pay attention to all of them. For one client we had recently, a business with six different venues, that we were doing some “secret shopper” testing to see how they handled our inquiries, we received two auto-replies through The Knot – and none at all from the other four. To make it easy, all inquiries should be going to the same inbox.”

Are there any specific, newer tactics you’re seeing that are working well?

“Mobile is still a big opportunity. Venues should be looking at their Google Analytics and seeing how much of their traffic is mobile. Most are at or over 50%. Some places think that they’re OK because their website is responsive, but the experience is just bad. It shouldn’t just work on mobile – it should be great on mobile.”

Any thoughts on how to close the deal?

“If you want more sales, ask for the sale. People get buying signals all the time and they won’t directly ask for the sale. Don’t sell them anything; help them buy. You’re talking because they already like something about you.”

After the event is over, how can reviews help?

“For starters, reviews should be helping you sell from the top of the funnel. Your brand is what people say about you – so reviews really do define your brand. If you’re not paying attention to what people are saying about you on different sites, you’re doing it wrong. Reviews say what you can’t say. They can be openly glowing in a way that you can’t be. According to WeddingWire, one out of every five people will post a review if you just ask once, and one out of three will post one if you ask twice. The biggest problem is that people don’t ask. Some smart venues send a personalized gift to every couple with a handwritten note asking for a review. It sort of guilts them into it. You can’t say ‘we’ll give you a gift if you post a review.’ You give them the gift regardless. You can even give them a custom URL to make it really easy. You can even ask them to post it in the same place twice.”

Hospitality and wedding marketing depends on quality imagery. And despite the bad rap, stock imagery can still deliver. Our in-house photo editor helps you learn how.

Our work demands that we find gorgeous imagery that fits our clients’ brands like a glove. Products like event brochures, custom magazines, content marketing, and website design require that we source the right photos that meet our lofty design standards as well as our clients’ business needs. With that in mind, we wanted to share a few time-saving tips to help others in the hospitality and wedding marketing world find the perfect photos.

Understand the Rules

Just because it’s easy to right click and “save as” doesn’t mean it’s legal. If you stumble upon a photo you like, make sure to check the restrictions for not just the website as a whole, but on the specific photo itself. Curtis Newbold created an excellent infographic called “Can I Use that Picture?” that illustrates when it’s OK to use an image.

Stock Sites to Consider

The Unsplash (550,000+ photos), Pixabay (1.5 million+ photos), Pexels (hundreds of thousands of handpicked images), and StockSnap (handpicked images, similar to Pexels) libraries have thousands of free (as in “use for whatever you want”) photos to search through, with more added intermittently. You can choose to give the photographers credit, but you’re not required to.

3 Ways to Find the Right Images

1. Be Literal
Can you represent the actual thing that you’re talking about? For example: If the content is about the Santa Monica beach, go to the stock sites and search for photos of the actual place that fit the aesthetic you’re aiming for. If you can’t find any up to snuff, move to the second strategy.

2. Focus on a Detail
Try picking a detail within the content or page and finding an image based on that. For example, sticking with the Santa Monica beach example, you could look for an image of a surfer paddling out on water that could be in Santa Monica. Or, maybe it’s a close-up of a blue wave, or underwater, or street scene that all could naturally be associated with Santa Monica. Regardless of what you choose, what’s equally (and oftentimes, more) important than the subject is that the lighting has to fit the mood, the photo has to be on brand, and the quality is as important as anything else.

3. Highlight the Abstract
Maybe the story doesn’t have any image-worthy details, like a story about Santa Monica would. In that case, you could get a little more abstract. Try using a photo to convey an emotion that the story is also trying to convey. Does the story talk broadly about an experience or emotion that you can somehow get at with a photo? Surprise the reader, and let them make the mental connection.

Is your website up to snuff? How about your SEM? Event brochure? This checklist will walk you through exactly what you need to do to reach engaged couples.

Are you confident that you’re doing enough with your wedding venue marketing? We thought through the whole process – from that moment just before the newly engaged couple finds you to the point after the vows have been said, the cake has been cut, and the wedding is over – and took a go at giving you a scorecard to vet your current marketing efforts. You’ll see we reference some of our own products and services throughout and link to some of our other blog posts as well, but the main goal is to help you take stock of what you’re doing now. It may be particularly helpful as you start to wrap up the peak season and look ahead to budgeting for 2019.

Before the Couple Finds You

The question was just popped and the couple may not know what they want yet (some will!) – but they’re looking. This is before they zero in on any one venue, and you’re simply one of many that they’re scrolling through. So, how do you get them to stop and notice you?

___ Optimized presence on wedding websites such as The Knot, WeddingWire, and Here Comes the Guide (12 points)
___ Social media ads targeting the newly engaged (8 points)
___ PR and a presence in bridal mags (5 points)
___ Print collateral for handing out at wedding expos (5 points)
___ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) (5 points)
___ Google Ad Campaigns (2 points)

Once the Couple Has Found You

The couple has started to focus on just a small handful of venues. As they take a closer look at your online presence, you have to be ready – whether they’re browsing via phone or laptop, for a few seconds or 20 minutes.

___ An easy-to-navigate, mobile-friendly website filled with gorgeous imagery (15 points)
___ Strong social media presence (10 points)
___ Content marketing including real wedding blog posts, videos, etc. (5 points)
___ Retargeting ads (4 points)

During and After the Venue Tour

You have the couple in the door – but soon they’ll walk out and be on their way. Venue tours are valuable, but it’s what the couple takes away with them that will give you a little foothold in their life as they make their decision.

___ Event Brochure (13 points)
___ Email Outreach (5 points)
___ Menus, Proposals & Other Print Collateral (3 points)
___ E-brochure (2 points)

During and After the Wedding

Aside from your wedding venue looking spectacular for your couples’ guests, you can also make sure the couples’ guests’ friends see what all the fuss is about. The key here is to have a system for enlisting couples to help spread the word about your venue.

___ Wedding website reviews (3 points)
___ Social media posts, reviews, and tagging (2 points)
___ Custom Snapchat Geofilters (1 point)

Tally Your Score

Altogether, these tactics total 100 points. What’s your score? Do you feel like you’re doing enough? Let us know if we can help you.

As a caterer, a professionally designed website is the most important marketing tool you can have. Your prospective customers aren’t using the Yellow Pages anymore, and whether they’re looking for a wedding, corporate, or social event, they’re going to be researching you and your competition online. Websites that convey your fantastic food and services through amazing pictures are quite simply going to be most successful.

3 Features the Best Catering Websites Have in Common

We’ve been building compelling websites for caterers throughout the country, and during our competitive research we’ve found several key elements the best websites share:

#1: Give people what they’re looking for
Couples shopping for a caterer are trying to establish three things very quickly: whether you do what they’re looking for, whether you’re professional and capable, and whether you’re in their price range.

Even if you write like Hemingway, your target audience likely doesn’t care that much about how you got started in cooking, how hard you work, etc. They want to see that you know how to prepare and present sumptuous food for their wedding.

A good website should clearly represent what you do – if most of your work is for weddings, make sure it’s really easy for them to see that. Secondly, a well-designed website is going to establish trust by showing that you are a professional – that your food is great and that you care enough to present it nicely. Whether you put pricing on the site is up to you, but providing sample menus and price ranges are ways to make sure the right prospects are reaching out to you.

#2: High-quality, professional pictures
Large, high-quality photos have a powerful effect on website visitors. Little thumbnails won’t do anymore – today’s wedding shopper wants to scroll quickly and see beautiful detail shots.

The best sites show that you know what you’re doing. Most importantly, the best sites have professional photographs, not blurry iPhone 4 shots or uninspired compositions. For this reason, caterers who feature shots of their work taken by wedding photographers top the list (luckily, most photographers are honored to have their work featured on such websites free of charge and, at most, ask to be credited on the photos.)

#3: Mobile-Friendly, Mobile-First Design
The Knot’s 2017 wedding industry report, based on a survey of nearly 13,000 couples married in 2017, found that 92% of couples used their phones for wedding planning activities. This underscores the fact that successful websites have to look great and function well not only on a desktop computer but also on phones and other mobile devices. Specifically, users expect to scroll on their phones – it’s become a natural part of their daily lives, and they don’t want to wait long, so the best sites are built with responsive design and are optimized to load quickly for those times when users aren’t attached to high-speed Wi-Fi.

Without further ado, we are happy to share this list of what we consider to be strong wedding catering websites out there today to serve as a source of inspiration.

Four Catering Websites That Inspire


Global Gourmet

What we like: Beautiful, professionally shot pictures. Interesting combination of smaller and larger photographs and a well-balanced mix of detail and event layout shots. Sophisticated choice of fonts and minimal color scheme. Very easy to navigate. Elegantly styled menus.

What we think could be better: It’s a challenge to find something wrong with this site, but one observation is that you have to scroll quite a bit to get to the text – almost as if the header images are a little too large.

Ridgewells Catering

What we like: Clean, modern design and straightforward sitemap. Very easy to find what you’re looking for from the navigation, whether you’re looking for a corporate event, wedding, or personal celebration. Minimal text makes it easy to skim. Outstanding photography that really gives you a great idea of how talented this catering company is.

What we think could be better: Not much to critique here, besides the lack of sample menus.

The Catered Affair

What we like: Custom, elegant design. Header video that adds movement, shows a level of sophistication and helps you imagine yourself in the event. Beautiful pictures. Great use and implementation of venues as a strong show of social proof.

What we think could be better: It can get a little text heavy at times, particularly on the inner pages. The first navigation item is “About,” which goes against our tenet of making the site about the user, not about you.

Kaspars

What we like: The photo quality is amazing and simply mouthwatering. The navigation is streamlined – it’s easy to get around and everything you are looking for is quick and easy to find.

What we think could be better: The “Menus” page falls apart a little bit when viewed on a phone. While gold is probably their branding color, it can be a challenging color on websites. Gold doesn’t glimmer and shine on a screen, so it can feel very brown/orange and is not all that appealing, especially when it’s used in big blocks as it is with the buttons on this site. Contrast this use of gold with the use of it on the Global Gourmet site (above), where it’s used sparingly in the logo and in thin font treatments.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at great websites. If your site could use a little love to compete with these, check out our special offering just for caterers!

As a florist who does weddings, a professionally designed website is your most important marketing tool. According to The Knot’s annual wedding report, the “overall look and feel” is second only to budget on the list of most important considerations for a wedding, and flowers are a huge part of that. Since couples primarily shop for florists online, websites that convey beautiful, creative work through amazing pictures are going to be most successful. Florists are arguably the most visual of all wedding vendors, after all!

Three Features the Best Florist Websites Have in Common

We’ve been building compelling websites for florists throughout the country, and during our competitive research we’ve found several key elements the best websites share:

#1: Minimal text
Couples shopping for wedding florists are trying to establish three things very quickly: whether they like your style, whether they can trust you with the biggest day of their lives, and whether you’re in their price range.

Even if you write like Hemingway, your target audience likely doesn’t care much. They want to see that you know flowers, not words.

First and foremost, a good website represents your style and body of work. Secondly, it establishes trust by showing that you care enough to present your work in a professional, well-designed manner. Whether you put pricing on the site is up to you, but if you’re able to demonstrate that your style is a match and that you’re professional, price becomes much more negotiable. Style and trust can both be conveyed through pictures, with minimal descriptive text.

#2: High-quality, professional pictures
Large, high-quality photos have a powerful effect on website visitors. Little thumbnails won’t do anymore – today’s wedding shopper wants to scroll quickly and see a great breadth and depth of work.

The best sites include a combination of emotional shots, such as joyful bridal parties, and detail shots (e.g., that beautiful centerpiece up close). Most importantly, the best sites have professional photographs, not blurry iPhone 4 shots or uninspired compositions. For this reason, florists who feature shots of their work taken by wedding photographers top the list (luckily, most photographers are honored to have their work featured on such websites free of charge and, at most, ask to be credited on the photos.)

#3: Mobile-friendly, mobile-first design
The Knot’s 2017 wedding industry report, based on a survey of nearly 13,000 couples married in 2017, found that 92% of couples used their phones for wedding planning activities. This underscores the fact that successful websites have to look great and function well not only on a desktop computer but also on phones and other mobile devices. Specifically, users expect to scroll on their phones – it’s become a natural part of their daily lives, and they don’t want to wait long, so the best sites are built with responsive design and are optimized to load quickly for those times when users aren’t attached to high-speed Wi-Fi.

Four Florist Websites that Inspire

Without further ado, we are happy to share this list of what we consider to be strong wedding websites out there today to serve as a source of inspiration.

Gypsy Floral and Events

What we like: Modern design, professional pictures, and straightforward sitemap. It’s obvious what they do and how to learn more about them.rn design, professional pictures, and straightforward sitemap. It’s obvious what they do and how to learn more about them.

What we think could be better: The home page is a beautiful background slideshow, but the “splash” page with a single link to “Explore” is outdated. It’s much better to help people find what they’re looking for from the home page. At least the link does go directly to the portfolio section, which is the best choice if you’re going to do a single link.

Pollen Floral Design Studio

What we like: Custom, elegant design. Smart use of the blog to keep up to date with recent weddings without having to redesign the site every time a new wedding feature comes through.

What we think could be better: Minor nit, but the green circle with the number in it, while a useful design feature, is used inconsistently from a user experience point of view. For example, on the portfolio page, the top 1/2/3 open up galleries within the page, and when you scroll to the bottom, you see more 1/2/3/4, which you would expect would show you other galleries. Instead, they take you off the page, which is a little confusing.

Zinnia Floral Designs

What we like: Beautiful, professionally shot pictures. Interesting combination of smaller and larger photographs and a well-balanced mix of detail and people shots. Works well on a mobile device. A clear description of the process of working with them (albeit a little verbose).

What we think could be better: The “New Products” link in the “Weddings” menu appears not to have any content on it. Fonts are a little small.

Ginger & Blooms Wedding and Floral Design

What we like: Elegant design, unique header graphic, custom artistic elements, great pictures.

What we think could be better: Not a great site when viewed on a phone. Seems like quite a few clicks to get through to a wedding gallery, so that process could be streamlined a little bit.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at great websites. Could your site could use a little love to compete with these?

Instead of making a phone call or using a website, guests are increasingly trying to engage hotels by sending a Facebook message. Can a bot be the answer to saving your hotel’s marketing team time and money?

The appeal of chatbots is clear: Messaging seems to be the preferred method of communication these days, so technology like Facebook Messenger Bots that allow you to talk to guests on their terms is worth exploring. There’s less friction for the guest – no need to dig through a website, call a number, send an email, or download an app. Instead, they can just use their favorite messaging app to communicate their inquiry. Marriott was an early pioneer of the technology in 2017. Their Marriott Rewards members can research and book travel, link their Marriott Rewards accounts, plan their upcoming stay with Marriott content, and chat with help desk associates.

Chatbots were considered the “next big thing” heading into 2017 within the tech world, but adoption didn’t take off as quickly as some expected. As often happens with new technology, though, early believers overstate how quickly it’ll arrive, then underestimate the scope of its eventual impact after a slow start. As a hotel marketing agency, we’re keeping an eye on how hotels are using (and will use) this tech.

Chatbots can’t handle all issues that guests have, but they can take care of many of them – and no platform has made it easier to get started than Facebook Messenger – especially considering that many people already try to interact with hotel pages there. Here’s what to consider before you jump in:

1. What problem do you want it to solve?

Sure, it’d be nice to have a super-intelligent, J.A.R.V.I.S.-like bot taking care of business for you from Day 1, but you’re better off starting small. Focus on one “problem” that you’d like the bot to solve. Bookings? Checking in and out? Answering guest questions? Consider the friction in your current processes (both internally and guest-facing) and design around that. The bot won’t replace your current processes at this point, just supplement them with another convenient channel for guests.

2. Is this a bot-appropriate job?

Some jobs are better managed by humans. Sensitive customer support issues, when handled by bots, can (understandably) make the guest more upset. It’s always good practice to divulge up front that the guest is speaking to a bot, too – especially as they get more intelligent and it’s harder to tell the difference. You could also have a bot manage a preset number of queries but make it easy for the guest to elevate the inquiry to a human support level.

3. What sort of personality do you want it to have?

Remember that writing for a bot is different than writing marketing copy for your website or brochure. While you shouldn’t abandon a professional tone, you will want to keep it more conversational than you would in other mediums. A chat bot is a new extension of your brand’s voice, so you should work closely with your marketing team to find the right words.

4. What happens when something goes wrong?

You’ll have guests who will attempt to engage with the bot beyond its capabilities. It’s important to design for this possibility, make it clear to the guest that they didn’t do anything wrong, and provide an alternative way to solve their problem. Chatbots are a little like self-driving car technology right now: The driver (you) shouldn’t totally take their attention off the road, but instead, let the car (the Messenger Bot) do its job until it requires the driver to intervene.

5. Who will build it?

Building a Facebook Messenger Bot requires technical savvy. There are templates you can buy online – building off of someone else’s work, though it may not be exactly what you want – and also independent developers and firms that you could work with. The more complex the job the bot will be doing, the more expensive it’ll be to develop. Needless to say, if your bot will be answering simple guest queries, you’ll have to provide those answers to the developer beforehand.

6. How will people find out about it?

Just because you’ve planned, built, and launched a bot doesn’t mean anyone will know or care about it. Yes, using a Facebook Messenger to interface with your hotel will mean that guests deal with less friction than they would, say, downloading a new app, but you’ll still need to make a clear case cross-channel for how this makes the guest’s life easier. To be clear: The fact that you have a bot handling queries won’t be the selling point – the selling point will be that they can lob these queries at you through a convenient channel like Facebook Messenger. As long as you maintain email lists, you can actually advertise within Facebook Messenger specifically to guests.

Grants have enabled the Jay Peak Area Chamber of Commerce (JPACC) in northern Vermont to fulfill many important destination marketing initiatives they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The formula for JPACC’s grant awards combines resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity – and good old-fashioned hard work and TLC.

Expand to New Digital and Print Marketing Frontiers with Grant Funds

With a tourism-heavy economy and membership of approximately 125 businesses spread across three rural counties, this DMO has long relied on a visitor map as its signature destination marketing piece. Stocked in nine Vermont Area Welcome Centers, the map plays a critical role in serving the chamber’s #1 tourism marketing priority: helping visitors locate and connect with area businesses.

But JPACC’s members and visitors were craving other information and tools to help orient them to the best of the region. That’s where grants have been a wonder drug to help them fund and expand their destination marketing – both in digital and print – through the following primary tactics: A revamped website and online directory, electronic touch-screen kiosks in local businesses (especially crucial given the area’s spotty high-speed internet), a high-touch video showing off the area, and a print guide and directory many vacationers had requested.

6 Grant-Winning Tips for DMOs

JPACC’s approach to identifying and applying for grants has resulted in grant-funded destination marketing programs that have made a significant impact on the chamber’s key measures of success. Karen O’Donnell, the chamber’s executive director for the past nine years, reflects upon her chamber’s experience and offers the following guidelines to others:

1. Get Buy-In from Stakeholders at the Outset
Sitting down with the chamber’s board of directors to prioritize the “wants and goals we want to pursue,” O’Donnell explains, is the first critical step to fleshing out the chamber’s main destination marketing initiatives and identifying which will require grant funding. While JPACC does this every January, there’s no norm or season for grants and funding providers have different sets of criteria. The important thing is to get everyone in the same room to decide which initiatives are most important so that the team has the direction and focus it needs to find and apply for the appropriate grants.

2. Involve the Experts
Partnering with the right people makes all the difference in knowing where to look and how to go about getting DMO grant funding. In JPACC’s case, going local has paid off, with experts at New England–based Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) and Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) being instrumental in helping the chamber identify grant opportunities. O’Donnell urges others to find and tap into the experts in their circles.

3. Do Your Research and Network
There are all types of grant opportunities out there – and the more you look, the more you uncover. In addition to using resources such as Grant Watch, look locally and nationally for grant opportunities that fit your goals. While Vermont happens to be an excellent resource for grant seekers – JPACC found local grant opportunities through Northern Borders Commission, the Vermont State Commerce Department (VT State), and Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM), for example – national grants, such as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), have also proven to be fruitful for the chamber.

Networking is also big. Searching for grants is “a lot of exploring the horizons, creative energies, and talking to a lot of different people to see if you can fit into some niche,” O’Donnell shares. She also notes that connecting and partnering up with other organizations can help DMOs be more eligible or rank higher for grants.

4. Lock Your Goals into the Grant Application
It’s important to show how your destination marketing initiatives meet the grant criteria and expectations. “When reviewing a grant opportunity, if you look at the criteria and can make your goals fit into the application process, that would be one to go for,” O’Donnell advises.

Also, demonstrate precisely how you’d achieve the goals of the grant. For example, with economic development and job creation such an essential part of USDA grants, JPACC makes sure its applications include realistic goals for meeting grant expectations, as well as letters of support from businesses in the community that will benefit from the grant.

5. Paint a Picture with Your Application
For JPACC, telling their story and painting a picture of their community within the letter of intent and throughout the application has been helpful in winning grant awards. For grant administrators poring through one application after another, an application that describes the grant’s goals “in action” within a community can stand out from the crowd.

6. Don’t Let Rejection Get You Down
Going for grant funding is not for the faint of heart in many ways. O’Donnell admits, “It’s not an easy process and can be an exhausting and emotional roller coaster. You put a lot of time, effort, heart, and soul into an idea – pursuing it to meet the grant criteria and needs for the funding opportunity.” Look for other opportunities when you’re told “no.” When JPACC experiences rejection, they explore how the projects (or even aspects of projects) they’ve identified as essential might fit into the niche of other grants out there.

Don’t Forget to Measure, Collect, and Share Your Results

Every DMO must demonstrate the value of their marketing activities to their members and grant-funded initiatives are no exception. The destination marketing programs JPACC has put into place thus far thanks to grant awards, for example, have resulted in improvements on many fronts – some more measurable than others, but all of them meaningful:

Website traffic and clicks have increased by over 20% – and website referrals have increased by 10 to 25% – since the website redesign.

Chamber membership has grown approximately 20% within the past three to five years and the chamber’s marketing accomplishments have contributed to a “more positive sort of environment.”

The touch-screen kiosks have driven new advertising revenue.

The chamber has not only received positive feedback and increased brand recognition from their “Top of VT” video, but has also been able to repurpose pieces of the video in their new visitors guide.

Leverage Your Success

The above accomplishments are something to be recognized and celebrated and certainly help the chamber fulfill its constant obligation to show value to their members. But perhaps more importantly, O’Donnell notes, the results of JPACC’s grant-funded initiatives also have a “snowball effect” of driving new grant awards for the chamber and their members. With the need to demonstrate prior success high on the list of all grant applications, the tangible results a DMO can show will position them well for future grant opportunities.

This family vineyard in Oregon needed a website design that could tell their charming origin story, welcome guests, and of course, sell more wine.

See the Finished Website

The Client

Ayres Vineyard & Winery’s blossoming relationship with Hawthorn began three years ago when they first advertised in Roots, an in-room custom magazine we produce for Allison Inn & Spa in Oregon’s celebrated wine region, the Willamette Valley. Kathleen and Brad McLeroy’s story as the founders of Ayres traces much further back – almost 20 years, in fact – to when the business was just a shared dream, and before they made the trek from Kansas City, Missouri, to Portland, Oregon. Today, more than 15 years after the first harvest, the winery is known for its pinot noirs and personal, memorable tasting experiences that guests can share with the McLeroys.

The Old Website

The previous website was, in a word, dated. Between the yellow background color, drop shadows, confusing navigation, and broken functionality (including not being mobile friendly), it was clear that the website had outlived its usefulness. Aside from the many aesthetic shortcomings, the site also didn’t show off any of their brand’s personality or tell a cohesive story – a major missed opportunity.

The Ingredients for the New Website

The client wanted something more polished, that only a professional website designer could produce. They also wanted plenty of white space, which was a welcome request – as big believers in the importance of white space, oftentimes we have to plead its case to clients who don’t initially appreciate its importance within the larger design. In addition, they commissioned a photo shoot prior to the website redesign, so we had excellent imagery to work with, making everyone’s lives easier. Finally, the message they wanted to resonate through the website was simple and clear: they were a down-to-earth, family-oriented, non-corporate winery.

Blending Images to Add Depth

One standout element of this project was the use of collage imaging. Though the images were beautifully composed, we didn’t have access to the high-resolution versions, meaning they wouldn’t look good displayed by themselves across the page. Our solution? We artfully melded together two photos for some pages, and in that, told more of a story than one photo could on its own. The Visit page, for example, features a close-up of a pour on the left side, and the McElroys smiling on the right. At first glance, it looks like an original image, but in fact, it’s the product of two images being blended together.

Focused Product Pages

Most e-commerce pages look a little busy – but that aesthetic would look out of place on what is otherwise a sleek, gorgeous website. Instead, we stripped away the backgrounds from the wine bottle photos, giving them a bold look against the white background, and kept the text minimal. When you click on a bottle, it takes you to a page about that particular wine, sharing the year, a short description, a “Buy Now” button, as well as a specs table. The last element was a key ingredient, especially for wine nerds: We noticed that on other wine websites, they offered all sorts of details on the wine – something that was missing on Ayres’s site. So, we zeroed in on the things that mattered most to oenophiles (vintage, varietal, appellation, etc.) and shared those specs for each one.

A Seamless E-Commerce Integration

Ayres partners with OrderPort Winery Solutions, a third-party e-commerce web store, to handle all their wine orders. We worked to integrate the new website with their system and helped ensure that visitors wouldn’t notice that they were purchasing through what is technically a different website.

Telling a Story through a Timeline

Wineries, like the product they produce, are intensely unique. Everyone who visits Ayres Vineyard & Winery is warmly welcomed, and we wanted the website to give people the same sense. On no other page is this more apparent than the About page, which is built around a timeline, dating back to 1997 when the couple got engaged in the south of France and had the initial kernel of an idea for the winery. We asked them to tell us about the major milestones – when they were inspired, when they bought the property, when they first planted, when the vineyard grew – and helped them tell a meaningful story that visitors will easily be able to browse through, connect with, and appreciate via a simple, cost-effective UX.

Avoiding a “Set It and Forget It” Approach

No business can think of its website as a “build it and forget it” project. For one, there will be changes and additions that need to be made – events to be promoted, landing pages to be created, new wine releases to announce, etc. So Ayres has contracted us as their website design agency moving forward on a small monthly maintenance retainer, which means no headaches for them as together we define the tweaks and adjustments that are needed for their business. Further, any good website should be the gateway to more business, not just a static presence. That means building a digital marketing strategy that gets people to click back to specific pages of the site via tactics such as a blog, social media ads, Adwords, email campaigns among loyal customers, and so on.

A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy has never been a great plan for wedding venues, but that’s particularly true today when appealing to Millennial brides.

Many wedding venue marketers may bemoan the millennial generation with their quick, staccato, and often incomplete requests for information that then require near-instantaneous responses from you. But there’s also so much new opportunity for how to find and engage with today’s millennial brides. And while no two brides fit perfectly into any one bucket, the three personas we’ve outlined below should sound familiar to anyone who has been involved in marketing a wedding venue. (For the record, we say bride, but this could just as easily be the groom.) Below, we share a particular marketing tactic to focus on when trying to reach each persona.

The “I’ve Been Planning My Wedding Since I Was 6” Bride
This is a bride who knows what she wants. Long before she said “yes,” she was browsing Pinterest, creating Instagram collections, and making notes at her friends’ weddings. She already has a vision in mind; the question is whether your venue fits that fairytale.

Marketing Must-Have: A Killer Website
As soon as she’s engaged, this bride will hit the ground running – and if your website isn’t ready for prime time, you won’t get a second look. The easiest way to catch her eye is a beautiful, thoughtfully designed website. The key ingredient? Photos. The copy will help tell a story, but gorgeous, carefully-selected photos help the bride see herself at the venue and can help you separate yourself from the competition. Be honest in your evaluation of your website: Is it slowing down and engaging brides, leading to site visits, or is it simply one open tab, soon to be closed before she’s onto something else?

The “I Don’t Want to Be Doing This” Bride
While this bride is thrilled with her pending nuptials and the promise of a happy marriage, planning the actual wedding has never really been on her radar. The components of the big day will come together piece by piece and, while of course she wants a beautiful wedding, she’s likely to follow the path of least resistance.

Marketing Must-Have: Social Media Ads
This bride may not be browsing The Knot or Wedding Wire right after getting engaged, but she’ll still be on Facebook – giving your venue a prime window to reach her before others do. You may have heard about some of the drama with Facebook’s business model over the last few months, but for core advertisers, there’s no reason to be concerned. Facebook remains a uniquely powerful channel to reach customers online. For example, you can target couples who are newly engaged, fall within a certain age range, and live in a specific area (or areas), among many other options. And remember: Advertising through Facebook lets you reach people on Facebook.com, on their mobile apps, on Instagram, on their messaging apps, and on the Facebook Audience Network. If you’re not sure you’re up for it, we can do it for you.

The “Someone Else is Really Making the Decisions Here” Bride
This bride is happy enough throughout the wedding planning process, but she’s being steered by a trusted sibling, friend, or parent – making the question of who you’re actually selling to a little murkier.

Marketing Must-Have: Event Brochure
One of the main benefits of getting a bride on-site for a visit is that she’ll walk away with a brochure in hand, giving you a (small) foothold in her world as she weighs her decision. A wedding brochure should be doing many jobs for you, not least of which is making the case to friends and family who may not have been on the site visit. Yes, a strong digital presence is vital, but a brochure has a durability and focus to it that is perfect for sharing with others.

The “I’m on an Abbreviated Timeline, So Let’s Get This Moving” Bride
This bride doesn’t have a year to plan her wedding. Whether by personal choice or the forces of life, she needs to get married sooner and find a venue that can accommodate her and her partner.

Marketing Must-Have: Website Booking Calendar
If you don’t have one already, add a calendar to your website that shows the days the venue is available and already booked. This only works if it’s up to date, so make sure you stay on top of that, or you’ll have to deal with some unpleasant phone calls. We see three main benefits to hosting the calendar on your site: It can get brides thinking about hosting on Fridays and Sundays, you’re saving yourself one step in qualifying the bride, and seeing availability can prompt immediate action to scoop up that spot.

Hotel email marketing: helpful and timely or annoying and intrusive? With the right content, targeting, and timing, you’ll turn subscribers into guests.

Transactional emails are one thing, but you’re probably also doing email marketing campaigns to maintain relationships with your past guests and drive new bookings, too. According to Litmus, over 80 percent of travel email subscribers sign up primarily for promotions and discounts – and they’ve become very savvy at sniffing out what is actually a good deal and what isn’t. With that in mind, here are five ideas to help you carve out your email marketing strategy.

Pre-Arrival Filled with What to Do

A week or two before their arrival, send guests a preview of what they can expect – not just in terms of amenities and programming at your property, but also activities and attractions to experience in the greater destination. These shouldn’t just be links that send people to a webpage without any context, but stories that do a good job painting a picture, stoking excitement, and helping the reader imagine themselves there. For example, see what we did with this client’s pre-arrival email.

Welcome Back Corporate Guests on Their Own Time

If you book corporate events and are able to get the email addresses of the attendees themselves, send an email to that list in the week or two following the event to get them to come back as a leisure guest, with a promotional offer. They’ve seen your property (perhaps longingly) through the lens of work, so giving them the chance to come back and do it on their terms is something that’ll appeal to many.

Interest-Based Packages

If you’re able to categorize email lists based on what activities guests partook in during their stay, you can reach them with hyper-targeted emails. For example, maybe someone who golfed at your course during their stay receives an email a few months later with an exclusive, time-sensitive offer for a golf package. Same goes for those who have spent significantly at your spa or partook in a chef’s table dinner. The key, of course, is to not overdo these emails and define the right windows of time when they’re dreaming about having this experience again.

Locking in the Next Trip

Travel planning starts about 90 days in advance, on average, but the wider range is 30 to 180 days, and you certainly know the sweet spot for your hotel. Whatever is right for your property, send guests an email that far in advance of the anniversary of their stay last year. You want to be on their mind when the “dreaming” stage of travel starts, and people are creatures of habit – so it may be tempting for guests to go with what they know (especially if you make it easy) rather than something new. Consider experimenting with ranges of time (in anticipation of their booking) and look at what converts the best.

An After-Visit Survey

We’ve heard from one client whose post-stay survey is so valuable that it drives every aspect of their operations to respond to the ongoing feedback. Take the opportunity for what it is: a chance to get real feedback from guests who just spent a stay with you and can clearly tell you what they really liked (or didn’t like) and why. But in addition to the way it can inform updates to your operations and customer service, there’s a marketing benefit as well: For those who score above a certain threshold in the survey, add them to a drip campaign that sends them a second email encouraging them to submit feedback on review sites and Facebook. Include the links so it’s as easy as possible for them to do so. The ROI on after-visit surveys is longer term and harder to measure, but you won’t often go wrong gathering and acting on good data.

Are they worth it? Is it one or the other? How do you succeed? A few savvy vendors helped us make sense of the two major online wedding marketplaces.

The Knot and WeddingWire help couples put together their big day and serve as valuable wedding vendor advertising channels. We spoke with a few of those vendors about their experience with the services, best practices, and whether they’re worth the cost.

Yes, Invest in Both

These services are considered a necessary cost of doing business by most in the industry, and if you’re looking to make a living (or at least a healthy side-gig), you really can’t afford to not be there. For many, all it takes is one wedding to pay for the yearly membership. Plus, the longer you’re there, the more likely you are to notice a compounding effect of more reviews and increased visibility. That said, keep track of your numbers each year by channel, so that one, two, three years in, you can take a look at your return and how valuable each service is to your business.

The Value of a Good Lead

Anecdotally, we’ve heard that while The Knot drives more leads, they tend to be of lower quality. This may be an issue of scale – WeddingWire, while big, doesn’t attract as much traffic as The Knot. Unfortunately, (for the vendors we spoke to, at least) leads from The Knot are often not very qualified, and seem less likely to convert to bookings. In terms of the raw number of conversions, The Knot may be superior to WeddingWire, depending on your business, but you’ll spend time sorting through those leads, too. Remember that your profit per hour can’t just be calculated from the time you spend on the job, but also the time you spent managing leads and prepping.

Respond Quickly (without the Customization)

Since you’re very likely not the only vendor they’re sending an inquiry to, and since you may find that the inquiries you receive lack the information you need to deliver a fully custom response, time is of the essence. Hopefully you already have a boilerplate response to qualify leads no matter where they come from. If not, build one and make sure you fire it off quickly to qualify the lead. Naturally, also include your one sheet with your different pricing options. The point is, you don’t want to spend more than a few seconds on each inquiry so you can weed out those that aren’t qualified or truly interested – and get those that are into your funnel, not your competitor’s.

How Much Should You Invest?

There are different tiers that afford more visibility on both WeddingWire and The Knot. On WeddingWire, they’re referred to as Professional, Featured, and Spotlight, in ascending order of price. On The Knot, they’re Standard, Featured, and Premium. The perks occasionally change, but the bottom line is that you’re paying for increased visibility – and the price depends on the competition for your specific vendor category in your geographic area. Both services will try to hook you with discounts. One key difference: WeddingWire tends to be more expensive, but you get a representative from the company who checks in a few times a year and offers you customized tips, tailored to your needs, to help you increase inquiries and drive bookings. That’s a tough thing to quantify, but it’s certainly an advantage over The Knot’s less personal, more content marketing–driven approach.

How It Shakes Out

One vendor, a New England-based videographer, agreed to share his numbers for 2017 for each service, which were basically representative of his experience since joining in 2015. While these figures are obviously unique to his business, they may help give a sense of the economics driving vendors’ decisions to use these services.

Wedding venues are squarely in the business of selling visuals first. Here, we offer marketing takeaways from industry leaders like Nike and Snapchat.

UX (user experience) isn’t just about web design – it’s the art and science of thoughtfully considering every touch point a customer has with your company and designing those interactions to be as efficient and pleasurable as possible. The concept of design-first doesn’t mean making things pretty; it means making things to accomplish a specific purpose. As a wedding venue, you have many different touchpoints with a customer, from your listing on a referral site like Wedding Wire, to your social media presence, to your brochure, to a site visit, and so on. There are many opportunities to reinforce your best qualities, fumble away the goodwill you’ve earned, or, perhaps more likely, get lost amid a handful of other options the couple is weighing. It’s something we’re constantly looking at as an agency working with wedding venue and hotel marketers every day.

Here, we look at four companies lauded in their industries for their design thinking and share a takeaway from each.

1. Airbnb’s Customer-Driven Approach

Some Silicon Valley companies spread designers across all their product teams, or make a single design team that moves from project to project. Airbnb found that both these structures have deficiencies, so they implemented a new approach: Each product team has one project manager whose sole responsibility is to think like and represent the user. It’s easy to get lost in the lines of code and pixels, but it’s this person’s job to remember and remind his or her team that the most important moments of a customer’s experience happen in-person, so it’s crucial to nail that experience.

Takeaway for Wedding Venues: Always put yourself in their shoes as you create new wedding venue marketing collateral, design your website, and organize site visits. What information will they want to see right away? How will they want to spend their time with you? Create around their needs, not around your business constraints or what you may take for granted as someone who knows the property so well.

2. The Beautiful Packaging of Apple Products

Whether it’s a Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, or any of their other gadgets, you’ll notice that Apple’s packaging is a product in itself. The space is used very economically, and it’s physically easy and even a little fun to unpackage. It feeds into the anticipation you’re already feeling. In fact, Apple “unpacking” videos have become a YouTube genre. Talk about a marketer’s dream – people (willingly) watching someone unpack your product!

Takeaway for Wedding Venues: Like an Apple product’s packaging, your wedding brochure is ancillary to the purchasing experience. Neither of them are quite the “thing” – in Apple’s case, a shiny new object, and in your case, a beautiful wedding – but they add to the excitement of the experience and convey your aesthetic. When the site visit is over and all the client has in their hands is your brochure, you’re going to really hope it’s enough to push them over the edge and commit to your venue. Work with a partner who understands your business and will pay careful attention to the details.

3. How Snapchat Makes Things Easy for the User

Unless you’re in Snapchat’s target demographic, their interface may seem a little wonky, and you may be wondering why they’re on this list. Well, there’s one thing they do exceedingly well design-wise: They optimize for the fewest number of taps and swipes required to complete some sort of action. Take the camera, for instance – on other apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the camera was always a tap (or two) away. Part of the reason Snapchat was able to make inroads against their competition is because the app opens straight to the camera – no tapping required. That speed, which saves users (at most) about a second each use, is everything. For each new feature they introduce, Snapchat considers how to make it accessible in the fewest number of swipes and taps possible.

Takeaway for Wedding Venues: Sometimes web designers make the mistake of taking the user’s attention for granted. That’s a grave error in today’s hyperactive, multiscreen, 100-tabs-open world. Now, we’re not saying you need to cram all your information at the top of your venue’s homepage (in fact, please don’t!) but it is important to pare down all that content into just the essentials. When a couple visits your website, what will they be looking for? Gorgeous imagery, for one. A short description of your venue, sure. A CTA. And yes, definitely contact info. Beyond that? Use a well-organized menu to share additional content and let them dig deeper if they’d like. But start by prioritizing that content and peeling away everything that isn’t essential.

4. How Nike Stood Out

In Nike’s earliest days, company founder Phil Knight saw rows and rows of competitors’ shoeboxes at stores. While these companies had more prestige than Nike at the time, they all blended together with their bland cardboard color. Knight introduced orange shoeboxes to help his Nike sneakers pop off those shelves, and it worked. That iconic Nike orange is still in use today.

Takeaway: Zig where the competition zags. If and when you have a presence at bridal expos and wedding shows, all the booths will be doing their best to blitz attendees with their offerings. What’s your orange shoebox? Consider the elements that will make your booth stand out. It may even be worth a visit to another expo beforehand so you can make note of what’s working for the successful booths, and what doesn’t seem to be working for the ones that aren’t getting attention.

5. How Chipotle Designs Their Restaurants

Have you ever noticed that when you’re in Chipotle, there aren’t any loud signs pointing out where to stand, order, and pay? Even for first-time customers, there’s no confusion about what to do. The customer experience is central to the space’s design, not an afterthought. The restaurant’s aesthetic – clean, minimalistic, natural-feeling – reflects the menu, but the actual layout is all about the customers.

Takeaway: When a couple comes to your venue for a site visit, you almost have them – but their presence and attention shouldn’t be taken for granted. Think about your site visits: Do you have a defined plan, from where the prospect parks, how they’re greeted, what they’re given, and where they go? One potential standout experience: giving the couple an iPad that’s preloaded with galleries (from your website or a Pinterest board – either way, something they can also reference later) so you can direct them to a series of images that show what each space can look like fully designed as they walk through the venue.

To unify this client’s brand and rally their teams in offices spread across the country, we created this visual document that addresses the company’s big picture – and smallest details.

The Client

360 Destination Group, one of the country’s leading destination management companies and a Hawthorn client since 2016, has been helping corporate event planners put on memorable events for more than 40 years. By having their finger on the pulse of destinations up and down the California coast, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Chicago, they keenly understand the locales and combine that with their wildly creative eye to bring corporate events to life. The company’s offices in those destinations could sometimes feel isolated from one another, so they came to us to help them unify their brand.

The Project

With mostly autonomous offices all over the country, ensuring that all team members are aligned in terms of strategy and brand is an important challenge for 360DG. As a part of our work as their full-service marketing agency, one of the first big projects was creating this “Brand Bible”: a highly visual, internal-only document that offers a 30,000-foot view of the company – “this is what we’re trying to accomplish,” “this is our voice” – all the way down to the details, like photo requirements, social guidelines, and specific fonts to use. The initial sections orient staff to the history of the company and gives broad context; as you get deeper into the document, it narrows its focus to the nitty gritty for all marketing tactics.

Our Take

When you go through a rebranding process, much of the thinking revolves around communicating this newly crafted messaging to your customers – but what about those internally, within the company? A brand bible gives employees something they can rally behind and reference. It’s not something to memorize; they don’t need to know it like the back of their hand, but having a document employees can turn to when they’re having a moment of doubt about some detail or when they’re being onboarded? That’s a valuable tool to give to your team.

Last Thought

Some big brands have turned their brand bible into something that works as a casually external-facing document, too, maybe in the form of a coffee table book. It’s not meant to be something that’s picked up and closely examined – and certainly not distributed to the masses – but as a nice-looking and inviting page turn in your reception area. It can help clients, potential employees, investors, and other stakeholders get a sense of your brand in an easy-to-scan, effective way.

Call us crazy, but we see lessons for hotel marketing in those silly celebrity YouTubers. We distill a lesson from four of them for hotels’ video content marketing.

The word “YouTubers” may conjure images of the loud (obnoxious?) personalities teens are glued to every day after school on their assorted screens. And it’d probably be tough to convince you that you could add to your arsenal of hotel marketing knowledge by watching them. But that’s exactly what we’re promising here: legit lessons in the world of hotel content marketing, taken from YouTubers. Here, we highlighted one detail in particular about each of their channels that you should take note of and maybe even borrow in your own hotel video marketing efforts. (Breathe easy: You don’t actually have to watch them; we did that for you.)

Lesson #1: Be Helpful Like Yuya

Beauty is one of the most popular genres on YouTube, but nobody has succeeded in the space quite like Yuya, who has more than 21 million subscribers who tune in for her weekly makeup, hair, and other beauty tutorials. The videos are informational, entertaining, and inspirational – three ingredients that explain her meteoric rise. She’s genuinely helpful, but not in an academic way. The videos are conversational; you feel like you’re hanging out with and picking up pointers from a stylish friend.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Chances are, you have people on property who are experts in something, whether it’s food, drink, gardening – whatever. Find the right “star” to help you create short, simple, engaging videos to teach one-off lessons. They don’t have to be perfect. In fact, that’s part of the draw of YouTube: there are little imperfections that remind the viewer that the people on screen are human, and have a little room to show their personality, along with their expertise. You can’t control whether viewers find your videos funny or cool, but you can control how helpful they are and how much value you’re bringing.

Lesson #2: Be Enthusiastic Like Dude Perfect

If you have an 11-year-old son, chances are you’ve heard of Dude Perfect. For the uninitiated, Dude Perfect is a sports entertainment channel started by a group of friends who made their mark with “trick shot” videos, in which they make long basketball (or Frisbee, or football…) shots over obstacles, from extreme distances, etc. Aside from the impressiveness of the athletic feats themselves, the channel built a following because of the group’s enthusiasm. The cheers, high-fives, fist pumps, and cartwheels that come from succeeding – that’s what make the videos infectious. The satisfaction you get watching Dude Perfect’s videos doesn’t just come from seeing the shots go in – you know they’re going in – but from seeing those over-the-top reactions.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Not everyone has the charisma to succeed on video. Maybe audio (podcasts) or the written word (blogs) are better suited to your talents. The people who light up a room in person aren’t guaranteed to do well on camera, just as you shouldn’t necessarily write off the introverts on your team just because your inclination is that they wouldn’t connect with viewers. Whoever is starring in your videos must have a natural enthusiasm. Otherwise, why would your viewers?

Lesson #3: Be Consistent Like Jake Paul

He may be many parents’ nightmare, but Jake Paul is doing something right: he’s remarkably consistent. As a vlogger (short for video blogger) Jake uploads a video each day about his life. His legions of followers watch them by the millions, giving his channel numbers comparable to network television shows. There are plenty of other reasons for his success, but Jake’s consistency gives his followers something new to share with their networks every day, and means that his channel is treated more favorably by the YouTube algorithm. The consistency also sets the expectation for his followers, so they know when to tune in next.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Consistency is a good rule of thumb, regardless of medium – email newsletter, on-property schedule of activities, etc. – but we know that it can be tough to generate video ideas on a regular basis. “Regular basis” for Jake means every day, but for you it could mean every week, or even every month. They don’t have to be big productions, either – it’s easier to document (as Jake does with his daily vlogs) rather than purposefully create. Why not experiment with live video? On Facebook and Instagram, it’s now as easy as hitting a button to start broadcasting to your followers. We shared some of the secrets to broadcasting success in our post “How Hotels Can Master Live Broadcasting on Facebook and Instagram.

