Our most recent panel took place in NYC and was moderated by Kurt Weinsheimer, Sojern’s SVP of Property Solutions. It featured two hotel experts: Daniel Tennant, General Manager of Hotel on Rivington, and Michelle Murphy, Team Lead of Paid Search at Milestone Internet Marketing.
Their conversation covered the future of mobile advertising, how to connect with clients directly beyond the OTAs, and what the boutique hotels can learn from the marketing efforts of the larger brands. Here are some of the conversation highlights (edited for clarity):
How are you cultivating relationships with your customers through all the changes in the industry (e.g., tech and OTAs)?
Michelle: We want to make sure that we’re there and that we’re also there on the right devices. I was sitting in the airport and a man had a tablet in one hand and a cell phone in the other, switching back and forth between the two. People are going to be doing research on so many different devices, you want to make sure that you have ads on all these different devices and that you can track them and engage.
Daniel: On our end, we’re pulling and aggregating a lot of that information to understand what the guest is looking for. The more “pure” and direct that booking is, the more information I have at my disposal — be it social, phone numbers, etc. — which gives me the ability to track the lifetime of that client.
For me, metric relationships are about getting as much information as I possibly can to connect with my client from the very beginning. I think it’s important for all of us in this room to be bold and to look at new technologies and explore and experiment.
Kurt: That’s something I would definitely encourage people to do. I was just in Berlin at ITB the other week, and they had the travel technology area. You know, two years ago it was the size of a shoebox and it’s now exploded.
Plus, there are a lot of tools out there that are either free, or “freemium” models, so you can kind of test your way into it. But I think that the tough thing is now, there are so many options to test. You have to have that conversation around what’s working. How do you guys think about repeat purchase? Do you take a different approach for return customers?
How do you think about repeat purchase? Do you take a different approach for return customers?
Daniel: Absolutely. It’s very different from finding new clients — the easiest client to sell is someone you’ve already had before, and you’ve got all their information. So we take a much more direct approach — making sure their experience was amazing, making sure to follow up if it was a long stay.
Michelle: On the social side, it’s been a lot more community management and trying to talk to people.
A big strategy is remarketing: even if someone has booked, try and upsell — does your guest know the hotel has a restaurant? Or a spa?
Or after the person has stayed at the hotel a certain number of days, try to get their attention to go back to the hotel.
Daniel: I’m just so glad there are these companies [like Milestone] that are talking about remarketing and cookies and hyper-targeting. I do hotels, and you [Michelle] do digital marketing and you do it very well, so it’s just so important to realize what you know and what you don’t know. Look to the experts who can do it and can do it well. I’m not in the digital marketing business, and it’s important to have suppliers who are doing that for you.
Do you have a different kind of strategy or approach, depending on how people are booking (e.g., direct vs OTA)?
Daniel: Yes, it’s very simple — we have to make sure we have the client’s information. And with OTA’s, you don’t get the client’s email, so we encourage our agents at the front desk to get this information.
That way when we do follow-up: a thank you, or a post-day arrival, and we’re creating a space that encourages them to book direct. It’s a simple thing that we do. You know, it’s just about connecting with the guests when they’re there. Understanding what it’s all about and getting their information and following up.
Do you offer or encourage promotions, value-adds, and so forth to incentivize a direct booking on your site?
Daniel: Always. Everyday. That’s our M.O. for sure: always have creative offers that are exciting, interesting, and on brand. Actually, what we’ve been doing over the past year—we’ve doubled our bookings by amplifying our message, being aggressive. Pushing them out, keeping it exciting, and getting the booking early.
What do you see people respond to? What are the types of offers?
Daniel: I wish I could say it was always the fun and cool creative things that we spend hours and hours coming up with, but it’s always the simple discounts and value-adds. Just high value, low cost to us but high value to the client. It’s the simplest thing.
Kurt: Less champagne and flowers, more free parking.
Daniel: Honestly, that’s it. We often use the packages as the branding, as the “fun thing,” but we always have creatives about driving the business. We usually have two creatives running concurrently.
Michelle: We definitely try to encourage our clients to put some kind of offer in their creatives, those are definitely the ones that perform better. And a lot of the time the ones that say “Free WiFi” or “Free parking” are the ones that perform, or putting “book direct and save” also works great.
Daniel: In terms of creative, I think it’s so important to refresh them and refresh them often. I think of myself and my user experience and we always have our frequent websites that we go to, seeing the same ads and the digital marketing that comes up. You have blinders that go on, it becomes almost background. But to have different creatives that are popping up, they’ll play to different individuals. So we refresh all of our creatives quarterly, and we have two running at the same time so that it’s alternating.
Thinking about that ROI, how are you managing expectations with your clients?
Michelle: It varies. Some of the brands have different ROIs. For the clients we can track revenue and bookings, we track clicks to the booking engine, view-throughs, we try to do an attribution model — that’s becoming more and more important. It’s not just last-click anymore, it’s looking at search ads, did they then go to an OTA, social media…
How do you think about mobile as a hotelier?
Daniel: Adapt or die. We’re in the middle of redesigning our website and you just have to make it scalable. That’s basically it.
The world lives on mobile and no one sits at their desk and does anything anymore.
This is probably why HotelTonight is so successful, because it’s click and shoot and you’ve got a great hotel right in front of you.
Michelle: Our first step is making sure our client’s websites are mobile-friendly. If it’s not mobile friendly, it’s not a good user experience so you’re wasting advertising, it’s not going to do anything. That’s the first step: website. The cost-per-click on mobile has increased and it’s incredibly competitive, but you want to be there.
What we don’t hear about anymore is individual mobile apps. Everyone but the big chains bailed on that concept, which I think is really smart and we were encouraging individual hotels to do the same and instead to focus on getting responsive design websites.
Make it work seamlessly, it’s so much more cost effective. You don’t need a lot of the complexity that some of the chains need.
Daniel: The app thing makes sense for the big chains and brands — if you’re traveling, it’s a similar experience across everything. You can push notifications and specials. But not for the independent, boutique hotels.
Michelle: Yes, it’s much more of a seamless and cost-effective experience just to have a responsive website.
Thanks to all who came and then joined us upstairs at the Jimmy for our ADventure! on the Rooftop! You can find photos for ADventure! here. And a special thank you to our partners, Daniel and Michelle, who provided great insights and were wonderful panelists.
For more information about how Sojern can help your hotel reach in-market customers across devices, connect with us!