As hoteliers, our job is to welcome guests and make them feel comfortable. That’s obvious, right? We’re the ones who specialise in giving transient people a home away from home, a place to kick off their shoes and rest after a long day of work, play, digital nomading, or whatever else has brought them through our doors.
But when it comes to advertising and promotions, hotels have long been playing the same game as every other industry — and that game, to put it lightly, is not very hospitable.
This is what we’re hearing, at least, from the advertising gurus and marketing mavens, the ones who give smart speeches. They’re telling us that marketing has been terribly inhospitable to people. TV and radio adverts, direct mail, billboards, unsolicited email — these methods are all about interrupting. They’re about forcing, cajoling, coercing, ignoring the proverbial “do not disturb” sign and knocking away. Knocking endlessly until someone, out of frustration, flings the door open.
And why has advertising worked this way for so long? Because it’s a cutthroat world out there. Because bold and brazen (i.e. being rude, interrupting) is the only way to get your message across.
The problem is, we’re all walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. This has changed the way we view advertising and promotion from hotels. Consider the most recent Eye on Australia report by Grey Group. According to surveys conducted as part of the report, 79% of Australians feel there is too much advertising, 78% feel advertising is forgettable, and a stunning 73% feel advertising can’t be trusted.
The short explanation for this decline: Too many knuckles rapping on the door, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign. The more they knock, the less we trust their motives. The less we identify with them or want to engage with them. Consider the experience on YouTube now with adverts not only at the beginning and end of our videos, but increasingly shoved in the middle as well.
The big answer, the big alternative, is known as “inbound marketing.” You may already know this term. If we classify all the rude and disruptive traditional marketing tactics as “outbound,” we can classify everything that is not disruptive as “inbound.”
The difference between inbound and outbound marketing
Most of our experience with advertising, traditionally, has been outbound marketing. This would include unsolicited emails, cold calls, direct mail, billboards, radio, television and internet adverts. The defining characteristic is that people are being engaged without their permission, or with a very low level of permission. Inbound marketing, by contrast, is any medium that interacts with people naturally, with full permission, and without interrupting. Examples include natural search results (SEO in particular), social media activity, and blog posts that attract people who are interested in certain subjects.
This is all fascinating, you might say, but how does it specifically apply to the hotel business? Is it really going to boost my occupancy rates, my revenues, and other stats that actually matter? Or is it just so much slick marketing talk?
In answering these questions, inbound marketing agency Hubspot is among the most frequently quoted sources. According to their annual State of Inbound report, the cost of acquiring customers through inbound marketing is significantly less (about 62%) than the cost of acquiring customers through outbound marketing. In other words, that “slow burn” of blog posts, social media activity, and SEO efforts is a better long-term investment in your occupancy rates, your revenue; your overall performance as a hotel.
It’s easy to throw money at paid advertising for a short-term spike in occupancy or new loyalty members, but that interest tends to go away as soon as the activity stops. Using group coupon deals or adverts on the back on supermarket dockets all produce some business, albeit usually at a very low price and with low chance of those customers returning. Consequently, for the long term benefit, we hoteliers also need to consider the people who don’t respond to outbound campaigns — who, in fact, are alienated by them. Hoteliers, more than any other type of professional. should think about whether or not our marketing and promotional efforts are hospitable. Going back to the Eye on Australia report, they report that a brand is best promoted via story making, social proof and branded services. Traditional advertising in fact has only between 1% and 6% impact.
Shifting towards a heavily “inbound” approach requires more than a little strategy and patience, but through time, it enables us to reach potential guests and build their loyalty whilst respecting the “do not disturb” sign on the door. It allows us to uphold high standards of hospitality and build our brand, even as we promote and market our properties. In the end, what’s good for guests is good for hotels.
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