Lesson #4: (Polished) Rawness Like Casey Neistat

Casey Neistat is one of YouTube’s most well-regarded creators. He has oscillated between making insanely successful one-off videos (like this particularly memorable one, in which he snowboarded with the NYPD during a snowstorm) and a daily vlog, chronicling the building of his startups. His videos have running themes and storylines, but they’re all also self-contained stories in themselves, with beginnings, middles, and ends. While he’s developed a gorgeous signature aesthetic for his videos, they’re also peppered with raw moments of him saying (or starting to say) the wrong thing, the camera dropping, and other small missteps. Rather than detract from the story, these things add to it – because they remind you that this is a real person, living a real life.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Those authentic little moments in video when things go a little off script aren’t liabilities – they’re assets. In today’s media landscape where “authenticity” reigns, not every video you publish has to be super polished, even if you’re marketing a luxury hotel. Showing off your resort’s true identity may be what people will value most, and formats like point-of-view videos or live video on social are natural spots where you can – and should – be less polished.

Researching and booking trips hasn’t changed much over the last decade, but don’t be fooled – new tech is coming. Here are a few intriguing possibilities.

The process to book a trip online looks much the same in 2018 as it did in 2008: you go to the property’s website (or an OTA), see some pictures and read about the amenities, click in a calendar what dates you’d like, add a few details about your stay, and the system feeds back the availability and rates. Sure, hotel website design has evolved with the times, and you see much more engaging imagery, but booking is basically the same.

So yes, things haven’t changed too dramatically recently, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. As a hotel marketing agency, we’re focused on the solutions that will help you drive business today – but that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring tomorrow. With that in mind, we took a look at some of the more promising pieces of travel tech in the pipeline and consider how they could be used by travel marketers in the future.

Chatbots

Chatbots are simple artificial intelligence programs that live within our messaging apps. For example, Domino’s offers the ability to order a pizza (or anything off the menu) by sending them a message on Facebook Messenger. No, you’re not texting with a human at your local Dominos – you’re messaging with a bot who will ask you the necessary prompts to take your order, all from the comfort of your Messenger app. For quick – perhaps repeat – getaways, chatbots will offer a no-hassle way to easily book a stay at your favorite resort.

Voice

Going hand in hand with chatbot technology, voice is one of the next frontiers of human-computer interaction. Google, long the king of search, knows this, and is preparing accordingly. As Amit Singhal, a senior vice president at the company said, “Someday, pulling your mobile out to search will feel as archaic as a dial-up modem.” As chatbots evolve and voice technology continues to get smarter, you may one day do vacation search via a virtual voice assistant, who will ask you about your preferences like a travel agent would, and produce an itinerary tailored to your taste. Plus, machine learning will ensure that the system gets smarter as time goes on – both in a global sense, through its interactions with many travelers, and locally, as it better understands your preferences.

Social Stories & Maps

As social apps get more immersive and continue to blend the real world with the digital, our friends’ social media sharing – primarily on the Stories products in Snapchat and Instagram – will increasingly be a springboard for us to start our own travel experiences. Snap Map, Snapchat’s map feature that lets you see where your friends (the ones who opt-in, anyway) are on a map, lets you quickly explore any area in the world to see what people are snapping there. Considering the company’s increasing focus on direct-response marketing, this may be a channel for travel marketers to watch closely.

AR/VR

While some may worry that the living room magic promised by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will hurt the travel industry, the reality is that AR/VR will be a travel marketer’s dream. In fact, look no further than Airbnb, a company with quite a lot riding on the future of travel, as one of the biggest believers in the technology. They foresee a future where Airbnb guests are able to experience a property in VR before booking, giving people an immersive sense of the space prior to pulling the trigger. Forward-thinking hotel marketers see the same opportunity with VR – giving prospective guests an interactive tour of the property, the rooms, the pool bar right from the comfort of their living room before they book. AR will also be a useful tool for travelers to help them understand new, unfamiliar settings – imagine a camera on your phone overlaying tips, information, and suggestions to help you enjoy your trip.

Interactive Websites

Websites like Visit Humboldt work by blending interactive content with the trip planning process. What feels like a game – or at least a Buzzfeed quiz – results in a useful, actionable itinerary full of all the spots you indicated interest in. Of course, marketers would be wise to entice the user to submit an email address to retain the itinerary (and allow the marketer to target them via future email campaigns). Websites like this will need to be mobile-friendly (and probably designed mobile-first) to have relevancy, but their low-friction, fun-to-use interface offers up the rich data marketers will be able to acquire and act on.

Pre-Designed Trips

Companies like Pack Up + Go, which brands itself as a “surprise travel agency,” are offering travelers the ability to enjoy a surprise vacation, simply by sharing their budget and preferences. The travelers receive an envelope with tickets and an itinerary inside, and aren’t supposed to open it until they’re at the airport on a certain day and at a specific time. While not a new technology per se, it unlocks a new behavior. If this trend endures, perhaps hotels that work with these companies to create and package fun, novel experiences will have a leg up on the competition when vying for their business.

You don’t do it often, so when you’re devoting the time and money to a photo shoot for your wedding venue collateral, do it right by following these steps before and during the shoot.


If your wedding venue recently had a big renovation, your old photos are looking a little tired, or it’s just been a few years, it may be time to hire a photographer to do an original shoot of your venue. These shots will make your marketing team’s job easier, as they’ll better reflect your property and be specifically composed to portray it in the best light, as opposed to a real event, in which certain elements out of your control. Whether the photos will be used on your website, in your event brochure, or as part of some other wedding venue collateral, remember that for many, this will be the only window into your venue. It could be a trusted friend of the bride looking through the photos, potentially swaying her decision. So, these shots must bring your venue to life for every new set of eyes.

Here are some tips to help the photographer capture the photos that’ll put a punctuation mark on your wedding venue marketing and help you capture bookings.

Before the Shoot

1. Create a shot list and cover it with the photographer ahead of time. Some shots you’ll want to include:

•Scene-setting photos of the landscapes or items that are significant to the property. For example: a grove of trees, a certain garden, plaques and/or signage inside. These detail shots can work nicely in marketing material placed next to a room shot or wide-angle photo of the entire building.

•Each room and outdoor setting photographed from multiple angles. You may see things during the editing process and realize a certain angle is better on camera than in person, or vice versa.

•Signature cocktails and dishes in the property’s restaurant.

2. Build out a timeline for the shoot and run it by the photographer, so you can stay on task and don’t rush through the styling piece just to “get the shot.”

3. Have your photographer hire a model bride and groom – they don’t have to be in every shot, but it gives the photos a dimension that scene-setting shots can’t.

4. Walk the grounds the day before the shoot, looking for areas that shine due to a particular season or time of day.

5. Make a list of areas that need to be attended to or cleared of clutter. Ex: electronics, miscellaneous electrical cords, stray nails, unsightly trash cans, etc.

6. Schedule an assistant to be with you on the day of the shoot for moving items in and out of shots, staging props, fluffing pillows, etc. This is essential. A second set of creative eyes will help you capture everything on your list effectively.

During the Shoot

1. Always shoot the venue’s view 360 degrees – one straight-on shot can be deceiving, and it’ll help give couples a broader idea of the venue.

2. Consistently look around for any clutter, especially miscellaneous electrical cords, cable boxes, plastic trash cans, etc. and move them out of the shot.

3. Capture rooms, especially lobbies, both empty and with movement.

4. Spread your focus. Capturing different rooms, architecture, and landscapes are important, but so are the details. Look for small items significant to the property, such as artwork on the walls, the glint of light in the elaborate chandelier overhead, etc. Study the way guests move throughout the space and consider what is eye-catching to them.

BONUS: Always Produce a Signed Contract

If your relationship with a top photographer partner in your area means the “price” of this shoot is in ad trade or some other agreement that does or does not include a cash transaction, you may brush off the idea of a signed contract. Don’t. Particularly since you’re likely working with a top partner, it helps make sure this shoot doesn’t create a rift by clearly outlining the expectation for both of parties as well as what rights you have to the images.

United States copyright laws state that artists own all rights to their created images and can sell/transfer rights to clients and/or agencies. Most questionable negotiations historically default in favor of the artist. Even a minor use or modification of the art/photograph require the artist’s permission. It is important to remember that your business is essentially licensing, not buying, an image from the artist, unless explicitly stated on the contract. Licensing can be defined as “a legal agreement granting permission to exercise a specified right or rights to a work within certain usage guidelines.” Your fee for “licensing” the image(s) may be as simple as ad trade or free exposure, but no matter the agreement, it is important to understand the terms of the usage and agree with your photographer partner in writing what the scope of those rights are.

In this back-and-forth conversation, we decode “web designer–speak” so you’ll be able to understand the ideas driving modern website development.

Here’s the situation: You just got out of a meeting with a website designer who was telling you all the reasons why you need a new website. Sure, you know that yours is a little dated, but you didn’t understand some of the terms the designer was throwing around, and you just want it straight. So, you came to us.

You: I have some questions.
Hawthorn Creative: Let’s hear them.

So I was talking with this web designer, let’s call him Mark – his name’s not Mark, but we’ll call him Mark – he was throwing around a bunch of terms, and I have to tell you, I had no idea what he was talking about. UX, PSD, CTA…
Slow down!

…IA, SEO. So many acronyms. I kept nodding but I was checked out.
All right, let’s go through them one by one.

UX means user experience. It’s not just how something looks, it’s how something works, and it basically encompasses the whole experience someone has on your website.

PSD is just a file format – Photoshop’s, to be specific. When an image is in PSD format, it can be manipulated by designers in Photoshop.

A CTA is a crucial element for any business’s website. It means call-to-action. It’s the main thing you’re trying to direct people to do on your website. It could be booking an appointment, subscribing to your newsletter, sending you an inquiry, whatever. It’s the thing you want them to do.

IA, or information architecture, is basically how people get around your website. Think of the menus you see at the top of the page when you go to your favorite websites. You want yours to be clearly visible and well organized so people can get to where they need to go.

And finally, SEO. There are a bunch of ways to get people to your website, but the biggest driver of traffic for many hospitality websites is through search. SEO, or search engine optimization, is basically a set of tactics to improve your chances at coming up in people’s searches.

I keep hearing that my website needs to be “responsive.” Is that a fad I can ignore?
Noooo. When a website is responsive, that means that it easily scales in size, regardless of the screen – it could be a computer with a big monitor, a smartphone, or even an iPad. As more and more of our “computer” time shifts to the phone, it’s important that your website works well and look good not only on the desktop, but everywhere. Responsive does that.

So how can I tell if the website I have is responsive?
Here’s an easy trick: Open up your website on a desktop browser. Drag the window (doesn’t matter whether you use Safari, Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer) from the corner and make it smaller. Does the content neatly rearrange to fit the smaller window? If so, it’s responsive.

Cool, I can try that. Another thing Mark the designer kept saying is “white space.” White space, white space, white space. I think Mark is in love with white space. Why does it matter?
White space is basically the absence of content or any other elements. It’s the parts of the page that are blank or empty. Designers love it because it gives the important components room to, well, be important, and it makes things much more digestible for the reader.

But I have a bunch of information I want to include – details, FAQs, pricing, a couple paragraphs of background about our business, customer testimonials, that sort of thing. If I have a bunch of white space, I probably won’t be able to fit it all on the home page.
That’s a good thing. If all that stuff was on a single page, it wouldn’t be read. This is where both white space and navigation come into play. Everything should have its place where it can be seen, read, and appreciated. A good website design agency doesn’t just make things look good, but really thinks through your customers’ needs and builds around that.

What about the photos? Mark said I need high-resolution photos. I get that for print, but why on a website?
Modern websites are designed for super high-resolution (think: big and fancy) screens, so graphics that may technically be “web-friendly” often won’t cut it if you’re displaying them as large-scale images. You’re in a very visual industry – you want to make sure you nail those images and have an impact on visitors.

iPhone cameras get more sophisticated every year, though. Can I snap the photos myself?
Even if you have a camera that can technically capture the sort of images we’re talking about, there’s more to it than the photo’s technical quality. You want professionally composed, artfully crafted images that will really do your services justice.

This is a lot to consider. If someone is already on my website, and all the information they need is there, what does it matter if it’s pretty or not? I’ve already got them.
Well, you may have them in the sense that they’re on your site, but chances are they’ll leave soon, without taking the action you want them to take. If something isn’t easy to find, people don’t stick around and comb through every page – they leave. They hit one of the other tabs they have open, or open up a different app on their phone, etc. There are too many other things screaming for their attention.

So it’s about putting content in the spots that people see?
Yes, but there’s more to it in your case. Because the hospitality industry is so visually oriented, websites in your field don’t just have to be functional, they also need to look good, and have that aspirational Pinterest-worthy feel. Does that make sense?

I think so. OK, last thing: domain, website, host. What’s the difference?
Here’s how to think about it: A domain is a website’s address. The domain for this website is hawthornc.wpengine.com. You can have a domain without having a website – it’d sort of be like calling someone who has a phone number, but no phone. A website is a collection of all the content (often spread across multiple pages) accessible on a domain. A host refers to the server (or hosting company) that stores your website and serves it up to everyone trying to access it.

Facebook has attracted lots of unwanted attention lately with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Here’s what it means for hotel and wedding venue marketing.

You don’t have to follow tech news closely to have heard about the Facebook data scandal that’s dominated headlines over the last few weeks. It’s an intriguing tale that ties together politics, money, and a product used by billions of people. There’s a lot of confusion around it, though, and Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony didn’t seem to answer many of the hard questions.

Here, we outline how the scandal started, how it will affect Facebook ad targeting in the future, and what this means for those in the business of marketing hotels and wedding venues who want to reach prospective guests and clients with the platform.

About Cambridge Analytica…

There’s a misconception that Cambridge Analytica was a Facebook advertiser, and that’s how they acquired users’ personal information. That’s not how it happened – when you advertise on Facebook, you’re not able to see who, specifically, you’re reaching. Instead, in 2013, Cambridge Analytica worked with a developer who built a personality quiz app on top of Facebook’s platform, and it was installed by about 300,000 people. At the time, Facebook let app developers collect not only the personal information of people who used the app, but that of their friends, too. So, Cambridge Analytica ended up with rich datasets for tens of millions of Facebook users – enough to build psychographical profiles of them that would indicate what messaging would be likely to sway them politically. Then, they ran ads to those people based on that information.

What Facebook Is Doing About It

Facebook took steps to address what went wrong with Cambridge Analytica (like being less liberal about developer access to data, using clearer messaging so people know about options to protect their data, hiring more people for their security team, etc.) and will continue to do so. But the scandal also brought to light a related issue: Facebook’s wide suite of ad targeting options. The merits of this system have been dissected in the tech press, though the basic premise – targeting people by what they share on Facebook – is highly unlikely to disappear anytime soon. It’s a little-known fact, though, that Facebook doesn’t only segment their audience for advertisers based on what people share on Facebook; they also work with third-party data providers who feed Facebook information about people’s lives off Facebook, making it easier for advertisers to reach them in different ways. Facebook announced in March that this practice will stop, and that Partner Categories, as this data was referred to, will end at some point later this year.

Why Hotels and Wedding Venue Marketers Don’t Have to Worry

Reports indicate that all the bad press hasn’t scared off many of Facebook’s users. In all likelihood, hotel and wedding venue marketers with campaigns targeting specific types of travelers in specific areas, those who have visited a specific page of your website but haven’t converted, or recently engaged couples by age and location have nothing to worry about – that sort of targeting doesn’t approach the level of sophistication worthy of scrutiny. Plus, user backlash has been against a company that may have inappropriately acquired and used data (Cambridge Analytica) and the platform itself (Facebook) – not the other five-plus-million advertisers using the service. The bottom line: Targeted advertising on Facebook will continue to evolve, but it isn’t going anywhere.

Sample Ways Hotels and Wedding Venues Can Use Facebook’s Targeted Ad Platform

Yes, we have skin in this game, with our offering that builds campaigns targeting recently engaged couples. Facebook’s system allows you to create ads to reach brides, grooms, or both, who are newly engaged (within the last three months), who are a certain age, and who live in a specific area (or one of several areas). You can even target by income, though we don’t recommend this, since many engaged couples get help paying for their wedding from their parents. You’ll have a relevant, receptive audience, and an ad in the carousel format, in which people can swipe through a selection of photos, that can drive people to your website so they book a site visit. It doesn’t take many site visit inquiries to make the ad spend well worth it. Another popular approach for both hotels and wedding venues is to run a re-marketing campaign, enticing users to come back to your “weddings” or booking page on your website with an ad directly in their Facebook feeds. Hotel marketers might also be interested in this post highlighting some of the other creative ways you could target guests.

What You Should Do Now

If you’re interested in reaching people through Facebook ads, you have a couple of options: You could go to facebook.com/ads and set up a Facebook ad account, set up a campaign (how much you want to spend, how long you want it to run, etc.), build an audience (who you want to see your ad), and create an ad (including the copy, images, and placement within Facebook’s properties.) Or, if you have too much on your plate at the moment, you could work with a hospitality marketing agency like us, and we’ll take care of it for you. One of our recent clients – a wedding venue in New Jersey – saw a 19x return on their first month’s $500 ad spend.

So you think luxury hotels can’t use user-generated content (UGC) because it’s not polished enough? Take some notes from the Four Seasons, Hyatt, and W Hotels.

How and Why Your Luxury Hotel Should Use UGC

Luxury hotels develop marketing strategies to ensure that their property looks and is portrayed just right, exactly as they (or their hotel marketing agency) planned, so it’s understandable that the prospect of using user-generated content (UGC) – in all its unprofessional, unpolished, sometimes off-kilter glory – can be a little scary. However, according to research firm L2, hotels that integrate UGC into their Instagram feeds generate six times the engagement over those that don’t. So, not only can it be done – the hotels we profile below prove it – it should be done, as part of any well-rounded hotel marketing strategy.

From a devoted UGC microsite to a defined UGC gallery that’s an essential part of W Hotels’ photo galleries, here are three ways top luxury hotel brands are integrating UGC with marketing strategies that align with their very high-end brands.

1. W Hotels

Every luxury hotel brand spends a fortune on the meticulously set up room and architectural shots of their properties. Unfortunately, we all know that these polished marketing photos don’t always reflect reality. W Hotels has an interesting approach to this dynamic. When you’re browsing properties on their website, there are two photo galleries for each: one, full of professional photos, and another, called Guest Gallery, which comprises photos from guests – shots of rooms, window views, close-ups of (real!) food, and more. They even include the original poster’s caption, Instagram username, and the photo’s date.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Both professional and UGC photos have their place, but keep in mind, the younger the consumer, the more easily they can tell the difference. Give people the chance to peel back the curtain and see your property through the eyes of other guests – they’ll appreciate it.

2. Hyatt

Hyatt has a full microsite dedicated to UGC that’s built around their hashtag, #WorldOfHyatt. On the creation side, this allows guests to simply use the hashtag to be included on the microsite (though there’s a filtering process) or, for those without an Instagram account, upload to the microsite directly. People browsing the site, considering staying with Hyatt, can sort by different Destination Inspirations like “Family Friendly,” “Beaches,” and “Golf,” giving it an almost Pinterest-like feel for those in the dreaming phase of the traveler journey. Visitors can also narrow their searches by sorting by locations and brands.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: UGC may originate on social media, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there. While the resolution may not be high enough to include in your print collateral, don’t be afraid to incorporate UGC photos on your website.

3. Four Seasons

Even a brand as buttoned up and devoted to evoking luxury as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts sees the value – and power – of UGC as a part of their social media marketing strategy. Focus on Four Seasons (and the accompanying hashtag, #FocusFSchallenge) was a relatively straightforward UGC photo contest. And yet thousands submitted entries. Perhaps wooed by the hefty prize: Three winning photographers each were awarded a six-day vacation to two different Four Seasons properties. While other hotels do contests with a primary focus of getting guests to promote the property to their friends, Four Seasons took the smart step of defining ways to then use that content, including sharing some of the images with their more than 600,000 Instagram followers.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Some people will use your hashtag, but if you’re hoping for a lot of engagement and, in particular, harnessing those who are staying at your hotel at the moment, you have to add both on-property marketing to make them aware of the promotion and an eye-catching incentive to encourage guests to take that extra step. Also, if you’re specifically interested in doing a contest, you may find these tips for developing a killer UGC contest useful.

If you’re in wedding venue marketing, do you know how much each inquiry and site visit is worth? Follow these simple steps to a clearer marketing plan.

Someone fills out a form on your website, expressing interest in hosting their wedding with you. Do you know how much that site visit inquiry is worth? How about when you actually host a site visit? Do you know easily and quickly how much that site visit is worth based on how many convert into clients?

If not, we’ve got you covered. After answering just four questions, there are a couple of simple calculations you can perform to figure out how to put a dollar value estimate on each step in your sales funnel. From there, you can dive deeper to figure out how different marketing tactics for your wedding venue are performing, based on how qualified those leads are.

The end result is a simpler, smarter, more informed marketing plan that you can tackle, regardless of how much time you have to devote to marketing.

Step One: Answer These Four Questions

For any of these questions, feel free to answer for the trailing 12 months, the previous calendar year, or an average – whatever method you choose, just make sure you’re consistent with it for each question. Know these will be estimates and we’ll get into vetting how qualified the inquiries are once you’ve done the quick calculations.

Question 1: How Many Site Visit Inquiries Do You Receive Each Year?
Note: Make sure you consider all sources: phone calls, emails, website inquiries, referral sites like Wedding Wire, and even in-person. Remember, estimates are fine.

Question 2: How Many Site Visits Do You Do Each Year?

Question 3: How Many Weddings Do You Book Each Year?

Question 4: How Much Revenue Do You Generate Per Wedding, on Average?

Step Two: Calculate the Value of a Site Visit Inquiry

Now that you’ve answered the questions, we’ll use an example to help guide you through the calculations. Let’s call the venue Wedding Venue A. (Creative, we know.) In 2017, Wedding Venue A:

•Received 500 site visit inquiries
•Conducted 100 site visits
•Booked 20 weddings
•Generated $10,000 per wedding, on average

Here’s the equation you’ll use:In the case of Wedding Venue A, here’s how it breaks down:

(20 booked weddings ÷ 500 site visit inquiries) * $10,000 average revenue per wedding
=The value of a site visit inquiry is $400.00

Each site visit inquiry is worth an average of $400.00

Step Three: Calculate the Value of a Site Visit

As you would expect, it’s a very similar equation used to find the value of a site visit:In the case of Wedding Venue A, here’s how it breaks down:

(20 booked weddings ÷ 100 site visits) * $10,000 average revenue per wedding
=The value of a site visit is $2,000.00

Each site visit is worth an average of $2,000.00

Step Four: Qualify Sub-Segments of Your Inquiries

The figures above represent a great starting point, but you can choose to go deeper. The key to this step is knowing where your actual brides first learned of your venue – then you can perform the same calculations based on those segments.

Now that you know how to perform the calculations, you could get a deeper look into the numbers by segmenting and tracking prospects by any number of factors – like what channel attracted their interest.

For example, if you segment prospects by channel – an ad on social, a Google search, an email campaign – you could more wisely allocate your marketing spend. You may see that prospects acquired via social ads have a much higher conversion rate than those acquired via Google AdWords campaigns, and decide to shift some of your ad budget around accordingly.

Now, Use the Calculations to Evaluate Your Marketing Tactics

Now that you know how to value site visit inquiries and site visits, it may shift how you view ad spends. If you spend $300 on targeted Facebook ads (and we can help here, by the way) and get in front of thousands of brides-to-be – it’d take a single site visit inquiry for the campaign to return a 1.5X ROI.

Suddenly, when you start viewing the process in those terms, you realize that your website is much more than a pretty vanity presence, and exists as a real business driver that should be actively capturing leads. Speaking of capturing leads: Make sure you have a form built into the weddings page of your website, rather than just an email address or phone number. This reduces the friction required for the bride or groom to make first contact and can begin to help qualify them, saving both parties time.

Bonus: Don’t Miss the Hidden Takeaways in the Numbers

Finally, consider looking at the raw numbers you provided for the four questions as the skeleton of a sales funnel. Returning to Wedding Venue A’s metrics:

•Received 500 site visit inquiries
•Conducted 100 site visits
•Booked 20 weddings
•Generated $10,000 per wedding, on average

Sure, they were able to book 20 weddings last year, but they may look at that 20% site visit conversion rate (20 weddings ÷ 100 site visits) as lackluster, and aim to improve it in the following year by rethinking how they conduct site visits and what they can do better.

Knowing they needed a refresh but not what it should look like, this family-owned resort threw their trust behind Hawthorn to design a handful of print projects.

See the Projects

Danforth Bay Camping & RV Resort visitors guide
Danforth Bay Camping & RV Resort brochure
King Pine Ski Area trail map

The Client

Purity Spring Resort has been a fixture in Madison, New Hampshire, for more than 100 years. Owned and operated by the Hoyt family since the late nineteenth century – and now up to the fourth and fifth generations to help run things – the property sits on over 1,000 natural acres of land. As the years have passed, the business has grown, and now features a summer camp, King Pine Ski Area, and the Danforth Bay Camping & RV Resort as its major revenue drivers.

The Projects

Purity Spring tasked us with developing three projects: a tri-fold brochure for Danforth Bay, a trail map (that also includes pricing, hours, and other info) for their King Pine ski mountain, and the biggest project of the three, a visitors’ guide for Danforth Bay that blended editorial content with more core, need-to-know information people staying at the camping resort would crave. While they didn’t hire us to rethink their branding, in designing the projects, we developed a new set of fonts and styling that were used throughout the publications to give them a cohesive feel, though the aesthetic varies between the properties – the King Pine trail map is brighter and a little more edgy, for example.

Our Take

It’s not uncommon for us to work with clients who don’t know exactly what they want. That’s not their job; it’s ours – to ask the questions to better understand the business and objectives of the project, and build the solution accordingly. One major reason Purity Spring selected us as their hotel marketing agency is because they liked the design samples we provided and were able to point out ones they thought could serve as inspiration for their projects. With only light direction from the resort, we “built the house” by designing the visitors’ guide first, and then let that inform the style of the other projects. After we delivered the final products, they requested the exact colors and fonts so that they could use them in materials they developed on their own to keep the new branding going.

Last Thought

One of the things that sets Hawthorn apart as a hotel marketing agency is the fact that not only do we have the staff architecture to execute for everything from award-winning design and content to social media marketing, but we also have a team of ad salespeople on staff. For some products like visitors’ guides, wedding brochures, and in-room custom magazines, we can explore a structure where ad sales offset some or all of the costs to you, thanks to area businesses who want to get in front of your visitors, too. The result? A well-built and -designed piece of collateral that can come at a fraction of the cost.

These websites, varying in complexity, style, and industry, stood out to our designers and will influence their work moving forward. Here’s why.

We tapped some of our hotel marketing agency’s brightest design minds – professionals tasked with reimagining client websites every day – to share some of their website design inspiration. These are the websites they’ve stumbled upon recently that have especially stood out, and the detail that makes them worthy of a closer inspection.

An Inn’s Elegant Use of Custom-Illustrated Elements

The Website: Inn at Perry Cabin

Designer’s Take: “There are so many great things about this site. They use little illustrated flourishes perfectly. On the homepage, you see the floral graphics behind white boxes, crab patterns behind the Wining & Dining callout (fitting for this hotel on Chesapeake Bay), and a full watercolor background at the bottom. It’s clean and minimalist without being too simple.”

An Airline’s Engaging Digital Magazine

The Website: IFly Magazine

Designer’s Take: “This is a digital magazine produced by KLM Airlines. It’s amazingly visual. They mix static images with video, music, and brilliant typography. They’re really smart about their image choices in this particular case, bringing this idea of “wanderlust” to life.”

Minimalism and White Space on This Resort’s Website

The Website: Waldhaus Flims

Designer’s Take: “I just love how elegant the website for Waldhaus Flims, a hotel in Switzerland, looks. The white space, the minimalist design – so well done. You don’t usually see a hotel website design like this. The images really shine here, and I think that’s the key for a beautiful hotel like this. I also think it’s important to note that this hotel is getting their message and brand across without too much text. There’s a sweet spot where you communicate enough, but you don’t crowd the key part of your message.”

A Luxury Condo Complex Playing with Asymmetrical, Overlapping Images

The Website: VistaBlue Singer Island

Designer’s Take: “This website plays with an asymmetrical concept by having the images overlap and not aligning them to a centerfold. It breaks the mold of what we’ve come to expect from websites and does a really great job grabbing your attention, especially because hospitality website design tends to be more on the conservative side. I also love the subtle animations and vector illustrations that appear throughout. Finally, I especially like the navigation. When you click the hamburger menu, the menu opens full page and turns blue. Then, the little wavy lines animate under the navigation items and display the sub-navigation. You don’t see something like this very often.”

A Real Estate Company Paying Special Attention to Detail

The Website: T.E. Group

Designer’s Take: “You don’t see many real estate companies with gorgeous looking websites, but T.E. Group nailed their design really well. The animations are subtle and the little line details are cute. My favorite element is the secondary navigation on the bottom – when you hover, it becomes a box. A small detail, but super cool, and the sort of thing people notice and may think to themselves, ‘OK, this company pays attention to the little things.’”

A Mix of Engaging Homepage Content and Features for This Restaurant

The Website: Vollerei

Designer’s Take: “Vollerei’s website starts with a video that tells a story and engages you right away. Then, when you scroll down, you come across a bunch of images that you can interact with. You scroll and a drink spins, a table set opens, etc. They’re clean in their design approach, but there’s plenty of stimulation to keep you interested.”

A Restaurant Company’s Playful Single-Page Website That Keeps You Clicking

The Website: The Diligence Company

Designer’s Take: “The Diligence Company makes me actually read the content on their website because the typography is so good and the page is fun to navigate. I love how, when you scroll, you see your progress on the page – it’s a lot of content, but because you see your progress so clearly, you don’t feel overwhelmed. On other websites that rely on scroll, it can feel never-ending, so it’s nice that they show you a clear progress bar on the right side of the page, and underline the section that you’re currently on at the top.”

Here are four DMOs killing it in one aspect of their content marketing strategy – social, website, storytelling, and print – with a takeaway for hotel and hospitality marketers on each.

We think destination management organizations (DMOs) produce some of the best and most engaging destination content marketing out there. It’s a part of the hospitality industry our agency staff regularly turns to for inspiration for our work with hotel and wedding venues, to see what’s pacing the content marketing industry. Here, we focus on four to highlight one facet where they’re killing it and provide a takeaway for both hotel and other DMO marketers.

Best Social: Visit Greenland

Visit Greenland’s presence across social – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – is anchored by their hashtag #GreenlandPioneer. There have been more than 22,000 posts shared to Instagram using that hashtag. Some businesses, both within and outside of the hospitality industry, try to get too clever with their hashtag, making it harder to promote on offline channels and less likely that followers will incorporate it in their posts, but #GreenlandPioneer is easy to remember and true to the country’s spirit. Their social channels offer unique value and share content tailored to their respective platforms. Finally, Visit Greenland seems to understand the importance of video – a recent video they shared (only one minute long) generated a whopping 600 Facebook shares and more than 35,000 views.

Takeaway for Hotel and DMO Marketers: If UGC is going to be a core part of your social strategy, make sure you choose the right hashtag, one that honors the feel of your property while being easy to say, remember, and use.

Best Trending Content: Visit Philadelphia

A diverse slate of content is at the heart of Visit Philadelphia’s marketing strategy. A significant part of their work focuses on what people are searching for and what’s in the news and responds with articles, maps, listicles, guides, and more to give their followers what they want. When rumors were flying that Pope Francis would visit Philadelphia in the fall of 2015, the Visit Philadelphia team had an image ready if and when it was announced so they could ride that surge of excitement. Plus, because they invest heavily in their content, they want to make sure they get bang for their buck, so they come up with creative ways to repurpose the content across channels, and after, carefully measure the content’s performance and reader satisfaction.

Takeaway for Hotel and DMO Marketers: For those marketers running a blog or other frequently updated content, dig into what kind of information your guests are craving via tools like Google Trends and SEMrush (or work with a hotel marketing agency that will do the heavy lifting for you) and deliver it to them over and over in different, easy-to-consume formats.

Best Website: Visit Idaho

While Idaho may not be a place that first comes to mind when you think of family vacations, Visit Idaho does their best to show off the state’s natural beauty and all the adventures that can be had within it. The navigation at the top of the page – big, bold, and colorful – offers travelers what they want upon landing on the site: “Things to Do,” “Places to Stay,” and “Travel Tips.” Each page for specific adventures (like this one for Lava Hot Springs) has 360-degree imagery, a map, contact information, related adventures and tips, and even the current local weather. Finally, the coolest part about Visit Idaho’s website may be the “Backpack” feature, which, upon signing up, lets users add adventures and tips to their “Backpack” to revisit later as they plan their Idaho getaway.

Takeaway for Hotel and DMO Marketers: Design your website around the things that people are looking for most frequently, and then deliver so much value that they hang around and see your site as a valuable resource in their trip as a whole, even if they’re not immediately planning to book a stay.

Best Print Publication: San Diego Magazine

The 110-page, biannual San Diego Magazine combines attention-stealing photos with compelling written content (like this feature on Balboa Park) across six main sections: Explore, Eat, Drink, See, Play, and Plan, to deliver a publication that’s as entertaining and informative as most any magazine you could subscribe to on your own. There’s a need for this kind of authority, as “California’s Beach City” attracts more than 35 million tourists every year. While tourists may expect a standard travel guide when they come across this publication, San Diego Magazine over-delivers and stands on its own as a magazine that’s equally informative and entertaining.

Takeaway for Hotel and DMO Marketers: For hotel marketers, print may be an even better option for you than it is for destination marketers, thanks to the simple fact that you can get custom magazines to readers in the right place and at the right time – in their rooms, while they’re staying with you, looking for things to do. Maybe the solution for you isn’t a full-fledged magazine, but a mix between a magazine and a more traditional travel guide. Even in 2018, print can be a key component of a strong hotel marketing strategy.

It’s the one thing couples take as they leave your venue. If your wedding brochure is just pretty pictures, you’re not maximizing its potential.

You may have your prospective brides and couples at your property for an afternoon, but the moment they walk out the door from that site visit, it’s up to your follow-ups and your wedding brochure’s metaphorical hands to get the job done and convince the couple to book your venue. Whether you produce one on your own or with us through our free, ad-supported wedding brochure model, here are the five jobs a good wedding brochure will do for you:

1. Make Your Case All Over Again to the Friends and Family Who Weren’t There

Wedding planning is inherently social. We talk to our friends and family and bounce ideas around regarding the guest list, color scheme, food and beverage, and perhaps most importantly, the venue choice. The wedding brochure can serve as a talking piece and a focus for the couple’s conversations with others – both those who may have attended and also those who didn’t. When the bride describes this perfect spot that she’s thinking about saying “I do” at, she’ll be able to tangibly hold it in her hands, pass it to a friend or parents, and bring it alive more fully by pairing her description with your visuals.

2. Keep the Anticipation and Excitement of Hosting at Your Venue Top of Mind

Couples will likely visit at least a few other properties, and all those spaces can blend together in their heads. Your wedding brochure reminds the bride of the things she liked best – from a beautiful photo of a certain space she might’ve loved during the visit to a specific part of your process for working together, which you can communicate in a text section. It’s sort of like when you have a vacation booked, and you visit the same websites over and over and let the anticipation and excitement build – your event brochure can be the focal point for the bride’s excitement about this huge day (and investment) at your venue.

3. Be There to Provide the Details They Need to Know

There are questions that you answer in your first conversation with a prospective client, questions you answer during a site visit, and questions you answer after, during the decision-making process. By addressing all these in your event brochure and including other important information like floor plans and menus (if applicable), you’re removing some of the uncertainty that lurks during an important decision-making process like this. By the end, the brochure should be dog-eared and worn, having acted as a trusted, frequently consulted ally. As a bonus, you’re also able to lessen the work your sales team must do to close a sale. By giving brides what they ask about most often, you reduce the time that your team needs to spend responding to those common questions.

4. Offer a Blueprint for the Rest of the Event

The event brochure can also be a gateway to unlocking the other aspects of an event by acting as a directory of sorts – not to every vendor in the business, but to a group of preferred vendors that you feel comfortable recommending, have confidence in, and can speak to their merits. You’re doing the couples a service by providing this information, and, when you work with Hawthorn, you could pay for the brochure in its entirety by including vendor listings. Strong relationships with vendors – solidified with listings in the brochure – help the couples, pay for the brochure, and ensure seamless events.

5. It Keeps Your Sales Team’s Foot in the Door

The brochure gives your sales team an easy follow-up conversation starter. “Remember when you saw the ballroom, pictured on the fourth page of the brochure? We have new lighting options…” For clients who choose to work with us, the ePub comes into play here, too. It makes the brochure even easier to reference and share.

From a photographer to a wedding planner to an events venue, these clients needed a new website design that yes, looked good, but also drove business.

Websites are your doorway to new business. A thoughtfully-designed, purpose-driven website makes all the difference. Up until recently, websites of this caliber were only available to businesses with big budgets and six-plus months to invest in the project.

Now, utilizing Squarespace’s infrastructure, a marketing agency like Hawthorn can focus on nailing the design, navigation, and content of a website, and get the job done on a smaller budget and shorter timeline than previously thought possible. The difference is that Squarespace essentially allows us to remove the need for a web developer by making the interface designer-friendly. It still took a solid number of months for our designers to ramp up in full with the help of our director of technology (who stays involved to build the navigation and UX), but the end result is a process that reduces complexity and cost, and lets us focus on designing a strong site that drives engagement and action.

Here, we spoke with Hawthorn Creative Manager Kristen Ritzenthaler to help us pick apart three recently completed website design projects – what was wrong before, how we addressed it, and why their business is better for it moving forward – in a “before and after” review.

The Professional Photographer

Photographer Amy Wellencamp’s website made visitors do too much work to find what they were looking for.

Main Goal: Make the information that people are seeking easier to find.

How We Did It: We focused on re-thinking and prioritizing the navigation on every page and designed around Amy’s three main customer “buckets.”

Kristen’s Take: “There was no cohesive story to Amy’s former website. The small images weren’t doing a good enough job showing off the amazing work she does. The site’s navigation wasn’t effective in getting people to where they needed to be. The menu was buried, and there was no way to scroll down and explore. We knew we had to address all that.

“For someone whose business is about her unique sense of taste, we knew it would be especially important to nail her aesthetic, so we started by putting together a mood board with a color palette, fonts, graphic inspiration, and more – and she raved about it. She has three big buckets of clients – senior portraits, weddings, and family shoots – so we positioned the website to showcase each of those things and gave each of them a landing page.

“In the end, it was about showcasing her already-amazing photos and letting the work speak for itself.”

The Event Planner

Ana Stefanovich of North Shore Weddings by Ana had a dated website that just didn’t do her work justice.

Main Goal: Modernize the website’s design and build around tasteful images that show off the quality of her work.

How We Did It: We scrapped the textured background and refreshed the typography, colors, and navigation.

Kristen’s Take: “In a business as visual as event planning, our primary concern was that the images didn’t grab you. When she submitted all the new photos to us, we knew we could work with them – they were all Pinterest-worthy, Instagram-gold-level amazing. Truthfully, we were almost surprised, because her old site didn’t reflect this caliber of work. It was important to us to show all the looks she can pull off: classic estate weddings, rustic weddings, tent weddings. With the old site, you couldn’t really tell what her style was, because there were just one or two photos of each wedding. On the new site, we set up a gallery for each featured wedding so that visitors can go deeper and really explore her work.”

An Events Venue

Christmas House Inn & Gardens, a historic venue southeast of Los Angeles, had a website that was re-done just last year, but there was one problem: it didn’t have a homepage.

Main Goal: Give the website a proper homepage and a design that’s true to them.

How We Did It: We dug into the ins and outs of their business – who their customers are, how they see The Christmas House, and what the biggest revenue drivers are – and designed using their already-built brand guide.

Kristen’s Take: “Their current site, which was done last year, doesn’t look bad: There’s white space, no hideous fonts, and good images. The clunkiest thing about it was that it didn’t have a good homepage. The homepage is the weddings page. As a visitor, you had very little idea who they are or what they do.

“One of the venue’s main challenges is its name, The Christmas House. Naturally, people assume the venue has a strong link with the holiday, but the name is simply a carryover from the business’s beginnings more than a century ago. So, understanding that struggle, we wanted to reimagine the brand, and what we learned is that they already have a beautiful brand guide with elements, fonts, hand-script lettering – but none of it was incorporated into the site. It baffled us. So, in the redesign, we used those elements and made them a big part of the site.

“Finally, we tried to spotlight the key revenue drivers and make exploring the site a more immersive experience for visitors. It wasn’t all about visuals, either – we wrote all the copy and built it around an SEO keyword package.

Want to reach newly engaged couples? What about those visiting for a big game? Or those who almost booked? We share some of Facebook’s ad targeting secret sauce.

The bad news you already know: Facebook organic reach is at a low point and poised to dip even lower in 2018 for marketing impact. The good news: Facebook ad targeting goes way beyond the obvious demographics you might expect. And because Facebook owns Instagram, it means your ads can appear on both channels. Here, we dive into some of the nuanced targeting tactics that could prove a gold mine for hotel marketers today as a part of your social media marketing strategy.

1.) Couples Celebrating Anniversaries

Spark a romantic escape, perhaps tied to a particular package, around a couple’s anniversary. You can select how far out from a user’s anniversary you want to target (ex: 0-30 days, 31-60 days), the markets to reach, and also decide if you want to show your ad to both men and women (perhaps having some fun with the ad creative and messaging, playing off the idea of helping husbands look like heroes with this surprise weekend away).

2.) Newly Engaged Couples

Looking to boost your events business by hooking newly engaged couples? Facebook makes it possible through those who change their relationship status. Considering how many venue and vendor booking decisions are made in the first few months of engagement, pair this with the right age range and geographic targeting and you’ve got the start of a campaign that we’ve executed for clients and shown some seriously impressive ROI.

3.) Sports Fans Traveling after Their Teams

Some fan bases travel with their teams, particularly for big games. Is your hotel near the arena/park/stadium of a college or pro team? Some of the opposing team’s fans will define their team as one of their Interests. Exclude the area directly around your hotel (since locals who are fans of the opposing team won’t need to stay at your hotel to go to the game). Also consider targeting solely Frequent Travelers.

4.) College Alumni

Playing off the above sports fans idea, if your hotel is near a college, you can turn on this ad at key times of year for those who attended the college – to get alumni back for big games, for homecoming, or other events in the calendar year. Just make sure to exclude people who live in your area (and overseas), so you’re not paying to get in front of locals, and also consider excluding the youngest alums who may crash on a friend’s couch.

5.) Young Families & Seasonal Family Events

Maybe your hotel is near a theme park or a seasonal family attraction (ex: Polar Express train rides). Capitalize by reaching out directly to parents, since users can opt-in with details on the age range of their kids. You’d target whatever age ranges make sense for the nearby attraction. Consider adding the additional filter of Leisure Travelers in the Detailed Targeting section.

6.) Almost Bookings

How about those who almost booked, but didn’t quite pull the trigger? By installing a Facebook pixel on your website, Facebook can track viewers’ behavior, including those who visited the booking webpage but didn’t get to the booking confirmation page. Think of it as remarketing within Facebook.

7.) Past Guests

Hopefully you have access the email list comprising past guests. You can put that to use in the Facebook ad ecosystem, too, by uploading an email list to the platform and building a Custom Audience around it.

Bonus: 4 Top Guidelines for Building A Good Facebook Ad for Hotel Marketing

No matter the ad targeting or type, remember that Facebook users are inundated with images in their News Feed – you, as an advertiser, are competing against their friends, families, and interests for attention.

Customize Your Creative
– The targeting for all the ideas is very specific. Your ad messaging and imagery should be, too, to maximize ROI.

Images Matter. A Lot.
– Bold, original, eye-catching visuals are required to slow the scrolls (and swipes) as users race through the News Feed.

Build a CTA with Love and Attention
– If you succeed in grabbing a user’s attention, you’ll only have a moment, so work to craft a clear, compelling CTA. Be lean, economical, and memorable in your language – this deserves just as much attention as your visuals.

Create Two Versions…with Only One Difference
– You hear all the time that it’s important to A/B test – but remember a basic principle of scientific experimentation: Don’t change more than one variable between tests, otherwise you won’t know which change to attribute a difference in metrics to.

These five developments in social media marketing for hotels should influence and shape your strategy this year. Here, we share how and why.

Social may not command the biggest slice of your marketing attention, so you can be forgiven if your social strategy has stayed the course and gotten a bit stagnant. With that in mind, we distilled and combined the industry’s developments over the last few months and forecasted the year ahead into five bite-sized storylines to pay attention to when thinking about your hotel’s digital marketing strategy in 2018.

#1: Ephemeral Content, for the Stuff that Doesn’t Need to Stick Around

When thinking about social media, we’re still stuck in a feed-based mindset, ignoring the two other “places” within social media that people are sharing: messenger apps, which are used by 2.5 billion people every day, and ephemeral (that is, disappearing) “stories.” The format – created by Snapchat and (successfully) copied by Instagram and others – lets people and businesses string together photo and video posts throughout the day in a single story that will disappear after 24 hours. It’s a sign of how big ephemeral content is that NBC made time on its primetime Olympic coverage to promote its Snapchat content, over any other social channel. Stories are in a different spot than regular posts in the Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook apps. They’re also more dynamic and flexible than in-feed posts that stick to your profile permanently.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Stories are perfect for those posts that may not be “feed-worthy” but are still interesting to your audience – think the weekend forecast, little promotions you’re running, or even slightly goofy or offbeat videos that show off your hotel or wedding venue’s personality. If you create an Instagram Story you really like and don’t want to lose, you’re in luck: Instagram recently introduced Story Highlights, which pin select stories to the top of your profile.

#2: Video to Keep Followers Engaged

There’s no doubt video is the most engaging media format for social. It’s been proven to get more engagement than text and photo posts, Facebook prioritizes video content over static posts, and it’s also very durable and reusable – a two-minute video can be shared on YouTube, published on Facebook, cut up for Instagram, etc.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: There are plenty of ways hotels can get creative with video. Don’t have a budget for professional video at the moment? That’s OK. Pick up an iPhone and start shooting footage yourself. Facebook even has a sound collection that you can draw from for background music to give the video a little polish. You could also try live video – it’s easy to start on Facebook and Instagram, and we wrote about how hotel marketers can do it here. Also, keep an ear to the ground for the debut of the debut of V2, the forthcoming spiritual successor to Vine.

#3: The Reality of Crumbling Organic Reach on Facebook

Anyone who manages a Facebook business page understands this one: It’s brutally difficult to get much organic engagement these days. There are a few main factors at play here. The first: The reality that the News Feed is designed to deliver people the most interesting, relevant content in their life, and you’re just one of dozens (if not hundreds) of pages they follow, not to mention their friends. Another factor is that your organic struggle is literally Facebook’s business model – they want you to have to pay for promotion. Finally, Facebook has been emphasizing the shift to focus on friends and family and what they post, which means even more decline in organic reach for media and brands.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Sure, it was nice when you didn’t need a paid social marketing strategy to reach your audience, but this is the reality. Particularly on Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns), you’ll be missing out on a big driver of attention and social media’s most sophisticated ad targeting system if you choose to ignore it.

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#4: You Can Follow Hashtags Now

In December, Instagram launched support for following hashtags. So now, in addition to following your best friends and beloved brands, you can follow your favorite topics, in the form of hashtags. Basically, a mix of algorithmic and human editors will determine the best (based on recency, quality, and relevance, among other factors) posts each day for a given hashtag – say, #sunsets – and those posts will go into followers’ feeds. Up until this point, Instagram hashtags have been used to growth hack by cramming them into your caption. Now, they’re more important, and relevance and quality is key.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: You can’t hack your way into having Instagram showcase one of your hashtags, but you can try to capitalize on popular, trending ones specific to your destination. For example, if you’re a resort in Miami and there are 20,000 people following the #artbaselmiami hashtag during the big annual art fair, and you’re able to get gorgeous, relevant photos or videos featured for that hashtag, you’re getting exposure to a big, new audience. It doesn’t have to be geographically based, either – if your resort is in a popular wine region, you could research and go after wine-related hashtags.

#5: The Big Players Remain Your Biggest Marketing Opportunities

Facebook and Instagram are the only two must-haves for hotel marketing strategies at the moment. Let’s call Twitter a “should have” – it’s awesome for social listening and responding to guests who mention you, but it’s a less natural spot to publish than Facebook and Instagram.

Takeaway for Hotel Marketers: Unless you have a sizable budget to allocate toward social, other services like Snapchat and Pinterest can safely be put to the side for now. For Snapchat, it’s a matter of the primary demographic using the platform and its ephemeral nature – you’d need to invest a lot to build traction. Pinterest is a great inspiration tool, particularly for travel, but the way re-pinning works, marketers lose out because the original poster (your hotel) doesn’t show up. Build out your boards and do a little maintenance work, and leave it at that. In other words: Better to use the time you do have on the channels with the best chance at having an impact: Facebook and Instagram.

Everyone knows these three guest archetypes – especially the luxury hotels courting them. Here, we share tactics for marketing to them at the top of the funnel.

The “dreaming” stage of the traveler’s journey at the very top of the funnel, when the traveler is passively thinking about taking a trip without a particular destination or even timeframe in mind, may be particularly valuable to luxury hotel marketers. Catch his or her attention with some of the stunning photos your resort or hotel offers, or the amazing programming on-site that a lower-tier hotel can’t hold a candle to, and your potential guest may fly through the remaining stages of the traveler journey, right to your booking engine.

With that in mind, we’ve zeroed in on that particular niche – marketing during the dreaming phase for luxury independent hotels (that tends to be our niche as well, as a marketing agency within the hospitality industry) – and three common guest personas. We then present a sample marketing tactic for each of three media silos: paid, earned, and owned. The result is a quick cross-section of some of the tactics luxury hotel marketers may want to make sure they have nailed down in 2018.

1.) The Lacrosse Mom

The Lacrosse Mom is an upper-middle-class, trend-following leader in her family. She wants a vacation that’ll be fun and engaging for the kids, but still culturally interesting enough for her and her partner.

Marketing Tactics to Optimize
Paid – Influencer Marketing: If influencer marketing brings to mind Millennials and Generation Z – not the Lacrosse Mom (LM) and her friends – you’ve got it all wrong. The LM lives for scrolling Pinterest and swiping through Instagram. There are tastemakers – like these “Influencer Moms” – in their 30s and 40s with large followings who are a perfect partner for reaching the LM.

Earned – Online reviews: Make sure your presence is updated on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Expedia, and the like, and constantly scan for new reviews. The LM wants to know that she’s not just going on any old vacation – she did her homework and is staying at a resort with “amazing reviews,” she could tell her friends. Address any negative reviews promptly and effectively, and promote the ones that speak glowingly of your resort on your social channels.

Owned – Email Marketing: Because she likely booked the trip and is the contact between your hotel and her family, the LM’s email address is very valuable. Build and maintain segmented email lists of guests who stay with you and encourage them to return at strategic times.

2.) The Jet-Setting Baby Boomer

Whether retirement has hit or not, the Jet-Setting Baby Boomer (JSBB) has a good sense of what he’d like to do on his getaway and will conduct some careful research. Having money doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate a good deal, but he’s willing to splurge for bucket list–type activities and luxurious accommodations.

Marketing Tactics to Optimize
Paid – Pay Per Click: The JSBB’s research will largely take place on Google, so, considering his willingness to click search ads over members of more skeptical younger generations (who will scroll down to organic listings instead), a strong PPC campaign is a key ingredient for capturing the JSBB’s attention.

Earned – PR: Legacy publications are still a trusted source of information for the JSBB – think magazines, both national and regional. Maintain a good relationship with journalists and publications. You could help them by being a source, for example. You never know when they could feature you in their next story.

Owned – Content Marketing: Going hand in hand with the aforementioned SEM strategy, building and maintaining a robust content strategy pays dividends well into the future. The obvious place for you to produce your own content is on a blog, but it can also be elsewhere on your website. Having a trove of informative, interesting stories will keep the JSBB on your site for longer periods of time, increasing your chance of conversion.

3.) The Rising Corporate Star

The Rising Corporate Star (RCS) does everything fast, from her morning routine to climbing the corporate ladder to, yes, booking vacations. She’s not the corporate warrior of old – this 30- or 40-something absolutely values her time away from the office on vacation. She doesn’t need to meticulously review her options, she doesn’t need to penny pinch, and she doesn’t hem and haw: She pulls the trigger when met with an offer that’s sufficiently easy and attractive.

Marketing Tactics to Optimize
Paid – Retargeting: Get your message (with a clear CTA) in front of the RCS enough times, and eventually, her impulsivity could take over – especially if she’s already visited your website.

Earned – Social Mentions: If the RCS has a vacation in the back of her mind and she sees a friend mention or like something regarding her own fabulous stay at XYZ Resort, it could be just the nudge she needs to book. Give your guests a reason (gorgeous visuals) to follow you on social media after (or in anticipation of) their stay.

Owned – Mobile Website: As we established above, time is precious to the RCS. Those few minutes of downtime on a commute or even waiting for the elevator could be when your luxury hotel catches her eye. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile and she just happens to be browsing options on her phone, she’ll just bounce to the next option. Be ready.

In-room compendiums are only useful if guests actually pick them up. We helped Lansdowne Resort & Spa overhaul theirs into something wholly more engaging.

See The Project [click to expand]

The Client

Lansdowne Resort & Spa is located riverside in Leesburg, Virginia, in the heart of the state’s growing wine country. The 296-room, AAA Four Diamond resort is a destination in itself, with a 45-hole golf course, a spa, and four on-property restaurants. As you’d expect from a full-service resort like this, its guests range from families and couples of all ages to a variety of corporate groups.

The Project

Lansdowne understands how valuable the in-room compendium is, or rather, can be – it’s a prime opportunity for right place, right time marketing. We worked with them to develop a solution that’d hit all the informative needs while also making the piece much more engaging than some tired three-ring binder ever could be. The Good Life newsletter is filled with resort info (key phone numbers, a map, restaurant hours, etc.) intermixed with stories that are swapped out every other month. Topics range from seasonal activities to a feature on a unique spa treatment to the resort’s pioneering garden program with a local nonprofit. Our content team worked hand in hand with the client to build the structure so it’s easy (and affordable) to update for each successive issue. Our design team then helped make it equally beautiful and easily digestible, just like we do with our in-room custom magazines. Lansdowne connected with a local printer to print the first edition, and the project was born.

Our Take

If you glance through our suite of products, you won’t find anything quite like this project for Lansdowne. This is a case where we listened to the client’s objectives and provided a custom product by using the content marketing and design staff we have in-house. As a full-service hotel marketing agency, Hawthorn has the unique ability to combine in-house design, web, and content talent to produce the perfect solution to meet a full spectrum of client needs.

Last Thought

When you think “content,” you may think story writing, but our content team’s capabilities and duties go beyond that. We build the framework for each project to accomplish three things: engage the reader, look its best, and be the most cost- and time-conscious, so it’s easily replicable. Once the “house” is built (the original publication and format) it becomes easy – and affordable – to produce new editions by swapping out sections and modifying little elements in others.

Have a print project in mind, and want our team of expert designers and writers to help you bring it to life? Contact us.

These aren’t web design trends; they’re a mix of large and small ways to fundamentally rethink your website and improve its effectiveness.

As a full-service hospitality marketing agency, we see it all when it comes to web design: the good, the bad, and the pixelated. We know it’s tough to keep up with the design trends – and the truth is, for most businesses, there’s no need to be on the cutting edge at all times. What we’re able to do, though, is separate the flashy from the useful, the trendy from the timeless, and combine our marketing savvy with our design talent to create websites that drive business for clients big and small. Here are five ways to rethink your website’s design.

Don’t Make Text an Afterthought

There’s a misconception that if you have a website with a minimalist design and some big, gorgeous images, you’re all set. Yes, a website should be simple, yes, it should be pretty, and yes, you should limit the amount of text – but that doesn’t minimize the importance of text. On the contrary, it places more emphasis on the words you do have on the page. They’re central to your website’s strategy. Come up with creative messaging first, and then design around it. Text is also the single most essential ingredient for SEO – it’s what helps Google define what your website is about and thus, what terms it should be found for in searches. (This is where we feel compelled to mention that we have first-class design and content teams.)

Stick to a Few Subtle Interactions and Animations

Ever go to a website in which there’s auto-play video, glowing buttons, parallax images flying by, and a handful of other distractions, and you’re not sure what exactly you’re supposed to do? It feels like an arcade – and not in a good way. In each viewport (i.e. what you can see on the screen at any given time), try having only one subtle movement or interaction. Maybe it’s a CTA that’s shaking a little bit, or a graphic that moves just enough to get your attention. When used sparingly, these sorts of interactions have a way of drawing the user’s eye to where you want it to go. With too many, it does the opposite.

Consider Designing Mobile First

By now, you should know that it’s imperative that your website be mobile-friendly – but did you know that with mobile web traffic surpassing desktop web traffic, it’s becoming an accepted practice in some industries to design for mobile first, and then (and only then) to design the desktop version? At the very least, the next time you work with someone on your website’s design, if you never hear them mention the word “mobile,” that should be a warning sign. It should be a major consideration for any overhaul (or even slight tweak) your website undergoes. The best way to see if your site should follow this trend is by reviewing your mobile versus desktop behavior in your analytics tool. In Google Analytics, you can find that here: Audience > Mobile > Overview.

Break the Grid: Try Asymmetrical Web Design

When responsive web designs were gaining in popularity, it was common practice to build from a 12-column grid, because it could easily be scaled to most screen sizes at the time. Now, with so many different devices and screen sizes in use, there’s a new school of thought that you should break out of the 12-column restriction and start thinking abstractly. A common complaint we hear from clients is that their current website is too boxy. The reason for that is because those boxes fit the 12-column grid perfectly. If you go asymmetrical and take out the grids, you’re able to get rid of that boxy feel and do unique, eye-catching things. In a sense, you can have the creative freedom and flexibility of print layouts on the web.

Go Beyond the Hamburger Menu

Those three little horizontal lines, stacked together, look like a simple depiction of a hamburger and have become the go-to for both mobile and desktop sites. For those in the know, it signifies is the ability to click and expand a hidden menu. Here’s the issue: If you deal with older clientele (and we’re speaking generally here, of course), they’re less likely to recognize and use the hamburger menu. That means that you may be getting visitors to your website but they can’t find what they’re looking for – all for the sake of a design trend. Consider breaking out your hamburger menu into a more traditional navigation structure, or maybe just put the word “menu” under the hamburger menu icon so people know what they’re looking at.

Rounding out our “Best of the Blog 2017” series, we look at how hotels can maximize their social media marketing investment and amplify it in 2018.

Rounding out our “Best of the Blog 2017” series, in which we took a look at our top content marketing, design, and social media for wedding venues posts, we now turn our attention to social media for hotels. As an agency that lives in hospitality marketing, we know it’s a tricky area for hotel marketers, as managing a property’s social channels is often just one of many duties and can easily fall by the wayside. Here, we share our four best stories of the year about how hotels can best maximize the precious time they do spend on social and kick things up a notch in 2018.

How Hotels Can Master Live Broadcasting on Facebook and Instagram

What’s in This Post:
We offer some ideas for how hotels can use live video as a part of their digital marketing mix, as well as some tips on doing so like a pro.

The Excerpt:
“Whether as a one-off live video or as a recurring series, broadcasting a quick cooking demonstration with your hotel’s chef follows a proven entertainment template (hello, Food Network) and shows viewers a space in your hotel that they don’t normally have access to. Really, you could extend that same concept to any form of tutorial with your in-house experts – be it a weekly “show” with the golf pro highlighting a particular shot, your spa director’s take on some new products, and so on.”

Recipe For A Killer User-Generated Content Contest in Hospitality Marketing

What’s in This Post:
UGC campaigns in destination and hospitality marketing are quite common. But while they work well for some, they flame out for others. What characteristics do the successful ones share?

The Excerpt:
“Loews Hotels’ UGC campaign bubbled up naturally: They saw the photos that guests were taking, having a ball at different Loews properties, and gave the movement a name – #TravelForReal. Where Loews separated themselves is how they used the photos. As this Instagram user shared, her #TravelForReal photo and username ended up (with her permission) on a Loews keycard a guest noticed and shared with her.”

Four Social Media Influencer Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

What’s in This Post:
Influencer marketing may be the fastest-growing component of social media marketing for hotels. We detailed the opportunity and the pitfalls here.

The Excerpt:
“You can’t effectively judge an influencer’s reach and personality by follower counts and bios. The main thing to look for is the level of engagement they have with the audience. Traditionally, the greater the follower count of the influencer, the less engaged the audience is, because the influencer seems a little more famous and distant. A quick rule of thumb to measure engagement is to examine the influencer’s follower-to-like ratio – it should be roughly 15:1 or better. The larger the slice of the audience that’s engaging with the influencer’s content, the better.”

How and Why to Establish Brand Guidelines As Part of Your Social Media Strategy

What’s in This Post:
Social media brand guidelines keep everyone on the same page when it comes to voice, visuals, and values. Here’s what we recommend be included on yours.

The Excerpt:
“Which is more fitting to your brand: “rad” or “cutting edge”? The two can mean similar things – cool, forward-thinking, trendy, chic – but the connotation is clearly very different, depending on the adjective. The way you write on social media will form the perception of those who find your brand on those platforms – so make sure the representation is on point. Don’t forget that language also includes hashtags – are you going for trending or consistent? Play with hashtags for performance, but make sure none stray too far outside of your brand. And be very careful a hashtag you use can’t be taken out of context or mean something different.”

Social is a crucial component of wedding venue marketing, but only if it’s executed right. We detail what we learned in 2017 here.

As we roll into 2018, we decided to take a look back at our favorite blog posts from the last year for a series called “Best of the Blog.” A few weeks ago, we spotlighted our top design stories of 2017. Then, we shared our most helpful posts about content marketing. As a hospitality marketing agency, we understand the value in staying on the cutting edge and translating what we learn into business for clients. Here, we share our four best stories about how wedding venues should use social media – so if you’re just stumbling across our blog and missed a couple of posts, this should catch you up.

The Brilliance of Snapchat Geofilters for Wedding Venues

What’s in This Post:
There’s an easy, inexpensive way to get value out of Snapchat for your wedding venue marketing efforts. Here, we outline how to make a Snapchat Geofilter.

The Excerpt:
“If you’re responsible for the marketing efforts of a wedding venue, a lightbulb in your head should’ve just lit up. Here’s how you capitalize on this: Make (or hire someone to make) Snapchat Geofilters for some of your weddings – particularly those for couples in their early to mid 20s – that feature the couples’ names and, most importantly for you, the name of your venue. Guests using Snapchat (and there’ll be many of them) will see that there’s a Geofilter dedicated to their friends and overlay it on their snaps. […] It’s a low-cost way to drive attention, build awareness of your business, and get relevant attention from people who could be your next clients.”

5 Social Media Marketing Lessons for Wedding Venues From Gary Vaynerchuk

What’s in This Post:
We channel famed marketer Gary Vanhercuk’s social media marketing know-how into five tips for wedding venue marketers to improve their social media marketing efforts.

The Excerpt:
“There’s no hard and fast rule to measure the attention you’re getting on different social channels, because different companies have different goals. For you, it could be follows, likes, comments, conversions, or some combination – whatever it is, determine YOUR method for measuring success, and check in every so often. Allocate your time proportionally according to the attention that your venue is getting on each platform. Digital channels in general – be it search, social, or email – tend to have an expiration date, so never get lulled into a false sense of security or think you can ‘set it and forget it.’”

How Smart Wedding Venues Do Social. This free eBook will help supercharge your social media ROI. Download Now

10 Ways to Boost Social Media ROI For Wedding Venues

What’s in This Post:
Wedding and special events venues live in a visual world, but if your social media strategy is limited to simply posting pretty pictures, you’re missing out on one of the most valuable marketing opportunities to convert brides today.

The Excerpt:
“For many venues, like hotels, country clubs, and museums, we know your wedding-centric posts are just a drop in the bucket in comparison to all the posts your marketing teams are pushing out. Your ability to drive engagement and leads for weddings seems like a hope and prayer amid all the posts not geared toward brides. The potential solution: Would your marketing team allow you to launch wedding-centric social media accounts that stand alone as a part of their digital marketing strategy? Of course, you’d need to have a plan for who would have the time to post, but it can be a way to reap all of the rewards mentioned below.”

4 Free Apps to Give Smartphone Photos a Professional Finish

What’s in This Post:
These four apps are a godsend for hotel marketing professionals looking to add a little polish to their smartphone photos and get them feed-ready.

The Excerpt:
“Google Snapseed flies under the radar for most but gives users a surprisingly wide range of features to improve and adjust photos. […] While other apps have all sorts of filters mixed together and leave the user to try each one, Snapseed organizes its filters by category, like “Glamor Glow,” “Vintage,” and “HDR Scape,” cutting down on the time required to get your photos looking just right. It’s ideal for when you don’t have much time to edit but want to tweak and post that wedding photo ASAP because your venue looks (almost) perfect.”

We say it often: Content is a core pillar of almost every strong digital marketing strategy in the hospitality industry. Here, we recap our best content marketing insights from 2017.

We decided to take a look back at our favorite blog posts of 2017. Today: our best stories about content marketing for hotels. Whether you’re considering dipping your toes in the content marketing waters or are already rolling right along with a strategy of your own, you should find at least a couple of useful takeaways to apply from the stories we highlight here as an agency up to our elbows in content marketing every day. In other words: Here’s our take on how you can get months’ worth of content marketing intelligence in a few minutes.

Dissecting Airbnb’s Content Marketing Strategy

What’s in This Post:
The robust Airbnb marketing strategy that’s helped them achieve a $31 billion valuation places special emphasis on content. Here’s what they’re doing.

The Excerpt:
“…Guidebooks is Airbnb’s Lonely Planet or Zagat, helping you make sense of a city’s coolest things to do. But here’s the key: It all comes directly from the mouths of hosts who live there…The takeaway for hotel and DMO marketers: Done successfully, user-generated content may be the ideal form of content marketing.”

Top 5 Super Simple Blog Posts You Can Write

What’s in This Post:
Whether you’re marketing a hotel, destination, or wedding venue, you’ve heard how important content marketing is, but you think you don’t have time. Here, we outline five easy blog posts anyone can produce.

The Excerpt:
“Recurring features are posts that follow a specific format that you produce consistently. For example, every few months you could run a story about the seasonal dishes your chef came up with, such as this chef-profile series we’re producing for one of our clients. The beauty of this format is that it’s a fixture on your content calendar – it’s one less story you have to think of every week (or month or quarter) – and you, as the content marketer, simply follow the format.”

8 Ways to Harness Content in Your Hotel Marketing

What’s in This Post:
Think a blog is the only way you can put content marketing strategy at the front and center of your destination marketing? Think again – we’ll show you how.

The Excerpt:
“Examples of Where to Build Content if You Don’t have a Blog:

•Your Homepage slider – Normally, the content in a slider links to a blog post, but you could also link to unique landing pages, such as your destination guides, your restaurant’s landing page, a landing page that outlines your on-property activities, and so on.

•Explore/Activities/Discover page or pages – Anywhere you talk about what to do, where to go to eat, how to find the best outdoor adventures, where to find the best boutique shops, and how to have the best stay, that’s the right spot for this content to live.”

How Content Can Cure Your Skyrocketing Search Marketing Budgets

What’s in This Post:
As CPC rates have risen, creating quality original content has become an attractive alternative to paid search marketing in the world of SEM. Here, we explain how to develop a plan that fits the resources you have on hand.

The Excerpt:
“You can’t abandon PPC and traditional advertising completely, but you can limit your spending with an effective content strategy…It’s about “building the house” of content, then using your outbound communication tools (email campaigns, social media, partner sites, etc.) to get people to that content. When all is said and done, content can touch your guests at every point in the booking cycle.”

In the hospitality industry, where putting your best (visual) foot forward is vital, small businesses would be remiss to think of their websites too simply.

As a small business in the hospitality industry, your website is the sun that your digital presence revolves around. Think about it: your email signature, your social media presence, your email campaigns – they all aim to funnel customers back to your website so it can act as the closer and finish the job. So don’t just think of your website as an online brochure. Here are three “superpowers” your website and website design can deliver if done right.

An Always-Open, Always-Humming Sales Machine

“Always be closing” is the famous mantra preached to salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, and it applies just as much to small business hospitality websites. If you’re re-thinking your website, the primary goal shouldn’t be to make it look pretty, but to turn it into a machine to drive sales, often by generating leads. Whether someone visits your website at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., on mobile or desktop, with time to browse or just passing through, it should deliver your message quickly and effectively and work to move the visitor through the pages to the place you want them to go most – presumably where they fill out a form, send an email, or add an item to their shopping cart.

When you have the right website, it gives you peace of mind knowing that it’s almost like a perfectly trained salesperson, always working on your behalf, generating leads and drumming up business. A poor website, on the other hand, can fumble away a sale you almost had. If a prospect heard good things about your business via word of mouth and wanted to check you out online, but found your messaging lacking, they may move on to someone else.

A Bigger, Better Billboard Than Your Competitors’

Imagine a busy bride-to-be. Her eyes are practically glazing over because she’s looking through so many wedding vendor websites. It’s often hard to tell photographers apart – but it’s easy to toss them into the “no” pile. In fact, she’s looking for reasons to say no. Dated fonts or structure? Pass. Difficult-to-decipher value proposition? Pass. Not mobile optimized? Pass. Blurry photos? Instant pass.

It’s not that these websites are offensive looking or terribly ugly – the main crime is usually blandness or lack of clarity. So when our aforementioned bride does come across a photographer’s website that’s well structured, communicates the value proposition clearly (and quickly!), shows off high-resolution images, and has a clear next step in the form of a CTA, she’s dramatically more likely to engage with it. Your website should add to your business’s credibility – not take away from it. It’s especially true if you’re in a visual business – and who isn’t, in hospitality? Whether you’re a restaurant, a hotel, a catering facility, or a florist, showing off your spaces or your product has to be job number one. Think of those warm prospects who stumble upon your site and poke around for a few seconds. Are you really putting your best foot forward, or are you losing business that should be yours?

Total Independence and Control

Some small businesses leave their main digital presence to a third party’s platform – it’s the restaurant that only has a Facebook Page, or a wedding vendor who lives solely on Wedding Wire or The Knot. The problem with that is that you’re putting your eggs into someone else’s basket. When you have your own website, on the other hand, you control every pixel of the experience and are constantly guiding readers toward contacting you in that form. If you rely on another’s platform, you’re subject to the whims and motivations of their company. In the case of Facebook, their goal isn’t to support your business; it’s to keep people on Facebook.com as long as possible to maximize ad revenue. You can and should have a robust Facebook page, but the objective should be to get people back to your website – a permanent online home perfectly fit to execute your business’s objectives.

It’s the difference between renting a kiosk at the mall and having your own immersive retail space. At a kiosk, other stores are within view, trying to catch your customers’ wandering eyes. There are distractions. Plus, really, there’s only so much you can do to customize a kiosk. Rent the retail space instead. Invest in your own website.

From typography to illustrations to print techniques, we had a busy year examining trends in design. Here’s our top takeaways for the hospitality industry.

As 2017 winds down, we decided to take a look back at our favorite blog posts of the year for a new series called “Best of the Blog.” This week, we share a year’s worth of design knowledge in one neatly-packaged post.

The Rise of Illustrations in Hospitality Marketing

What’s in This Post:
Could illustrations give your hospitality marketing the lift it needs? We love the trend, so we look at why and where it’s working, plus how to hire for it.

The Excerpt:
“While photos show a scene in clear detail (and there are certainly many places where that’s what’s needed – like when showing off the size of a resort’s pool to entice future guests to dive right in, for example), photos are constrained by what’s in any single frame. Illustrations, on the other hand, are only limited by the artist’s abilities.”

How to Pick Typography That Speaks to Your Message

What’s in This Post:
Words matter – so does how those words look. We discuss typography’s role in hospitality marketing and how it shapes the messages that your text delivers.

The Excerpt:
“Two messages containing the exact same words can have two entirely different messages, depending on the typography choices. At Hawthorn, it’s something we notice every day on the monitors of our designers – it’s amazing to see how different text can look and feel based on the typography choices they make. Look at two examples of our work below:

The scratchy typeface on the graphic on the left (from Mosaic magazine, produced for Benchmark Hotels & Resorts) evokes associations with the wild. On the right, this image (from Noble House magazine, produced for Noble House Hotels & Resorts) features a condensed typeface that expresses an “into thin air” feeling that goes hand in hand with the “Evaporating Art” headline.

5 Custom Print Publishing Techniques to Get Noticed

What’s in This Post:
Looking to make your new brand identity or print collateral project stand out? Here are our top five custom print techniques to make your project look and feel unique.

The Excerpt:
“In the past, when clients wanted to add foiling to their custom publishing projects, printers had to create a special die – and if the client only ordered a small run, it wasn’t a very practical effect to add because of the cost of the die. Enter “sleeking” – a process by which a laminate foil is applied to a designated area, indicated by a specific black ink. Once the foil has been applied, the document is run through a regular color printer to print out the rest of the colors. It opens the possibilities of foiling to a new world of projects.”

3 UX Design Trends for Hotel Websites

What’s in This Post:
Hotel websites have just a few seconds to get visitors’ attention. Here are three UX design tactics trending now that make efficient and effective use of that finite window of time.

The Excerpt:
Cinemagraphs like this one (still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs) are still novel enough to capture the attention of browsing visitors. As a blend between video and a still photo, there’s a depth that isn’t present in other image formats, and they’re able to bring an environment alive in a new way. Websites that use video as a background image risk making their visitors dizzy and distracted. The minimal movement of cinemagraphs, on the other hand, stirs the desired ambience without bothering the viewer.”

It’s a special time of year for wedding venue marketing – don’t let it go to waste. Here’s how to be ready for all those upcoming engagements.

The Wedding Wire estimates 40 percent of couples get engaged between November and February, with the bulk occurring between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. And for wedding venue marketers who know the venue decision is the first newly engaged couples make, this means cramming your window of opportunity into an even narrower slot. No pressure.

So consider this your pre-season to-do list to get your house in order. Here, we outline a few ways you can be ready for the onslaught of traffic and inbound interest and convert as many couples into happy customers as possible.

Remember that Mobile-Friendly Is Couple-Friendly

For many young, newly engaged couples, a computer is something they use at work. They may have a laptop or desktop at home, but for most, the smartphone is where they do their web browsing. For that reason, it’s crucial that your website look as good on mobile as it does on desktop. If it doesn’t render right, you’re not even in the ball game, let alone in contention. If you’re not sure whether your site is mobile friendly, it’s easy to check: just take out your phone and go to your website. Is it easy to read? Can you easily see all the important stuff without zooming in? If so, you’re probably all set. If not, it’s important to address it as soon as possible.

Get New Staff Up to Speed

Your staff is only as good as the information you arm them with, so make sure they’re equipped to represent your venue well and hit all its unique selling points when talking to customers. If you have new staff, it’s doubly important to check if they’re well-versed with the venue’s details and are able to fluently answer questions. It may be tough to book a couple, but it’s easy to lose them, and there’s perhaps no easier way to do so than by responding to an inquiry in an underwhelming way. Give your staff the tools to succeed.

Update Your Collateral

In addition to updating it with your latest contact information and current offerings, aesthetically speaking, the right brand collateral looks as good as the venue itself. And there’s perhaps no better time of year to update it than just before the rush of engagement season. Brand collateral can spark a thought after a site visit, and it’s a chance to leave the customer with something to look at and hold as they consider your venue. Make sure it leaves an impression worthy of your venue.

Establish A Finely Tuned Follow-Up Machine

Whether it’s software like Pipedrive, a shared spreadsheet, or a series of sticky notes on a communal whiteboard, you and your team need a system to methodically track and follow up with leads and outbound communication. If you have one, great! Too often we hear from clients whose site visit inquiry and follow-up system is scattered and haphazard. With your team, define the right frequency and timing of follow-ups as well as any core messaging or links to include, such as the digital version of your Hawthorn event brochure if you produce one with us. Check out our recent post on how to get eyes on the digital version of your event brochure.

Mind Your Site-Visit CTA

Imagine you’re a new bride or groom to be. You’re perusing dozens of venue websites, trying to determine the perfect spot for your big day. Will you spend time poring through each page of every website? Of course not. In fact, you’ll look for reasons – subconsciously or otherwise – to simply “x” out and move on to the next one. Venues without a CTA – in other words, an obvious “next step” toward making a site-visit inquiry – are often thrown into that bucket of “no’s.” An effective wedding venue website doesn’t necessarily try to close visitors on a site visit right off the bat – it may walk them through information and graphics in a cleanly presented, engaging way before leading them to the form or “contact us” button. Just like if you were talking with a prospect in person, you’d make the person feel comfortable, answer questions, but also have a clear next step during every stage so things move along.

These hotels use videos to do a variety of jobs: give a peek into their property, boldly reinforce brand, encourage direct bookings, and more.

If you’re looking at your phone or computer, it’s increasingly likely that you’re watching video. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, have repeatedly stated over the last few years that by the end of the decade, video will make up the vast majority of what we see in the News Feed. As large a slice of our time that video takes up today – whether it reaches us through paid spots, email, websites, or social – that number will only tick up, across all demographics.

Simply put, hotels that aren’t investing (or considering investing) in video content risk having their other messaging slowly drowned out by those that are over the next few years. That doesn’t mean you have to go and re-allocate your entire ad spend toward video, only that you need to consider how you can work it into your marketing mix, even if it means just dipping your toes in the water to start.

First, Take a Quick Look at the Numbers

56% of videos published over the last year are less than 2 minutes long
You don’t have to make a feature-length film here; it can be short – in fact, short is good. It makes it easier to digest and share on platforms that have a time limit (currently one minute on Instagram).

85% of Facebook video is watched without sound
Consider this if voiceover is an important component of your video. The obvious fix is to add easy-to-read captions throughout your video, so those scrolling through social media at the office, in school, or during their commute can easily follow along with your video without turning on their phone’s sound.

4x as many customers would prefer to watch a video about a product rather than read about it
If your product is your hotel or destination, start by looking at the content you’re already producing in written form on your website and in your collateral. Maybe it can jump-start the script or outline for your video.

4 Examples Showing the Power of Video in Hotel Marketing

Autograph Collection Hotels – “A Day in the Life”
Autograph knew what it was doing when it commissioned a series of consistent, property-specific videos for select hotels within its collection. It was also about getting the material to bring assets from each of those videos together in this one universal brand video. The quick cuts, overlays showing which property is on screen, and energetic background music give it the feel of a single, globe-trotting adventure. It’s a creative way to tie their properties together into a single two-minute package.

The Takeaway: When you’re in the brainstorming process with your video production partner, you should be thinking about ways you can stretch your investment as much as possible. And that “step back” strategy applies to single hotels as well. Lay out what you want from the outset: maybe a 10-second video specifically to loop on your website, a couple of other ones – maybe 30 and 60 seconds – for social, whether paid or organic, and the full-length two- or three-minute video for email campaigns, your website, and Vimeo and YouTube.

Hilton – “Stop Clicking Around”
Hilton’s “Stop Clicking Around” campaign, created specifically as a television ad, was created for one reason: to wage war against OTAs. “Satisfaction” plays underneath throughout the video, and it begins by showing the actual booking process – customers tapping away on screens – and continues to the hotel itself, showing guests enjoying themselves. Hilton wanted people to do more bookings directly on their website, rather than through an OTA, and based on recent headlines, it looks like they were successful.

The Takeaway: A video doesn’t have to be a broad look at your property. It can address a specific pain point or marketing opportunity in a fun, invigorating way. What specific challenges does your hotel face? What sets you apart? Maybe you’d like to book more events, shine a spotlight on your newly renovated restaurant, or get more signups for your loyalty program.

Cosmopolitan – “Misfit Right In”
There’s no getting around it: This video from the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is a little out there. It’s a bold, risqué 30-second spot…but it also has more than 3 million views on YouTube. It projects a very strong sense of brand rather than showing the hotel itself – actually, it doesn’t show the hotel at all. It strings together words and phrases between imagery to convey to the viewer what kind of guests stay at the Cosmopolitan and what sort of stay they can expect to have.

The Takeaway: Sometimes the elements that hotels show off in videos – drone shots, sandy beaches, sunsets, candlelit dinners – are borderline indiscernible from one another. A video that brings your hotel’s personality to life for viewers may do a better job communicating its unique value to travelers.

Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel Montréal – “La Valise” (The Suitcase)
Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel Montréal zigged where the other hotels in this piece zagged: Rather than create an overt marketing video, they used 30 percent of their annual marketing budget to make a short film. The film, as you might imagine, is set entirely in the hotel (a gorgeous backdrop that’s an ad in itself), and over 15 minutes tells a story of adventure and romance that could inspire viewers to come and chase that same feeling in person at Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel.

The Takeaway: With video marketing becoming such a focus, the question to ask is what’s going to make yours unique. We’re not suggesting you produce a 15-minute short film, but what could you do to use the medium differently in today’s media landscape? One idea: Maybe it’s a story that’s a little more lighthearted and produced entirely in an Instagram Story, which could then be downloaded and shared to your other channels. Whatever you do, invest the small bit of front-end brainstorming time to see if you can come up with a concept that’s truly different and a great content marketing piece, rather than just doing a video for video’s sake.

A Final Thought: Don’t Forget about the Super Inexpensive Live Video Option

There’s no getting around the fact that professional video is a major investment. But it’s worth thinking about the opportunities you have to make video yourself. Facebook and Instagram offer live video capabilities, and anyone with a phone can take advantage. While you’ll want to do a bit of preparation (and we go into detail about how to do that here), live video can and should be raw. It’s an easy way to show off different parts of your hotel, whether it’s your stellar staff, events space, a quick cooking lesson with your chef, or the scenery of your accommodations. Live video can be a regular part of your hotel digital marketing mix and the medium affords a unique way to interact with guests.

We helped Pageo Lavender Farm graduate from a using a simple vendor list as their marketing collateral to this magazine-style event brochure – for free.

See the Project

Pageo Lavender Farm Event Brochure ePub

The Client

Family-owned Pageo Lavender Farm launched as a traditional lavender farm in California’s Central Valley in 2005, but quickly branched out into other profit centers such as selling scents and a restaurant. Catering and hosting special events was also a natural extension, given the farm’s picturesque fields of lavender that serve as a gorgeous backdrop for weddings and other groups.

The Project

For a while after Pageo Lavender Farm dove into the weddings and events business, all they had to offer couples in the planning process was a plain-looking vendor prospect referral list. Hawthorn approached them in 2016 to produce an ad-supported event brochure and they immediately saw a partner that could capture their aesthetic and translate it to print. They wanted an elegant, but still farm-style look and feel to their brochure design. While the brochure touches on other group and corporate events, weddings are the priority. The first brochure was finished in 2016, and the next one is currently being produced – both brochures have come at no cost to Pageo Lavender Farm, thanks to their stellar relationships with vendors who advertise in the back-half of the brochure. This model is Hawthorn’s standard, in which we manage all the selling, design, and ad trafficking, with the farm maintaining complete quality control throughout.

Our Take

We qualify venues to make sure the free-of-cost model will work by looking at factors like the number of weddings hosted each year and the per head cost of events, but the biggest factor for a successful ad-supported brochure comes down to vendor relationships. In the farm’s case, the father-son duo at the helm of the property have always maintained vendor relationships like a true equal-weight partnership. Vendors recognize and speak highly of the family and business, and in this case, it benefitted both the venue and vendors in the form of this new special events brochure.

Last Thoughts

The difference between the vendor referral list Pageo was using and their Hawthorn-produced brochure is night and day in terms of design, quality, brand impact, and the information that’s communicated. By distributing them on site visits, occasionally through the mail, and through several digital channels, the brochure has become a key component of Pageo Lavender Farm’s marketing strategy and an essential tool for them to encourage couples to have their wedding at the farm.

We take a look back at hotel websites from 2007, 2012, and today so we can project where hotel website design is going by understanding where it’s been.

Most people haven’t heard of one of the internet’s most magical websites, the Wayback Machine. It allows you to surf back years and see what any website used to look like throughout the internet’s (relatively brief) history. It’s kind of fun…but it also can be informative and insightful. With a little help from the Wayback Machine, we took a look at how hotel web design has matured over the last 10 years and included screenshots of three hotels’ websites from 2007, 2012, and 2017, and consider where it could be headed next.

West Coast Boutique: The Argonaut (San Francisco, CA)

Perhaps the easiest-to-identify difference here is the consistently growing space for an image. In 2007, it was confined within body text, by 2012 it’s more prominent, and, in 2017, it spans the width of the website, and is on a slider, so the image changes every few seconds.

There’s also a tagline front and center in 2017 – “An Iconic, Coastal Inspired Boutique Hotel,” and then in slightly smaller text, “In San Francisco’s Historic Ghiradelli Square.” The information hierarchy is clear, and as visitors to the website, we naturally understand what we should be looking at. In the earlier iterations (especially 2007), here and across the web, the visitor’s time was taken for granted – the mindset: “of course they would read the text.” Now, with our phones competing for our attention every few seconds, that’s far from a sure thing. So designers must be efficient and economical in how they speak to the visitor.

Hotel Web Design Takeaway: Think of the one thing you most want visitors to do – the one action you want them to take – and optimize for that. No competing headlines or buttons. Make the message concise and the “next step” obvious.

Global Brand: Marriott (Worldwide)

Marriott’s website in 2007 has a single pictorial graphic that only occupies about 10 percent of the screen. The rest of website is text, and almost has the look of a directory. By 2012, they were playing with the en vogue “card” format – the booking element and those behind it could be manipulated and moved based on mouse movements. Making mouse movements a main component of your UX isn’t a mobile-friendly idea, though.

It’s also interesting to see how much information Marriott was asking for from the user in 2007 and 2012: city, state, country, check-in and out dates, number of rooms, and guests per room. That’s a lot to ask from someone who’s only on the home page of your website. The 2017 version is significantly more welcoming: a large image as the background and only two input fields for visitors (destination and departure/return dates). This snappier form is an easier way to get visitors in their funnel.

Hotel Web Design Takeaway: iPhones were around for five years by the time of the 2012 iteration, and yet the Marriott website was woefully mobile unfriendly. They reduced the fields, buttons, and text on their homepage dramatically just in the last five years, and that’s a change that’s welcome to both mobile and desktop visitors. Cut out the unessential and strongly consider your mobile users during your next website redesign if you haven’t already.

East Coast Boutique: The Liberty Hotel (Boston, MA)

Look at that wall of text in 2007 – that’s a lot of words! 358, to be exact. In the 2012 version, you’ll notice that the 2012 version of The Liberty’s website doesn’t even render properly in a modern browser due to its reliance on Adobe Flash, which was finally killed by Adobe last summer. The death of Flash started with the introduction of the iPhone, which Steve Jobs famously made as a Flash-unfriendly device.

Meanwhile, the 2017 version of the website is very strong. It gives visitors a full-screen view of one of their rooms, but has navigation options tastefully positioned in the corner, with a “reserve” button in the upper right-hand corner, and the local temperature at the Boston-based hotel down below. It’s a thoughtful, human-centric design.

Hotel Web Design Takeaway: The Liberty gave their website a facelift even as a Starwood-owned hotel –  the CTA simply connects to the Starwood backend reservation system. So, even if your hotel is owned by a larger, likely slower-moving company, you may still be able to hire a marketing agency to re-make the frontend of the website and get it looking just as you want without having to touch your reservation system.

Every client who produces an event brochure with Hawthorn also receives a digital eBrochure as a part of the package. But how powerful the digital marketing tool is depends on how you use it.

When you work with Hawthorn to develop an event brochure, you get a beautiful, well-crafted publication that brides and grooms can take with them at the end of a site visit. In addition, every event brochure client also gets that publication in ePub format, allowing you to engage with couples digitally. Some of our clients have let the eBrochure get lost in a dusty corner, while others have used it as the cornerstone for their digital marketing efforts – on their websites, in their email correspondence with couples, and in their social media postings. Here, we go a step further than these core distribution channels to highlight the particular tactics and ways you can best put your Hawthorn eBrochure to use.

Skip the Text Link and Share the ePub as a Clickable Image on Your Website

It sounds basic, but don’t forget to include the link on a relevant page on your website, and provide enough context so that the visitor understands what they’re clicking and why it’s valuable. A text link is okay, but a more prominent, clickable image is what we recommend. We provide each client with a thumbnail image of the cover of the eBrochure; otherwise, you could Photoshop a good venue image with some text over it (ex: “Check out our wedding brochure”) to more effectively entice visitors to click. Time and time again, clients tell us that image links like this convert better than a simple text link to the ePub.

Your Email Signature Is Ad Space – Use It

Our email signatures can serve up what are essentially ad impressions to recipients. If your position is solely focused on wedding and corporate event business for your organization, the ePublication is a great, helpful link to include in your signature. In this instance, we recommend using the thumbnail of the cover image that we provide to each client.

Broadcast Your ePub Semi-Regularly on Social Media

The social media strategy for your venue is primarily geared toward inspiring future brides and grooms, but posting the eBrochure from time to time can also make it informative (in addition to inspiring). A link to the eBrochure is a pretty package to capture that casual interest on social media and convert it into a site visit. But you may be asking, “you expect us to post the same link with the same image multiple times?” No, we’d never suggest that. Check out below…

Tease to Specific Pages within the eBrochure

There’s a simple way for you to get unique urls for each page within your eBrochure. This functionality then translates into potential uses across all your distribution outlets: share different spreads from the eBrochure as a part of your social media postings; highlight various aspects of your event spaces in email campaigns or personal emails correspondence with couples; make clickable images on your website to different sections of the eBrochure (ex: floor plans if your website doesn’t have a page where that’s naturally presented).

Share Passages of the e-Brochure Natively to Social Media

To share a part of the ePub natively to social (i.e. an image will show up in followers’ Facebook or LinkedIn or Instagram feeds, rather than just a link to the brochure), as you’re not sure they’re going to click the link, just screenshot whatever passage or image you want to highlight, and then link to the full ePub in the post. Visitors will value the ability to consume the content right in-feed, and you may catch the eyes of some who would otherwise just scroll past a regular link.

These four apps are a godsend for hotel marketing professionals looking to add a little polish to their smartphone photos and get them feed-ready.

Social media marketing for hotels and wedding venues inevitably includes photos of glistening pools, shamrock green grass, and other regal-looking spaces – all subjects in which you want the colors to pop off the screen and do these gorgeous real-life scenes justice. Here, we outline four apps for you (or your social media marketing manager) to keep in mind the next time you’re out on the property and about to share to social media. They may give your photos a shine that gets you a few extra likes and give followers pause where they’d otherwise scroll by.

Google Snapseed

Google Snapseed flies under the radar for most but gives users a surprisingly wide range of features to improve and adjust photos. Lens blur effects, editing in landscape mode, color- and white-balance adjustment, geometric fixes (like making a horizon straight across), and fine-tuning of image parameters are among the options available. While other apps have all sorts of filters mixed together and leave the user to try each one, Snapseed organizes its filters by category, like “Glamor Glow,” “Vintage,” and “HDR Scape,” cutting down on the time required to get your photos looking just right.

Best For: When you don’t have much time to edit but want to tweak and post that wedding photo ASAP because your venue looks (almost) perfect.

iOS Download / Android Download

Adobe Photoshop Fix

Adobe Photoshop Fix carries with it that brand equity Adobe has built up with creatives, and this simple app delivers, too. Its strength lies in its ability to retouch faces using features like the Heal and Patch tools. You’re able to tap the blemish or object you’d like to remove, and the pixels will be intelligently replaced to blend in with the rest of the image. The Liquify feature, a user favorite, enables the goofy reshaping of faces, and can even (literally) turn a frown into a smile. Anyone who’s tried to take a group shot knows how tough it is to coordinate and execute well – this app takes a little bit of the pressure off, because you know you’ll be able to tweak it afterward.

Best For: When you’re touching up a photo that predominantly features faces and want to make sure everyone looks their best.

iOS Download / Android Download

VSCO

VSCO is actually a social app, in addition to its role as a photo editor. Think of it as Instagram for photographers and the creative set. Because VSCO serves that crowd, the app’s photo editor has some powerful tools and lets you give your images a tastefully artistic look. There are plenty of preset filters if you only have a few seconds to make the photo look good before sharing, but VSCO’s power is really on display with its ability to configure manual settings like the exposure and focal point of the app’s camera, split tinting of highlights, and even control over perspective. It’s not a replacement for Photoshop, but it can substitute in a pinch.

Best For: If you have a vision and a bit of time, VSCO can basically get your photo looking exactly as you want it, down to the pixel, for use in hotel marketing materials.

iOS Download / Android Download

GIPHY Cam

GIFs have taken over our text messages, Twitter feeds, and even infiltrated our Slack threads at work. They’ve become a way to communicate and quickly share moving images. GIPHY Cam gives you the power to make GIFs of your own, from capturing to editing to after-effects. They won’t be appropriate for every moment or scene, but used sparingly, they can be a welcome change from the norm for your followers as they’re going through their social feeds.

Best For: Quick-motion scenes, like someone jumping into your hotel’s pool, can be appealing as GIFs and catch the eye of followers in places where they’d just scroll by still photos.

iOS Download / Android Download

Have a need to drive more corporate groups to your hotel or venue? So did Benchmark. We brought their meeting offerings to life with content marketing.

SEE A SAMPLE OF THE PROJECT

Dorral Arrowwood Meetings Guide

THE CLIENT

Benchmark Hospitality, a Hawthorn client since 2011, manages 41 resorts and hotels that span the globe. Our relationship with them started with Mosaic, an annual in-room magazine full of stories about Benchmark destinations. A couple of years ago, happy with the results of Mosaic, Benchmark expanded their digital marketing efforts with us by tapping our content marketing team to create online guides for each of their hotels. These “Wanderlust Guides” (see an example) give leisure guests a full lay of the land of the hotel and destination through four pieces of content, such as “Flavor Of” (can’t-miss food and drink spots) and “The Weekender” (how to spend 36 hours in the destination), and were a key component of the campaign that landed Benchmark the 2017 INDIE Award for “Best Digital Marketing Campaign.” But corporate groups have long been a central part of their business, so that became the next frontier for our content marketing work with this client.

THE PROJECT

Benchmark came to us and said that they wanted “Wanderlust, but for meetings” for each of their properties. While the Wanderlust Guides content is a little more angled, the new meetings guides were to be more informational and straightforward, yet still employing the same editorial reporting and writing skills we use in all of our content marketing projects. Each Meetings Guide has five sections: Team-building (activities offered through the resort or with local businesses, like escape rooms), Culinary (mixology classes to menus), Off-site (local venues great for groups), Amenities (the most novel on-site offerings from an on-property water park to private demo kitchen), and Themed Events (top ideas from the hotel planners for corporate planners to consider.) When looked at collectively, these sections of their hotel’s websites now bring to life their meetings offerings in a way that only an in-person meeting with a client could previously deliver, plus the added benefit of digital data and distribution power.

OUR TAKE

Talking to leisure travelers via content marketing is something we’ve done for many clients (including Benchmark) – here, we took that approach to address a common pain point for hotels: “how do I bring more corporate groups?” Content marketing doesn’t have to be just for the leisure traveler. With a foundational content marketing strategy like Benchmark’s meetings guides, they’re able to drive attention via their social media and email marketing efforts and more effectively convert leads into customers.

LAST THOUGHT

At its core, content marketing follows a similar formula: match a client’s marketing goals with what is most interesting and engaging to the primary audience so it’s something they can authentically value. But done right, no two content marketing strategies will look the same. They may have the same broad objective (ex: “drive repeat leisure guests;” “reach top-of-funnel corporate event planners”), but the end solution, and what we call “content marketing ecosystem,” will always be driven by your unique needs. So in this case, developing a content marketing solution that would drive more corporate groups and meetings business may look very different than what we built for Benchmark.

We offer some ideas for how hotels can use live video as a part of their digital marketing mix, as well as some tips on doing so like a pro.

Going live can be nerve-wracking for even seasoned professionals. But with careful planning, strategic staging, and the proper footwork, Instagram or Facebook Live for business can be an engaging channel to talk to followers in a way that pre-composed content can’t touch. Here, we highlight a handful of ideas for hotels looking to dip their toe into live video, as well as some tips for how to broadcast effectively for the moments before, during, and after you go live.

Facebook vs. Instagram Live – The Differences and Defining Which Is Right for You

In addition to evaluating your hotel’s presence on both Instagram and Facebook, there are a few key differences between the two to consider: Instagram skews younger, and the live videos there tend to be shorter, less produced (and planned), and more in-the-moment. With Facebook Live, you get more publishing options, access to a desktop audience, and you can save the recording to your page after it ends – something you can’t do on Instagram. Both services notify your followers when you begin broadcasting (though users can toggle that notification off) and let you see viewers’ comments.

Ideas for How Hotels Can Use Instagram and Facebook Live

Tours for Corporate Groups & Other Events
Consider going live once each month and giving a virtual tour of your event space. Show viewers how events at your hotel work, talk through some of the options available, and spend time answering any questions they may have (via user comments that are displayed over your broadcast).

Cooking Lessons in the Kitchen & Other Expert Tutorials
Whether as a one-off live video or as a recurring series, broadcasting a quick cooking demonstration with your hotel’s chef follows a proven entertainment template (hello, Food Network) and shows viewers a space in your hotel that they don’t normally have access to. Really, you could extend that same concept to any form of tutorial with your in-house experts – be it a weekly “show” with the golf pro highlighting a particular shot, your spa director’s take on some new products, and so on.

Show off Your Hotel’s Scenery
This may be a good one for the end of the day, as people are winding down at work, and would be incredibly simple to execute: Set up a tripod and camera at an alluring spot on property and just leave it running for a while. After all, a lot of digital marketing for hotels is about vicarious vacationing, right? A live broadcast, even if it’s showing off the sunset view from your seaside resort every night for 15 minutes, might be what they need to book their return visit.

Employee Spotlights
We hear time and time again from our hotel DOSM clients that what makes their hotel great are the people behind it. No medium brings that to life like video. Develop a list of questions or a theme for what they’ll be showing viewers – what’s their favorite room service food? What are a few of their must-stop spots in town? What’s the best jogging route near the hotel? Then, do a dry run before you go live. The result can be a human element that’s often lacking from hotels’ digital marketing efforts as well as that “do what the locals do” knowledge info that leisure travelers crave so much these days.

Tips for Going Live

Before Going Live: Plan & Promote
Facebook recommends that when you go live, you stay at least 10 minutes. If you’re on and off too quickly, you’re limiting your potential reach. There’s also the matter of when you should go live. It’s worth a quick glance at your Facebook Page Insights to see when the largest share of your followers are online. After you do pick a time, the obvious key is promoting the hell out of it – it’s great fodder for social posts, e-mail campaigns (assuming you’re sending to the right audience segment), and teasers on your website. Just like any company doing a webinar, you need to make it worth your while by getting people to actually log on for the broadcast. You’ll want to promote it before the broadcast and prime your followers so they’ll keep an eye out for it. Lastly, and again like a webinar, outline what you’ll say. You don’t want to be rigid or reading off a script, but having a handful of bullet points in front of you can help you stay on track and remember how you wanted the video to go.

Right Before Going Live: Figure out the Technical Side
Will you broadcast with your phone in a horizontal or vertical orientation? How will you minimize background noise? Do you have good cell (or better yet, Wi-Fi) reception? How about a tripod to reduce shakiness? These are the considerations aside from the content that you’ll want to think about, and they can be the difference between a successful live stream and a failed one. Even if your content is great, if the phone is shaky, reception poor, and background noisy, people won’t give you time to get it together – they’ll click elsewhere.

While You’re Live: Relax
It’s happened – you’re live! Now what? Smile and take your time. Viewers will slowly filter into your broadcast. Don’t panic if there are only a couple at the beginning. You can say hello, but feel free to wait a minute before diving into the meat of your video so people have a chance to join. In this time, it’s helpful to ask viewers to share the broadcast – they’ll have a button to do so on their screen regardless of whether they’re watching you on mobile or desktop. As your video gets rolling, introduce yourself. Give more context than you may think is necessary. Remember, there may be people watching who don’t follow your page, and aren’t sure what they stumbled into yet. It’s not always easy while you’re staring at a rectangular piece of glass, but maintain a sense of humor and a smile as you’re broadcasting, and be as engaging as possible. When you ask questions or respond to comments, keep in mind that there’s often a lag between when you say something in real time and when your viewers are seeing it. Be patient.

Wrapping Up: Remember the Later Viewers
End the video with a CTA right before wishing your viewers well and saying goodbye. Also, remember that when you hit the button to end the live broadcast, because of the lag, it often still streams for a few seconds – so wait to hear the beep that indicates that the session is over. If you’re on Facebook Live, after it ends, edit the video to add a title, description, and a new thumbnail and CTA button, if you’d like. This helps polish up the video and can improve its visibility in the days to follow.

What conventions are falling out of favor, which are here to stay, and how will things look for in a few years for those in wedding marketing?

Wedding season is winding down, which is reason to celebrate – but the next one is already just around the corner. So, we thought it’d be a good time to see what’s on the horizon in the world of weddings so venues can better prepare for the wants and needs of the next generation of brides and grooms.

In 2001, Shane McMurray and his wife started a paper business, and he sought to understand the wedding marketing space because invitations were such a big slice of his business. There was very little research available; Conde Nast was publishing the American Wedding Survey, but that had its own limitations. In the end, Shane decided to scratch his own itch, dive deep and do his own research, and start The Wedding Report, now a treasured industry source for wedding statistics and facts. He mines multiple resources – from publicly available data to wedding industry professionals to couples themselves – in an effort to compile as comprehensive and unbiased a data set as possible.

We spoke with McMurray about the latest wedding trends and what forces are driving these changes for those in wedding venue marketing.

Are you seeing a shift in terms of where people are getting married?

The biggest change that sticks out to me is the shift away from the church scene. There’s a societal factor there, because fewer people are religious and ceremonies tend to be a little more neutral. So, I’m seeing a lot of people move to a single location for their entire event. Seven years ago, it was probably 60 percent ceremony and reception at different places, and now it’s dipped to about 40 percent, and will continue to slide. More people are looking to have their wedding and reception in the same space.

What are some of the shifts you’ve seen in the types of wedding venues couples are using?

I used to have a list of the 10 to 15 main types of places that people would get married at, but that’s grown. Couples are coming up with new, unique places to get married. As an example, one of my nieces got married at one of the mountains just south of here with only 10 guests, and she’ll have a little reception on another day. That’s becoming more common. Traditional venues know that they can’t focus only on weddings anymore. They have to fill their space with corporate events and other milestone events, like anniversary parties.

What trends do you see in terms of who is paying for the wedding?

Couples are strapped with more debt than they used be, and on top of that, they’re paying for more of the wedding than they used to. Right now, 70 percent of couples are paying for all of their wedding. This obviously varies greatly, and sometimes there’s a large purchase that a family will contribute to instead, but those are the numbers I see. I like to understand what economic factors impact their ability to spend, and when you start poring through the numbers, you realize couples mostly dig into cash on hand – fewer than 30 percent are using credit, debt, or loans to pay for it. So if you look at future savings rates and disposable incomes, you’ll have a pretty good sense of how people will spend in the future. College debt is also a big one. I started asking people how college debt will impact their spending. Last year it was about 27 percent, and this year it’s a third of couples who said “I’m going to spend less because of my college debt.” There’s less change with couples whose parents contribute quite a bit.

How are meals evolving at weddings?

I’m seeing more and more buffets in place of sit-down dinners. It’s just less expensive to put a spread out and let people eat. It’s also less time-consuming, and guests are able to go eat when they want to. That’s a trend I see continuing.

Are destination weddings on the rise?

I don’t see the rise. I know The Knot says it’s a quarter of the business, but to be honest with you, I’ve asked this question to couples twenty different ways, trying to figure out how The Knot reached that figure. I literally can’t get it over 13 to 15 percent. The reality is, from the numbers I look at, people end up spending more by having a destination wedding. One of the selling points is that it’s supposed to be less expensive, but in most cases, that’s not true.

Are there other traditions or conventions you expect to be gradually dropped?

I think they’ll continue to evolve, and be inspired by the influences people see at The Knot, Wedding Wire, and Pinterest. Those are really influencing couples’ ideas right now and play a big part in the whole process. Older conventions like tossing the garter belt and the bouquet are already less of a focus. Weddings and bridal parties will be smaller. There used to be a huge thing around all the accessories you had to buy for the ceremony and reception, and I think we’ll start to see that less often. It’ll depend on the geographic area you’re in and the cultural influences in your life. And as couples’ cultures continue to blend, you’ll see more and more people doing their own thing.

UGC campaigns in destination and hospitality marketing are a no-brainer. But while they work well for some, they flame out for others. What characteristics do the successful ones share?

recipe-for-a-killer-ugc-ontest

Every hospitality marketing professional craves the sort of engagement that the best UGC contests stir up. In Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report, she shared that “effective UGC can generate 6.9x higher engagement than brand-generated content on Facebook.” The key word here is “effective.” These contests seem straightforward: A company announces a campaign to encourage people to share content under a certain hashtag around some sort of idea, and because there’s sometimes a prize involved – and even if there’s not, people love sharing on social media anyway, right? – the company expects people to enthusiastically participate.

Unfortunately for those marketers, that’s not always how it goes. People have too many demands on their attention, and their social capital is too precious to spend on most corporate UGC contests. That said, it does happen successfully, and there are lessons to be taken from those that do it well. Here, we show some examples across industries but with takeaways tailored to those in destination and hospitality marketing.

Starbucks’ #RedCupContest

Each holiday season since 2014, Starbucks has promoted the #RedCupContest and seen a massive response from its loyal customers. The campaign pushes people to post creative photos with the company’s custom-designed red Starbucks coffee cups (they change each year) and offers $500 gift cards to a handful of winners.

Takeaways
Starbucks nails a few things here: The cups are cool, thanks to the investment in custom artwork; the hashtag is simple and memorable; and a significant prize always goes a long way. But for us, the big takeaway here is that they’re tapping into existing behavior: people taking photos of their Starbucks coffees. So, they’re not asking people to do anything too intense or out of their day-to-day. That’s one lesson we’ve learned the hard way with UGC contests we’ve done for one of our clients, Opal Collection. This Pinterest contest, built around Valentine’s Day and tasking people to build a tribute Pin board to their significant other asked a lot, and we didn’t see amazing traction. We’ve pivoted, instead, to a simpler UGC contest each peak season, built around the #H2OpalContest hashtag, that tasks guests at Opal hotels to post a photo having something to do with water (a point of differentiation since all Opal Collection hotels are right on a lake or ocean and also not hard to execute with their great pools, too). Much better results! If the point of the contest is mass participation and the viral reach that can create, you have to make it easy to execute and enter.

Loews Hotels’ #TravelForReal

Loews Hotels’ UGC campaign bubbled up naturally: They saw the photos that guests were taking, having a ball at different Loews properties, and gave the movement a name – #TravelForReal. Where Loews separated themselves is how they used the photos. As this Instagram user shared, her #TravelForReal photo and username ended up (with her permission) on a Loews keycard a guest noticed and shared with her.

Takeaways
In this case, the Instagram image on the keycard adds a dash of authenticity in a place where people expect dull professionalism. Plus, by using UGC in print collateral, you feed the cycle necessary to keep a campaign like this going organically. Guests who don’t know about the hashtag see something like the keycard, and then decide to join in themselves.

National Geographic’s #WanderlustContest

Starting in June 2015, National Geographic executed its #WanderlustContest campaign to perfection. The idea was for participants to “capture glimpses of the unforgettable people, places, and experiences that have impacted their lives from their travels around the world.” In other words, they wanted people to share their own National Geographic–style photos. The prize? A National Geographic photo expedition in Yosemite National Park. The result: 61,072 photos shared on Instagram to date.

Takeaways
National Geographic understands that their readers love travel photography, and with #WanderlustContest, introduced a way for them to easily participate. Truly successful UGC contests are inspired by – and perhaps require – a deep understanding of your customers and what they value from you already. Start there (rather than from a business objective) and good UGC contest ideas will come more naturally.

Allison Inn’s #MyWillametteWineTime

Hawthorn client The Allison Inn & Spa tapped us to develop a cross-medium campaign built around the hashtag #MyWillametteWineTime for the 2016 issue of their magazine, Roots. We created print collateral to be used on-property to encourage guests to share photos of a tasting with friends, a favorite bottle of wine, or a vineyard – really any relished moment with wine. It has been used beyond the hotel, and has reinforced The Allison Inn’s vision to be part of the fabric of the Willamette wine region. To bring things full circle, we pulled the best UGC photos and created a spread in the 2017 issue of the magazine.

Takeaways
As we discussed in this previous post on Allison Inn’s custom magazine, this property is very focused on being the “living room of the Willamette Valley,” where this burgeoning wine region comes together. So here, the hashtag and concept for the contest was not as much about sparking more followers or capturing e-mail subscribers for future communications, but rather to reinforce the hotel’s brand message. Doing it authentically and engagingly through UGC rather than through its own messaging makes it that much more impactful.

If you’re wondering how to get started, let’s have a conversation to help kick off your user generated content campaign.

 

Among the most coveted venues in San Diego, the USS Midway Museum hosts hundreds of events each year and required a brochure fit for, well, an aircraft carrier.

project-profile-uss-midway-v2

When groups look at event spaces in San Diego, their attention often turns to the USS Midway Museum because of its one-of-a-kind history, awesome scale, and versatility as a host. Midway’s marketing team turned to Hawthorn in 2006 to craft a print event brochure that could answer all the big questions clients could have, and paint a vivid picture for exactly how the aircraft carrier could handle any sort of event. A decade later, the project is still going strong with impressive results.

See the Project

USS Midway Museum event brochure

The Client

The USS Midway had a long, 47-year career serving as an aircraft carrier until her retirement in 1992. In 2004, the craft started its second life in San Diego as the USS Midway Museum: a naval warship museum and event venue. In the Midway’s new capacity, it has become a dazzling must-visit tourist spot in San Diego and a must-book venue for corporate groups.

The Project

The first event brochure we did for the Midway rolled off the presses in September 2006. It’s one of our ad-supported brochures – we secure advertisements from a list of preferred vendors, making the brochure entirely free for the venue. At 50 pages (thanks to the overwhelming ad support that allows clients more pages for their marketing messages), it’s now one of our largest event brochures, in terms of page count. There’s a detailed FAQ section, floorplans (to see how both the flight deck and the hangar deck are structured), an in-depth look at all the possible venues on the carrier, and a couple pages on “unique enhancements” available, like helicopters, a flight simulator, and even skydiving. Yes, you read that right.

Our Take

While the brochure’s physical feel (perfect binding in the latest version), layout, and structure may evolve to keep up with the Midway’s changing offerings and modern design trends, it retains a similar spirit issue to issue. Midway likes to maintain a patriotic aesthetic in its event collateral – stately and dignified – which is understandable, considering the craft’s history and the company’s status as a non-profit. As with other clients, we produce new versions of the brochure on a regular basis – every 18 months in the Midway’s case. In addition to updating the brochure design, it provides an opportunity to swap out photos, re-focus the marketing angle, and update vendors’ information, or the vendors themselves.

Last Thought

The more informative and helpful the brochure is for the venues’ clients, the more it gets read (that means the ePub too, which Midway smartly links to from their website), and the more valuable the vendor ad space is. Event planners hold onto the Midway brochure and constantly refer back to it because it’s truly educational and can answer most any question that the planner or his or her stakeholders could have. The brochure isn’t just a marketing tool, or a book of pretty pictures – although it has those, too – it’s a real, valued resource for their clients, who have many questions, as they consider booking this world-class, unique venue.

After a beloved restaurant burned down, a new one rose in its place. Hawthorn built their brand and website – while the restaurant itself was constructed.

Project-Profile-New-Woodshed-Website

See the Project

New Woodshed’s website

The Client

The Woodshed restaurant was established in the mid-’70s and quickly took root in the town of Moultonborough, New Hampshire. Its homey feel, excellent service, and word-of-mouth-worthy food attracted many local families and Lake Winnipesaukee tourists. The Woodshed was rustic – not like sawdust-on-the-ground, but in a gather-around-the-hearth kind of way. It looked like its story was going to come to a close after decades in business, though, when a devastating fire burned the restaurant to the ground in 2013, leaving a gaping hole in the community. After learning that the owners didn’t plan to rebuild, Arnold Haynes, a loyal patron of the Woodshed with his wife Carol, decided to build the New Woodshed, to “carry forward the tradition of a place that had provided many fond memories for [their] family and for many others in the Lakes Region community.” While they wanted to rebuild with the familiar aesthetic and feel of the original Woodshed, this was a new restaurant, with new owners, a new building, and naturally, a need for a new brand that was all their own, too.

The Project

The New Woodshed was in the unique position of needing to build their brand and online presence at the same time that they were planning and constructing the restaurant itself. One small, early objective was to tackle the seemingly simple: to be found on Google. Because Google had reported the business as closed, though, we had to make a distinction between the original Woodshed and the New Woodshed, which involved setting up Facebook and Google Plus pages.

With a Google presence properly set up, sights turned to the website. Restaurant websites are built to do certain “jobs,” depending on the marketing goals. In this case, the “job” was pretty basic: announce when the restaurant would open and seek job applications. What sort of imagery would be used to communicate who the New Woodshed was, though? Obviously, they had no photos of the restaurant because it didn’t exist yet. So, we designed a logo that felt both fresh and true to the restaurant’s roots. Then came some web design flourishes – antique barn board backgrounds, wood textures, and a few photos of some of the drawings and the early framing of the building, designed to tempt people to come back.

Once the New Woodshed was close to opening, we refreshed the home page with images of the newly built restaurant, giving guests a sense of what to expect inside and outside. Then came the “Our Story” page to describe the restaurant’s winding journey. Next, we created a profile page for the head chef and general manager so people could learn a little about them and start to make some sort of connection. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we created pages for the menu and calendar that are easy for the restaurant to update themselves, without our ongoing help.

Our Take

The New Woodshed was a unique challenge because it wasn’t as clear-cut as making design and font choices. Throughout, the project was a carefully calculated process in which we strived to be true to the spirit of the original Woodshed while also introducing the New Woodshed to the public – all before the building was complete. The trust the restaurant’s owners placed in us while we worked on their brand and website allowed them to focus on the hands-on elements of opening a restaurant, like constructing the building, hiring a staff, and putting together a menu.

Last Thought

The final product – the New Woodshed’s website – speaks to the strength and thoroughness of our discovery process. We work with more than 300 clients every year, most of whom we’ve never met in person, and our quality of work wouldn’t be possible without a team that really dives into each project to understand the true meaning behind a brand. Restaurant website design varies wildly, and often doesn’t accurately reflect a restaurant’s ethos. In this case, we worked with the New Woodshed to help them establish an authentic digital personality, and it has helped them resonate with an audience while also bringing back many familiar faces from the original restaurant’s days.

Could illustrations give your hospitality marketing the lift it needs? We love the trend so we look at why and where it’s working, plus how to hire for it.

The-Rise-of-Illustrations-in-Hospitality-Marketing

We get it. For hotels, DMOs, and wedding venues, the right photos often drive your marketing. It’s why we have a photo editor on staff, and why everything from the wedding event brochures to our destination blog websites like this one tend to be filled with big, wide space for those beautiful, color-drenched images that drive travelers to book their next vacation with you or brides to book their site visit tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not fans of the rise of illustration in marketing materials of all kinds, both in print and digital marketing. When trying to explain the slow ascent of illustrations, one simple marketing principle goes a long way: when they zig, you zag. Simply put, illustrations are different. They can sometimes reveal more personality, creativity, and quirk than photos.

In hotel, destination, and hospitality marketing, there are many opportunities for illustration and iconography to slice through consumers’ haze and paint a new, fresh picture of your brand in guests’ and brides’ eyes. Here, we discuss what’s compelling about illustrations, who they work best for, a few examples to check out, and different avenues to hire an illustrator.

Why Illustrations Are Working

Illustrations give a brand a more control over their message and can provide a level of uniqueness that helps you stand out – Instagrammed much lately? While photos show a scene in clear detail (and there are certainly many places where that’s what’s needed – like when showing off the size of a resort’s pool to entice future guests to dive right in, for example), photos are constrained by what’s in any single frame. Illustrations, on the other hand, are only limited by the artist’s abilities, and can convey a brand image or ideas more effectively. When done really well, they can resonate long after a great photo has been absorbed.

That’s not to say that they’re the right choice for everyone, though…

When Illustrations Work Best

Illustration isn’t appropriate for every brand or marketing opportunity, and there are certainly examples the medium’s misuse. Bigstock Blog did a good job breaking down when you should steer towards photos, and when you should consider illustration:

Are you selling a specific product? Use a photo to display it clearly.

Are you selling something less tangible? Try an illustration to capture its theme.

What is the age range of your target audience? Younger people may be more receptive to the sly whimsy of a fun illustration, while older people may prefer the trustworthy vibe of a sensible photo.

Is your business an underdog, compared to the market leaders? Try an illustrated style to shake things up and set you apart.”

Examples of Illustrations in Hospitality Marketing

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Hawthorn’s work on The Woodstock Inn & Resort’s magazine shows off mixed media, with illustration annotating a photograph. The end product is a graphic that gives readers the honesty of a photo with the light-heartedness of a sketch, something that fit perfectly for the story inside.

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Flatbread, a small chain of pizzerias in New England, gives each restaurant an illustration unique to the town the shop is in for their websites. (This one here is a shout out to our home office digs: Portsmouth, New Hampshire.) This probably isn’t something that would be appropriate for a national brand like Domino’s, but for an artsy upstart – perhaps a boutique hotel, in the hospitality world? – it hits the mark perfectly.

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It may seem counter-intuitive for a wedding photography business to lean on illustration for their logo, but it works quite nicely for Leaf & Land. Couples — with their eyes glazed over — look through countless photographers, trying to discern from a quick portfolio photo or two who would do the best job capturing their wedding. Leaf & Land’s aesthetic sensibilities immediately shine through and give you a sense of their artsiness and taste.

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The Algonquin Hotel uses illustration to highlight the nearby Hippodrome Theater. A fixture on Sixth Avenue for more than a century, there are undoubtedly countless beautiful photos available – so why go with an illustrative depiction over a pictorial one? The Wes Anderson-like aesthetic gives the building a dignity befitting its iconic stature, showing that illustrations don’t have to be fun and whimsical to have an impact.

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No, Citgo isn’t a hospitality brand, and in stark contrast to some of the small businesses mentioned here, it’s a multi-billion dollar brand. But we thought this was a great example of how the use of illustration can have the perfect effect by going against the grain, just like you might want to consider doing. This campaign of illustrations for their credit card may be surprising at first glance – but they make sense when you consider the circumstances. A go-to credit card is a personal thing; it’s with you every day, and ideally (at least for the company), it becomes an integral part of your life. So, considering the product that they’re marketing, it makes sense that they wanted a human touch in these graphics.

How to Hire an Illustrator

If you think that illustration work may be right for your hotel marketing but you’re not sure where to start, one place to turn is Upwork, home to many freelance artists based all over the world. The backgrounds, skill levels, and prices vary dramatically, so there should be options for budgets and needs of all kinds. If you’d prefer to look through portfolios first and then find the artist second, browse the designs at Dribbble for illustrations that stick out, and then contact that illustrator. If you’d rather not screen through dozens (or more) of options, though, you can hire a design-forward agency like us to take you through the creative process and produce exactly what you need.

Emily Forsha of Travel Oregon pulls the curtain back on what we consider one of the top destination content marketing strategies in the hospitality industry.

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As an agency that specializes in content marketing strategies built around bringing the best of destinations to life for our hotel and hospitality marketing clients, we know a good job when we see one. We’ve long regarded Travel Oregon as having one of the best-executed, most well-rounded content marketing strategies in the country, particularly among DMOs. Spanning print, digital, social, and email, many of their stories can stand against consumer publishers – not just travel marketing – and also fill important information gaps for tourists and locals alike.

From an ongoing Q&A forum where visitors can ask questions fielded by a series of uniquely qualified and curated experts to an incredibly well branded vein of content devoted to Oregon’s “7 Wonders” – plus, let’s face it, an essential: a solid website with kickass UX – these guys know what they’re doing. They’re not only getting people to go to places, but helping them have the best time possible while they’re there.

So we talked with Emily Forsha, Travel Oregon’s content and community manager, to get the inside scoop on everything from the execution details (budget, team size, etc.) and big-picture vision to why hiking and ghost towns may be gold mines for Oregon content…but why Travel Oregon won’t always go back to those wells time and time again.

How much content does the Travel Oregon team produce? What’s the budget?

Our core content plan budget is $220,000 annually, for production of our annual print visitor guide, email newsletter (2 emails monthly, 3 stories per email), and feature stories (25 annually). However, we often put additional budget toward campaign-specific content needs. For example, we developed an extra package of winter and city-specific trip ideas to support our winter campaign last year.

How many people are on the team, and what are their roles?

The team I work on is called Integrated Marketing, and we work on both platform and content for Travel Oregon. A Project Manager and a Database Coordinator work on the platform side, and a couple of us focus on the content side of things. So while I’m really focused on making sure our content is high quality and on-brand, our Project Manager and Database Coordinator are fixing bugs on the website and figuring out how to make our database even more efficient and useful for industry partners.

Basically, we work together to make sure both our content and the place where you see that content are working and looking their best. Then, there’s a director who oversees the whole team. So there are five of us on the core team, and we work with a variety of vendors who help us execute on the content side – partners, locals, freelancers, and bloggers. A custom publishing company helps us produce our printed visitor guide and many of the stories you see on the website and email newsletter. We also work with a social media agency to help with social content.

What are the main focuses of your content?

The way I always think of destination marketing is that everyone experiences your destination differently. So right now, what we’re focused on is how many perspectives of that story can we get – just knowing it’s not just what the content is, but who’s telling the story and how they’re experiencing it. Someone who lives here has a different perspective than someone coming for the first time or for a specific reason. So what we’re focused on is filling as many of those gaps as possible.

What’s a big “must have” for your content marketing?

One thing above all else is that we want to write in the first person perspective. Many of the pitches I heard when I first started were from businesses and PR folks and they sounded like they were out of a travel brochure, and that doesn’t fit into what we’re looking for. It’s about making sure it’s someone’s actual experience – a place, event, trip, whatever – to help us ensure that it has the right voice. It wasn’t a criteria when I started, but it evolved, and we found that it’s the best way.

How do you always maintain that first-person perspective if you’re promoting a specific business?

We’ll help them find someone who’s local or have a blogger come through and have them tell an authentic story for us.

What are your go-to stories?

I always say that if we could just write stories about waterfalls and ghost towns, we’d have killer numbers, but it’s about balance. Those aren’t the only stories we want to tell. Ghost towns is a great example. We don’t have a ton of information about it on our site, but people go crazy about it when we do cover them. We’ll do one or two stories to bridge the information gap, because we know people will like it, but there are other stories too – so we don’t want to become too one-note.

Hiking is another one. We could easily post about hiking every day, based on demand. But instead we look at how everyone goes to the Crater Lake page on our site, so we look at how we can use that page to let people know that they should take a longer trip in southern Oregon. Everyone’s into Crater Lake, so when they’re there, here’s the route they should take. We try to get people to stay a little longer and go a little further, so we leverage those popular themes or pages to get people to do a bit more.

How has Travel Oregon’s content marketing strategy evolved?

When I stepped in five years ago, it was just starting to become a big focus, but at that point, it was more about checking off the boxes. “Let’s do a story about biking, or wildflowers in the spring” – we were just making sure we were producing content seasonally and covering the different activity buckets, and of course balancing coverage equitably across the whole state, which remains a big focus for us. But what’s happened is we’ve sort of had a move toward transparency, and being transparent about what experience you’ll have when you visit.

What do you mean by being more “transparent” with your content, especially since it’s still marketing, right?

A few years ago, there was a very popular spot in the state that was really crowded all the time, so we really just didn’t want to talk about it – now, we look at it like, “how do we set up readers to go there and have the best experience possible?” The parking lot is always full, there are massive crowds of people there so we’re telling people how they need to get there early, what bus to take, and how to handle those crowds. That’s something I feel good about – being able to talk more honestly and not just seeing our job as marketing but as really helping people to have a good time.

Does every piece of content you produce get promoted and distributed in social media or email campaigns?

Sometimes, we just feature it on the website and may or may not share it on social media, depending on the story. Sometimes it’s included in our email newsletter. We look at how broad an audience it’s going to speak to. So something like our email newsletter, it’s going to be the hiking story everyone wants, or about a weekend in southern Oregon. Smaller ones may be good to feature on key pages on our site. Some of the stories we produce are just to fill an information gap. We just wrote one about traveling with your bike in Oregon, which is really great information if that’s what you’re looking for – but it’s not a fit for social or our email newsletter because it’s not that exciting. It’s great information, very useful – but not necessarily inspirational.

What sort of analytics do you look at to know whether you’re on the right track?

It’s definitely a mix, but I’d say that we look at click-through rates on email newsletter stories, and especially read-through rates, in addition to the response on social media. The biggest thing we look for is something that’s hitting across channels – so if a lot of people clicked on a story about ghost towns in our newsletter, and a lot of people also tagged their friends on a photo of a ghost town on Instagram, we know that’s a theme that’s going to resonate across channels.

Was there ever a point when you and your team started thinking that you figured out the formula for successful content marketing?

That thought has never even occurred to me! I’m really proud of what we’ve done with our feature content, though. Those are the longer magazine-style stories that we produce quarterly through our custom publishing company, and they’ve always been really great, and I’ve always been proud of the quality of them – but when I looked at them this year, I was like, “This is good storytelling.” Not even within destination marketing, but anywhere. I feel like they would stand against any magazine, travel or otherwise.

What should DMOs just getting into content marketing and hotels into destination marketing understand?

You need to figure out what you’re going to focus on. When I started, we had kind of specific buckets to help focus ourselves. We knew were going to do X stories in seven regions that we wanted to spread around. At that time, we had only two brand pillars – outdoors and culinary – so that really helped focus us. Otherwise, it’d just be too overwhelming. Having a framework to fall back on to help you make those decisions make it a lot easier to tackle, and less daunting.

 

Originally known as “the wine guy” who brought Wine Library from $3m to $60m in revenue, then as an early investor in unicorn startups like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Uber, next as a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and now as the CEO of the fast-growing agency VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk has emerged as one of the most compelling entrepreneurs and marketing thinkers of our time. With an especially discerning eye toward social media, he’s been able to predict where the industry is going and has advised businesses – both those who pay for his company’s services and those of us scooping up his advice on Medium and YouTube – on how to best take advantage.

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Here, we channel his social media marketing know-how into five tips for wedding venue marketers to improve their social media marketing efforts.

1. You’re a Media Company whether You Realize It or Not

A couple years ago, Gary started saying that every business is a media company, and he’s still beating that drum today. His point is well-made: with the cost of distribution essentially reduced to zero, and a variety of mediums at your disposal, there’s no reason not to tell stories and build an audience around your brand. The best way to do that is through publishing content consistently — not sporadically, not weekly, but daily, if at all possible.

Time is a precious resource, and you may find yourself thinking that you don’t have enough of it to wholeheartedly adopt this mentality. Consider this, though:  All posts don’t all need to be fully fleshed-out, or even directly relevant to your venue every time. Another trick is to develop formats for recurring posts to anchor your content marketing strategy in order to give your social game some structure – the posts will come easier. If you need some help getting started, check out our post on 5 super simple posts anyone can write.

2. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

This is the title of one of Gary V’s books. It basically means, “give, give, give, ask” — you should “give” followers useful or fun content much more frequently than you “ask” them to do something, whether it’s make a purchase, or more likely in the case of wedding venue marketing, fill out a website form to enquire or book a site visit. With today’s highly competitive media landscape, where alternatives are just a tap away, you have to be engaging, entertaining, informative – and preferably, all three – in order to compete. It shouldn’t be a problem, considering all the natural storytelling opportunities there are in hospitality marketing, especially the wedding space.

Our recommendation: Tell couples’ stories, give away your best wedding planning advice, throw some love back on top vendors – then, every once in a while, find a compelling way to make an “ask” that gets brides or special groups to get them over to a landing page to start converting to a lead. Give, give, give, ask.

3. Attention Is Everything

“Don’t be romantic!” Gary loves to proclaim. No, he’s not trashing on the idea of love – he’s referring to how you generate your revenue and how you attract attention. Don’t become too reliant on one or two social platforms just because they’ve worked for you in the past. If you’re all-in on Facebook and you don’t see the need to broaden your strategy, you may be in for a rude awakening next time Facebook decides to change the News Feed algorithm. By being platform agnostic – only chasing attention – and cross-promoting so that your customers follow you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., you essentially build a moat around your content strategy so that you won’t be beholden to any one service.

There’s no hard and fast rule to measure the attention you’re getting on different social channels, because different companies have different goals. For you, it could be follows, likes, comments, conversions, or some combination – whatever it is, determine YOUR method for measuring success, and check in every so often. Allocate your time proportionally according to the attention that your venue is getting on each platform. Digital channels in general – be it search, social, or email – tend to have an expiration date, so never get lulled into a false sense of security or think you can “set it and forget it.”

Our recommendation: Put your social media strategy down on paper (so it can be delegated, too!) and revisit it every six months to make sure the “attention” priorities are still right.

How Smart Wedding Venues Do Social. This free eBook will help supercharge your social media ROI. Download Now

4. Experiment with the New Platforms

If you’re feeling adventurous, poke around a bit in social’s next frontier – wherever that may be. For every Instagram, there are dozens of Meerkats, Peaches, and Yobongos – social media also-rans that showed early promise but ultimately flamed out months after originally launching. Gary took an early interest in each, though, and you should, too because many of your brides are in their early to mid-20s, and keep up with every turn and shift in social media. Sure, it’s entirely practical to wait for the winners to shake out and then figure out where to allocate your time, but by jumping in early and at least figuring out what the fuss is about, you may discover ways to harness the platform in a fun way unique to your business and benefit from the attention that early adopters tend to get.

Many of these platforms won’t work out, but you’ll learn a little more each time, and you’ll stand to benefit when one does hit. By understanding the functionality and features of each platform, you’ll be able to identify the platforms that are a great fit for your business and then tell better stories and connect with brides more effectively. Brides will also be impressed by venues who can stay abreast of social trends, and will appreciate how that “with the times”  approach to your business will translate to their day feeling fresh and current.

Our recommendation: If you’re not the social maven who’s naturally going to be interested and know about the newest social platforms, find someone on your staff – or even a friend or relative – who is, and check in with them once a month to have them tell and show you about what’s popping up. You can be the one to understand the potential business translation.

5. Realize that No Marketing Channel Is Dead

While social media is eating a larger and larger slice of the global ad spend, it’s not wise to write off older mediums – radio, print, TV – as dead. While the attention those mediums command may be fading, there are still audiences tuning in (or reading or watching) and if the price is right, it can still be a worthwhile investment for your venue. The same thing is true about other forms of digital marketing, like search engine marketing, email, etc. With all this newfound knowledge, don’t become a new media snob – remember that there are opportunities others may be overlooking as marketers re-allocate the majority of their resources to digital.

 

Is a website redesign a “would be nice” or “must-have” for your business? We make it easy by defining the seven signs that it’s time.

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These days with mobile responsiveness and countless other technology advances, it can feel like you get through one website redesign only to start another the next day. And yes, we expect there are things you’d like to do to your current site – for wedding venues, perhaps it’s a more dynamic photo gallery; for hotel websites, it might be integrating content marketing and lifestyle photos into your site more fully.

But everyone has a wish list. How do you really know when it’s time to bite off a new website design project?  Here, we’ve tapped our collective expertise from producing websites across the hospitality industry – from hotels and destinations to restaurants and wedding venues – to outline not only some of the common issues on older websites, but the fixes, too.

The Most-Visited Pages Are Buried

Take a peek inside Google Analytics (if you don’t have it set up, you should – it gives you critical insight into how your website is working as a marketing tool). Are your most-visited pages easy to get to? If visitors have to go through menus, click links, search, and stumble their way to the one place that they want to get, that’s a sign that you need to re-think your site navigation. Look at the real estate of your home page: are those precious pixels economically used? That space should be assigned proportionately according to importance. Don’t waste it. (And white space, tastefully used, isn’t wasting it!)

The Message Isn’t Clear

This one may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many websites fail this simple test: have a friend, family member – or preferably, stranger – go to your website, spend 60 seconds there, and then try to articulate to you what it is that your company does and who your customer is. If they can’t nail it, you’ve got a problem. If you’ve been around a while, your message may have started out clear, but as your offerings have changed and your business has evolved, it may have become muddled in the process. Avoid buzzwords and hyperbolic language, and dial in on exactly what you do best.

There’s No Goal

What do you want visitors to do when they come to your site? Whether that’s to book a stay, read an article, or fill out a form, there should be something you want visitors to accomplish. Of course, you don’t have just one answer – for example, hotels want leisure guests to book, corporate planners to submit an RFP, and brides to contact event planners. If you can’t answer this fundamental question, though, and point to the ways your site delivers an answer to the user quickly and clearly, then your website isn’t going to be a very good marketing tool, no matter how slick your design is.

It Feels Slower

If your site feels like it’s gotten slower, it probably has. It could be a myriad of things – an old server, overloaded, outdated WordPress plugins, or it could’ve been hacked. One thing we learned from experience is that high-resolution photos bloat load times, and it’s possible to scale down the quality just enough to barely make a difference to the human eye but dramatically reduce the load on your website’s host. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a great, free service to check every now and then, that will give you customized suggestions to improve load times like optimizing images, minifying CSS, and enabling compression – and then tell you how to implement those things.

It’s Not Mobile Friendly

Is your site responsive, or at least mobile friendly? (Here’s a quick article on the difference, because yes, there is a difference.) If you’re not sure, navigate to it on a mobile web browser. Does it look tiny or distorted? If so, you have an issue. Mobile internet traffic surpassed desktop traffic for the first time in 2016, and is especially true with a market like weddings, where most of today’s brides use their phones considerably more than computers. Regardless of your business, if you’re not optimizing your website for mobile devices, you’re losing many potential customers who are navigating there on their phone or tablet. So, while this is far from a license to disregard desktop traffic, it’d be wise to toss desktop-centric technologies like Flash to the side. (Flash doesn’t work on iPhones.)

Your Typography Looks Boring/Dated

Don’t underestimate typography’s role in communicating your hotel, destination, or venue’s message. If your default font is Arial or Times New Roman, it’s high time for you to pick an alternative that better fits your brand. There are a slew of options that’ll immediately make your website fresher and more appealing, and yes, you now have many more web-friendly options than you did just a few years ago.

It’s Hard to Quickly Update Your Site

If you have to call your website guy or gal (or web design agency) to make small updates to your website, you either don’t have a CMS (content management system) in place, you have a poor one, or you don’t know how to use it. Regardless, there’s an issue. There’s no excuse to not use one of the many great options out there to make managing your content simple. In fact, having a solid CMS in place allows you to get more life out of your website and tweak things here and there rather than investing in an entirely new site every two years.

New collateral, starting with a special events brochure, gave Royal Regency’s hotel marketing re-brand a jolt after connecting with Hawthorn last winter.

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The Royal Regency Hotel in Yonkers, New York, recently underwent a brand transformation (as well as an ongoing building renovation) and connected with Hawthorn last winter to develop a brochure as a primary component of their special events and wedding marketing toolkit for their hotel. But that “anchor project” was only the start of the work we went on to complete to give their brand the crisp, modern overhaul they desired.

The Client

The family-owned and -operated Royal Regency hotel is set in Yonkers, New York, a city of 200,000 just north of New York City. The purple accents everywhere – anchored by a grand staircase in the lobby complete with purple steps – suggest a fun, modern vibe. The hotel is welcoming to both business guests (it’s near many major companies and universities) and tourists (there’s easy access to sports venues like Yankee Stadium and cultural staples like the Westchester Broadway Theater), and weddings and special events remain a cornerstone of their business, with 14,000 square feet of event space.

The Project

The hotel’s marketing team came to Hawthorn as part of an effort to attract younger guests and re-assert the boutique hotel as a local destination, in addition to a place to stay. They had already worked with a branding agency who helped them affirm their rich, eccentric style – using those brand guidelines, Hawthorn produced a brochure to promote Royal Regency’s capabilities for hosting special events.

Royal Regency loved the design of the brochure (the epub link is now in their marketing team’s email signatures) enough that, in the following months, they sought Hawthorn to help modernize their thank-you notes, business cards, key card holders, and even do-not-disturb cards in the same vein with a shared aesthetic. It’s a consistent look across the board, and in the case of the do-not-disturb card (it sits in the key card slot of the door), they’ve found opportunities to extend their refreshed brand in previously ignored places.

Our Take

It’s not uncommon for us to work within existing brand guidelines (fonts, colors, photo guidelines, etc.) and in fact, it’s often a good test for our designers to chew on “how do I incorporate these elements into something new and fresh, but make them still feel on-brand?” It made the design process easier on our end to begin with a professionally done, well-executed set of brand guidelines, and it gave the project a head start.

Last Thought

There are a couple benefits to starting with an “anchor project” like Royal Regency’s brochure. For one, it establishes an understanding of the design and production process with the client and also a sense of trust. Then, chipping away at other projects as they arise and both parties become comfortable with each other is a natural path to a fruitful, long-term business relationship, but is also cost-effective, as it’s a smaller time investment after the big project (the brochure, in this case) is completed. The final result is a package of collateral, done over several months, that works seamlessly together, and a relationship with an agency that’s ready to move quickly when the next need arises.

Almost every wedding, destination, and hotel marketer has or is considering investing in a drone video. We went to the source to help you pick the right one.

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New Castle, New Hampshire’s David Murray of ClearEyePhoto has enjoyed an interesting career, reaching back to a passion for amateur photography in high school, a high-flying Silicon Valley run through the ’90s and mid 2000s, and finally, into his own photography business over the last decade or so. He’s experimented with RC aircraft for decades and was an early adopter of the DJI Phantom. (He now flies the DJI Inspire-class drone.)

We spoke to him about best practices, do’s and don’ts, and the right moments to consider drone videography for your destination, hotel, and wedding venue marketing needs. (And a note on semantics: We’re using “drone videography” and “drone photography” interchangeably throughout this piece.)

Why is drone videography such a natural fit for those in hospitality marketing?

The value in many great hotels and wedding venues is that they’re based in a really special location. There’s no better tool for capturing and conveying a grand, beautiful setting than drone video.

What does drone photography offer that traditional aerial photography doesn’t?

If you get up in a plane or helicopter, it’s tough to get down low enough to capture the perspective, and if you’re on the ground, it’s hard to show the surroundings well. A couple hundred feet is the sweet spot, and you can really show the setting in a way that’s just magical. I love it. It’s always exciting to get the drone in the air and discover what you can see, with the client looking over your shoulder at the screen, because sometimes they spot things they didn’t expect.

How can hotels and venues find the right drone photographer for their project?

The first thing you should do is make sure the operator you’re planning on working with is certified by the FAA to do commercial drone operations. You should always operate legally – don’t hire people who aren’t certified. And they’re out there. If you have an FAA-certified drone pilot, it indicates that they have a sufficient interest in what they’re doing, have gone through the trouble, and are probably serious about it.

From there, you need to focus on their ability to take the photos and videos you want by evaluating their portfolio. If you haven’t looked at much drone photography or videography, use Google and YouTube to find examples that have won awards so you have some sort of point of reference. The images shouldn’t be hazy or unclear. No curved or tilted horizons or strange color. Broadly speaking, their video should be smooth and keep you engaged, with any music or narration fitting in well with the footage in terms of timing and mood.

Aside from that, it’s not much different from working with any other commercial photographer or videographer – they should be reliable, easy to communicate with, and capable of doing the type of work you’re looking for. Talking to past customers of theirs is helpful, and spending the time to talk to them about the project before you get too far into it is important, too.

What’s a common mistake drone videographers and their clients make?

The most common mistake I see is people thinking that drone shots stand alone as compelling storytelling, because the perspective seems unique to them. But there’s so much bad drone footage out there now that people are getting more used to it and beginning to tune it out, so we’re at the point where people want some story or drama. Sequencing scenes, tying in music effectively, mixing in ground shots – you have to put it together in a coherent roll that’ll take the viewer on a bit of a journey and draw them in and keep their interest. Finally, there are some basic photography principles to follow – I can’t believe how often I see drone photos shot with no regard for the sun. The image quality is really poor.

What are the technical specs drone photographers – and those hiring them – should be seeking these days?

As far as DJI drones are concerned, anyone who is serious about doing commercial work is flying at least a Phantom 4 Pro, or an Inspire 1 Pro or Inspire 2. This is especially true when capturing still photos for use in print media, where image quality needs to be higher than for use on websites and in social media. A key distinction between the cameras on these drones and the ones on older or lesser drones is the size of the image sensor. The older ones use the same size sensors used in most point-and-shoot cameras (about 1/2″), while the more capable drone cameras have larger sensors (1″ or 4/3″).

Generally speaking, image quality and low-light performance improve as sensor size increases. The lens quality is also better in the drones I’ve mentioned above. Phantom 3 Pro drones were great flying camera platforms when they came out, creating better stills than the best GoPros at the time, and almost as good video. But they are now pretty behind the times, using small sensors and inferior lenses. There are also older Inspire 1 drones out there whose “X3” camera is essentially the same as the camera in a Phantom 3 Pro.

Of course, the photographer’s skills are more important than just the camera itself. Just as a great photographer can often take a better picture with a cell phone camera than a poor photographer might take with a $3,000 dSLR he or she does not know how to use, a great drone photographer with a Phantom 3 might deliver better results than a poor photographer who’s using an Inspire 2 with X5s camera. So, it’s really most important to look at the quality of the work, rather than just the equipment itself.

Is drone photography being overused at this point?

I think done right, especially if there’s architecture involved, even if it’s a one story building, a drone can provide a valuable perspective. But the easy mistake to make is going up and showing context that you don’t want to show. If your resort is next to a trailer park or a quarry and you’re marketing it as a high-end property, it’s not a good idea to show it from that angle. A second example would be if you have a building that looks wonderful from a ground perspective, but has a flat roof with a bunch of ugly equipment, stains, and debris on top.

I hear people say “I’m supposed to shoot drone footage here,” so they fly around the building and technically capture drone footage, but don’t show any aspects of the building that would make anyone want to go there. It’s purely gratuitous at that point.

What do you think the best way to capture a wedding would be?

The key thing with wedding drone photography is to capture the setting, and to do it in a way that isn’t obtrusive. You typically don’t want to be buzzing around during the ceremony itself, unless the couple really wants that. It’s usually better to get a little farther away and get a shot where you can clearly see that there’s a wedding party there, but that they’re overlooking the golf course or ocean. The role of the drone is to capture context – just far enough away to show the setting beautifully.

The robust Airbnb marketing strategy that’s helped them achieve a $31 billion valuation places special emphasis on content. Here’s what they’re doing.

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Airbnb has long been on the minds of hotels and destination marketing executives for eating market share. But while the level of threat for established hotels and resorts is still out, what’s clear is that those in hospitality marketing should have their eye on another aspect of Airbnb’s presence: its content marketing. It sells its destinations and the Airbnb traveler lifestyle through a variety of slick, authenticity-first experiential marketing tactics, a philosophy Hawthorn preaches via our print and digital content marketing products.

From their new print magazine (yes, you read that right) to beautifully edited professional video to a community-generated recommendations section, we dive into Airbnb’s content efforts that are relevant to those in hotel or destination marketing, and offer takeaways you can apply to your own strategies.

Airbnbmag: Bridging the Digital and Print Divide

In conjunction with Hearst, Airbnb launched the Airbnbmag in May. The second issue of the print-only magazine is coming in September, and if all goes well, it’ll be back in 2018 with a more frequent publishing schedule. The magazine’s primary distribution is via direct mail to top hosts and guests, supplemented by newsstand presence in some bookstores and airports. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the Wall Street Journal that print intrigued him because “It isn’t ephemeral, as opposed to content on a feed that expires.”

What may be the most intriguing and interesting aspect of this project? It’s how this digital-era trendsetter is using data to drive their content decisions in an analog publication. What Airbnb is doing is using all that digital data they have to make it simple for editors to define what destinations should be the focus of their biggest features in the magazine. “We know how many people are searching to stay in Havana, Detroit, or Tokyo, and we know how many people want to go based on search dates for future trips,” Chesky explained in the Wall Street Journal article in May. “No one has billions of demand search data points for nearly every country in the world. That gives us a leg up.”

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals: You may not have access to the same pool of big data that Airbnb has, but you can still look at your hotel’s or destination’s website analytics and see what sections of the site people are spending the most time on and let that help shape your content. You could also look at booking timeframes and take note of things like an uptick in last-minute getaways in a certain season or to a certain place and draw ideas from those stats, too. Even simply a few broader conversations with Revenue Management could shed some light on some content themes  you may not have considered before.

Blog: Giving Hosts What They Need

Airbnb’s blog, which lives as a subdomain of “atairbnb.com,” covers tips primarily for hosts, as well as Airbnb’s partnerships and initiatives. The stories on the blog – like “Make Your Listing Accessible to Japanese Travelers,” “How Airbnb Delivers Insights to Hosts,” and “Opening More Homes to People in Need” – are relatively economical in length, clear in language and intent, and effective with messaging. They also mix videos and photos into the story as needed, too. Airbnb occasionally goes deeper on the blog with features like the Hospitality Index, highlighting Airbnb’s most hospitable cities, or the Economic Impact study, which takes a deep look at the effect Airbnb has had on cities.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals: Your stories don’t have to be long, but they have to have a point. Don’t create content to fill a quota; create content to do a specific job. You never want to discount SEO and keywords, but if the intended message is most effectively conveyed in 300 words, then that’s enough. If it takes 2,000 words, that’s OK, too.

Neighborhoods: A 10,000-Foot Destination View

Neighborhoods is a finely organized blog-like feed of the boroughs within a given city. If you select Los Angeles, for example, there are 60 neighborhoods to choose from, and tags at the top to filter the choices down, like “Trendy,” “Peace & Quiet,” “Touristy,” and “Celebrity Status.” Within an individual neighborhood, there’s an embedded Google Map at the top of the page to orient yourself, followed by a long-scroll blog approach to highlighting the neighborhood through top-quality images and brief caption descriptions to give you the full lay of the land. Finally, at the bottom of the page, you’re led to a few potential choices for Airbnb homes in that neighborhood. There’s a clear funnel to a sale.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals: You don’t need us to tell you we live in a visual world. But this is an interesting approach to sourcing those top-quality images by prominently partnering with a local photographer (who they feature at the bottom to give extra exposure for that photographer). Alternatively, they could have just hired the photographer, given photo credit, and left it at that. It adds authenticity – that holy grail of all content these days – by showing it’s a true local’s perspective. Pros in destination and hospitality marketing could certainly do the same, choosing to profile the local who is providing the content, not just showing their work.

Guidebooks: Host-Recommended Picks in Every Destination

If Neighborhoods is a beautiful photo scroll , Guidebooks is Airbnb’s Lonely Planet or Zagat, helping you make sense of a city’s coolest things to do. But here’s the key: It all comes directly from the mouths of hosts who live there. First, you pick a city – we’ll stick with Los Angeles for this example – and then you can select verticals like “Food Scene,” “Drinks & Nightlife,” “Arts & Culture,” and more. When you pick one, they’re listed in order of rank according to local Airbnb hosts, and their comments are included, too. On the right side of the screen, there are pins dropped to a map, helping you easily figure out where these places are and how they fit into your trip.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals: Done successfully, user-generated content may be the ideal form of content marketing. It provides that level of authenticity since it’s coming from locals, and once you’ve built the plan, it can mean little time investment from you and your team (only light curating). But Airbnb hosts are natural and willing content suppliers. And Guidebooks took significant developer build-out. What’s the low-hanging fruit equivalent for you? Seasonal UGC photo contests like the ones we’ve executed? A way you harness existing area/destination reviews for future guests? Maybe it’s even analog – some highly visual gathering space where guests can give recommendations of what to see or do on a chalkboard wall.

Community Stories: Finding New Hosts through Emotional Stories

Community Stories is a profile series – both written articles and video – about Airbnb hosts (primarily), to entice others with that idea in a very editorial way. It gets readers daydreaming about how Airbnb could change their life and routine. Tessa, for example, used to work 100-hour weeks and traveled frequently. Now housebound due to a neurological disease, Airbnb “brings the world” to Tessa, as the story puts it.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals: People like stories about people. While you may not have the marketing budget that Airbnb has for story-specific video, profiling people will always be a classic content approach. In the case of hotel and destination marketing, the natural approach is profiling locals who are doing fascinating things and who can bring the great “why I love it here” aspects of your area or destination to life.

Social media is likely already part of your wedding venue marketing strategy – but if you’re posting the same things across platforms, you’re doing it wrong.

Social-Media-Stories-for-Wedding-Venues

Think of the major social media channels as TV networks: NBC, Disney, MTV, TLC…you get the idea. Those channels have different audiences to cater to and different tones in programming. You couldn’t just take a successful Disney program and drop it into MTV’s schedule and expect it to flourish. Social media marketing for wedding venues is no different. While you may have some success cross-posting across the social networks, to get ahead in your wedding venue marketing efforts, you’re better off customizing your storytelling natively for those individual platforms. Here, we describe what kind of posts work best on which platforms.

Facebook

Facebook is cross-generational, so remember that it’s not just the bride-to-be seeing your post – it’s her grandmother, too. As long as you have couples’ permission, you should post congratulatory photos of each wedding and tag the married couple to leverage the attention of their friends. But the photos should really show off your venue, not be close-ups of the couple. The objective is to give people a peek at what it’s like to get married at your venue.

Go-to post: Give people a glimpse of what it’s like to get married at your venue and tag the married couple in congratulatory photos to leverage the attention of friends and family.

Instagram

Your Instagram should have carefully composed photos of the wedding venue from every angle – featuring all the best parts of the venue, through different seasons, different times of day, and with different weather. Unlike Facebook, posting photos to Instagram should be limited to once per day. Over the past few months, Instagram rolled out the ability to add multiple photos to one post, giving you the option to share several photos in a single post and avoid clogging up followers’ feeds. Instagram doesn’t have a News Feed like Facebook does, so tagging the couple is not important here – the couples’ friends won’t see your post unless they already follow you.

Go-to post: Share beautifully shot photos and videos of your venue. Ideally, they will have at least a dash of eye-popping color that’ll cause Instagrammers to slow down in their swiping and perhaps earn you more likes. Also: consider playing with the filters and give it a common aesthetic with the other photos in your photo grid.

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Snapchat

This may surprise you, but it’s our opinion that you shouldn’t tell any stories on Snapchat. At all. Snapchat is notoriously unfriendly to influencers and business accounts. The entire service is built around the idea of friend-to-friend communication. So what can you do instead? Let your guests tell stories for you by investing in Custom Snapchat Geofilters. Make no mistake, Snapchat remains an important part of your social strategy, but trying to build a following here would mean spending time that would be better allocated toward Facebook or Instagram.

Go-to post: Show off your venue in the most authentic way possible: through the eyes (and snaps) of the wedding guests themselves. Build a fun, Custom Snapchat Geofilter honoring the bride and groom for their guests to use in their own snaps.

Pinterest

Pinterest is not a place to share photos of the happy couple or guests. In fact, a study done by Curalate shows that photos without faces receive 23 percent more repins. This is the place to highlight the elements and details like lighting, centerpieces, and the other vendor and venue details that made each wedding shine. The images should be clear and crisp and be identifiable as thumbnails, too, since that’s how they’ll be presented on Pinterest in certain views. Contribute to others’ collections and develop your own, and most importantly, always make sure you load images to your site and pin from there (as opposed to posting them natively to Pinterest) so that you get traffic from this platform, not just “likes.” Pinterest is where wedding daydreaming often begins – make it easy for soon-to-be brides (and grooms!) to discover your venue when they click a pin they like.

Go-to post: Capture prospective brides’ attention via longtail keywords by pinning photos that focus on the details that make weddings at your venue unique and beautiful. (For example: “lantern wedding centerpieces,” rather than just “centerpieces.”)

Roots, the in-room custom magazine produced for The Allison Inn & Spa, cements this luxury resort’s reputation as the “living room” of Oregon wine country.

Project-Profile--Allison-Inn-Custom-Magazine

The annual Roots custom magazine we’ve produced for The Allison Inn & Spa since 2014 has been one of our most successful magazines in our 16-year history. And we know it has for our client, too. The hotel marketing team and hotel Managing Director Pierre Zreik have worked hard to establish their authenticity and, no pun intended, roots in the Willamette Valley. It’s that kind of connection with the surrounding area that has helped turn the hotel marketing magazine into a valuable tool for guests to maximize their stays and a must-advertise-in publication for local wineries and businesses, too.

The Client

Newberg, Oregon is the gateway to the booming Willamette Valley, named the “2016 Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast and known especially for its pinot noir. And the 85-room boutique hotel that opened in 2007 has become the place to stay for luxury guests enjoying this wine country escape less than an hour southwest of Portland, Oregon. Despite that close proximity to its major feeder market, the resort has successfully shifted the mindset from the region being considered a day-trip destination into a place that guests could enjoy for days. Hoping to expand on the hotel’s growing credibility in the winemaking world, our client commissioned Roots to continue those efforts.

The Project

The 96-page, annually published Roots magazine first ran in 2014, and highlights the region, winemaking, and winemakers in three out of the four feature stories included in each edition. While we also profile things like the hotel’s 15,000-square-foot spa, acclaimed Jory restaurant, and $1 million art collection (featuring 500 pieces by Oregon artists), the focus of Roots is the region’s world of wine, and it serves as a strong destination marketing tool for the resort and advertisers – in fact, we sold out ad space in 2017. To make sure the magazine maintained its editorial feel and didn’t get taken over by ads, we guaranteed a certain ad-to-content ratio to the client. We’re happy to oblige, and our client is happy, too, as those ad dollars help increase the number of content pages we produce in each issue.

Our Take

To integrate print and digital efforts for their hotel marketing and speak to the client’s desire for user-generated content, we developed a cross-medium campaign built around the hashtag #mywillamettewinetime in the 2016 issue. We then created the print collateral to be used on property to encourage guests to share photos of a tasting with friends, a favorite bottle of wine, or a vineyard. More than 230 Instagram posts have included the hashtag since, and its use has expanded beyond the hotel, something that reinforces our client’s vision of being a part of the fabric of the region. To turn the magazine’s spotlight on the readers, we then came full circle, pulling the best photos to create a spread in the 2017 issue of the magazine.

Last Thought

More and more, reviews are a central part of any hotel’s marketing ecosystem. So how do you help garner positive ones? It’s all about making sure guests have great stays, and then helping them post reviews with friendly reminders when they’re leaving and after they’ve returned home. An in-room custom magazine that arms guests with ideas of what to do and connects them to the local culture is a great tool to that path to positive reviews for new business, and repeat bookings from those original guests as well.

There’s plenty of opportunity in influencer marketing for both DMOs and hotels…but plenty of pitfalls, too.

Top-Mistakes-Made-in-Influencer-Marketing

If the social media “influencer” is a savvy, niche, more evolved version of “celebrity,” then influencer marketing is the modern-day equivalent of a celebrity endorsement. For those unfamiliar, influencer marketing is the process in which brands pay people with substantial followings on social media (in the tens of thousands to millions) to promote their brand.

Both hotels and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) have rightly seen the natural opportunities this new(ish) form of digital marketing can provide – find the right influencer with a following that fits the kind of travelers you’re trying to reach, invite that influencer to experience the destination, have him or her shout about the experience to said followers and, boom, you’ve just reached a whole segment you would have struggled mightily to reach otherwise.

And yet, for all these natural opportunities for those in the travel industry and hospitality marketing, social influencer marketing is, relatively speaking, still in its Wild West phase. It’s full of money- and perk-grabbing poseurs, brands trying to force-feed their messages through influencer channels, and plenty of other ways all that opportunity can come crashing down. So for those in hotel and destination marketing considering trying their hand at influencer marketing for the first time, we recommend following this quick guide to avoid the biggest potholes.

Mistake #1: Not Picking the Right Influencers

You can’t effectively judge an influencer’s reach and personality by follower counts and bios. The main thing to look for is the level of engagement they have with the audience. Traditionally, the greater the follower count of the influencer, the less engaged the audience is, because the influencer seems a little more famous and distant. A quick rule of thumb to measure engagement is to examine the influencer’s follower-to-like ratio – it should be roughly 15:1 or better. The larger the slice of the audience that’s engaging with the influencer’s content, the better.

Likes and comments don’t tell the whole story, though. To get a sense of whether the followers are mostly real (yes, it’s easy to buy fake followers and likes today), go through the likers and commenters of a given influencer and tap their bios. Do they look real? Are their following/follower numbers in line with those of a real person?

Takeaway: Influencers are important, but they’re only as valuable as their audiences, so take your time to choose the influencers who will represent your hotel or destination best.

Mistake #2: Not Letting Them Be Creative

Companies who use influencers simply as a distribution channel for their content are fundamentally underestimating their talent and only taking advantage of half of an influencer’s value proposition. Influencers build audiences around their creativity and taste. If you give influencers some piece of your hotel’s brand messaging to share, you’re completely wasting an opportunity for them to be creative and run with it in a way that would more effectively resonate with their audience. It’s an opportunity to layer a marketing objective with something that’s truly interesting and engaging.

So, let them have a crack at it. Give influencers a chance to explore the destination and create within the parameters you set up, or at least let them have a say in the creative process. They know their audiences much more intimately than you do.

Takeaway: The key isn’t for you to educate audiences about your product – it’s for you to educate the influencers, so they can choose how to best educate – and entertain – their audiences.

Mistake #3: Not Establishing the Right Goals

It sounds obvious, but you need a goal – and it may not be as simple as the awareness an influencer can bring to your hotel or destination. Likes are only one indicator of success, and may even be mostly irrelevant to your overarching goals. Are you looking to get a certain number of follows? Generate a specific number of bookings? Build a relationship with a particular segment of your audience?

As with all aspects of marketing, if you don’t define the goal, it’s difficult to tell whether a campaign was successful or not. Too often, companies dip their toes in the influencer waters and, because of unclear goals, come away with a wishy-washy impression, and it freezes them from further action in the space. Have a specific target and know exactly what success would look like. Along with that, be aware of all the levers an influencer can pull to create results for you. In terms of Instagram (the main influencer platform) it’s not just posting content. It could also be an influencer commenting on one of your posts, liking one of your posts, changing the link in their bio to drive traffic your way, tagging their location (at your hotel) in a post, tagging you in a photo, tagging you in a caption, or posting content to their Story.

Takeaway: Learn about the mechanics behind all of these different actions on Instagram, understand that each one drives at least a little bit of attention your way, and determine how they align with your goals for the campaign.

Mistake #4: Trying to Hide the Influencer Relationship

The FTC is increasingly cracking down on influencer-brand relationships that aren’t clearly disclosed. Consumers are savvier than ever at sniffing out these relationships, but even then, there are often instances in which the arrangement isn’t clear. The influencer you hire doesn’t have to beat his or her audience over the head with the fact that it’s a sponsored post – in fact, audiences of smaller creators often like to see influencers they love profiting from their creations. But it needs to be disclosed in a transparent way. Until Instagram’s native sponsored content tool fully rolls out, companies will continue to depend on the #ad or #spon hashtags. Perhaps even more damaging to brands than skirting the law is when an influencer’s audience is alienated by the influencer posting a clearly scripted caption, like when Scott Disick botched it and including the marketer’s directions (“Here you go, at 4 p.m. ET, write the caption below.”)

Takeaway: While there’s plenty of space to play and be creative in, you have to work within the boundaries of the rules (and good taste), too.

We identify five core millennial buying habits and what marketers at wedding venues need to know about each to reach – and book – today’s couples.

You’re probably sick of hearing about millennials; millennials are probably sick of hearing about millennials. But for most marketers, they’ve become the most important consumer generation, and will be for the next 15 or so years. Those working in hospitality marketing, and more specifically, wedding venue advertising and marketing, need to understand that millennials buy things differently than their predecessors, and how this affects the way they book wedding venues. In this piece, we outline five millennial buying habits, and how venues should capitalize on them in their marketing plans.

They Do Their Homework (Reviews Are Important)

Even if millennials put down their phones long enough to physically go somewhere to buy something, chances are, they’ve already done their research. Reviews are imperative to the millennial buying experience. They walk in the door with an educated opinion, as they have a strong desire to be informed and feel like whatever they’re buying is worth it. More than ever, thanks to reviews, the best products and experiences are thriving, while those that disappoint don’t last. It’s the reason movie studios are blaming Rotten Tomatoes for killing movies that aren’t very good.

What Venues Should Know: With resources like The Knot, WeddingWire, and Wedding Spot, today’s engaged couple is doing a whole lot of research before stepping foot in a venue. And this is where reviews – social media’s version of word of mouth – make a huge impact. Incentivize couples to write an honest review. Authenticity is key here – don’t push them in a particular (read: positive) direction – just ask for their honest feedback and experience. Encourage them to tell their story. Reviews for The Knot, Wedding Wire, and Facebook, in particular, show up prominently in Google search results, so steer couples in that direction.

Social Media (Posting and Consuming) Is Part of the Experience

Whether you have an official presence on social media or not, your business is being discussed by customers and potential customers on the core platforms. So it’s important you do two things: 1. Start building your social media marketing strategy if you haven’t already; 2. Start listening and responding when appropriate.

What Venues Should Know: Instagram and Snapchat, the two leading camera-first social networks, both have features that let users look at a specific place – so couples will be able to scope out your venue before touring the grounds in person. Keep an eye on the images that are posted on your property, and make sure that your feeds on the major social networks have plenty of gorgeous images for curious couples just dipping their toes into the wedding planning water. Also: Consider making a custom Snapchat Geofilter available to new couples for their big day. It’s a true value-add for you and the couple.

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They Have to Show an Interest for Your Wedding Advertising to Hit the Mark

The amount of media and messages being thrown at millennials has made them very savvy at sniffing out marketing – heads go down to phones during TV commercials, new tabs open if there’s a pre-roll YouTube ad, and listeners tap the 15-second fast-forward button during podcast ads.

What Venues Should Know: The key to being heard for those in hospitality and wedding marketing, then, is finding the right distribution point as well as message so you can be confident they’ll value it. Make sure you’re listed (and invest in premium placement) for venue-listing platforms. Instagram ads, now with the power of Facebook’s ad muscle, allow very granular targeting, and could be a worthwhile investment for a venue that promotes a post targeted only at local women who follow @theknot, for example. The aforementioned custom Snapchat Geofilters act as native, guest-distributed ads, and are an easy way to capture impressions. Even print – that “dinosaur” you always hear about – can also still be effective. We’ve continued to see venues, vendors, and couples find value in our print event brochures, because they’re handed to couples during a site visit. It’s that in-hand distribution after they’ve shown initial interest that continues to make this product a success.

They Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things

Airbnb and Uber are in, RE/MAX and Ford are out…at least for now. Millennials are putting off major life milestones so they can spend big on them versus big purchases that will tie them down. They want memories that they can document and share on social media. According to a study by EventBrite, 78 percent of millennials “would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable.”

What Venues Should Know: This is a massive opportunity for wedding venues. While the average age of engaged couples may be rising, when they come in as warm prospects, they may be more open to up-selling. Push the once-in-a-lifetime, memory-making angle. In your marketing, weave the wedding in as part of their bigger life’s adventure, and as a rite of passage worth celebrating right. Go back to couples who got married at your venue five years ago, offer them a gift certificate to a local restaurant or spa for their time, and get them to tell you how much and why they loved their wedding at your venue. Use their stories on your website, as photo-driven testimonials on social media, and in other parts of your wedding venue marketing.

They Expect Convenience and Flexibility

Everyone likes convenience and flexibility in the buying experience, but millennials have grown to expect them. Whereas you used to have to call your friends to keep in touch, now there’s Facebook. Asking someone out on a date can be anxiety-inducing, and now you can just match on Tinder. Hailing a cab could be a pain – now there’s Uber. Optionality and speed are expected.

What Venues Should Know: It’s easy when you’re dealing with this every day to forget that settling on a wedding venue can be a stressful time for a couple. Venues that prioritize making the process helpful, easy, and transparent will stand out. What else could you provide during the venue vetting and planning process to make couples feel like they’re in the driver’s seat? Could you package together a customized video of the venue spaces they considered as a site-visit follow up (piecing together the templated video parts with a custom introduction)? Does your venue have planning tools that make the process that much simpler at your venue in comparison to your competitors? If so, highlight that at the outset. No matter the price point, if what you’re offering is truly great value, millennials will gravitate toward your offering, so it’s up to you to identify what you do well for them and then find the best ways to sing its praises.

Archer, of destination management company 360DG, lives corporate group events 24/7. Here, she offers tips and insight for hotel marketers and wedding venues.

Many of our clients in hotel marketing and some in special event marketing already know the acronym “DMC” and what these “destination management companies” do in the corporate group event industry. For those who don’t, DMCs act as on-the-ground experts in particular destinations to help corporate planners and their groups take full advantage of an area and all it has to offer. Their services range from logistics and transportation to the finer touches like creative corporate event concepts and decor. In other words: They live, eat, and breath corporate group business in those destinations.

Any DMC professional is thus filling their daily cup with expertise on corporate group business; we know firsthand that Shelly Archer’s cup overflows with that knowledge. Archer has worked in the industry since 2004 and is a partner at 360 Destination Group, a DMC with offices around the country and a Hawthorn client since 2011. 360DG brought us on last year to overhaul their marketing strategy and efforts ranging from a new enterprise website and marketing automation to email marketing and collateral.

But we’re not here to talk about our work. Since we know so many of our clients in hospitality, destination, and event marketing are looking to supplement that leisure and weekend business with weekend corporate groups, we thought we’d turn the tables. In this Q&A, we tap Archer’s wealth of knowledge to help hotels and venues make adjustments to their hotel promotion, group sales strategies, and on-the-ground programming. She touches on why corporate planners are looking beyond Vegas (a good thing for our clients), how boutique hotels and smaller venues can still capture midweek corporate business, and how to position your venue for different types of corporate groups.

What are some things that corporate planners are looking for in a host venue these days?

Flexibility is the key right now, because hotels are being booked up far in advance. It’s a seller’s market. So for a corporate planner looking to place a group, I would say that they value availability and flexibility – flexibility with their space, flexibility with rates, flexibility with fees that can be waived. Also uniqueness – smaller hotels should tout their privacy and uniqueness. Planners get used to the big hotels because they offer a ton of space, but you lose that sense of privacy. So smaller hotels can highlight the fact that they can make a group feel like they’re the only ones in the hotel or venue.

Hotels that aren’t in metro centers can have a tough time securing group business. What are some ways that great vacation destination hotels or venues can get corporate planners’ ears about booking with them in more difficult-to-reach locations?

They could offer clients a transportation credit — let’s say $1,000 or $2,500 — and absorb the cost of transportation for the group from the airport to the venue. In fact, I would play up the remoteness.

How can being hard to get to be a benefit for hotels and venues?

It gives the client a chance to capture the attention of their group without any distractions. That’s partly why planners don’t go to Vegas, because they feel like there are too many distractions. If you’re in a faraway, remote area, you can get attendees’ attention.

What has changed about what corporate planners are looking for now, versus, say, five years ago?

The biggest trend I see is the shift to a sellers’ market. A few years ago, it was a buyers’ market. The economy is better, people are booking more meetings, and they’re booking them further out. They’re checking availability not just for this year, but when they see that it’s already close to full, they book for 2018 and 2019, too. So all of the sudden, availability for hotel space is at a premium. And because the rates go up, planners are trying to lock in rates now because they’re worried those rates will keep going up. So, that’s an advantage for a smaller property –  you could do a social media or email promotion highlighting your availability during hot dates like fall and spring, when everyone is scrambling to book.

Any tips for smaller venues and hotels with group capacity of 100 or fewer?

With that small a group, you can be a little more fluid. Instead of being confined to the ballroom, maybe you meet somewhere else and take advantage of the property. Or, you can go off-site and take them to a local venue or restaurant. Since it’s a smaller group, you have more flexibility where you can place them. So it’s important that small venues sell themselves on those attributes, and also sell how that flexibility can be customized.

How do you look at sub-segments of corporate groups and how particular details make landing corporate group business for each different?

An incentive group is really basically wining and dining. There may be a bit of time for meetings, but the remainder of it is fun and relaxing. So if you’re going after incentive group business, you could put together some promotion that shows your hotel or venue’s combination of the necessary meeting space but also really focuses on the ways that fun can be had at your doorstep. At 360DG, we make a day-by-day grid that lays out in a visual format what a typical three- or four-day program may look like. A hotel could do something similar. You could do multiple grids – one for executive retreats, one for sales incentive trips, one for conferences, etc. Conferences are the meat and potatoes. There, you almost play down the fun stuff. But in those, maybe you play up the conveniences – “it’s an intimate area,” “there are places for conversation where people can break off to have one-on-ones,” etc. It’s all about how you frame it.

Looking to make your new brand identity or print collateral project stand out? Here are our top five custom print techniques to make your project look and feel unique.

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Print marketing is no different than digital marketing in that both are a constant game of figuring out how to cut through the noise and grab the attention of over-messaged-to consumers. What’s cool today will be copied tomorrow and will be passé by the next day. While that timeline may be a bit exaggerated, the point stands – print marketers must continue to innovate to get their messages seen.

We’re firmly entrenched in the print marketing business – it’s what we built our business on more than 15 years ago and it remains a core part of what we do, from hotel key cards and spa menus to wedding brochures and full-suite brand identity overhauls. So naturally, we have experienced printing partners who understand our clients’ brands, know the trends, and know how to incorporate materials that will effectively deliver messages. We spoke to a couple of our printers to distill this list of the five most innovative print marketing techniques rolling off their presses right now.

Spot UV

Spot UV is layered on a specific area after the material is printed. Often used for things you want to make stand out, such as a picture or headline, spot UV can give an area an embossed, 3D look. The printer is able to control the thickness of the spot UV, too – anywhere from 20 to 80 microns. In fact, if you were printing on 12-point stock and applied spot UV treatment, the thickness could grow to 16 or 17 points by the time you’re finished. If you want to make something pop, consider spot UV.

Where to Use This Print Technique: Use spot UV to make an area on your project’s front page stand out, like we did with HHh2 Magazine, which features spot UV as a way to place emphasis on the magazine’s title.

White Toner

If you’re printing on dark stock, silver and gold ink are usually opaque enough to be applied effectively, but regular colors aren’t. Graphics or images printed on dark stock won’t show up vividly. Therefore, printers are now using white toner, which they put down first, to print images on top of when using dark stock.

Where to Use This Print Technique: If your brand colors are quite dark but you have an elaborate, colorful logo, this is the technique you’d use to make it show up nicely on printed materials.

Foiling

In the past, when clients wanted to add foiling to their custom publishing projects, printers had to create a special die – and if the client only ordered a small run, it wasn’t a very practical effect to add because of the cost of the die. Enter “sleeking” – a process by which a laminate foil is applied to a designated area, indicated by a specific black ink. Once the foil has been applied, the document is run through a regular color printer to print out the rest of the colors. It’s a tedious, but doable process, and opens the possibilities of foiling to a new world of projects.

Where to Use This Print Technique: If you’re creating wedding invitations and want to give them a dimension that you don’t get with standard printing, foiling could be the touch you’re looking for.

Coatings

In destination marketing, in particular, coatings are popular right now. Whether they’re on the cover of a magazine, catalog, or visitor’s guide, coatings – like soft-touch aqueous or a gloss film laminate – are a way to illuminate your project. Some provide a visual effect (you want it to be shinier than your competitors’) or a sensory one (pick it up, and maybe it has a distinct, gritty feel) but the goal is to differentiate yourself from what everyone else is doing, so context matters.

Where to Use This Print Technique: Give your tri-fold brochure a chance to get spotted on the rack by giving the cover a unique coating.

Perfect Binding

Perfect binding, in which the booklet has a flat spine, is now more affordable for projects with smaller page counts. This process, by which the interior pages and cover of catalogs and magazines are strongly glued together at the spine, offers a more professional finished look than saddle-stitch (stapled) binding.

Where to Use this Print Technique: An alternative to the standard stitched brochure for wedding vendors such as photographers, florists, or any other highly visual businesses, a perfect-bound look book delivers a much more sophisticated marketing message.

Words matter – so does how those words look. We discuss typography’s role in hospitality marketing and how it shapes the messages that your text delivers.

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Often an overlooked component in marketing messages, typography is the written version of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Two messages containing the exact same words can have two entirely different messages, depending on the typography choices. At Hawthorn, it’s something we notice every day on the monitors of our designers’ – it’s amazing to see how different text can look and feel based on the typography choices they make. Look at two examples of our work below:

The scratchy typeface on the graphic on the left (from Mosaic magazine, produced for Benchmark Hotels & Resorts) matches the content – in this case, a story about the reintroduction of wolves in Wyoming  —by invoking associations with the wild. On the right, this image (from Noble House magazine, produced for Noble House Hotels & Resorts) features a condensed typeface that expresses an “into thin air” feeling that goes hand-in-hand with the title: “Evaporating Art”.

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Creative software offers people the ability to easily toggle between typefaces and fonts (and yes, there is a difference). And interestingly enough, we may have Steve Jobs to thank for that. During his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Jobs discussed how he had taken a calligraphy class 10 years before designing the first Mac, and because of that, the Macintosh was the first computer with beautiful typography, and likely prompted the same progress in all future PCs, too.

While a different typeface is just a click away for today’s marketers, the same is true for their competitors and because of that, it’s more important than ever to distinguish your brand with meticulously-selected typography. But how?

3 Burning Typography Questions, Asked and Answered

Typeface vs. font – what’s the difference?
The term “typeface” would broadly apply to Times New Roman and all its versions. A font, on the other hand, describes a specific subset of a typeface – Times New Roman, bolded, in 14 point type, for example. Today, most people use the terms interchangeably, though some designers still prefer to be accurate in their terminology.

How should you approach picking fonts for print versus digital use?
Not every font can be used online. “Web safe” fonts are fonts that are either standard system fonts (fonts that your computer comes with), or fonts that are specified in the code of a website and are rendered in your browser. Print, of course, has no such limitations. If there’s a print font that you’d like to use that isn’t web safe, try to find a comparable font to use for digital projects.

What’s the difference between a serif and a sans serif font?
If a font is considered “serif”, that means it has flourishes on the ends of at least some of the characters. Think Times New Roman. Most novels are written in a serif font. Sans serif fonts, on the other hand, don’t have these flourishes — a well-known example would be Arial. Sans serif fonts are often considered more readable on the web for long passages of text.

The Impact of Typography on Brand Messages

We’ve remixed some iconic slogans with different typefaces. The typefaces they use range dramatically but work perfectly for those specific brands. Look at how much less effective those messages are in a different font:

 

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Typefaces to Consider

Forth and Create posted an excellent resource for choosing a font for your brand. Consider your customers and how you’d like them to see your business. What type of font would best help you deliver your message?

If you’re in tourism marketing and your target audience is families, a non-threatening, inviting, rounded font may be an appropriate choice. If you’re creating tourism ads and would like to inspire a sense of adventure, a distressed font may give your message an audacious flair. If you’re working on a hotel promotion targeting seniors, a classic, recognizable serif font would be a safe pick.

a607ab23e7e8a964a499ef0060b1014fInfluence Via Typography

Still not convinced whether the typography you use will have an impact on your marketing? The New York Times set out to get to the bottom of the issue by quizzing more than 45,000 readers in an informal study in 2012. Serif fonts – specifically Baskerville – ranked as the ones readers most agreed with, while Comic Sans ranked dead last. Ah, ol’ Comic Sans rears its ugly head again. Safe to say, you won’t find that font used in any of our work today.

The hotel email marketing campaign we deployed for Opal Collection makes sure future guests have great stays — and book ancillary revenue.

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Creating content is only half the game; it’s then a question of how you distribute it to get eyes on it. We’ve worked with Opal Collection for three years, producing ongoing content for Opal Unpacked, the destination blog site we manage for them. That’s a lot of content. So we helped Opal Collection put it to use in a new set of pre-arrival hotel email marketing campaigns launching in June, tailored to each of its resorts with content that was originally published on the destination blog site. Guests receive a single email a week before their arrival with three stories covering things to do on and off the resort.

The Client

Opal Collection, the luxury segment of parent company Ocean Properties and a Hawthorn client since late 2005, is known for its 16 elite, luxurious properties located across three East Coast states – Florida, Maine, and New York. These are incredibly prime properties, all set directly on the water (either Atlantic, Gulf, or Adirondack lakes), such as The Sagamore and Lake Placid Lodge in the Adirondacks, Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina in Bar Harbor, Maine, and a necklace of top Florida beach resorts running up and down both sides of the Florida peninsula. Despite the resorts’ reputation and wide appeal, our client knows leisure travelers often pick the destination first, hotel second so Opal builds brand loyalty and cross-promotional chops through an integrated marketing campaign anchored by the destination blog site and then powered by social media management and a multi-pronged email campaign strategy.

The Project

This isn’t the first hotel email marketing campaign Hawthorn has produced for Opal Collection. We build a monthly Opal-wide campaign to a collection-wide send list, individual property campaigns, and a thread of special groups campaigns – all of which interweave content from Opal Unpacked with strategic packages, promotions, and other conversion-centered CTAs.

The pre-arrival campaigns built for each resort have four primary objectives:

  • Help ensure booked guests have great stays with useful trip recommendations
  • Put the content that we’ve already created to work
  • Build brand loyalty and foster positive online reviews and word-of-mouth
  • Drive ancillary revenue (think: spa, restaurants, on-property programming).

Topics tend to be evergreen and useful for those who are in that pending-trip stage, such as “The Family Reunion Guide to Bar Harbor” or “8 Things Your Kids Will Love About Lake Placid.”

To be sure, this is a lot of content since 16 resorts multiplied by three pieces of unique content each means we’ve pulled 48 unique pieces of content together – of course, for just one hotel, it would be possible with just three pieces of the right content. But the beauty for Opal isn’t just in the four objectives that this pre-arrival campaign delivers on, but that once they’re built, they can run as automated drip campaigns without needing to be touched. (We’ll swap one outcome wintertime for the northern destinations in New York and Maine; otherwise, we expect that the content will be fresh for at least several months.)

Our Take

Email may be the less buzzy older cousin of social, but it remains a massive driver of business. Without revealing exact numbers, the role of email as a part of this client’s content strategy with us has grown significantly each year of the project because the results speak for themselves. Put simply: For hotel management companies and single-property hotels investing in content marketing with us, email is the single most important part of the distribution strategy to ensure ROI.

Last Thought

Yes, planting the seed for guests to book spa appointments or rounds of golf before they arrive is central to this pre-arrival strategy, but in this hotel digital marketing space, you can never overlook the power of reviews. And that’s a core function of this campaign and our other on-resort content work, such as in-room custom magazines. Give guests all the best information and entertaining insight into the hotel and destination to make sure they have an amazing stay, shout about it on social media and in online reviews, and turn into local repeat bookings.

Whether you’re marketing a hotel, destination, or wedding venue, you’ve heard how important content marketing is, but you think you don’t have time. Here, we outline five easy blog posts anyone can produce.

Top 5 Easily Produced Blog Posts

You know you need content for your blog – it has become a pillar in hospitality marketing for DMOs as well as hotel digital marketing. The same can be said for wedding venues looking to drive brides to their websites. But no matter who you are and what type of organization you work for, you feel like you don’t have time to produce it. Here, we outline five simple blog posts you can write on the tightest of schedules.

Q&A

The beauty of the Q&A is that it’s an easy format to write, even easier to read on digital screens (always key), and gives your readers something they’re yearning for in the form of expert insight. The only real key is making sure your expert is someone your audience cares about. If you’re marketing a destination or hotel, everyone loves insight into that destination from a well-positioned local, such as an outfitter or artist who has lived in town for years. Here’s an example of one we produced with an ice climbing guide in Lake Placid. Or for wedding venues, your expert could be a top local vendor such as a florist or event planner who can shed light on trends for the season.

Craft the questions around the person you’re interviewing – make it easy for them to give you interesting, engaging answers – and set them up to entertain and inform your audience. Send them a list of questions via email – we’d recommend 15 to 20, depending on how vested this expert is in getting this exposure on your blog – and follow up by phone to flesh some out if necessary. Not every answer you get will be a homerun. That’s ok – use the best ones and you’ll get a tight, readable post.

Guest Blog Posts

The same people who would make great experts to speak with for Q&As may be the source of the simplest type of post you can write…because you don’t have to write it, they do! The more popular they are, the harder they’ll be to get (and the more popular you are, the easier they’ll be to get). They get exposure for their business or operation in front of your audience (and a link from your blog to their website, which helps their SEO), while you get free content and added promotion if the author pushes it out on their social channels. Win-win.

Those “wins” do come with some front-end work, though. You need to make sure they can write effectively and you also need to make sure they fully understand what you’re looking for – the last thing you want is for you to have to spend hours editing their post, or even worse, trying to politely work with the writer to revise what they’ve produced over and over again until that contact becomes frustrated. But get over these hurdles and you hopefully have a relationship that can be tapped repeatedly for posts for mutual benefit.

Recurring Features

Recurring features are posts that follow a specific format that you produce consistently. For example, every few months you could run a story about the seasonal dishes your chef came up with, such as this chef-profile series we’re producing for one of our clients. The beauty of this format is that it’s a fixture on your content calendar – it’s one less story you have to think of every week (or month or quarter) – and you, as the content marketer, simply follow the format. A side benefit is that these past posts are great examples of what the finished product will look like to send sources you need input from for ensuing posts within the series.

Compiled and Curated Posts

You don’t always need to write a fully fleshed-out original post. Sometimes, the value you can provide to your audience is compiling input from other content already out there. For those in hotel and destination marketing, it could be lists of the top recommended sites to see under a theme such as top museums or family day-trips. If others in your region like CVBs or other DMOs have done content like this – and even the likes of TripAdvisor in bigger markets – you can start with your own list, then include these others’ top picks. Aggregating all that info in your one post – as long as you credit the other sources – will make your post that much more valuable.

Another approach is maybe there’s an excellent story written by a media outlet, and you have some input that extends beyond a simple social media post sharing that content. Add your take on the story, and then link to the original source. It may take visitors off your site if they click the link (make sure that clicking the link opens a new tab, rather than opening in the same window) but you’re bringing your audience value, and in the long run, they’ll begin to see you as a source for expert opinion.

Posts Mined from Your Audience’s Most Frequently Asked Questions

No, we’re not suggesting you regurgitate your FAQs. Instead, we’re recommending you think about the most burning questions you get repeatedly from your audience. We bet you can rattle off the answers to those pretty quickly. And those are the kinds of blog posts that almost write themselves if you can flesh out one or a few under a theme.

For hotel digital marketing, it might be the questions your concierge fields frequently; for those in destination marketing, ask the person who answers the main phone number. In addition to quick writing time, another benefit to these types of posts is that you can now use this link to send to people who have this question – helpful and a way to hopefully get them to convert by directing them back to your website. Another side benefit is that they’re evergreen – an answer to a question you get all the time today will probably be informative and relevant to readers next year, too.

It’s wedding season, which means that guests are celebrating with their friends, enjoying the day, and invariably taking out their phones to document and share the occasion. But where are those images ending up? Facebook and Instagram, sure. But another big player you might not first think of is Snapchat. With 2.5 billion “snaps” (a photo or video sent on Snapchat) sent each day, rumors of Snapchat’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, there’s a tremendous opportunity for wedding venues to capitalize on the service’s popularity – without needing to create their own content. It’s called the Snapchat Geofilter and it can help get eyes all over your venue.

How Snapchat Geofilters Work

snapchatgeofilter
After a user takes a photo or video but before they send it to someone, they’re able to add a Geofilter – a graphic overlaid on the image – that offers some context about where the snap was taken. For example, in Cape Cod, the Geofilter would include the words “Cape Cod” and a small illustration related to the Cape in some way. Users don’t have to download anything additional to access these special filters. They just have to have their location services enabled in Snapchat, and the filter becomes available to them when they are in a certain geographic location (hence the name “Geofilter”).

Depending on how they were configured, some Geofilters are only available in an area as small as a backyard, and other times, they cover many square miles. For a long time, Snapchat dictated which Geofilters appeared where – until last year, when they introduced self-serve Geofilters, so anyone can make their own and choose the location it will be available at, for a small cost.

Why Wedding Venues Are a Great Fit for Snapchat Geofilters

If you’re responsible for the marketing efforts of a wedding venue, a lightbulb in your head should’ve just lit up. Here’s how you capitalize on this: Make (or hire someone to make) Snapchat Geofilters for some of your weddings – particularly those for couples in their early to mid-20s – that feature the couples’ names and, most importantly for you, the name of your venue. Guests using Snapchat (and there’ll be many of them) will see that there’s a Geofilter dedicated to their friends and overlay it on their snaps. The recipients will see the image, notice the geofilter, and instantly know at which venue the wedding was held. It’s a low-cost way to drive attention, build awareness of your business, and get relevant attention from people who could be your next client.

You could even turn it into a revenue channel for your venue, and make it an add-on service to offer to couples. But maybe start small by testing it with a few clients to see how it performs (and Snapchat will provide performance metrics).

How To Make A Snapchat Geofilter

1. Go to the On-Demand Geofilters section on Snapchat’s website and hit “Create Now.”

2. Select either “Upload” or “Design.” If you choose Upload, you’ll be able to use a Photoshop or Illustrator template to craft a Geofilter, whereas if you hit Design, you’ll be able to build one right on Snapchat’s website. There are many third parties online that design Geofilters if you want something custom but you’re not sure how to make it.

3. Pick a date and time range that you’d like the filter to be available. The longer it’s available, the more expensive it’ll be. It needs to be up only for the duration of the wedding.

4. Pick the boundaries of the Geofilter by plotting points on the map. Remember, guests don’t need to download anything to access this filter. It will simply become available once they are in the appropriate geographic location.

5. Pay with a credit card. Snapchat will send you a confirmation email.

6. If you login, you’ll be able to access payment information, management tools, and – most importantly – performance metrics, so you can see how the Geofilter is performing.

That’s it. At its best, it’s a subtle, inexpensive, far-reaching ad for your venue – but it’s up to the guests to add it to their snaps, so make sure that it’s well-designed and celebrates the couple.

We drew from our past work for Noble House Hotels & Resorts to create Noble Nomad, a blog website that brings Noble’s brand, destinations, and hotels to life.

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Project Profile: Noble Nomad

How do you get more life out of your content? For longtime Hawthorn Creative client Noble House Hotels & Resorts, the answer was a blog website and social media marketing strategy. After seven years of producing an in-room custom magazine to cross-promote and market their hotels, we helped Noble House launch Noble Nomad, the next step in their content marketing strategy that reinforces their brand and connects readers digitally to their next luxury escape or out-there adventure – preferably at a Noble property and in a Noble destination.

The Client

With 15 properties across the country – from the ridiculously relaxing Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Florida Keys to The Edgewater, the only waterfront hotel in Seattle – Noble House has cultivated an adventurous brand that inspires people to enjoy their travels to the fullest and a content marketing strategy to match. Whether your terrain of choice is snow, sand, or dirt, there’s a paradise for everyone across Noble House’s properties.

A hotel management company that also has an ownership stake in some of its hotels, Noble House prides itself on cultivating the right kind of atmosphere in each of its properties, reflecting the area’s culture and aesthetic. The focus on design (and love of quality photography) made Hawthorn a natural partner for the custom magazine first, and this destination blog website and social media maintenance second.

In short: Noble House trusts that Hawthorn understands hotels, understands content marketing for hotels both in print and digital, and understands the caliber of visuals that will speak to their audience in particular.

The Project

With so many issues of their custom magazine produced and backlogged, there was a desire to have the content do more “work” for Noble House on the digital content marketing side. Enter Noble Nomad, a leaner online operation built by Hawthorn, designed to push brand awareness, engage readers, and make them aware of all of the destinations served by Noble House hotels. Of course, some of the content from the magazine was no longer relevant but given that we’re producing annual magazines, the topics we select for our hotel clients often have evergreen or long shelf lives that allow for some easy updating (and editor dissecting for best digital consumption).

Our role doesn’t end with content creation though – these days, any good content marketing strategy and agency needs to be defining the distribution of that content as well. So a primary part of this project includes Hawthorn’s social media marketing and maintenance work for all of Noble’s primary social platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram, with a smaller focus on Twitter. Prior, Noble House didn’t have an active, ongoing social media presence. Since we’ve taken over, some posts drive directly to Noble Nomad, some are broader to reinforce the brand voice, and some drive to Noble’s enterprise website. Through ongoing social media maintenance, email campaigns clicking to Noble Nomad, and prominent CTAs to the blog that are placed on all Noble House’s hotel websites, we drive readers, and in turn, guests, to Noble House properties.

Our Take

The stories we produce for Noble Nomad at least loosely relate to Noble properties or touch on their brand values more broadly, but there’s quite a bit of freedom creatively. Noble House’s priority is to captivate the imaginations of readers and potential visitors, which makes it fun for us as storytellers. Cultural trends help drive topic ideas. We wrote a story on the best speakeasies around the country (Seven of the Best Modern-Day Speakeasies), and the numbers were huge – both in terms of total visitors and time spent on page. Other posts that have received very strong traction have less to do with a Noble destination and more to do with reinforcing their adventurous brand voice, such as one on bucket list moments found in their destinations and profiles on a handful of entrepreneurs who have made traveling the world their jobs, which first appeared in the custom magazine.

Last Thought

Content is content, and the strongest content marketing strategies put it to work in as many ways that make sense. One of the key benefits of giving a digital home to print stories, though, is receiving feedback and data. Seeing the stories that resonate with the audience – not just in terms of unique views, but also things like time spent on page, social shares, and email opens – gives us a better sense of what types of stories to craft in the future and how to distribute them to the right audience.

Hotel websites have a few seconds to get visitors’ attention. Here are three UX design tactics trending now that make efficient and effective use of that time.

hotel website design

There are two types of UX trends: those that become popular because they provide some sort of artistic flourish, and those that are aesthetically sound but also accomplish a specific business goal. Here are three UX design trends on our radar that hotels looking for a new website or design overhaul should consider exploring.

Cinemagraphs: Not a Photo, Not Quite a Video

Cinemagraphs (still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs) are still novel enough to capture the attention of browsing visitors. As a blend between video and a still photo, there’s a depth that isn’t present in other image formats, and they’re able to bring an environment alive in a new way. Websites that use video as a background image risk making their visitors dizzy and distracted. The minimal movement of cinemagraphs, on the other hand, stir the desired ambiance without bothering the viewer.

Examples
Olympus Villas uses a cinemagraph to show the pool water moving to draw you in.

Meet the Greek Restaurant uses minimal motion video to captivate the viewer and give you a glimpse of an authentic Greek moment.

New Approaches to Your “Book Now” CTA

Every hotel marketing team understands the vital power and importance of the “Book Now” button, to give visitors that easy purchase decision – but the placement and execution of the button matters. The CTA must be above the fold. If users must scroll to get there, there’s a good chance that it’s simply not getting seen. Likewise, some of the most effective CTAs today are ones that respond with a mouseover – no need to load a new page. When it comes to hotel marketing, the less friction, the better the conversion rate.

Examples
The Goodwin Hotel features a bright “Book Now” button that instantly opens a booking widget when you mouseover.

Babington House has their booking CTA in two places: the icon in the upper left corner and a widget underneath the hero image.

Bosehof may do it best: They have a CTA button stickied to the bottom middle of the screen, so as users scroll, it stays with them, ready for action.

Let Them Scroll

Scrolling, when done right, gives visitors just enough content to satiate their curiosity but not so much that they feel overloaded. In the age of social feeds and the continued shift to mobile, scrolling is the natural state of browsing and allows hospitality websites the space to highlight different facets of their business, like restaurants, reward programs, guest testimonials, season packages, and more. Like video, scrolling is best used in moderation, though. Never-ending scrolling can be just as ineffective as having too little. Ideally, visitors will be able to consume your homepage in 15 seconds or less.

Examples
Villiers London has a highly visual, readable website that draws you in and drives you to their content.

Five Seas Hotel’s website uses a tile-style arrangement of images, another website trend we’ve had our eye on, to introduce visitors to the area, then the suites, and finally, a CTA to sign up for the newsletter.

Wedding and special events venues live in a visual world, but if your social media strategy is limited to simply posting pretty pictures, you’re missing out on one of the most valuable marketing opportunities to convert brides today.

social media roi for wedding venues

You share on Facebook, load photos to Instagram, and continue to Pin to a variety of Boards on Pinterest. You’re nailing your social media marketing to appeal to brides, right? The answer is a solid “maybe.” Social media is primarily an awareness tool for you – it’s up to you and how your social media strategy uses that awareness to translate it into conversion.

1.) Consider launching wedding-specific social media accounts

For many venues, like hotels, country clubs, and museums, we know your wedding-centric posts are just a drop in the bucket in comparison to all the posts your marketing teams are pushing out. Your ability to drive engagement and leads for weddings seems like a hope and prayer amid all the posts not geared toward brides. The potential solution: Would your marketing team allow you to launch wedding-centric social media accounts that stand alone as a part of their digital marketing strategy? Of course, you’d need to have a plan for who would have the time to post, but it can be a way to reap all of the rewards mentioned below.

2.) Where do your posts take brides?

This is the big one, the one we’ll hit you over the head with time and time again: You don’t want to just post good content; you want it to lead back to the sections of your website that you care about most! It’s the premise behind all good content marketing (social media included), and it takes some strategy and foresight. For example, it means you want photo galleries to be constantly updated on your site so you can post and Pin from your site rather than uploading images within Pinterest or Facebook. If you get photos from a recent event and find yourself uploading them natively within those platforms, that’s the indicator that you’re not helping brides on the path to conversion.

3.) Get them to fill out a form

Even better than directing brides to the special events and wedding pages of your site via social posts is directing them to a landing page that includes a form for them to schedule a call or site visit. Obviously, you can’t expect them to do that from simply one social post, so you need to be strategic about what you’re offering on that page they land on within your website or drive them to your Contact Us page in one click. Again, your photo galleries page might be a good option with a headline like “Like what you see? Schedule a site visit.” If you have constraints because special events is just a few pages within your bigger site managed by IT or marketing, could you build a custom landing page or wedding/special events microsite that still adheres to your enterprise site’s style guidelines?

4.) Tag brides and grooms in Facebook and Instagram

If the above two sections feel daunting, here’s one that’s super simple and a head-smacker if you haven’t been doing it: Whenever you post photos of recent wedding couples who celebrated at your venue, make sure you tag them in Facebook and Instagram. It’s so simple and impactful, since tagging them means their followers/friends will be more likely to see that post (and your venue). Also ask to use the custom hashtags they had for their wedding (ex: #BenNKelse4Ever). It’s the equivalent of digital word of mouth, so make it a part of your best practices within your social media brand guidelines. To make all this simple and OK with your clients, ask for couples’ social media handles (and permission to tag them and use the hashtag) as a part of your planning process with them.

5.) Write keyword-rich Pins

Pinterest is now the second-most powerful search engine in the world, behind only Google. So, you want to make sure your Pins are optimized for the terms brides will be searching. For example, instead of a caption like “Amazing wedding at Rosemont Resort,” a better option would be “Amazing blue-and-silver-themed winter wedding at Rosemont Resort.” And, of course, you’d have these photos on your website so you’re pinning from your site, not uploading the images within Pinterest, right?!

6.) Reinforce ties with your top photographers and videographers

Since so much of your social media strategy for weddings hinges on top-caliber visuals, you need a continuous flow of new photos and videos of events at your venue from top professionals. You have those relationships so we won’t tell you how exactly to do so, but in the age of social media marketing, it’s more important than ever. Just make it simple. For example, build a system that becomes familiar with them (such as Google Drive or Dropbox folders), and send friendly follow-ups. The easier you can make it for them to send you assets, the better both of your social media presences will be.

7.) Build social media relationships with top vendors

In a industry where patting each other on the back goes a long way, social media may be the simplest way for you to increase followers and reinforce your relationships with all types of vendors. You can do this by posting about their work, and most significantly, always tagging them when appropriate (a two-second task). Here’s an example: If you comment on a photographer’s Facebook post and a bride sees it, they will be driven to your Facebook page where they can click on your website, thus broadening awareness of your venue and potentially converting a lead into a customer. Or if you mention a florist in a Pin about last weekend’s wedding, the florist might be more inclined to use a photo of your venue in their next round of posts. If you want to get strategic, invest just a couple of hours building a list of those vendors who are most active on their social media accounts, website content, and blogs. These are the ones you should focus on building social relationships with to maximize your reach and potential leads. 

8.) Look for leads using hashtags

Hashtags are a great way to see what the world is talking about. They are also a useful tool to help you find the people who are talking about what you’re selling. Choose hashtags beyond the broadest, most generic (ex: #bridetobe, #weddingvenue, #weddingplanning) for ones that matter more to your venue and brides, such as seasonal or geocentric options (ex: #charlestonweddings, #fallweddings), then do a search on Instagram to find newly engaged couples using these hashtags. Click on the user’s profile and get noticed by liking or commenting on their wedding-related images. Now that user might be inclined to check out your profile, click your website link, and potentially become a customer. Need help finding the right hashtags? Our blog post on content and keyword tools can help steer you in the right direction.

9.) Encourage reviews whenever and wherever possible

We saw a pretty impressive stat from Adweek recently: 77 percent of millennials look to online reviews to make a purchase. That doesn’t just go for their next phone or pair of shoes either. As a component of every single client wrap-up, you should be encouraging every couple who has a wedding at your venue to submit a review. Make it easy by including links to where they can post their reviews. Facebook is certainly one of them with reviews featured prominently. Encourage and incentivize brides to leave a review, and promote those that really make your venue shine (thanking brides – and tagging them! – for these reviews is one easy, natural method). Make sure you don’t put any pressure on them to leave a positive review – you want authenticity. Frame it as another way to tell their story from their big day.

10.) Consider paid as a part of your social media strategy

Unfortunately, all social media platforms are taking aggressive steps to monetize in every way possible. (Exhibit A from 2016: Facebook’s algorithm and layout change.) Which means to cut through the competition, you may need to invest in paid reach, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. Your most important content that will drive conversion – such as the posts that click to that custom landing page you just built or new video you embedded on your website – are the ones that are worth that added investment. For Instagram, Carousel Ads may be most useful, allowing you to showcase several photos – and giving you that much-coveted link back to your site that your everyday Insta-posting doesn’t allow. On Snapchat, custom geofilters require a small investment and could have a big payoff, and we explain exactly how to get started here.

The second installment in our keyword guide for content marketing outlines how to naturally and effectively use keywords during the writing process.

content marketing

In the first installment in our two-part guide, we covered the tools, tips, and steps to take to build the right keywords to be in line with your content marketing strategy before you begin writing. Truly, that was the heavy lifting. Here, we outline how to put that all into practice during the actual writing process.

Whereas Part 1 may have only been valuable for those who don’t know the keywords they should be using, this second installment is a good guide for anyone and everyone who needs to write posts or pages to make sure those keywords bring back results.

Where to Put Your Keywords

Your keywords – both your primary or “focus” keyword, as well as secondary and related keywords – should be found in a post or page’s most prominent locations. Here are the places where your keywords should appear, in order of importance:

  • The title or headline
  • The meta/DEK/excerpt description
  • The first paragraph of the introduction or body copy
  • In at least one H tag (also known as subheds)
  • Sprinkled naturally throughout the body copy

 

Don’t Focus Too Much on the Exact String of Your Keywords

Thanks to the rise of “semantic search” and Google Rankbrain, search engines no longer need keywords to appear in an exact sequence to recognize them. Those updates are a huge help in the content strategy realm as it allows for more natural, conversational posts.

Rather than trying to fit the exact phrase “best Portsmouth outdoor wedding venue for pictures” into your content, think of it like a word cloud; you can now naturally weave those terms and some synonyms that might bring searchers to that content throughout your post as they make sense. Here’s a good deeper dive into semantic search, albeit from late 2015.

Remembering Your Site-Wide Keywords

This is a tip we referenced in Part 1 of this keywords guide, as well: Tape a list of the top terms for which your website should be known next to your workstation. It’ll help always keep your site’s keywords top of mind and avoid breaking up your writing flow for each piece of content you write.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Keywords?

Absolutely. You want to use your keywords naturally and not overuse them. To combat the keyword stuffing of the past, Google now actually flags posts and sites as spam if they have a keyword density higher than five-and-a-half percent. Only write the kind of high-quality content you know your identified target audience is searching for, then create content that will be valuable to them.

Above All, Be Authentic

As we all know, back in the infancy of search engine optimization and digital content marketing, content producers and strategists could game the system by stuffing sites full of targeted keywords so their pages appeared near the top of Google, Yahoo, and others.

Search engines have gotten smarter since then and so have consumers. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. And your keywords should do the same by being reflective of the content or page you’re producing.

SEE PART 1 OF OUR GUIDE “A GUIDE TO KEYWORDS, PART 1: FINDING THE RIGHT KEYWORDS.

Search volume, competition, rank, longtail – keyword research can be overwhelming. But it’s not rocket science. Here’s the first segment of our primer for your website and content marketing writing.

Whether you’re writing pages for your hotel website or building content for a destination marketing blog, developing the right keywords is an essential part of the process to make sure you get the most SEO juice you can out of your work. Disregard them and you may be found, but you may also be silently yelling into the giant black hole of the Internet. No one wants to get hoarse doing that.

In this first installment in our two-part guide, we give you all the tools, tips, and steps to take to build the right keywords before you start writing. We can’t stress that enough: Instead of trying to stuff keywords into a post or page after the fact, define them ahead of time to inform the direction you’ll take. Not only will it ensure you’re targeting the most SEO-friendly terms, but it’ll also keep your post from sounding clunky and robotic because you forced “Florida Gulf beach resort” into four polished paragraphs.

Tools for Generating Keywords

  • Google Keyword Planner – Built into Google AdWords, this keyword tool is free and excels at researching keywords being used in paid advertisements. The drawback is that the data for “competition” is based off paid Google Adwords, not organic search.
  • SEMRush – While many use it to research competitors’ websites and how they stack up, its Keyword Analytics tools provide some of the most detailed and customizable keyword products and reports for content marketers. Plans start at $100 a month.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer – Similar to SEMRush, although because it uses different algorithms, it can sometimes bring back more results if you’re struggling to get data for low-traffic keywords in SEMRush. You have a maximum daily limit for free searches; beyond that, $99 a month for a Moz Pro plan.
  • Pinterest Believe it or not, this social network is a great tool for finding keywords related to your primary terms. Here’s a post that details how to harness the Pinning platform for keyword research.

 

Additional Sources to Creatively Define Keywords and Content Ideas

If you’re stumped on coming up with content ideas that use keywords you found through the above sites, check out this post detailing some of Hawthorn’s favorite tips and tricks.

Understanding Keywords Data and Terms

  • Searches/Search Volume/Traffic – The average number of times users searched for your keyword in a given month, often calculated using the past 12 months of data. Some platforms, like Google Keyword Planner, don’t show any results if the numbers are below a certain threshold.
  • Keyword Difficulty/Competition – An estimate of how hard it would be to organically rank on the first search result page for any given term, often quantified as a percentage (1 to 100 percent) or term, like Low/Medium/Hard. Avoid using keywords above 80 percent or listed as “Hard.” You’ll find it tough to rank for those terms, especially if you aren’t supporting your content marketing strategy with ads.
  • Results – The number of URLs displayed in organic search results for any given keyword.
  • Keyword Density – A percentage that represents how often a given keyword is used compared to other words and phrases in a post or on a page. Google can red flag your content if the keyword density is over five-and-a-half percent, as it’s an indicator of inauthentic “keyword stuffing.”

 

Steps to Building the Best Keywords for Your Content Marketing

Define the Role Search Will Play with This Content

It’s easy to get wrapped up in keywords and be beholden to those terms. Before you begin, make sure you step back to evaluate how this page or post will fit into your content marketing strategy. If you’re aiming for it to be found in Google, then get after it! Keywords are the key for search engine optimization.

But if this content is being created to fill a different, specific need – for example, to speak to a particular audience in an email campaign or to promote a social media contest – then you may not need to put as much weight and attention on keywords.

Review Site-Wide Keywords Versus Content-Specific Keywords

If your goal is simply to get your overarching site found, then your job is simpler: Build content ideas and the writing of those posts around your website’s keywords. If you’re not sure which keywords your site should be found for, then you really should consider an SEO audit and package.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the particular page or post you’re writing to not only reinforce the overall site’s keywords (it always should) but also be found on its own in search, that’s when you need to go further.

Pro efficiency tip: Tape a list of the top terms for which your site should be known next to your workstation. It’ll help always keep your site’s keywords top of mind and avoid breaking up your writing flow for each piece of content you write.

Find the Right Longtail Keywords

Oftentimes, the best way to get found is by being as specific about your business or topic as possible. Crafting your content around longtail keywords, a string of multiple words put together to create a phrase, will help on that front. For example, at first glance “New York City boutique hotel” looks like a longtail keyword, but it’s still pretty general. So much so that punching it into Google yields 5.6-million results, and enough ads to bury your content.

On the other hand, using “Meatpacking District micro hotel” as your primary keyword casts a smaller, more focused net that will help individuals interested in the hot micro hotel trend find one of the few such properties in the city. Also work the terms “boutique hotel” and “New York” into the post or page and Google will give traveling tiny-house lovers exactly what they’re searching for.

SEE PART 2 OF OUR GUIDE, “A GUIDE TO KEYWORDS: WHEN YOU’RE WRITING.”

A relationship dating back more than 10 years was punctuated with the design of the most recent issue of this print marketing brochure that offered much more than just real estate listings.

print marketingWendy McInnis, Hawthorn’s design and print specialist, had been working with Hermitage Deerfield Valley Real Estate for years, helping them to print their seasonal real estate brochure. She brought the client to Hawthorn when she came on in 2014 and continued to urge them to take advantage of our design services, not just the aggressive print rates she could obtain because of her decades of experience working in the printing industry. Eventually, the client gave us the opportunity – and they were floored with the most recent publication.

SEE THE PROJECT

The Client

With 150 collective years of real estate experience between a team of eight agents, Hermitage Deerfield Valley Real Estate has positioned itself as the top agency focused on the luxury second-home market in the Haystack/Mount Snow mountain resort community in Southern Vermont since 1994.

The Project

For Hermitage Deerfield Valley Real Estate, a basic brochure limited to just real estate listings just wouldn’t do for its seasonal guide. That’s because they’re appealing to high-end second-home owners who need to be sold on the idea of living in the area, not just a particular house and its features. The print marketing brochure and its companion e-brochure needed to be more of an area lifestyle piece with some magazine elements, as well as a look and feel that spoke to that high caliber of client. Event listings and town introductions gave it that “area magazine” feel, while the design was elevated to a new level.

Our Take

The idea of taking core information and presenting what’s great about a destination in a photo- and design-first format is at the core of what we do in our custom hotel magazine work every day. Designer Josh Edgerly wowed the client with the design overhaul that starts with the full-bleed image that wraps from the front to back cover. But he also used his experience looking for a house himself to refine the visual communication of the real estate listings themselves: “I drew inspiration from my own experiences currently looking at houses and getting annoyed when I need to spend time to look all over the page or website for the price, number of bedrooms/baths, square footage, etcetera. The photo of the house draws you in. Then, I want to know the price. Then, give me the core stats all in one place. If I care to learn more, I can dive into the info underneath the listing.”

The Results

With an updated look that’s much more modern and upscale and content that is user-friendly and equally focused on being a guide to the area as it is real estate listings guide, the client is now armed with the print marketing collateral to meet their clients’ expectations and more.

Last Thought

Our print marketing work is dominated by the special events and wedding brochures, as well as custom hotel magazines we produce for hundreds of clients each year in the hospitality industry. Yet, it’s very easy for us to translate the same skill sets we use on those projects – top-level design, strategic visual communication, an end-to-end knowledge of the printing industry – for a variety of other print marketing needs. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.

Your Hawthorn Creative wedding or event brochure is ready – the ink is dry on the paper and the pixels are set in the digital version. Now what?

print marketing

After all the work that goes into a brochure – from the design to the copywriting to the approval to the printing – by the time it arrives in your hands, you’ve made a substantial investment into this one piece of print marketing. So, how do you make sure you’re getting the absolute best ROI for all that time and money? We’re spelling out what we recommend to our clients so that every corporate event and wedding brochure we produce is a powerful sales tool that helps land bookings.

Printed Brochures

First, create a protocol for handing the brochures out. At what point in the sales process does a client get a hard copy? Where are they stored? How do you track how many have been given out? Because printing is an upfront investment, make sure you’ve got a game plan, and that everyone is on the same page.

Share them with your entire staff

Your sales team is a powerful source, but you also want your receptionist, your catering manager, and your event designer to be as comfortable as your sales reps in handing out your new brochures.

Place them in prominent locations around the property

Think beyond the card rack. Is there a table where you could create a vignette with flowers, your brochures, and tabletop accessories? Draw people in with aesthetic touches so that they crave more information.

Mail hard copies to top wedding/event planning partners

Your partners are your best advocates, so if they have a client they think might be interested in your venue, you want to make sure that your brochure makes the stunning impression you’re not there to make in person.

Bring the brochures to wedding and trade shows

It’s common sense, but it’s easy to overlook that stack of wedding brochures when staff is packing up for a major marketing activation event.

E-brochure

Since you’ve paid for the design of a brochure, of course you’ll want to leverage it across all mediums. While being able to send a link to an e-brochure is a lifesaver in this increasingly digital world, it also allows anyone browsing your site to see that gorgeous brochure, even if they haven’t set up a tour of your venue. But we’ve found that an e-brochure is a huge resource that clients don’t always use well.

Blast it out on social media

Visual content performs far better than any other sort on social media, so make good use of the eye-catching design you invested in. With your brochure, you’ll get an image file of the cover, a perfect visual to post across platforms, or even make the background image your profile. We recommend Instagram and Pinterest most because they’re highly visual and are where event planners and brides live. Through careful use of hashtags and tagging vendors, solid traction can be gained on Instagram, while good keyword usage will ensure your Pin shows up when users search.

Post it prominently on your website

You want to make sure anyone who comes across your website in their search for a venue (if they find you, you’ve done your SEO right – well done!) has ready access to your e-brochure. They can bookmark it or print a copy of their own to go in that all-important wedding planning binder.

Put it in your email signature

You’re in dialog every day via email with various people connected to or interested in your venue via email. Offer them every opportunity to see just how spectacular it is by adding a hyperlink to your new e-brochure.

Include it on the “Contact Us” form

When a prospective client is interested enough to give you their personal information, that’s a lead that’s ready for your brochure. Consider adding the same cover image and link to the full e-brochure in the “thank you” page that appears once they’ve submitted their contact info. It makes sure they have something beautiful to look at while they wait for your (speedy) reply.

Give email campaigns a try

Email newsletters are currently experiencing a renaissance after spending a few years as the old-fashioned aunt who still wears scrunchies. If you’d like to jump in the email newsletter game but worry you don’t have anything to send out, your e-brochure makes a great first round volley.

Send it out to your wedding planning partners/event planners via email

For the partners you know prefer digital or communicate primarily with clients who don’t live locally and thus might not have a face to face meeting where your partner could hand off your brochure.

Social media brand guidelines keep everyone on the same page when it comes to voice, visuals, and values. Here’s what we recommend be included on yours.

social media brand guidelines

If the only brand guidelines your company has are in a few pages about colors and fonts accumulating dust in a corner, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with your brand guidelines – and draft a set specifically for your social media strategy. A good set of brand guidelines is a living, breathing thing that sees enough action that the dust never settles, a road map to your brand for anyone who needs to know your voice, vision, and target demographic.

To keep everyone on the same page and ensure your social feeds remain cohesive, well-curated, and on-brand, here’s what we recommend you include in this all-important document.

What to Include:

social media brand guidelines

Overarching Brand Strategy

This is where to repeat the overarching brand strategy that’s in your company’s brand guidelines. Make it clear to new staff who will be posting socially just who are you as a company, what the company values are, and the target audience they should keep in mind.

social media brand guidelines

Personas

This information is also pulled from your overarching brand guidelines, but it dictates how you approach your social strategy entirely. Who are your target buyers? What are their job titles? What kind of characteristics make them likely to buy your brand’s products or services? These factors determine how you market to them, so spell it out for anyone who would be reading this document to get to know your brand.

social media brand guidelines

Language

Which is more fitting to your brand: “rad” or “cutting edge”? The two can mean similar things – cool, forward thinking, trendy, chic – but the connotation is very different, depending on the adjective. The way you write on social media will form the perception of those who find your brand on those platforms – so make sure the representation is on point. Don’t forget that language also includes hashtags – are you going for trending or consistent? Play with hashtags for performance, but make sure none stray too far outside of your brand. And be very careful a hashtag you use can’t be taken out of context or mean something different.

social media brand guidelines

Photography

Are gritty, super filtered photos on brand for your company, or is your brand more about high-resolution, professionally shot images with impeccable lighting and composition? Ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to what images represent your brand and populate your social media feeds. Once you set the look of your feed, make sure all images are filtered and cropped according to that look.

social media brand guidelines

Best Practices for Each Platform

This will likely be the biggest section of your social media brand guidelines. Each platform has its own unique best practices, and this is where you should be spelling them out. Give the ideal posting frequency, the time of day where posts will see the best engagement, what kind of content performs most successfully, and so on. Also, make sure you map out exactly which position/person is responsible for posting on each platform so that everyone knows who “owns” it.

From content strategy to print marketing, we’re spelling out the things you need to be doing right now to book couples who got engaged over the holidays.

wedding brochure

While everyone else takes a bit of a deep breath with the end of the holidays, top wedding venues know there’s no such time for a break. With so many couples getting engaged over the holidays and through Valentine’s Day, this is the window of opportunity you must grab to make sure brides book with you. Have you touched base with recent brides to promote their big days? Have you crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is to make sure your venue is showing up in all the places recently engaged couples look for wedding information? We’ve rounded up a list of quick and easy suggestions to help you get your venue in front of as many newly engaged couples as possible.

Butter Up Your Former Brides for Word of Mouth

Millennials, even more so than other generations, rely on word of mouth as a primary factor in decision making. Give former brides incentive to share photos of their weddings and tag you and talk you up with a quick user-generated content contest. For example: “Share your most gorgeous shot of your wedding at (your venue) and tag us – the photo with the most likes wins an anniversary champagne basket!”

Hot Off the Presses – Your Wedding Brochure

Print collateral really does make a stunning impression – no matter how digital the world may be. Make sure your brochures and printed marketing collateral are fresh and on trend with the colors, design, and styling set to go big in 2017 – position your venue as a design trendsetter, and demonstrate to your potential couples that you know the wedding trends they’ll want to incorporate into their wedding.

Spit Shine Your Social Media Strategy

We’re not saying you need to have an active presence on every social platform, but making sure your chosen social feeds are shaped up and looking good ensures that if a bride stumbles upon you (thanks to savvy hashtag usage, naturally), she will be impressed. Take a moment to establish an outline of your social media guidelines, including your standards for photography, useful hashtags, brand voice, and posting schedule, all for each platform. Then stick to it to be sure you have fresh, engaging social content being published regularly. Leverage the relationships you’ve nurtured with photographers to see if they’ll share their photos with you – professional photos are your best bet for high levels of engagement.

Content – More Than Blog Posts

Newly engaged brides are probably searching for wedding venues at their desks right now – it’s time to make sure you show up. Engaging, valuable content that answers frequently searched wedding topics is one of the best ways – especially if you’ve done the work to increase your SEO and have mapped out your venue’s target keywords. But blog posts aren’t the only way to produce engaging content. If your website doesn’t have a blog, making use of unique landing pages as a home for the kind of content your brides and grooms are searching for is a win-win solution. So, go ahead and draft that article on “Why a Library Wedding is Perfect for Book Lovers,” and get it up on your site for the reading delight of your prospective clients.

Make It Easy for Prospective Clients to Navigate Your Site

This one is a bigger item to tick off on your to-do list, but making sure your website is as user-friendly as possible might require more than a few tweaks. Between the trend moving toward card design (sometimes called tile design) and the absolute requirement that your site be responsive and mobile friendly, it may be time for a website redesign. Considering 90 percent of brides report using smartphones for web browsing, you do not want to miss out on bookings due to a dated website.

What vacations are travelers planning this year? We’ve rounded up the travel trends that should drive your hotel’s content marketing in 2017.

travel trends 2017

We’re going over anticipated 2017 buyer habits, travel trends, and the things about your destination to play up for travelers booking in this quarter. Ready to roll up your sleeves and draft a content plan of attack for 2017? Let’s get started.

Vacation Frequency

Americans say they’ll take three trips in 2017. One in five listed busy schedules as a reason for not traveling more over the past 12 months (Choice Hotels International Annual Survey, 2017).

Content Strategy Takeaway: Really, these stats affirm the value of a content strategy in the first place – you’re helping your guests and future guests define what they should see and do to maximize their precious vacation time. Use your local knowledge to guarantee they have a great time.

Capturing Travel Buyers in the Research Phase

Eighty-five percent of anticipated 2017 travel is yet to be booked, meaning most of your target travel demographic is still in the idea or planning phase (AARP 2017 Travel Trends).

Content Strategy Takeaway: This is where you want as much brand awareness as possible. Use your content to hit your SEO goals by strategic use of keywords within your content, then blast that content out via social media and email campaigns to drive traffic to your site. The research and planning phases is also a good spot to employ video content, influencer campaigns, social media contests, and paid social posts to capture interest and buying intent. 

Thirty-nine percent of Q1 searches are for spring and summer travel (Sojourn’s Spring & Summer Travel Insights).

Content Strategy: Create and publish content that caters to those searches – as soon as possible. If you know that your target travelers are searching for spring and summer travel right now, focus precisely on content that features activities and attractions during those time periods and get it online as fast as your content writer can turn it around. 

2017 Travel Budget Size

Leisure travel budgets will rise 42 percent over 2016, from $3,572 to $5,063 (Choice Hotels International Annual Survey, 2017).

Content Strategy Takeaway: That’s a pretty significant uptick that lends itself to luxury hotels and resorts. Knowing your travelers have a significantly larger budget for this year’s travel, think about luxury experiences that would appeal to them.

Destination Travel Trends

Millennials prefer beach and urban city destinations (Choice Hotels International Annual Survey, 2017).

Content Strategy Takeaway: For millennials, a beach vacation may include a more active beach experience. Does your resort boast beach volleyball, a bocce set, and shoreline beach fishing? Gear articles and blog posts toward active beach vacations to capture millennials. Located in the city? Write a series of blog posts that outlines a day or night itinerary for a themed adventure to explore the city, including attractions and insiders-only spots, like that fabulous café a few blocks over or the hidden speakeasy in the basement of a restaurant nearby.

For boomers, domestic trips are a combination of summer vacations, multi-generational trips, weekend getaways, and holiday travel (AARP 2017 Travel Trends).

Content Strategy Takeaway: A series of articles with tips on what to do on a family reunion vacation, senior-friendly activities perfect for a weekend away, or how to holiday in your destination like a local will help guide baby boomers researching and planning a trip in your destination. Have a cache of beautiful photos? Create a photo gallery with informative and creative captions as an attention-catching way to create engaging content quickly.

The Foodie Takeover

Farm-to-table, ocean-to-plate, garden-to-kitchen – all are still going to be hot trends for 2017 (The Experts’ Views: Five New Travel Trends for 2017, Forbes). 

Content Strategy Takeaway: Don’t let standalone restaurants steal all the foodie thunder in 2017. The key for your content if your restaurant or property has embraced the local food movement is to find ways to rise above the clutter. For example, if you’re working with a local fishmonger who’s passionate about strictly sustainable fishing, don’t do a piece that simply touts your sustainably caught fish; do a Q&A with this fishmonger himself to reveal his passion and local knowledge.

From the colors and styling to the digital trends sure to crop up throughout hotel and destination marketing, we’ve rounded up the hottest design trends of 2017.

hospitality marketing

We’ve rounded up the top elements of design we’re predicting will be hot in hotel and hospitality marketing (and beyond!) for 2017. From the colors and textures you’re likely to see splashed across marketing in all formats to the digital marketing trends that promise to go big this year, we’ve spelled out the trends we have our eyes on. Our designers are on standby, mouse at the ready for the digital design fest that the New Year promises to bring. Let’s dive in.

Design Trends – Color and Texture

Our designers are engrossed in all aspects of design day in and day out, but we still get excited about the visual design trends we’re seeing that we can’t wait to incorporate into client work. We’ve rounded up the design trends that will make an impact on color choices, textures, and style in hotel and destination marketing in 2017.

Jewel Tones copy

Jewel Tones

Emerald, amethyst, sapphire, ruby, oh my! Jewel tones are gearing up to be big again this year. Specifically, dark emerald green is a favorite among designers of all stripes – interior, graphic, website – and you’re likely to see an emerald explosion.

Design trends

Rich Textures

From canvas to basket weaves to thick textiles, rich textures will prevail in 2017. Expect velvet to have a spotlight moment, too – especially juxtaposed with a modern presentation. For example, we’re predicting you’ll see modern furniture with clean lines, like a tuxedo sofa, show up in velvet.

Design trends

Greenery In All Shades

Considering Pantone’s color of the year is “Greenery,” a bright, fresh, yellow-y green that signifies renewal and growth, you can almost guarantee that bright, saturated greens will emerge as a color choice frontrunner.

Design trends

Handsomely Handmade

The handcrafted look, as in “having a handmade look to it,” continues to dominate. Whether it be a handwritten font, smear of paint, or raw material like wood, copper, or fabric.

Design trends

A Warming Trend

After a few years of stark whites and cooler grays, 2017 is the year when things are going to warm up. Specifically, in interior design, warmer tones and materials, like terra-cotta, will be a contradiction to the austere tones that have dominated the past few years.

Design Trends – Digital

In hospitality marketing, there are countless design elements to consider. From website design to content strategy to email campaigns, here are the design trends we’re predicting will dominate in 2017 in hospitality marketing. Stay on the cutting edge by incorporating them now – before the rest of the pack catches on.

GIFs (Pronunciation Debate and All)

Is it GIF with a hard g sound, like “gift,” or a soft g, like the peanut butter? Does anyone care anymore? No matter how you pronounce it, GIFs continue to grow in popularity. Now that we’ve started to see GIFs cropping up in email and Instagram campaign, as well as on Pinterest, the GIF format will likely catch on as a hip, catchy marketing mechanism that’s more engaging than copy or still photos but less demanding on time and marketing budgets than video.

design trends

Pinterest-Inspired Design

“Mood Board” design has emerged as a playful, popular style for email campaigns. As an email campaign, this look works best as an image-based design, due to the constraints of how different email clients strip coding. The result is a high-design, clickable email campaign that looks gorgeous, regardless of how your recipient is reading it.

design trends

See-Through Marketing

Transparency is the name of the game for 2017. We’ve seen it in packaging, where materials and design are displaying the product as it is with very minimal or clear packaging, but also in graphic design, where semi-transparent layers over photos are becoming a popular way to incorporate brand colors into original photography.

design trends

Be Bold

Rejoice, lovers of bright colors – the days of subtle, muted color palettes might be waning. In 2017, we’re predicting a rise in bold color choices for branding, marketing materials, and websites.

design trends

Card Design

Sometimes called card or tile design, this format of website design is becoming more and more popular as users become accustomed to being able to click to browse rather than scrolling. What is card design? Think of the layout of Pinterest – each pin being a “card” of content you can click on to see more closely. On a hotel website, it looks like clickable tiles that lead to content. (We also love the parallax scrolling on the website for The Algonquin Hotel.)

Friday and Sunday weddings are increasingly popular. Here’s how smart wedding marketing can land you those off-peak wedding bookings.

wedding marketing

How can your venue book more Friday and Sunday weddings? No, it’s not just in offering deep discounts to fill your booking calendar. In fact, with couples continuing to search for ways for their day to stand out from the crowd, weddings on non-peak days are becoming fashionable enough that some venues are dropping the discount rate for a Friday wedding, especially during peak wedding season.

So how can your venue catch the trend? And perfect the beautiful thing that is more weddings per week, instead of running out of room on your calendar? We’ve rounded up six tips and tricks to position your venue perfectly to capture the attention of a prospective bride.

Reposition a Friday or Sunday Wedding as a Bold, Deliberate Alternative

Brides want their weddings to be memorable, distinctive, and unique – so challenge that “bargain wedding” trope, and do the work to reposition the concept for your bride. Position a Friday wedding as an opportunity to host a sophisticated evening cocktail party wedding for a bride who’s not into the traditional bells and whistles of a Saturday affair. A Friday wedding also gives the couple the chance to spend a day relaxing with family after the stress and chaos of the wedding is over – and then depart for a honeymoon on Sunday.

A Sunday brunch wedding, on the other hand, is a fantastic choice for brides who may not want to have the typical evening affair. Though many wedding guests love to cut loose at a Friday- or Sunday-night wedding, if your bride wants to have a more reserved (read: sober) wedding, Sunday morning or midday would be just the ticket. Or maybe your bride has a love affair with a good Sunday brunch, in which case mimosas, Bloody Marys, eggs Benedict, and a classy jazz band setting the tone would be a distinctive way to have a memorable, personalized wedding. For a high-end bride, a Sunday wedding might be the grand finale to a weekend of wedding festivities.

Produce Friday/Sunday Wedding Marketing Content

Even though Friday and Sunday weddings are becoming increasingly frequent and fashionable, some brides will wrestle with stepping outside the box of tradition. Help them by tailoring content toward answering questions and calming anxieties. For example, a guide on how to handle explanations to family members about why a Friday or Sunday wedding date was chosen. If a bride is considering a Friday or Sunday wedding, chances are she’s researching how to do it well, which is why you should be producing content that conveys why your venue and destination makes for the perfect setting for a Friday or Sunday wedding. For example, a venue in Greenwich, Connecticut, could make a compelling case for a chic, cosmopolitan Friday-night cocktail party wedding just an hour outside of the city. For the high-end bride we mentioned earlier, a list of all the activities and events that make your destination perfect for a weekend-long celebration with family and friends will help your bride plan a 48-hour itinerary culminating with a Sunday wedding.

Whether your content lives on your blog, on a landing page on your website, or in your print marketing materials, strategic content marketing will help you forge a connection with your prospective bride. Be sure that tailored content gets included the package you hand to your bride or even a standalone brochure for brides who express an interest in a Friday or Sunday wedding.

Promote Friday/Sunday Weddings through Authentic Vignettes from Real Brides

Just because the day of the week changes, the fact remains that your best marketing is the brides you already have. Gather their stories and photos to paint a picture of how perfect your prospective bride’s Friday or Sunday wedding could be at your venue. Obviously, the key here is to focus on some of the ways that the day of week truly made their event special, so that it doesn’t blend in with other real weddings or testimonials you have from Saturday brides.

Market Friday and Sunday Weddings Around Big Weekend Events

Piggybacking a wedding with another event may not have occurred to your bride, but with the right marketing footwork, it will. So look into area events that fall on Saturdays or span the whole weekend. Maybe there’s a big farm-to-table festival – for the epicurean couple, nothing could be more perfect to frame their wedding weekend around. If you’re a venue near a college, use sporting events like home football games (and homecoming) to cater to couples who met at that college. If you get creative and explore the variety of events in your region, the opportunities are endless to help a couple transform their wedding weekend from “just another wedding” for their friends and family into something themed and memorable.

Create Friday and Sunday Wedding-Themed Pinterest Boards

You already know that Pinterest is the best friend of any wedding planner or venue. Make the platform work for your wedding marketing by specifically creating boards around Friday and Sunday wedding ideas so that anytime a bride uses those search terms, your boards pop up. For example, “Friday Wedding: Cocktail Chic,” “Elegant Friday Evening Weddings,” or “A Stunning Sunday Brunch Wedding.” Create a variety of scenarios, such as the chic Friday-night wedding or Sunday brunch wedding and then Pin your heart out to set the scene and plant the seed, the same way you would with themed Saturday weddings.

From tiny homes to micro hotels, living spaces are shrinking. We survey the pioneers who have cashed in within the hotel industry and how normal-sized hotels can do so without shrinking.

micro hotel

Have you felt the pendulum swinging? After years of a “bigger, better, faster, more” mentality, there has been a sudden shift in mind-set. Micro is the buzz word on everyone’s lips. But why? And how can hotels and management companies jump on the trend without sacrificing existing spacious guest rooms to the gods of minimalism?

The Movement to Tiny and Minimalist

The resurgence of conscious minimalism, with a very modern spin, went from a slow trickle to a massive tsunami almost overnight. First, tiny homes began popping up. Unexpectedly, these petite abodes became all the rage. But what were these new tiny home owners to do with all their belongings? In stepped unexpected overnight smash Mari Kondo, a Japanese organization guru, who told us to chuck anything that didn’t “bring joy.” Small spaces, streamlined belongings, and form-meets-function design became de rigueur.

The Biggest Names in the Micro Hotel Trend

The Japanese have had micro on their radar for decades via the capsule, or pod, hotel. Designed as a space for weary white-collar businessmen to sleep for a few hours before returning to work, these tiny compartments were as bare-bones as accommodations could possibly get. That was just the precursor to these brands that have ushered in the recent wave of micro-accommodations and communal experiences.

Pod Hotels – The Modern Micro Hotel Pioneer

Pod Hotel was the first to hit the New York City scene in 2007 and hasn’t looked back yet. With innovative, engaging communal spaces and a mod, upscale IKEA vibe, Pod has the micro hotel concept sharpened to a fine point.

CitizenM – The Micro Hotel for the Boho Chic Set

First launched in Amsterdam in 2008 and now expanded to four other European cities and NYC, citizenM feels a bit like the apartment of your most hopelessly chic friend. Perks include rain showers, bedside “mood pads,” and a respectable cup of morning coffee queued up for you.

Yotel – The Sleek Minimalist Micro Hotel

Inspired by the small, luxe environment of a first-class airline cabin, Yotel’s flagship location is in Midtown NYC but locations can now be found in most major European airports. The brand balances an attention to design (ex: all-white decor) with fun communal spaces (ex: rooftop film clubs).

Arlo – The High-Style Designer’s Micro Hotel

Thanks to four-star design by AvroKo, Arlo Hotel is the micro hotel for the high-style, creative set. Warm, refined minimalism in the rooms and communal spaces is balanced by surprises like a general store with a curated selection of small-batch “indie snacking bundles.”

Marriott’s Moxy Hotels – The Micro Hotels Geared Toward Millennials

With selfie elevators stocked with props and “living room” communal spaces meant to look and feel like your neighborhood coffee shop, Marriott is betting big on going small for millennials (who can handle the price point that a micro hotel can provide). They’ve announced a full slate of Moxy properties scheduled to open in the next two years.

When Rooms Go Small, Hyper Local Common Areas Are a Big Deal

Every independent hotel – and perhaps just every hotel – now strives to make its food and beverage outlets and spa destinations in their own right. In short: Many of these micro hotels have got it right with their highly tailored, bespoke communal spaces reminiscent of the kind of living room, rooftop deck, or pool patio we all wish we could have. But beyond dressing up old spaces in new clothes, what can non-micro hotels do to capitalize on the trend?

Experiential Travel: How Standard-Sized Hotels Can Go Micro and Hyper Local

The micro hotels that are hot right now are offering a chance to “live like a local” through exposure to local brands, local experiences, and local culture. All part of a growing trend, this kind of experiential travel allows travelers to be immersed in their chosen destination. We’ve brainstormed a list of ideas that may allow regular-sized hotels to take advantage of the trend. We’ll admit, some of these ideas are of the pie-in-the-sky variety, but hopefully they get you thinking of opportunities you could execute.

  • Host a pop-up marketplace for local artisans on a function room or outdoor area. With pop-up markets like Indie Craft Parade and American Field drawing huge crowds, this is another idea that makes for great destination marketing to both travelers and locals alike.
  • A rotating artist-in-residence program can bring the local community inside your hotel’s walls, infuse guests into the destination, and spruce up a tired communal space. Find the artist, showcase their artwork, perhaps invite them to come speak about their work as an event, and tell their story to your guests.
  • Go the other way around with your own pop-up shop in nearby high traffic areas. Reinforce your brand by selling branded and unique destination-centric gifts. Look for a spot in your destination’s major metro market, taking a cue from Lark Hotels.
  • Reimagine your communal spaces for millennials. Whether it’s for work or leisure, this generation wants to be able to meet up, mingle, and relax together. Take a cue from Pod 39’s charming rooftop bar, where guests can chat and sip beneath the open sky and twinkling strands of lights.
  • Have a little extra parking lot space next to your beach? Rent a fleet of Airstream trailers, and offer a chance for fun-loving travelers the chance to experience a kitschy, throwback vacation.
  • Is there an on-property wooded glen that’s the picture of peaceful relaxation? Add a few tiny home hotel rooms for the traveler who wants the private cottage experience but can’t quite afford a bricks and mortar cottage.
  • Looking to add some local flavor? Once a week, invite a fleet of food trucks to turn your parking lot into a multicultural foodie extravaganza. Not only can you market this as one of your hotel’s attractions to potential guests, but it can be marketed to the local community, drawing in more locals. Not only will this idea draw traffic and build brand awareness, but food trucks often pay either a set fee or a percentage of their profits out to the owner of the land where they park – and a little extra revenue is never a bad thing.

Virtual reality is the hot new buzzword in destination marketing. But is it a tool that will change travel marketing or a fad doomed to be forgotten?

virtual reality marketing

How much attention should you be paying to the buzz about virtual reality – the latest, greatest marketing trick? From potential applications within the travel and tourism industries to the limitations of this emerging technology, we’re gazing into our crystal ball for some high-tech predictions.

The Case for Virtual Reality in Travel and Tourism Marketing

One reason video marketing has seen such a meteoric rise to success over the past few years is that it offers marketers a unique opportunity to follow the adage of “show, don’t tell.” Now, thanks to virtual reality, your prospective guests have the chance to experience your property in living color as a part of their buying journey.

According to YouTube’s analytics, 13 percent of those who take virtual reality tours as part of the trip-planning process will go on to book travel/lodging or get in touch to learn about making an in real life (IRL) visit. Two out of every three US travelers would be influenced by experiencing VR, per Caroline Coyle, vice president of brand strategy for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

If that sounds like a solid ROI, we have a few suggestions on how your hotel could utilize the technology most effectively:

  • Virtual tours of rooms – If a guest can wander through your presidential suite, check out the king-sized bed, step out on the balcony to take in the view, and wander through the en suite bathroom to peruse the amenities, an upgrade is much more likely.
  • Virtual tours of the property and activities within – Show off your pool area, the white sand beach, your spa, the lush grass on the golf course.
  • Virtual reality destination guides – Are there must-see adventures to be had in your destination? Take your cues from Matoke Tours, an African travel operator, who launched a virtual brochure that allows prospective travelers to ride meet a mountain gorilla as part of their travel research.
  • In-room VR entertainment – Marriott has already jumped on this bandwagon, though it remains how many guests are taking them up on the offer.

 

Who Is Already Onboard with Virtual Reality?

So far, only some of the biggest consumer brands, like United Airlines to Volvo to The North Face, have been able to allocate the funds required for major virtual reality-based marketing campaigns. However, within a year, it has been forecasted that there will be around two million VR devices in the hands of consumers, and total sales from VR-related hardware and software will reach a cool $1 billion in the United States. Similar to how video marketing was inaccessible to small- to mid-size brands only a few years ago, as VR begins to flood the market, costs will come down.

That’s good news, because according to a survey of 1,300 adults, 53 percent said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn’t, and 71 percent of those surveyed said that the use of VR makes a brand seem “forward thinking and modern.”

Why Virtual Reality Might Not Be the “Next Big Thing” in Hotel and Destination Marketing…At Least, Not Yet

Remember when QR codes were going to be the bridge between print marketing and digital engagement? It sounded great, in theory, but no one wanted to download an app to read QR codes. Virtual reality is no different – there’s massive potential, but the execution must be flawless or the technology will be abandoned.

First off, you should consider that VR headsets appear to be on their way to becoming a mainstream accessory, but the type of computer upon which “full feature” VR content can be played is not. Full feature VR is designed to play on an advanced gaming system or a computer with advanced graphics cards that allow high refresh rates. Your run-of-the-mill laptop isn’t going to cut it. In fact, a subpar computer could induce motion sickness as it’s not fast enough to produce a fluid experience. Until the average consumer has a home PC or Mac that can play full feature VR content flawlessly, it means that any VR content you produce is going to have to be experienced as part of an immersive marketing experience, like the pop-up demonstration Marriott executed. As Deloitte’s 2016 predictions feature on virtual reality summed up very eloquently: “Travel companies should assess the cost associated with acquiring the hardware needed to display these materials.”

The Middle Ground Solution for Right Now

What’s an interim solution for small to medium hotel and destination brands hungry to offer a more experiential video marketing experience without going whole hog in on VR? We have two recommendations to keep on your radar or explore:

  • Mobile VR – Geared toward use with a smartphone and a simple headset, this type of VR content is much more approachable for both marketers and consumers. Users will still get a high-quality VR experience and marketers can escape the steep price tag of full feature VR content.
  • 360 video – Although it’s more expensive than regular video, mostly because of the equipment required, it’s still less of an investment than mobile or full feature VR and doesn’t require a headset, while still being a reasonably engaging immersive marketing experience.

content marketing strategy

Think a blog is the only way you can put content marketing strategy at the front and center of your destination marketing? Think again – we’ll show you how.

You know a good website when you see one – it’s the site that’s a pleasure to browse, puts what you’re looking for at your fingertips, and introduces you to the information you didn’t know you needed.

But when it comes to hotel websites, you need to do more. You need to grab that attention you’ve earned (the moment someone lands on your site) with destination marketing content that brings both your hotel and destination to life. Immediately. Pronto. Prontissimo.

Content marketing is the name of the game these days for all businesses in the hotel and travel industries – it’s what Google yearns for to boost your rankings and domain authority, it’s what fills your social feeds and email campaigns with links that matter, and most importantly, it’s what will turn a casual web surfer dreaming about his or her next vacation into a traveler checking in at the front desk.

But we get it. Even with a few content marketing magic tricks up your sleeve, content marketing can be intimidating and hard to dive into, especially if you don’t have a blog – the easiest and most natural fit to beef up your content marketing strategy. So here we’ve outlined some ways you can get into the content game yourself without a blog.

 

Easy Content Elements to Bring into Your Website

  • Instagram and Twitter feeds – Take advantage of easy ways to pull in content from your social channels. It’s a cinch to run your Instagram and Twitter feeds on your site, which gives guests an up-to-the-moment view of what you’re posting – and may just prompt them to follow you.
  • RSS feed from local and international travel websites – The ideal scenario is you have a regional travel magazine or newspaper with a great “what to do” section that they flesh out online; you embed that content on your site through an RSS feed. If relevant enough, major newspapers like The New York Times or Washington Post have travel sections and you could also pull content from travel sites like Travel & Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and Lonely Planet. Just a word to the wise: Make sure you’ve got the RSS for the travel and tourist-centric stuff, not the overall paper’s site/feed. You don’t want a headline about the local robbery appearing on your site.
  • Video – Ideally, it’s your own original video content. But if you haven’t yet bitten into video marketing, you can still embed existing YouTube and Vimeo videos very easily, particularly if you have a WordPress site. Check out their great tutorial on how to embed video here. For example, if you’re a hotel in Bar Harbor, a video about exploring Mount Desert Island by Maine Magazine would be valuable content for your guests, as long as the vibe of the video fits your brand.
  • Destination guides – Anyone with a smartphone can find the nearest Starbucks. Your destination guide is where you tell the story of the tiny little coffee roaster two blocks over who got her start after traveling to South America and then returning home with a bag of beans and a plan. That’s experiential hotel marketing – leading your guest to the kind of experience within your destination that will enrich their trip and form a lasting impression. Build this sort of guide as a unique landing page or as a section of your website devoted to the area or activities. It’s also a perfectly packaged link to promote through social media and in pre-arrival emails to guests.

 

Where to Build Content If You Don’t Have a Blog

  • Homepage slider – Normally, the content in a slider links to a blog post, but you could also link to unique landing pages, such as your destination guides, your restaurant’s landing page, a landing page that outlines your on-property activities, and so on.
  • Navigation tabs and CTAs – The same way a slider image can link to a unique landing page, so can a CTA or a drop-down menu in your site navigation. For example, on your spa’s page, add a button that teases an article about the “Top Treatments for Every Kind of Guest,” linking to a unique landing page with the content.
  • Explore/Activities/Discover page or pages – Anywhere you talk about what to do, where to go to eat, how to find the best outdoor adventures, where to find the best boutique shops, and how to have the best stay, that’s the right spot for this content to live.

 

The key here is to think about where you want to take users or what action you want them to take once they end up on that piece of content. Are you solely focused on people booking rooms as that action? What about signing up for your email campaigns? If you don’t have a blog and you’re using unique landing pages, be sure you drive traffic where you want it to go.

Ready to dive in to implementing some compelling content marketing strategy but feeling overwhelmed? As veterans of the hotel and destination content marketing game, we can help.

Opal Sands' marketing collateral, an example of brand identity.

Brand collateral needs to do much more than just be pretty or just communicate your services or products. This is an art, folks. So here we paint you a picture of 6 vital tips every piece of identity collateral should follow.

According to Seth Godin, one of the most relentlessly innovative experts on branding, the modern definition of a brand is “a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” How do you visually represent such non-tangible ideals? Through visual identity design.

In other words: All of the nitty-gritty elements our designers consider and use every day. Patterns, shapes, typefaces, fonts, layout, color – they all play a part. And more importantly, they all need to be moving your brand in the same direction…or they’re moving you in the wrong direction. Here are our six design tips to ensure you’re on the superhighway to visual brand dominance.

Brand Voice First, then Graphic Design

Have you seen the Hipster Business Name Generator? In essence, although it’s a lighthearted poke at hipster trendiness, in a way, it’s everything gone wrong with branding and design these days. The correct time line is to develop brand strategy, positioning, and voice, then develop a name and visual design. Too often, startups assume that it’s as simple as coming up with a cool name and a pretty logo, but that’s a far cry from smart branding. Establish brand voice, then move on to design. It’s a process that needs to happen in that order exactly, not the other way around.

Equal Parts Form and Function

Design needs to be pretty and get your point across. Form is color, pattern, font, typeface, etcetera. Function is making sure the design follows the rules of hierarchy so that it makes sense to someone at a glance. When function is done well, it’s brilliantly effective. Some of the most beloved brand logos have hidden meanings that make their design all the more genius, but no more complicated.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

We know – graphic design is like an ice cream sundae buffet with no adult in sight. It all looks good, you think you can sprinkle a little of this, a little of that, and end up with a taste of everything. But resist; you will end up with the brand equivalent of a sugar high and then a bellyache. The worst part is that it’s your customers who will feel that bellyache – far from the path to conversion you had in mind. Instead of amplifying the message, design that’s overcomplicated dilutes it or renders it total ineffective.

Pro tip: If you’re launching a re-brand, get your stakeholders involved on the front end if necessary but do your damnedest to limit the cooks in the kitchen once design work begins to avoid a slow project death by committee.

Keep Usage in Mind

A brand’s visual identity needs to be flexible enough to work in both print and digital, in different sizes, and in relation to different hotel marketing elements. It has to work on everything from your “Do Not Disturb” signs to your website and email campaigns. This is something easy to lose sight of in the middle of an identity design project, so we suggest you repeatedly ask yourself a simple (or similar) question: Would your graphic design work just as well on a billboard as it does on your business card? If not, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

Don’t Forget about Durability

Guess what? Trends come and go! You knew that, but it’s easy to get excited about a trend and want to incorporate it into your design when it’s hot, not thinking about the not-too-distant future, when that trend will only scream “I’m five years old!” One we’d like to hold up as a great example that many are still clinging to: ornate chalkboard typefaces. Nothing says 2012 like a chalkboard typeface.

Brand Identity Is Not Limited to Graphic Design

A brand’s visual identity now encompasses a whole host of additional elements. Think: video marketing, photo selection, how you name items on your hotel’s restaurant menu, even the music played while guests are on hold with your reservationists. A great recent example: When Marriott rebranded in 2015, in addition to introducing a new logo that was more streamlined and flattened, it also updated its brand standards for photography. Gone were the glossy photos, full of perfectly coiffed models and soft lighting. In their place, a new era of images that were messier and more imperfect.

If this all sounds way too overwhelming, well, you know where to turn. But in the meantime, enjoy the road to identity design righteousness. Your customers will thank you!

 

Marketers in the hospitality industry need to be at the top of their game to stay engaged with guests in every phase of the buyer’s journey. Here’s how.

experiential marketing

Hotel marketing isn’t just about talking about amenities anymore. It’s about building a lasting connection between your brand and your guest through experiential marketing – the kind of content marketing that draws guests into your destination through experiences and adventures that go beyond your hotel rooms and lobby. Once that connection is established, guests become loyal return visitors and effective brand ambassadors doing your hotel’s word of mouth marketing for you. For example, a guest who books a life-changing outdoor excursion based on the curated destination guide you linked to in a pre-arrival email is likely to become your brand’s best and most effective advocate.

While we could go on and on (and on and on) about the scores of different experiential marketing campaigns we might recommend; for the sake of keeping the word count of this blog post down, we’re going to give one or two examples in each phase of your travel buyer’s journey.

Research and Booking

As they dream about that vacation from the stress of everyday life, 65 percent of travelers research online before deciding on a destination. What kind of content helps travel buyers at this phase of the journey? The kind that helps them determine where they want to go. Do they want beaches? Mountains? Lakeside luxury? For hotels, it’s critical in this phase to market the experiences and adventures available in the given destination to target audiences.

What kind of experiential marketing works to capture a travel buyer’s attention? Think of the way your guest would search for “things to do in XYZ” – and build content around those queries.

  • Blog posts and video destination marketing are all valuable tools that enable guests to get a bird’s-eye view of what they might experience. Play up that aerial adventure or the centuries-old sailing vessel available to charter – the kind of experience that makes a trip at your hotel more than just a run-of-the-mill vacation.
  • Social media campaigns are an increasingly powerful tool to capture the attention of potential guests. Forty-eight percent of Instagram users will utilize the platform to make destination choices, so this is your chance to shine with high-resolution images, video snippets, or maybe even an influencer campaign that shows just how much fun a guest can have in your area and on your property.

 

Pre-Arrival

Once the hotel and flights are booked, your guest is in the anticipation phase. And what are they doing at this point? They’re asking themselves what’s nearby, what they should do during their stay, what kind of experiences are available to them. But only 27 percent of hotels are providing this sort of destination-specific content to guests during this phase.

The power of providing thoughtful, valuable content at this stage is threefold: (1.) You’re feeding their giddy excitement about their upcoming trip; (2.) You can pique their interest with interesting details about on-property amenities, like your spa, to increase ancillary revenue on services and outfitters booked ahead of time; (3.) You’re ensuring they have a better vacation while doing less work, creating a loyal brand advocate in the process.

Though we have many suggestions, one idea we love right now is a different kind of pre-arrival email:

  • We know that you’re already sending a pre-arrival email to confirm their stay and nail down the details, but what about one that specifically builds excitement about your destination and informs their stay? By creating digital destination guides that paint a comprehensive and compelling picture of your area, you can not only tap into their giddy pre-vacation energy, but that content can also be repurposed and repackaged for your blog site and beyond. A quick pre-arrival email that leads guests to that content can boost their loyalty and save them the trouble of having to research elsewhere.

 

During the Stay

So, your guest booked their room, you sent them the pre-trip goodies, and now they’ve arrived, so you’re off the hook, right? Not so fast. Sixty-seven percent of guests use smartphones to search for activities while on vacation. We know that the average traveler is busier than ever, so your pre-travel emails may have gone unopened due to a lack of time. Now’s the time to swoop in to the rescue.

There are few better opportunities to serve up a helping of experiential marketing that will build a more comprehensive travel experience for the guest and build a connection between them and your brand.

During their stay, here are two ideas:

  • Whether it’s via the log-in page for your Wi-Fi that entices clicks to Pinterest boards you’ve curated (super easy to do, by the way), an email, or a custom printed map full of notes on your recommendations, use the on-property opportunity to offer your take on local gems and highlights. They won’t thank you enough.
  • Fire a “turn-down” email with a suggested itinerary for the weekend. Include recommendations on events but also more “evergreen” recommendations of what to do in that season – which also means less ongoing customization of the email on your end.
  • A custom magazine not only gives them the “go, see, do” essentials, but also really shines a light on what makes both your property great (ancillary revenue opportunities again!) and the regional culture in a way that no other medium can match. Check out these two examples we’ve done recently for Hotel Healdsburg and management company Noble House Hotels & Resorts.

 

Post-Departure

Upon returning home, 76 percent of travelers will post photos to social. (Which is great, because 52 percent of travelers report being inspired by a friend’s or family member’s travel photos.) Your guests will return to those photos to relive the experience, but there are a few things your hotel can do to cue up that nostalgia more often:

  • Send a post-stay email to cement loyalty. This is also a great opportunity to encourage guests to share photos via social, especially if your hotel has a branded hashtag or is running a social contest.
  • Give them a clear reason, above and beyond your exceptional hotel, to come back. Tee up content that reminds guests about their vacation experience, and keep them up to date on new features/events/attractions within your destination and not just promotions. This could be automated drip campaigns or a custom-built email campaign.

 

If you’re ready to hop aboard the experiential marketing bandwagon but need a hand identifying the content that’s going to drive bookings and brand loyalty, our team of content specialists is ready to dive into your destination. Not only can we expertly tell the story of your destination, but our experience with distribution strategy also means your content will land in front of the right people.

digital ads

With exciting new digital ad formats comes the same responsibility as traditional ad formats: do the work to create ads that provide value and interest to the right viewer. Anything else is, at best, ineffective advertising. At worst, lazy, or outdated ad strategy results in the development of technology that enables users to opt out of advertising altogether. Because the options in the ever-growing digital advertising landscape could make a DOM’s head spin, we’re breaking down your newest options in a quick and easy primer.

  1. Scroller Ads – This might be one of the most consumer-friendly forms of digital advertising to emerge. A mobile-first adaptation, scroller ads run inline within a content feed. The viewer interacts with the ad by doing exactly what digital natives know how to do best: scroll. These ads scroll seamlessly in with the user’s feed, so the user can choose to stop and engage with it or continue scrolling past it. Although it’s one of the newest ad formats, scroller ads already show enormous promise. From awareness to enjoyment, scroller ads show notable, sometimes substantial, increases over more traditional ad formats. Because of the visual and image-friendly nature of scroller ads, they’re an ideal format for destination marketing.

Where you’ll find them Publisher sites. See an example.

  1. Dynamic Ads for Travel & Retargeted Ads – For a more in-depth look at Dynamic Ads for Travel (DAT), you can read our recent blog post exclusively devoted to them. But when it comes down to it, DAT are simply retargeted ads that have been adapted for hospitality marketing. Retargeted ads have been around for a few years now – anytime you find yourself looking at the exact item you were just browsing on an e-commerce site, that’s a retargeted ad in deployment.

Where you’ll find them Facebook and Instagram. See examples.

  1. Native Ads – Native ads have been around for a few years, too, with some people doing them better than others. In essence, if advertising looks more like editorial and less like advertising, it’s native. It’s more concerned with the user experience and it’s less interruptive, which means that viewers will actually engage and react favorably, but it’s still “advertising.” Sponsored blog posts (sometimes snarkily called advertorials), sponsored/promoted ads on social platforms, sponsored video content – it’s all native advertising. Anytime advertising appears seamlessly within your feed, it’s native. For those saying, “Wait, what’s the difference between native ads and content marketing?” Good question. It comes down to placement: If you pay for the content to be placed anywhere you don’t own (i.e. your blog,), then it’s native advertising.

Where you’ll find them Publisher sites, social media, SERPs. See examples.

  1. Programmatic Advertising – “Programmatic” is the buzzword seemingly everywhere in digital marketing right now. The programmatic part is about the method of buying ad space. It’s about automating the process of buying, placing, and optimizing ad space via a machine bidding process in real time, using demographic data to grant advertisers the opportunity to place ads in front of the exact audience the ad is targeting. This kind of real-time buying is incredibly effective, allowing precise crafting of ad messaging and creative for a very specific buyer. For example, hotels could explicitly target upper-middle-class families on the East Coast with an ad for a family-friendly weekend getaway.

Where you’ll find them Anywhere paid advertisements appear. See examples.

Ad blocking on the rise

While it would be easy to focus on only the buffet of emerging digital ad formats, there’s also advances in ad blockers to keep them at bay. Even though 68 percent of respondents to a recent survey by Adobe said that their ad experience was either improving or at least not getting worse, the usage of ad blockers is still on the rise. Even worse, of those us who have installed ad blockers, 89% have no plans to stop using them.

What’s one key to dial back ad blocking?

While many enjoy a personalized ad experience, the line between just enough and too much personalization is tricky to find. If your ads cross the line, you run the risk of coming across as “creepy,” intrusive, and abusive of personal data. It’s those type of ads that have been driving people to ad blocking services.

hacked website

Your website gets hacked, your hotel gets a brutal review, your new social media manager goes off the res – here’s what hospitality marketers need to do in five common situations where things go dreadfully wrong.

Every brand out there, inside the hospitality industry and out, is trying to establish the most positive digital footprint possible. That’s why DOMs allocate such hefty chunks of hospitality marketing budgets to SEO, digital content, and social strategy.

But sometimes, a digital catastrophe strikes. Your website is hacked, your hotel is portrayed in an unfavorable or downright embarrassing light, a brutal review shows up and decimates your previously pristine rating. When these sorts of digital disasters strike, it’s not only bad for your PR, but it’s also bad for your bottom line. Righting a digital wrong isn’t easy – online gaffes tend to live on forever. But with the right response and timing, you’ll survive. Here’s how.

The Digital Disaster: Your Site Got Hacked and Is Now Flagged By Google

Getting hacked is one of those heart-stopping moments – immediate action is required, because every second your site is down is time your hotel or destination is losing out on bookings and damaging brand standing.

Next Steps:

  1. Getting your site fully restored is your top priority. For this reason, having your developer on speed dial isn’t a bad idea. The developer will be able to quarantine your site to prevent more damage, assess the damage, find the vulnerability, address it, and restore your site to a previous version saved on its hosting server.
  2. Next, move on to scrubbing the dreaded and foreboding “This site may have been compromised” screen by requesting a review from Google.
  3. From here on out, follow best practices to reduce the likelihood of your site getting hacked. For instance, being vigilant about updating all software, removing outdated plugins, and making regular, automated backups of your site can save you a ton of time and a massive headache in the future.

 

The Digital Disaster: A Well-Intentioned Social Post Went Viral for All the Wrong Reasons

That Tweet you thought was just the right mixture of sass, satire, and trendiness just plunged you into a black hole of backlash.

Next Steps:

  1. Remove the offensive post.
  2. Issue an immediate and unequivocal apology that takes full responsibility.
  3. Respond to all negative feedback in a positive manner.
  4. Do not get defensive. Not one little bit. Repeat the apology over and over and over.

 

The Digital Disaster: A Former Employee/Past Guest/Journalist Wrote a Piece That’s Unflattering

Whether or not a story has merit isn’t the issue in the digital age. It’s about how much traction it’s getting online.

Next Steps:

  1. Because it’s not your content, you can’t take it down. But you can respond on your own site. Draft an immediate response that addresses the complaints and how your brand is going to address the issues. Be honest and sincere – don’t fill your response with corporate-ese and the kind of language that would make your own eyes roll.
  2. No shame in calling in the big dogs when the, er…fur…hits the fan. If your online presence is in jeopardy, now’s the time to call in someone who knows SEO inside out. Now is the time to make sure you’ve taken every step possible so that your website shows up first and gets the most clicks – not the hit piece.
  3. If the negative piece has gotten enough traction, it will start showing up in SERPs. To combat this, you’ll need to start producing positive content that will push the negative piece to the background. Also known as reverse SEO, this is tricky – you’ll need good content that doesn’t reference the negative incident, without looking manipulative. This is another time to call in a pro, like a content strategist or a PR professional.

 

The Digital Disaster: The New Social Media Intern Went Rogue with Your Profile

Even a well-established brand with a consistent messaging can get derailed by off-brand posts by someone with the wrong voice.

Next Steps:

  1. Remove the posts that aren’t in line with brand standards.
  2. Establish written social media brand guidelines that include examples of proper tone and voice, image standards, and appropriate content.
  3. Put a checks and balances system in place where nothing is posted to social platforms until it’s been approved. (This is where an editorial calendar for social media comes in handy.) A social platform tool, like Sprout, Buffer, or Hootsuite, will allow posts to be drafted for review, along with all the other scheduling, tracking, and analytics benefits.

 

The Digital Disaster: Someone Posted a Negative Review

You’ve been doing everything right and your posted content is fine, but someone with a bone to pick about your brand posted something negative – on your Facebook page’s wall, on a review site, in the comments of another brand’s social feed.

Next Steps:

  1. Respond as positively as possible, and be prepared to weather the storm.
  2. Assign the duty of monitoring social channels to someone who can respond promptly and effectively to nip negativity in the bud. It’s no longer enough to post content. If you aren’t utilizing social listening tools, then you’re probably missing opportunities to transform a bad review into a more positive interaction – before it goes viral.

video marketing

It’s not enough to show hero shots of your beautiful rooms and destination vistas. Here are our picks on some of the best video marketing within the hospitality industry to date.

As the body of research on video marketing grows, it’s increasingly difficult to deny the appeal of the format, especially in hotel marketing. Even despite last week’s revelation that Facebook has been grossly distorting reports on the performance of video on its platform (now dubbed “Facebook’s Video Inflate-gate”), video remains a powerful vehicle for hospitality marketing.

According to a Cisco study, 82 percent of all Internet traffic will come from video by 2020. Not only are web users watching more video, but they’re also taking action based on those videos – after watching a video, consumers are 85 percent more likely to make a purchase. With the introduction of 360-degree video (not to mention virtual reality), the opportunity to create an immersive preview of a destination is easier than ever – just look at Tourism Australia’s simple but seriously effective 360-degree video series.

But – and this is a pretty massive “but” – pushing out a video to stay up with the Joneses in the hospitality industry isn’t as simple as showing off your pretty pool and lapping shores. Truly noteworthy, remarkable video marketing requires strong storyline concepting and a distribution strategy that’s as creative as the creative itself. We’ve combed through the good, the bad, and the ugly to show you that it is, in fact, possible to produce a hospitality marketing video that’s engaging, entertaining, and promotional. Drumroll, please…

Hawthorn Creative’s Top 5 Hospitality Marketing Videos:

1.) Quesar Expeditions’ Galapagos Travel Video

Why We Love It There are few marketing videos that can capture viewers in the first eight seconds AND hold them for a full two minutes and 53 seconds. Produced in partnership with production house Gnarly Bay, this magnificent blend of narrative storytelling and impeccable video does it beautifully. The voiceover is perfectly timed with the shots, the images are rich and saturated, the pacing is flawless.

2.) Soho House’s “This is Soho House”

Why We Love It A video on the internal culture of a brand could have gone so, so wrong – boring, irrelevant, unwatchable. Or you can take a different approach and nail it, like Soho House did with this video driven by its internal career opportunities. And yet, this is brand awareness at its very best. From the storyline to the music to the progression, the entire video tells the story of the Soho House brand and also made us want to hop a flight across the pond and stay for a week.

3.) Basel Tourismus’s Pokemon Go Revenge video

Why We Love It Sometimes, the difference between perfection and flop is in speed of execution. Sure, this isn’t the highest quality footage, but Basel Tourismus acted at light speed to hop on the global frenzy around Pokemon Go – and it paid off handsomely. In 24 hours, the video racked up 49 million views on Facebook and 225,000 views on YouTube. For a Swiss city known primarily as the namesake for the Art Basel festival, that’s nothing short of astonishing. Their goal of attracting more young travelers to the city was bolstered by the scenic shots, and the playful culture was implied with how well the Pokemon’s victims responded.

4.) Virgin Atlantic’s Safety Video

Why We Love It Air travel is more the means to the end in the hospitality industry, but we couldn’t pass over this creative approach to the expected. Once a brand drops the constraints of the cliché, anyone can come up with a groundbreaking new way to present ordinary information. That goes for airline safety instructions – but also hotels looking to entice new guests.

5.) Hotel.com’s “Interpreter” video for social

Why We Love It Hotels.com absolutely owned Facebook’s muted autoplay with this video. Capitalizing on all of those who sneak in a little Facebook time while on the clock, the brand knew the sound would likely be silenced and made it a feature point of the video. Humor is a hallmark of the brand’s messaging and this video proves it’s a winning strategy.

dynamic ads

Are dynamic ads for travel the next frontier in hotel marketing? We look at how dynamic ads on Instagram have performed for Marriott, the brave beta testers.

Back in May, when Facebook announced it was extending its dynamic product ads to Instagram and tweaking them to include travel for a select few advertisers, there was a hefty amount of skepticism about the ability to successfully execute retargeting in real time. As one eMarketer analyst pointed out, retargeted ads can land in front of someone who has already made the purchase, or worse, isn’t interested anymore. The potential for failure – or a bad consumer experience, at the very least – was high. Many DOMs took a decidedly wait-and-see approach, letting early beta testers, like Trivago and Marriott, serve as the guinea pigs.

If the proof is in the pudding, the pudding looks mighty tasty, when you consider that Marriott reported that in the first few months of using DAT on Instagram and Facebook, the company generated $20 of revenue for every $1 spent. That’s a guinea pig gamble well worth the work.

How Dynamic Ads for Travel Work

Dynamic Ads for Travel (DAT) work by allowing hotels and resorts to target those travelers who have visited the destination’s website or mobile app by showing an automatic and dynamic ad displaying an image, URL, availability, and pricing on hotels rooms within the traveler’s Instagram and Facebook. A hotel could also upsell by showcasing premier packages to capitalize on expressed interest or expose a user to multiple packages by using the carousel ad format.

In terms of targeting, those using DAT can also dynamically create custom audiences to retarget or find look-alikes based on dates or locations served. For example, you can create an audience that includes those who have searched for a four-night hotel stay twice in the past week but haven’t booked, or based on set parameters of certain actions, like page visits, time spent on page, or which device was used to visit a hotel’s site. Even better, you can exclude users from your target audience, such as those with a check-in date that has passed, to avoid wasting impressions and money.

Why Dynamic Ads on Instagram Works for Hotel Marketing

A few statistics will help make the case on why this type of advertising is so effective for destination marketing:

  • 48 percent of Instagram users utilize the platform to make vacation decisions.
  • 60% of Instagrammers say they learn about products and services on Instagram.
  • 75% say they take action, like visiting a website, searching, shopping, or telling a friend, after being inspired by an Instagram post.
  • Half of all trips booked digitally are expected to have been made on a mobile device.

What this all means is that hotel marketing has to embrace each and every emerging opportunity to make an impression on potential guests while those guests are using mobile devices. Instagram has more than 500 million monthly active users, and one in five minutes spent on a mobile device will be on either Facebook or Instagram, so the reach of DAT is undeniable.

Hone Your Retargeting with Dynamic Ads for Travel

If Dynamic Ads for Travel strikes fear in your heart but light up dollar signs in your head, enlist the help of a destination marketing agency who can run your campaigns, putting your ads in front of the guests who already know and love your hotels but might need a little push in the direction of the booking button.

Influencer marketing

For a hot second, “influencer marketing” was a win for hospitality content marketing – until the influencer backlash. Are micro-influencers the answer?

As usage of social media boomed over the past several years, so did the herd of marketers following their target demographic onto the various platforms, scrambling to find ways to leverage the power of an engaged audience to drive conversions. As areas of interest – like travel, weddings, and lifestyle – grew in popularity on platforms like Instagram, many destination marketers turned to a group of early adopters and celebrities with large followings who were willing to hawk goods and services to their followers. Thus, the dawn of the age of the “influencer” emerged.

Influencer Marketing: What Went Wrong

For a brief moment, it seemed like influencer marketing was the golden ticket to hospitality marketing. It seemed straightforward – Hotel A pays Influencer X to post a few well-edited photos promoting Hotel A to his or her feed, and Hotel A gains access to Influencer X’s cadre of followers. However, missteps in those early days led to a lot of noisy chatter on social media but not a lot of ROI – that is, unless you define “ROI” as a bunch of “likes” and not much more.

In the wild west days of influencer marketing, partnerships weren’t transparently disclosed, leaving suspicious followers feeling duped by a formerly trusted personality. Even worse were the cringe-worthy instances where celebrities included brand instruction in the caption, an accidental (and, OK, hilarious) layer of transparency. Audiences were turned off by insincere endorsements and inauthentic partnerships, and both Influencer X and Hotel A suffered. In short order, there were rumblings that the death of influencer marketing was imminent. In a nutshell, that’s the fine line any brand must always walk in their content marketing strategy: You don’t want your audience to feel duped or slimy; instead, you want them to value your brand and what you produce by knowingly recognizing it comes from you.

Why Influencers Are Still Valuable Hospitality Marketing Tools

Despite the gleeful cackles of those eager for influencer marketing to die, hold the phone. Studies show that 48 percent of users utilize Instagram to make vacation destination choices. How? By watching the feeds of their friends, family members, and the “influencers” they follow.

But, there’s a catch. These same users are no longer drinking the Kool-Aid those mega influencers and celebrities are doling out. Once a social media influencer has too many followers, they begin to lose audience engagement and the ability to drive conversions. A study by Collective Bias backs that up, revealing that consumers trust non-celebrity influencers far more than celebrities with millions of followers. Of course, you don’t want to hire a nobody with few followers, so where’s the sweet spot? An influencer with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, recently dubbed the “micro-influencer.”

Micro-Influencer 101 For Content Marketing

Now that you know the magic number of followers, what’s the key to working with a micro-influencer to produce authentic campaigns that will resonate with his or her follower audience? We have a few tips for the new era of influencer marketing:

  • Find the right micro-influencers. Use social listening to identify influencers who are authentically passionate about your hotel or destination. There’s a micro-influencer focused on travel who would jump at the chance to talk about your beach/spa/rooftop pool – trust us.
  • Strategy first and foremost. We don’t want your influencer marketing to fall flat, and neither do you. Make sure your campaign strategy is rock solid to stand up to the scrutiny of social media. If crafting a strategy for an authentic, effective influencer campaign feels daunting, enlist a hospitality marketing agency to work with you.
  • Determine the goals of the campaign early. Are you looking for engagement, reach, conversion, or a mixture of all three? Nail down exactly what you want to get out of the campaign because this will dictate your execution.
  • Focus on long-term, meaningful relationships with your micro-influencer. This undoubtedly requires more work than a short-term, one-off transaction, but the partnership will feel more transparent to followers – and that’s critical. If you have multiple properties, create a campaign that allows your micro-influencer to showcase your entire collection over a six or twelve-month period.
  • Release the death grip on brand voice. Whether your micro-influencer is doing an Instagram takeover of your feed or a campaign on their own feed, it’s critical that you allow him or her to be authentic and natural in the messaging. If you’ve done your homework and found the right micro-influencer, you shouldn’t have trouble trusting the content and voice he or she will use to engage followers.

Content marketing tools

Producing and regularly publishing “10x” content is intense. We’ve rounded up 10 content writing tools guaranteed to make your life easier.

Competing for the attention of guests and visitors can feel like a desperate uphill slog in the content marketing battle. In order to capture and keep eyes on your content, your headline needs to be flawless, your copy must be straightforward, and your topic has to be of immediate value to your reader. You also need captivating visuals and impeccable grammar. For DOMs at hotels who struggle to execute their own content marketing strategy and don’t have a creative agency producing their content, that can feel like an impossibly tall order. But with these content writing tips and tricks, we bet you’ll have the first draft of your next blog post in no time flat.

 

TOOLS TO GENERATE CONTENT MARKETING IDEAS

  • Answer the Public – This is one of the favorite writing tools of Hawthorn writers who find themselves stuck. If you enter “what to do in Bermuda” in the box, you’ll get a visual representation of 94 questions based on the auto suggest results from Google and Bing. Essentially, you now have 94 blog post ideas that will be valuable to travelers researching Bermuda. Not bad for 10 seconds of effort.
  • Hubspot’s Blog Post Title Generator – Any time you feel like tearing out your hair rather than coming up with another blog post topic, head over to Hubspot’s latest content marketing tool, the Blog Post Title Generator. As long as you can come up with three nouns, Hubspot will hand you five blog post topics.
  • Portent’s Content Idea Generator – Another great content topic generator, Portent’s version is engaging, tongue-in-cheek, and, despite their cheeky humor, surprisingly spot on. If your brand identity and voice are on the irreverent side, this is a great tool to come up with some quirky content topics.
  • Quora – Since Quora is a tool for people looking for answers, it’s a great mechanism to find out exactly which solutions you can provide for readers. By searching around to see which topics and questions are popular, you’ll begin to get a sense of the content topics you should be adding to your editorial calendar. Lucky for those in the hospitality industry, travel is a hot topic on Quora.
  • BuzzSumo – Have you ever been curious about how many shares that post you’re thinking about writing might get? BuzzSumo will spell out exactly how many times an already-published piece of content on the same topic has been shared via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

TOOLS FOR CREATING COMPELLING VISUAL CONTENT

  • Canva – Creating great copy is one thing, but you’ll also need compelling images to pair with it. Layering the right words over that perfect image is the best of both worlds, creating a visual that will increase engagement when you share your content socially. Canva helps create A-level graphics for your digital content marketing with drag and drop tools to make the process easy for almost anyone, so put those gorgeous photos of your hotel to work on social media.
  • Work – We know that infographics seem intimidating to create. But, if you want to increase the attention span and recall of your readers by 82%, adding a color via an infographic is the way to go. If that idea terrifies you, fear not. Enter a noun into Klock.Work, and it will spit out suggestions for the exact type and name of the infographic you should build to engage your niche. This content marketing tool is powered by Venngage, where you can create slick infographics for free. Bonus: Social media platforms prioritize infographics the same way they do images and video. A crisp infographic on the “28 Ways to Fit a Weekend Getaway into Your Busy Schedule” will amp up your post by leaps and bounds, increasing the engagement and conversion.

 

DEEP-DIVE WRITING TOOLS

  • Grammarly – Anyone who considers themselves (err, rather we should say “him or herself”) a grammar nerd already knows about the writing tips and tricks found on the Grammarly blog, but you can also add a Grammarly extension to Chrome, MS Office, and Apple’s OS, which is like having an editor, proofreader, and plagiarism-checker reading over your shoulder at all times. That might feel intimidating, but it will work wonders for your content writing.
  • WordRake – This writing tool promises to “tighten, tone, and clarify your writing,” by removing unnecessary words and phrases, as well as improving the sentences that need clarification. When your property is as gorgeous as we know it is, it can be hard to cut out the flowery adjectives, but for the sake of your readers, enlist WordRake to help.
  • OneLook Reverse Dictionary – Say good-bye to that crushing moment where a word is on the tip of your tongue but just won’t emerge. Enter a phrase, related word, category, or definition into OneLook and behold the power of the reverse dictionary. Still not seeing it? Add one of the filters, such as “starts with,” “rhymes with,” “sounds like,” even “also related to,” which recognizes that when you search for “large” in the context of “ocean,” you might be looking for a word like “vast.”

print vs. digital

We hear repeatedly that print is dead. As it turns out, print trumps digital marketing in several ways. Spoiler: you’ll book more brides with brochures.

In the “print vs. digital” debate, printed materials can sometimes be labeled as a relic of yesteryear, which has DOMs racing to hop aboard the digital bandwagon. It’s undeniable that digital marketing has a few major advantages – namely, instantaneous access, powerful personalization and targeting, and the ability to embed audio and video. And let’s not forget the joy that is the ability to demonstrate ROI via analytics: Digital is a powerful new tool in destination marketing, one that has already opened new channels of communication and engagement with prospective clients.

But as it turns out, the way we marketed in the “olden” days may still be neck and neck with modern marketing. Based on the science that’s emerging, it looks like a strategy that includes printed elements alongside digital marketing may be a DOM’s best bet. Let’s dig in to why, when it comes to marketing to brides, you might just clinch that wedding because of your printed brochure or magazine.

STANDING APART FROM THE CROWD WITH PRINT MARKETING

In today’s digital clutter and the constant chatter of social media, printed collateral is fresh, surprising, and above all, memorable. Marketers are always searching for ways to stand out, so rather than focusing entirely on the message of the ad, let’s be sure we’re taking the medium into consideration, too. Print lends itself to the type of communication with a customer that needs to be retained for further contemplation. A bride might remember yours was the venue they pinned to their Pinterest board…or they may not. That pin gets lumped in with the 20 others your bride pinned that morning, and your venue may slip through the cracks. A beautiful, well-designed brochure, however, makes the kind of immediate impression that converts a bride from “considering” to “booked” on the spot.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF PRINTED MATERIALS

Why, exactly, is print marketing memorable, though? In a study performed by Canadian neuromarketing firm, TrueImpact, it was found that printed marketing requires 21 percent less cognitive effort to process than digital media, which means it’s significantly easier to both understand and remember print marketing. When people were asked to cite the brand mentioned in an advertisement they’d just seen, recall was a whopping 70 percent higher for those who were exposed to a print ad. In addition, there’s a growing body of research that suggests our brains process information differently from printed formats. A study in Norway concluded that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on reading comprehension tests than students who read the texts digitally.” Not that you’re going to test your bride on reading comprehension, but the research clearly demonstrates that printed marketing is more memorable, which makes it significantly more effective in your efforts to make an impression on that soon-to-be-married couple.

WHY PRINT MARKETING OFFERS MULTISENSORY BRANDING

In any advertising, there’s always an emotional appeal, and marketing to brides is no different. A 2009 study by Bangor University and branding agency Millward Brown concluded that, in processing printed materials, the brain produces responses more connected to emotions, which means the messages contained in the physical materials were more strongly internalized. By exploiting a customer’s senses, and therefore tapping into the brain’s emotional processing, print marketing can create an impact with which digital marketing just can’t compete. What’s more, Sir Richard Branson, the genius behind Virgin Atlantic, has spoken about the potential of “multisensory branding,” which appeals to all five senses. By tapping into the rich sensory experience of touch (and even scent!) that’s possible with printed marketing, you not only connect more securely with your brides on a human level, but you are building your brand identity in a way that a Facebook ad never will.

THE BOTTOM LINE ON THE PRINT VS. DIGITAL DEBATE

While digital marketing has understandably turned the hospitality marketing industry on its head, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The science is in and unequivocally, print is still a winning bet, especially when used in conjunction with the ease of digital marketing. Your brides may want to scroll through your venue’s Instagram feed, poke around your Facebook page, but to grab her attention and rise above the crowd, be sure to hand her a crisp, stylish brochure, in all its sensual, physical, permanent glory.

Facebook algorithm

Facebook has rolled out two sweeping changes to both its algorithm and page layout in summer 2016. Here are the big takeaways that brand managers and DOMs in destination, resort, and hotel marketing need to know now.

Rather than beat a dead horse, let’s start out by admitting the obvious: Facebook is prioritizing personal content over content produced by brands and publishers. This means the posts that will show up most now in Facebook feeds are those that your friends and family have liked, shared, or commented on; the algorithm change is suppressing posts from other sources. It’s going to affect brands in the hospitality industry to varying degrees – we’ll get to that. The other big change we saw in the first week of August was the roll out of a freshly designed page layout. Brands are now seeing a more streamlined look for their company’s page, with some new features that are an unexpected gift from Facebook. Does that make up for the algorithm change? Not particularly, but at least it’s something, and we’ll take it.

Why the Facebook Algorithm Change?

For one thing, research by SocialFlow in June found a 42 percent drop in the reach of publisher stories. Facebook has to stay on the cutting edge of what its users want, meaning that when it sees a drop in interest in publisher stories, the company acts quickly to hold onto the interest of its 1.65 billion users. One contributing factor? In recent years, Facebook has become “too public” for people to feel safe sharing personal private updates. The problem for Facebook is that its users still want to share those personal photos and anecdotes – but they’re doing it on platforms like Snapchat or Periscope. Facebook’s algorithm changes show us that they’re adjusting course to retain the favor of its users, rather than brands and publishers. It’s also a not-so-subtle way to force businesses to pony up for paid promotion.

What We Know about the Impact So Far

Brands who rely on the content they post on Facebook to build their audience have likely already seen a drop in reach and referral traffic. However, the brands who see their traffic come from individual users sharing their content will see less of an impact, and therein lies the key: To stay competitive, your goal for content on Facebook is how share-worthy it is, because to get any traction now, your followers need to share it. This requires a fully fleshed-out social media and content marketing strategy, diligent posting, and social listening.

But that’s not the complete solution. Most individual users share content they see in their newsfeed, so if the content isn’t showing up there, the web of sharing gets stalled out before it begins. Only the branded content from the companies users regularly engage with is likely to show up organically. Brands and publishers are going to have to examine their marketing budgets to figure out how they can allocate more dollars for paid promotion. That can feel overwhelming to brands who haven’t yet dipped a toe into paid promotion on Facebook. In that case, it might be time to look into having a creative digital agency like Hawthorn manage your social to optimize your results.

Key Algorithm Takeaways

  • Focus on posting content that followers will find so meaningful, engaging, and relevant that they are compelled to share it with their friends and family.
  • Make sure your website has “share” buttons on its blog and other pages so that individual users can share your content with their friends and family, who will then re-share and engage with it.
  • Beyond that, pull out your wallet and get ready to pay for the reach that used to be organic.

 

Late Breaking News: A Brand-New Page Layout

There were rumblings in the spring of 2016 about a new, more streamlined Facebook page layout, and as of August, we started to see the changes roll out in selected users. It’s still not clear if Facebook is in the testing phase or the early stages of a rollout. Either way, you can expect to see some changes to your look of your page in the coming weeks. The good news? All of the changes are good news for the hospitality industry: Your “Book Now” CTA button just got boosted, your photos have a better chance to shine, and your followers can now find that special on a weekend getaway you posted a week ago much more easily.

Best New Features for Destination, Resort, and Hotel Marketing

The CTA Button

Let’s get to the most exciting news first. In the new layout, the call-to-action button is much more prominent. About time, right? There’s no better place for that “Book Now” button than front and center. It looks like Facebook heeded the complaints from social media managers across the board who struggle to prove the ROI of social media. Planting the CTA button front and center might help marketers argue more effectively on social’s impact on the bottom line.

A Cleaner Cover Photo

The new layout has allotted significantly more white space to the profile, making the page look much more streamlined and clear. The cover photo and profile photo are now separate – the profile image now lives at the top of a sticky menu on the left side, which leaves the cover photo wide open for creative interpretation. Whether you manage your page or have a company like Hawthorn do it for you, making sure to resize your photos and finding a way to make the best of the bonus space creatively is key.

The Long Overdue Search

Have you ever tried to go back to find a post you know you saw on a company’s page but had to weed through who-knows-how-many posts to excavate the exact article you know AdWeek shared? With the new page layout, gone are the days of endlessly scrolling through a page’s newsfeed to try to find a post. This means your audience can always find that good content about your hotel or destination you posted back in March.

And there you have it. All of the Facebook changes we’ve seen roll out over the summer…so far. When and if we see more, we’ll keep you posted on how to stay ahead of the pack.

content marketing strategy

From hotel reviews to social media posts that fill Google search results to well-composed blogs from top DMOs, the Internet is teeming with content about where to go next and what to do in every destination under the sun. The good news: Readers are hungry for this kind of content marketing strategy within the hospitality industry, whether you’re producing it in-house or using a marketing agency, such as Hawthorn, to do so. The challenge is cutting through the glut of content and then getting strategic about distributing it across platforms so your content reaches its audience.

As you might expect, content marketing has become the new normal of modern marketing. In fact, 75 percent of companies have increased their investment in this sphere this year. That’s more hotels and destinations competing against your content marketing strategy. So you need to find your niche of consistent, one-of-a-kind content in this crowded space. But you also should be looking at new approaches and new frontiers to get your content heard.

4 New Content Marketing Trends to Increase Engagement

  • Video It’s well established that Facebook prioritizes video content above all else, and others are following suit. If the thought of producing videos terrifies you, find an easy entry point. Creating a GoPro video from a bellhop or concierge’s point of view or compiling some video testimonials from guests who have had an outstanding experience with you or in your destination are two easier examples of video that don’t demand high-quality (read: costly) execution to be effective.
  • Visually Driven Content What catches your eye faster: a block of text or a colorful image? Researchers have found that people’s willingness to read a piece of content increases by 80 percent when colored visuals are included. By focusing on infographics, interactive images, and motion design, you’ll catch more eyes and keep people engaged with your content longer, which means you have a better opportunity to nurture your connection with them.
  • Deep-Dive Copy-Driven Posts If you’re going to rely on text to tell your story, fluffy opinion pieces won’t cut it. Give your guests a meticulously inclusive guide to your destination, making your article one-stop shopping for someone trying to figure out what to do in your area. Or round up a list of the top 20 to 50 wedding trends brides need to know now – think longer, more researched, more comprehensive than your standard “Top 5 Reasons…” post.
  • Virtual Reality Seventy-four percent of consumers express an interest in VR used in the hospitality industry. Imagine being able to offer guests the opportunity to walk through your lobby, lie on your beach, swim in your pool, or have a seat at your bar, all from the comfort of their homes? VR has the tantalizing possibility to revolutionize how guests research and experience destinations – and the future of the technology should not be underestimated

social media analytics

You’ve set up and have begun posting regularly on the “big four” social platforms. But here’s the even bigger question: Is it paying off? Here’s our quick and easy guide to getting started with the analytics tools built into all four.

Facebook Insights

If you’re diligent about posting on Facebook, you’ll find the Insights tab on top of your page to be extremely useful. The Overview gives you a look at your total reach, or number of people who saw your updates in their newsfeeds over the past week and the actual engagement, which can include those clicking on links, liking your posts, or commenting on them.

From there, the Posts tab is the one place to go every single week. It gives you an at-a-glance look at how many people saw each post, shared or liked it, and actually clicked on it. This gives you (or the agency handling your analytics) a good sense of the type of content you should plan to repeat and what topics resonate with your audience.

Twitter Analytics

In the upper-right-hand corner of your Twitter page, you’ll find a small version of your logo. Click that to get to the Analytics drop-down. The insights you’ll glean here aren’t as robust as with Facebook, but you can easily scroll down to see your top-performing Tweet in a given month, your total impressions, and the fluctuation in your followers.

As an added bonus, Twitter will tell you who your most influential new follower is every month, so if you need help spreading your brand gospel, you can forge a relationship with that person or account.

How Smart Wedding Venues Do Social. This free eBook will help supercharge your social media ROI. Download Now

Pinterest Analytics

On your Pinterest page, click the gear and hit Analytics on the dropdown to get into the stats for Pinterest. Like Facebook, Pinterest will give you plenty of graphs that show performance over time, and it also gives you a quick look at the top boards and pins and how they rank for impressions, clicks, and repins, which can help you craft future content.

If you need to drill in further, you can click into the three separate graphs to get audience insights (country of origin and gender, for example) and so on.

Instagram Analytics

There is no native analytics platform for Instagram just yet, and it’s one of the trickiest platforms to calculate return on investment for. After all, most people aren’t jumping from photos to your website, meaning you have to work a little harder to gain real insight into your best-performing photos.

We like SimplyMeasured, which gives you a snapshot of how many engagements you’re getting, which photos are receiving the greatest number of eyeballs, and how your performance is trending over time.

abstract design

When you don’t have great photographs (or want something different), a well-designed cover for your marketing pieces can still command attention.

THE TREND

For unique designs that evoke strong emotional responses, we tend to think of striking photography. Not every business has those at hand, though. Incorporating abstract designs can be less costly and more evocative, especially in the context of video and print showpieces. Airbnb and Atlanta Botanical Garden are two very different brands taking this approach with their collateral.

WHY WE LOVE IT

We all know how powerful stunning photography can be, but by providing something incongruous and abstract, you can catch the eye of any guest and really let your fun side shine through. Nothing forces customers to rethink what they know about your brand than something completely abstract and unexpected.

HOW TO USE IT

You’re only limited by your imagination, creativity, and skill when working with something abstract, which means designers can create off any emotion or mood you like. Abstract designs make it much easier to create unique showpieces, as you see below for The Guggenheim Museum, that tell your brand’s story without needing much text.

abstract design

WHERE TO FIND IT

We’ve used it for years, but the recent event brochures for Loulu Palm Farms and The Terrace Club are two recent examples. You can find several additional examples on this Pinterest board, as well as below.

noble house

If you want to dream about your next vacation, visit Noble House Hotels & Resorts. Or, as they like to say as a longstanding client of ours, dive into their brand-wide custom magazine.

The Client

As one of the top hotel management companies in North America, Noble House manages 18 four-star, luxury resorts in the US, each one situated in a unique location that lets their guests truly get out and embrace the destinations. Take, for example, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, constantly ranked among the top hotels in the world, found on its own island halfway down the Florida Keys and accessible only by boat or seaplane.

The Project

Noble House has been working closely with Hawthorn Creative on their brand-wide custom magazine since 2008. For a hotel brand driven by design and a sense of exploration, the pages are filled with beautiful, deep dives into their destinations and the pursuit of travel. For those who work on the project here at Hawthorn, it’s always a fun one that lets us get more creative, pursue our own passions, and show off our top design work. Like several of our clients, the magazine was a launching point for more work with us, such as the Little Palm Island cookbook and a digital content website currently in production.

The Results

The content in the magazine has been drawing the attention of guests and effectively cross-promoting properties for years, and as a result, Noble House has seen larger distribution, larger magazines, and increased advertising revenue year-over-year.

To see the digital version of Noble House’s magazine, click here.

content marketing

Rising Costs

Digital search marketing began its life as a truly low-cost alternative to print, with the ability to put out display ads that cost you pennies per click and to stuff your site full of relevant keywords and links that would game search engines and put you near the top of the results. As Google, Bing, and Yahoo! have gotten savvier, those avenues have faded into the background, replaced by more honest organic traffic and more expensive advertising.

Google is one of the major culprits here, as you’d expect. With more than 60 percent of the market share in search, recently rising cost per click rates across the board, and a conscious decision to limit local results and punish sites who either do not pay to advertise or don’t have a great mobile presence, the search giant is effectively forcing companies to pour real resources into website improvement and advertising. This despite the fact that cost per click advertising as a medium hasn’t become any more effective as prices rise.

Confronted with this, you essentially have three choices:

  • Hold your nose, pay more for ads, and hope costs stabilize in the coming years.
  • Lessen or abandon your paid budget and focus on optimizing your website.
  • Use a portion of your ad budget on content, which creates more organic (and lasting) engagement.

 

The Content Approach

You can’t abandon PPC and traditional advertising completely, but you can limit your spending with an effective content strategy. Through years of developing content for hotels, we’ve found this makes for a solid start for any hotel. It’s about building the “house” of content, then using your outbound communication tools (email campaigns, social media, partner sites, etcetera) to get people to that content. When all is said and done, content can touch your guests at every point in the booking cycle, taking someone who is completely unaware or disinterested in your hotel to then book, but then also maintain contact with them after their visit to turn them into one of your biggest advocates (online reviews) and repeat guests.

  • Identify the appealing attractions and events in your destination, not just your hotel. You need to develop content consistently over the course of years, and there’s only so much you should try to say about your comfy beds. Users will value content you deliver about the destination because it comes from you, a trusted source.
  • Decide whether you want a dedicated, magazine-style content hub (typically, a blog site or blog within your existing enterprise site) or you’re simply going to develop punchy content for social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. This will influence the time, money, and direction of your content development, something on which we end up working closely with a lot of clients.
  • Build a distribution strategy. Ideally, you’ll send content-based email campaigns and disseminate stories and images through social channels and potentially feed that content to travel sites.
  • Identify who is going to develop this content, carefully weighing whether you would turn to a content marketing agency like us or a smaller, local outfit near your resort and attractions. If you need consistent, on-brand content multiple times per month, you may not want to hand the keys over to local freelancers who don’t have the experience with SEO, strategy, and design built behind every word they write.
  • Once you have all the pieces in place, decide your frequency and your cadence and keep an editorial calendar to ensure your content production is on track. Revisit your strategy on a quarterly basis to get perspective on what’s worked and what hasn’t (through Analytics) and to ensure you’re staying on-brand.

 

The Benefits of Content

Though there is definitely a significant time investment on your part when you’re developing your content strategy, over the long haul, you’re developing content that belongs to you (even if a team like Hawthorn is developing it for your brand), requires fewer dollars than traditional advertising, and offers the opportunity to win over guests in a more organic way. It can also reward you with huge ROI, like our client who saw a 4,545 percent return on investment on their content efforts thanks to savvy distribution.

When you consider the versatility of content – email campaigns, social media, print collateral, and even boosting the effectiveness of online ads – and the fact that 71 percent of marketers reported success in lead generation and brand engagement with content last year, and you have compelling reasons to build content into your search strategy.

 wedding business apps

When it comes to event planning – especially planning for weddings – we know how difficult it is to keep track of all the finer details. But with the diverse range of technology available in the world today, why not use some of it to your best advantage? We’ve compiled a list of five of the best apps to make your life a little less stressful while planning for the biggest day of your clients’ lives.

Evernote

Remember those giant binders wedding planners or frantic brides would be seen carrying around everywhere? Well, now there’s no need to bear the physical burden of hauling around multiple notebooks when you can simply access them all through one little app. With Evernote, wedding planners can store information about their clients with organized digital notebooks that are synced across all platforms. Create tags within the notebooks to easily search for terms among your notes, scan handwritten pages with diagrams, craft to-do lists, clip web pages or pictures with inspiration, and so much more. With this app, you can stay focused on the job at hand and have access to all of your information about each and every client while on the go.

Carousel

As a wedding photographer, it’s common to be constantly on the road and away from the office. But that doesn’t mean your portfolio and library of images should stay behind. With CarouselDropbox’s gallery app – you can back up, manage, and share photos from any location. The cloud-based storage system organizes images into folders and includes a tool to view photos organized by a timeline, which makes it particularly easy to use. Plus, the app allows for private sharing of hundreds of full-resolution photos, which can come in handy when dealing with deadlines.

GoodReader

Need to carry around and easily access larger volumes of text, such as manuals, magazines, or large books? The GoodReader app has got you covered. This PDF viewer allows you to read anything, anywhere. With options to annotate, edit, and sign PDF documents, GoodReader is a powerful app to get your documents organized and prepared for meetings with vendors and clients all over the world.

GroupMe

While working on a team or with groups of individuals, communication is highly important. And when it comes to planning for weddings, it is necessary to be able to update everyone involved with the last-minute details the moment things change. With GroupMe, wedding planners – and even the bride and groom – can set up groups of people in order to mass communicate on a larger scale. For important changes, like a change in schedule, planners can simply opt to send a heads-up message to those directly involved without having to take the time to craft individual messages.

Venmo

Writing checks is now a thing of the past with Venmo. This free app connects to your bank account and allows you to transfer payments straight from a mobile device over a secure and safe network. With the ability to insert a personalized message with the payment or notify vendors of an amount they owe, Venmo makes life a lot easier for professionals conducting their business on the road.

For more great wedding advice, check out LittleWhiteBook.com.

the guggenheim brochure

You know The Guggenheim as an art museum, but its marketing team would like you to know they’re one of Manhattan’s top event spaces for galas, as well. They came to Hawthorn to build that reputation.   

The Client

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, or The Guggenheim, is a famed New York institution home to art, sculptures, architectural renderings, and five event spaces. Thousands flock to the museum to see the art, but the event spaces are reserved for galas and corporate events.

The Project

With a limited budget to promote their event spaces and the need for a polished presentation for discerning clients, The Guggenheim approached Hawthorn for a clean, on-brand brochure. Hawthorn’s design team set out to develop a design that complemented the museum and worked within its existing, comprehensive style guide. The result was a brochure that lets the tremendous exhibits and event spaces at The Guggenheim speak for themselves, and the entire presentation works as well in a digital format as it did in print.

The Results

The brochure is prominently displayed at The Guggenheim, on the museum’s events page, and part of event-focused email campaigns.

To see Guggenheim’s brochure, click here.

LouLou Palm event brochure

Paper and screens may be two-dimensional mediums, but using color blocks and full-color backgrounds creates depth and nuance in any design.

The Trend

Rather than using complex backgrounds, designers have found success in using clean, single-color backgrounds that allow objects to pop and give those objects depth. This is, oddly enough, especially effective with fruit, as you’ll see above.

Why We Love It

Even simple text boxes stand out in vivid contrast to a one- or two-color background, and the use of two different colors creates a sharp division between two different elements of the page. Creative Manager Emily Rowley says it’s also a great way to break up or eliminate white space, which can make a page feel too empty and sterile.

How To Use It

This approach works in almost any design setting – print or digital. You can give your website a muted single-color background to make images stand out, split a rack card in two with two different colors to make your logo or preferred message seem 3-D, or just give a traditional email an on-brand backdrop. The key is to select colors that play well together – or, at least, play well with the images, text, and other design elements on any given page.

Where To Find It

Our design team has curated a Pinterest board full of colorful examples here.

dynamic design

how to tell if your website is old

How do you know if your website is so hopelessly out of date that it sends prospects fleeing? Our four-point guide (and suggested fixes) will give you insight.

You Are Link Farming

Remember a decade ago when the best way to build traffic was to link out aggressively? Today, that’s no longer the case, and now your website is a wall of blue, underlined text taking you to pages that are either old or defunct. Forget being found in search, because Google’s crawlers tiptoe past your site like it has a contagious disease.

The Fix 
Only link when there’s a good reason to do so – a mention of a relevant article, a business you work closely with, etcetera – and clean up any and all links that go to defunct or spammy pages. Don’t link to internal pages unless they’re relevant to the content on the page, either.

Your Content Never Changes

You still have a site description that contains the words “in 2010.” Your blog hasn’t been updated in two years. Your copy alludes to products and services that you haven’t even worked with in years and employees who left in 2009. You weirdly have a joke about the 2008 election gracing your website.

The Fix 

One always-valuable website tip: Replace text that is obviously dated. Updating the content will go a long way, and if you need help consistently updating your blog for more online reach, that’s what we do.

Your Navigation Is Bewildering

It used to be that poor site navigation was not all that damaging and could even represent a sneaky way to keep prospects on the page longer, but now potential customers will take one look at your Russian nesting doll–style menu options that go nowhere in particular and leave. You don’t need a million pages with just one paragraph of text on them, and you customers will appreciate being able to find everything they need with no more than five to ten menu options.

The Fix 
Condense the menu, roll stand-alone pages with very little content into existing pages, and make it obvious what your prospects are clicking on at all times. It may help to sketch out a flowchart or wireframe of your menu on a sheet of paper to see how the navigation may go.

You Have Spinning Graphics and Music Playing

Somehow, you have hibernated through these last 15 years, and your site isn’t particularly pleasant for the eyes or the ears, with auto-playing music and bright, moving graphics set against a bone-white background. You may even be using neon pink or blue and Comic Sans font. If so, give your customers a hearty thanks for enduring your website’s tribute to bygone days.

The Fix 
No half measures here. It’s time for a brand-new website, friend.

 

wide angle

Photo Credit: © Per Pixel Photography

If you want to give customers an inside look at the events that define your wedding and event businesses or how your services work in those spaces, you have to learn how to photograph interior spaces expertly. This guide from Hawthorn ensures you (or the photographers you hire) can capture your venue and event spaces effectively every time.  

Architectural Lines

architectural lines

Photo Credit: © Ann Kathrinkoch

Have your photographer line up their shots straight-on with the room’s natural angles, per Hawthorn Creative Photo Editor Kristin Burgess, as dramatic or skewed angles can make a photo seem busy and detract from the people and objects in the room you want to highlight.

Staging

staging interior photos

You know the space and what you want to shine so stylize the room before the shoot by removing any unsightly cables, stacks of papers, and wilted flowers and replacing them with objects that add splashes of color, depth, and a sense of what your business is about. If you need help seeing them, use your hands as a viewfinder and give the room a quick scan for anything that doesn’t look good enough to photograph.

Natural Light

natural lighting

Photo Credit: © Beaux Arts Photographie

Artificial light diminishes the quality of a photograph, creating unnatural shadows and adding a yellow tinge to shots you probably do not want in your interior spaces. Pro tip: Shoot on cloudy days for more even lighting throughout your space, and watch where light is landing before you take your shots.

Wide Angle

You’ll want a handful of tight shots on objects of interest, but in general, you’ll want to shoot (or ask your photographer to shoot) with a 16mm to 24mm lens to capture a complete space and showcase the entire room.

Height

photograph height

Photo Credit: © Rodeo & Co. Photography

It’s counterintuitive, but shooting from full standing height can make furniture and objects low to the ground seem distorted, as though you are looking down on them. Many pro photographers shoot at “light switch height” to make the image feel more intimate.

geometric shapes
Geometric shapes offer a fresh way to liven up images you’ve used before and highlight the best elements of your marketing.

THE TREND

Designers are replacing the familiar rectangular of photos with diamonds, triangles, and other shapes to draw focus to an area of emphasis, create negative space on a page, and turn recognizable objects and portraits into something funky and eye-catching.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Creative Manager Emily Rowley says, “The cropping can allow you to place the focus just right so you are right away telling the reader where to look,” which is much less obtrusive and more organic than a callout box or an arrow pointing to the element. There’s also the prospect of taking a very static image and creating something startling and fresh by adding some geometric line art or graphics.

HOW TO USE IT

It can be applied to look books, websites, and any kind of collateral that you want to make intriguing or eye-catching. Think of the images you love but you’ve used quite often that would feel anew with this treatment; or, think of images that may not be all that exciting on their own (where graphic geometric elements could come in); lastly, think of images where a typical crop doesn’t guide the reader’s eye the way this treatment could.

WHERE TO FIND IT

Our design team has curated more samples on this board.

facebook photo

They may not be earth-shattering, but these five simple posts will solve your Facebook posting block and give you the increased engagement you’re seeking.

Caption a Photo

It can be on-brand or off, lighthearted or serious, but just make sure the photo you choose is interesting and/or funny. The challenge to generate the best caption can bring extra engagement if you tie it to a prize – we’ve seen some clients do this successfully with a discount on a future stay, or free drink at their hotel. Don’t forget to post your favorite response a few days later for another boost.

Ask a Question

Sounds obvious, but here’s the catch: Don’t ask the obvious questions. The key is to make yours meaningful since everyone’s feeds are already full of people asking questions. Ask them what they love about your services, the best vacation they’ve ever been on, or what they’d do with their last dollar, and you’ll have an instant discussion.

How Smart Wedding Venues Do Social. This free eBook will help supercharge your social media ROI. Download Now

 Post a Quote

It may be an obvious category, but it’s one that still has legs for the wedding and hospitality industries since both lean heavily on sparking inspiration, travel, and your follower’s imagination. Pick an inspirational quote, try Pinwords to easily place the text on an interesting image, and we recommend posting in the first few morning hours when your audience is scrolling and enjoying their coffee.

Drive to Your Site

There’s absolutely no harm in linking to your About Us page and asking “How well do you know Hotel Insert Name?” or highlighting a service, amenity, or product that is particularly relevant for the time of year. If you have an active blog, you’ll be able to post links to your site more often without the content being stale.

Share and Promote Outside Content

Let others do the work for you by grabbing a link to another interesting Facebook post, and adding your own short comment breaking down why you found it intriguing. You won’t get traffic to your site through the link, but you will post something engaging and ensure your audience values your eye for content.

valentine's day hotels

Valentine’s Day isn’t just an opportunity for hotels to build creative packages. Here are three recent content campaigns that used the holiday to spark online and social engagement.

Fill in the Blank Romance

Tiffany’s “drop a hint” campaign saw great traction back in 2012 with its fill-in-the-blank, customizable e-cards. Hotels can use a similar idea without the complex site build-out by soliciting social followers to simply caption a well-designed fill-in-the-blank post (or share in a new post with a hashtag), rooted to what travelers enjoy most about the destination. For example: “I LOVE __________ about Kennebunkport.” Or “LOVE in Kennebunkport means ________ to me.” It’s a simple way to share great local picks and root your property to your destination, and awarding a prize like a one-night stay can drum up engagement.

Pinned Love

To generate some buzz for Opal Collection’s debut on Pinterest and cross-promote its collection of resorts up and down the East Coast, Hawthorn Creative developed the #OPALlovestorycontest. We tasked Opal’s audience with building a “tribute” Pinterest Board to their significant others, full of images that spoke to their relationship (like where they first met) and what they enjoy together (lazy Sunday mornings, hiking, etc.). Each entry was required to include one Pin of an Opal resort as the place they’d like to go with their significant other. The lucky winner, Ginny Dembek, got to do just that, and we then promoted and pushed out the contest and her story across all of Opal’s digital channels.

Video Shorts Across Platforms

Valentine’s Day is a great way to get your audience engaged on social channels that support video and have your brand directly benefit.

It proved particularly fruitful for The Cavendish hotel in London when they launched a Vine video contest shortly after Vine’s debut. People were asked to submit their Vine video with the #ValentineVine hashtag on Twitter with the hotel promoting the contest on both Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps most impactful for The Cavendish was the novelty of Vine and the additional PR push the campaign then received. See the winning submission and one example of how this promotion caught fire here. Your goals will certainly be more modest, but tasking people to get creative with their smartphones and video under a theme – such as Valentine’s Day and “love” – is particularly timely. Like any good user-generated content, your results will multiply by how you share the best entries.

With less than 10 percent of an average website’s traffic converting to sales leads, use this quick and easy guide to setting up your site to capture every opportunity that comes your way.

10 EASY STEPS

  • Create a new Google Analytics account or log in to your old one. Here’s a quick guide to setting up an account.
  • If you’re setting up Analytics for the first time, wait a week and then check your traffic in the Audience tab. Otherwise, look at your last month.
  • Allow at least one month, and preferably three to six months, to see how your traffic is trending.
  • Open the Acquisition tab, and determine how much of your traffic is coming from search, referrals, social media, and emails.
  • Make use of the Behaviors page to understand which pages on your site are popular and how users move around your website.
  • Based on these actions, make a list of trouble spots on your site. Which pages have low time on your site? Which pages feature a 90% bounce rate? Is your Contact page actually driving leads to your inbox? Once you’ve determined that, mark those pages for action. Qualaroo has 11 common fixes for poorly performing pages you’ll want to bookmark.
  • Ensure every page on your website has a pop-up chat window, a form, or a call to action button that leads directly to a contact opportunity. If prospects are ready to take action and reach out, make it easy for them.
  • Set up path markers in Analytics to better understand how visitors are moving from page to page and ultimately converting. This will help you understand which pages drive action.
  • Set up Conversion Goals in Analytics, and assign dollar values for actions like filling out a form or emailing you directly. This will give you an important (if unscientific) glimpse into the value your website is delivering for your business.
  • Revisit Analytics every month, follow the steps above to check on your site’s performance, and take action to improve underperforming pages.

Using Analytics to boost conversions takes time, so don’t expect an immediate 5% spike. But set these tools up, continue to monitor them periodically, and make adjustments to your site accordingly, and that small time investment will start to show dividends.

shutterstock_278469872

For years, it was safe to ignore Google+ as a social platform, given its small audience and limited user base. Then, Google figured out they could link the platform up with their search and make it essential for businesses, and suddenly, there isn’t a more critical place on the web for hospitality businesses. 

If you’ve been caught flat-footed by this major shift, you’re not alone, but you lose local search traffic and brand awareness every day your page sits unused. Here’s a five-step guide for creating and maintaining an effective page that will result in better traffic and opportunities directly from Google.

CLAIM AND UPDATE YOUR BASIC LISTING

If you’ve already created a Google+ listing at one point or another, you’re ahead of the game. Simply search for your business name, claim the relevant account, and make sure your information is up to date. If not, you’ll be given the option to create one from scratch.

Either way, it’s critically important to ensure your information is correct, because your telephone number, email address, and street address will then populate in searches for your business and business type, making it easier for customers to connect. The more complete your profile, the more Google wants to trumpet it for you, so take a few minutes to make sure you have everything filled out.

CHECK YOUR GOOGLE MAPS LOCATION

Once you’ve updated your listing, you’ll want to type your business name into Google Maps and make sure your address is correct. Old listings can persist for years and confuse prospective customers, so make the quick change by following this easy guide.

ADD QUALITY PHOTOS

The first place Google’s search algorithm will look for photos is your Google+ page, and if you don’t have any loaded into your account, your listing will be a Google map location and nothing more. For businesses like hotels and wedding professionals, that’s a huge missed opportunity. Having four or five representative, professional photos that show your company culture and products can make your business listing much more attractive in searches.

ASK FOR REVIEWS

It’s tricky to ask for reviews, but Google doesn’t have the same kind of stringent “no-ask” rules Yelp! maintains, and so find natural opportunities to solicit reviews. Include links to your Google+ page and a mild nudge to review on placards in rooms and in post-stay emails, and be sure to address negative reviews thoughtfully. Those little stars on your Google business listing originate from these reviews, and someone who stumbles across your hotel is much more likely to book if they see four stars.

SHARE YOUR CONTENT ON YOUR GOOGLE+ PAGE

Your number of views and interactions with your content will probably be pretty dismal, especially at first, but on-page numbers are the least of your concerns here. Google+ content can show up in search results and help drive guests toward your enterprise site; any +1s (the Google+ equivalent of likes) push your listing up in search results. Blog posts, company updates, photos, videos, and even memes qualify here, and sporadic content updates will have Google crawling your page more frequently. When you’re trying to get noticed on the search engine giant, every bit helps.

shutterstockIf you’ve been paying attention, you’ll understand the huge impact of millennials on today’s consumer-driven world of hospitality.

Because millennials – those 18 to 34 year-olds – represent 20% of the world’s 940 million tourists, it is imperative that hotels continue to cater to the interests of the world’s most-connected group of people. We’ve put together five of the biggest millennial-driven trends for hotels in 2015 that are sure to continue on into 2016.

Health and Wellness Programs

The focus on living clean and healthy lifestyles has been a craze the past few decades and shows no sign of stopping. Hotels have started to implement new health and wellness programs to satisfy the needs of those looking to stay at the top of their game, even while they are away from home. For millennials who wish to keep up with their daily yoga or hour at the gym, many hotel chains such as Westin and the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts embraced desires for personal success by introducing custom wellness programs. For some hotels, simply adding healthier menu options at hotel restaurants and juice bars, along with in-room fitness programs, have helped connect guests with the hotels they stay at.

Strong Social Media Presence

Social media is a huge component of the lives of millennials today and will continue to influence the way people go about their day-to-day lives. In 2015, more hotels have begun to embrace social media platforms in ways that allow them to connect with their guests on a more personal level. With the ability to engage with customers at any time, hotels are reaping the benefits of the brand awareness and strong relationships that are the direct result of maintaining a strong presence across the Internet.

Personalized Guest Services Apps

With the rise of smartphone use among millennials – especially those who travel – service applications have become must-haves for any hotel looking to provide customers with a unique, personalized experience. In 2015, many hotels have partnered with third-party vendors to create concierge applications that provide guests with customized room service and the ability to communicate with staff on an easier and more personal level. With such guest service apps, guests can quickly access hotel information, local recommendations, in-room requests, and more directly from a smartphone. These applications are paving the way for the future of hotel services and will continue to allow hotels to provide unique experiences for each and every one of their guests.

Mobile Booking

With the desire to travel as much as possible, millennials are seizing every opportunity to leave quickly for the trip of a lifetime. As 50 percent of travelers are booking same or next-day hotels, the rise in mobile availability of hotels can be accounted for this surge in last-minute booking. Mobile hotel booking allows guests the freedom to book a room at any point in time. By making their website accessible via mobile device, hotels can ensure their brand is reaching those on the go – and providing those who may actually be in the midst of last-minute traveling with what they need to continue on their journey.

Accepting the Airbnb Trend

Some of the biggest competitors for 2015 in the world of hospitality – such as Airbnb – offer people the chance to lodge in rooms that are often located directly within the community of their choice. By renting rooms in local apartments or houses, guests can walk outside and find themselves in the middle of all the action. While this trend of on-site lodging continues to ignite interest among experience-hungry millennials, hotels are beginning to seek inspiration from some of their competitors to provide guest with similar, meaningful experiences. To enhance the feel of “living like a local,” hotels have begun redecorating and re-thinking areas of design to deliver a unique sense of space that guests will remember. Across social media, hotels have also begun to implement lists of “local recommendations” that allow guests to get first-hand experiences within the community. With the aid of concierge apps, hotels are able to provide guided maps and directories of the city and its events to emphasize all the unique qualities the city has to offer.

great dane in car

Few things communicate pure joy like a dog feeling the breeze out a car window. Chris Becker has captured that happiness in the pages of his new, Hawthorn Creative-designed book.

Step into our office and you’ll know right away we’re dog people. Nukka, Zoe, Boone, Fig – our four-legged friends can often be seen roaming our halls in search of an extra treat or at their owner’s feet. So we were thrilled when Kennebunkport, Maine, photographer Chris Becker came to us to design his coffee table book after working with us on Ocean Ave, our in-room magazine for the Kennebunkport Resort Collection.

The idea for the book, titled “Joyriding: Canine Car Companions,” sprang up after Becker put out a calendar called “Canine Bliss” a couple of years ago. All he had to do was find more willing dog owners to grace the pages, a collection of 85 that now includes the maltipoos owned by former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush (Kennebunkport residents) and even Hawthorn Senior Editor Catherine Shannon’s malamute Kodiak.

“Everyone here kind of swooned over the book,” says designer Meredith Lindsay of the moment our shipment came in. We think you’ll agree.

To learn more about Becker and his book, visit his canine-centric Facebook page or purchase the book directly from his website. We’ve collected a few of the 72 great images from the collection below.

barbara bush dog

malamute

maltipoo

french bulldog

 

english bulldog

All images credit: Chris Becker

 

email subject lines

Spam filters and quick deletions are the bane of the email marketer’s existence, but you often don’t need to drill down into every moving part of your emails to make a fix. The key to a successful email marketing campaign is an effective, punchy subject line that has the power to capture your client’s attention and earn their opens and clicks.

Here are 10 of the most effective subject line tips to overcome email skepticism and your client’s hesitation to open your correspondence.

Legible Subjects

No one likes having their subject lines cut off in the middle. An email with a subject line that cannot be read has a first-class ticket to being ignored or – worse – deleted. Using incomplete sentences like “Here are a Few Simple Ways to Catch…” leaves users uninterested and slightly confused. What are they supposed to be catching? Fish? A cold?

Ensure that your subject lines are fewer than 40 characters so that your customers are able to read and understand them. “4 Simple Ways to Catch Clients” is a much better headline for your email.

Be Direct

Don’t waste their time. Your clients are busy people. The last thing they want to do is spend time reading a subject line that makes no sense or is irrelevant. Be concise. Give your clients information that is pertinent to their needs. Example: “Direct Marketing Strategies.

Ask a Question

Ask a question that perks the attention of your clientele. Asking a question like “Want a New Marketing Approach?” in your subject line drives user curiosity and increases the probability that your email will be opened.

Give Them a Sample

Draw your target market in with a taste of the email’s content. If a user knows what they can expect to see inside, they are more likely to open your email. Example: “Unique Weddings: Make Your Fantasy Come True.”

Give a Command

“Join Our Open House On Wednesday 9/22” is bold and upfront. It grabs your client’s attention by tell them what they should They then open your email to understand why they should do what your email tells them.

Quantify

People like numbers. More specifically, people like numbers that are in their favor. Telling your clients that the information enclosed in your email could benefit them lures them to read your email. “Increase Your Sales By 60%” promises your customers that the information can help them and their business.

Remind Them Who You Are

Your clients gave you a personal way to reach out to them. They trust you and that trust is going to get them to open your emails. Casually remind them who you are in your subject head. “Bee Ice Cream Has New Flavors” subtly injects the company or brand name into the first line that their customers see. By doing this, Bee Ice Cream is essentially saying, “Hey, you know us. You like our ice cream. Here is a way to learn more about us.”

Make Announcements

There is something special about being the first to know about new information. By making announcements the first thing your clients see, your customers will feel like VIPs. Example: “New Gowns and Wedding Designs!”

The List Hook

“6 Steps to Marketing Success” is a short, attention-grabbing subject line that promises an easy-to-follow formula for marketing success in a select number of steps. Such title hooks are much too tempting to pass up. List articles or emails are usually short but informative so readers know that they will not be reading an article that is endlessly time-consuming and irrelevant.

Show Them How You Can Help

State your worth to your clients. Let them know that you are not simply trying to sell a product they do not need. Instead, remind your clients that your purpose is to help them get what they want. Example: “Let Us Help You With the Perfect Wedding.”

Subject lines play the most important role in your email marketing strategy. They can make or break the chance of your email getting noticed, opened, or tossed into the bin. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating how important it is to catch the attention of your clients. Does your marketing team use these strategies to draw attention to your emails?

Surviving mobilegeddon

When Google rolled out a major change to its search algorithm that doomed any site not optimized for phones and tablets to greatly reduced search traffic, it was swiftly dubbed “Mobilegeddon.”

With more mobile users than desktop users in the world and a push for streamlined, easy-to-scan sites, you’re losing more than search traffic if your website isn’t ready for smartphone and tablet use. Here are five steps you should take to improve your existing website until you’re ready to invest in a new, fully responsive site.

Break your website text into easily-readable chunks

Ample use of headers and subheds, chiefly through the use of H1 through H6 tags in HTML, allows you to break up all your content so it’s readable on phones, and it won’t take you very much time to re-organize your existing text into more digestible sections. The shorter you keep your content in general, the more likely it is that a mobile user will scroll all the way through your messaging.

Scale your images

Large, unscalable images and exotic fonts may look cool on a desktop, but they can kill both your loading times and visual feel of your site if they’re not scaling to mobile displays. By adding one simple line to your site code, specifying an image’s maximum size in relation to the screen size it’s displaying on, you can ensure your sterling photos will show up the way you intend it to, regardless of the device. Click here for a handy guide.

Use mobile-safe fonts

As is the case with large images, exotic fonts can give your site an appealing look and feel on desktops, but they can become an unrecognizable mess on mobile. Stick with Arial, Courier, Georgia, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, or Verdana to ensure your text will be clear and readable on every device.

Simplify your menus

You want to be as descriptive with your menu options as possible, but overly long and confusing menu items can kill cause mobile users to bounce because they’re faced with an overwhelming, cluttered set of options. Try to keep your menu options to 1-2 words, and if you can consolidate page content to cut your menu down to no more than 10 options on a given page, do so.

Put your contact info on every page

Mobile users do everything a little faster, so if they see something that intrigues them on your website and can’t immediately find a way to contact you, you may lose them. Copy and paste your basic contact information (address, phone number, and email) to the bottom of every page on your website to ensure anyone interested in talking to you can do so from the comfort of their phone in seconds.

studio8_holiday_0066According to our Creative Manager Emily Rowley, you don’t have to lean on garish green and red or a tired holly motif for your marketing needs this season.

The Trend

Ferns and evergreens, script fonts, and warm, non-traditional holiday colors are starting to creep into everything from infographics to winter weddings, and it’s recognizably wintry in look and feel.

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Why We Love It

Rowley says, “This color palette is a new take on the holidays, and it’s a new creative challenge for designers to integrate it. Rather than using the common bright apple red and evergreen colors, this draws muted inspiration from the cool, silent, and still feeling of a snowy winter wonderland.”

How To Use It

Rowley sees this approach being relevant and helping your holiday marketing messages stand out from the pack, in everything from email designs to event promotion and greeting cards.

Where To Find It

Our design team has curated more samples on this Pinterest board.

Rustic-Winter-Wedding

Holiday-colors

holiday

digital search

The big news last week for Google was Alphabet, the new-look firm that will handle all the inventive ideas Google executives Larry Page and Sergey Brin have. The bigger change to Google’s search that figures to impact many businesses was, as usual, pushed through with little fanfare.

Local search results traditionally would display up to seven local businesses at once, but Google has trimmed that down to a set of three, and the results are highly variable. The most obvious impact is that your business may not show up in these listings, which are below ads but above the rest of the organic results.

Portsmouth hotels google search

The reduction in the number of listings is one thing, but Google is also tinkering with the way these listings populate, and that’s where you’ll need to really pay attention. Now, each company’s website, phone number, and full address are not listed, with just reviews, tag lines and business names. The upshot is that unless they scroll by these listings, your clients can’t simply click to be taken to your website, because each listing goes to a screen that looks like this.

Google Maps and business listing

 

As always, Google’s reasons for doing this are opaque, but they’re likely nudging businesses to advertise with them, or at least update their Google listings. That’s annoying and frustrating, but not an insurmountable challenge for a business owner with a little time and money to take care of the issue.

What should you do, then?

Update your Google+ and Google My Business listings

Make sure you have a current tagline, current photos, and plenty of information on your pages. Google’s going to pull all of that, and the better your page, the better your chances of getting listed.

Consider Google Ads

It’s not always cheap, but Ads reach your targeted audience effectively, appear above the local capsules, and allow you to effectively track how many of your clicks are converting to dollars.

Optimize your pages for search

If you can’t show up in the local listings capsule, you’ll want to be at or near the top of the search results.

If you’re looking for help with any of these initiatives, reach out to the Hawthorn Creative team today.

facebook CTA

Facebook, the most used social media network, has slyly given marketers a genuinely useful tool in the form of a call to action button, one that will direct traffic from your business page to your website, your videos or your website form.

With the 71% of adults who use Facebook, now there is a way to be directed to the page of a product they see on their newsfeed, and want to buy. You can lead customers to make an appointment, shop on your site, or send you an email; the possibilities are up to you, and the button you chose.

An Easy Way to Create Leads

This is a major opportunity for businesses. All you have to do is click on the “create call-to-action” button on your cover photo, chose the destination URL where the button will lead to, and you now have a new, free way to generate more business.

If your business is a hotel, you can add a button saying “book now” which can lead customers to your reservations page on your website, which they can then continue to book a room. Because someone seeing your link on Facebook is likely more engaged with your brand than someone coming in fresh off of a search engine, that button can be quite useful.

Choosing The Right Button

It’s all about selecting the action you want to drive, here. A Contact Us button is a strong way to get a customer interested in your company to reach out directly from an interesting Facebook post. If you want a more informed customer and you’ve got a knockout video presentation, have them Watch Video to gain a deeper appreciation for your brand that may drive action in the future.

We all know that everyone gets a little annoyed with the never-ending Facebook changes, but this one should be making marketers happy, even if the button is still pretty unobtrusive. We don’t have the numbers just yet, but this could bring home the bacon—and the guests you’re targeting.

Noble House hotels

There is an art to entertaining guests, an art that Riviera Palm Springs has perfected since opening in 1958 and serving as the West Coast hangout for the Rat Pack and Hollywood stars.

Who better, then, to show those who would entertain at home the ropes? That’s the beauty of the “Art of Entertaining” spread in the upcoming edition of Noble House Magazine, which breaks down best practices for entertaining and impressing your friends, family, and coworkers.

Kristen Burgess coordinated the shoot for Hawthorn Creative, which produces Noble House’s vivid magazine each year. She said the idea for the piece sprang out of a noticeable increase in the number of people nationwide throwing cocktail parties, dinner parties, and other events in the comfort of their own homes. Statista suggests that about 75% of households with a combined income over $100,000 in the United States entertained from home in 2013.

At the heart of the piece is a guide to building a dinner party from the ground up. Burgess and the talented photographers at Cuckoo’s Nest West deconstructed cocktails, showcased tablescapes larded with food and spirits, shot the creation of an attractive and delicious cheese plate, and featured simple, elegant recipes, including fresh tuna tacos and a kale caesar salad.

Noble House restaurants

Rife with lush photography from Jake Repko and Haliee Fleming, the “Art of Entertaining” serves as both effective marketing for the hotel and a genuinely useful piece of content for those who want to entertain in their own homes. With guests increasingly seeking out content that is useful and relevant instead of purely promotional, hotels have the opportunity to simultaneously showcase their properties and give readers ideas they can use well after they’ve left the hotel behind.

“They really have something that’s all their own,” Burgess said of the Riviera Palm Springs shoot. “From a reader perspective, if I picked up the magazine, I’d be extremely intrigued by it. I’d definitely want to visit, and I’d also be like, ‘Wow, what an informative piece.'”

In addition to the piece, Noble House was able to take advantage of having Burgess and Cuckoo’s Nest West on their property by shooting. As we’ve noted in the past, having eye-catching photography is one of the keys to marketing your hotel or venue effectively, so the opportunity to bolster an in-house library of images is one every director of marketing should take.

Look for the “Art of Entertaining” feature in the 2015 edition of Noble House Magazine

All photos © Cuckoo’s Nest West

2015 marketing trends

These days, technology innovates constantly, brands evolve continuously, and consumers’ demands change before your very eyes. You need to stay on top of emerging marketing trends to ensure that your message is relevant, effective, and heard in the new year.

Here are Hawthorn’s five biggest 2015 marketing trends.

Fact, Not Fiction

Storytelling was a big buzzword in 2014, and it’s not going anywhere in the coming year. Consumers have come to expect stories, and so the authenticity of your story, the consistency of your voice, and how they align with the emotional values of your brand will be key. Brands that choose true transparency and show their consumers what they’re all about will outshine those who make up a story that they think the consumer wants to hear.

Loving Local

The localvore movement turned consumers’ attention to locally sourced products and brands, and that should snowball in the coming year. Marketing efforts will become more regionalized, more localized, and more personalized. Consumers want and expect a more tailored experience. Jay Baer of Convince & Convert predicts that 2015 will be “the year of cooperative content.” What does that mean? “The best source of content in most companies may be right under your nose: your employees and customers.” Think hyperlocal.

Technology & Trust

Industry experts predict a rise in analytics, “data naturals,”  “marketing technologists,” and the increased use of data to deliver targeted messages and information. While the consumer desire for individuality increases, so do their wariness of big data and their fear of sharing private information. The most successful companies of 2015 will not only know how to use data to benefit their customers, but also how to safeguard that information in order to preserve a positive and trusting relationship with their clients.

Experience Is Everything

Customer experience will be what separates the best and the brightest of 2015, according to Laura Schwab, marketing director at Land Rover. In retail, users expect an easy, high-tech shopping experience. Across the board, companies are spending more on user experience and emphasizing customer feedback and support. The guest who can easily make a hotel reservation from their phone, receive a text when their room is ready, and open the door to customized toiletry options goes home happier having had a seamless travel experience.

Move to Mobile

Mobile device usage continues to grow, and so is the use of near field communications. Spending for mobile ads will increase in 2015 as the mobile platform allows marketers to reach consumers throughout the day on the go. A mobile optimized website allows for reformatted content, larger navigation buttons, and optimized images so that users can navigate your mobile site with the same ease that they could the desktop version.

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