Hoteliers: Is Your Digital Marketing Agency a Good Servant or Poor Master?

November 17, 2015

A lot is being made of simplicity these days. It’s easy to see why. While the amount of human knowledge and information doubled roughly once every century before WWII, it now doubles every year. As more devices, appliances, and even personal health monitors are hooked up to the internet, the amount of data being generated continues its flight into the stratosphere.


For hotels trying to gain and maintain relevance, this means data is both the problem and the solution. Most bookings are now made online, and most booking decisions are based on what people see in their browsers—reviews, web sites, photos, promotions.


Hotels, in other words, are in dire need of simplification. The other necessities of the hospitality business (services, amenities) aren’t stepping back as the need to manage data grows, and online marketing is lifelong career in itself. Hotels therefore need sleek, effective ways to manage online reputations and drive bookings. It’s the only chance we have to maintain proper focus on what we do best. 


Enter digital marketing agencies. The proposition they make is nothing less than complexity made simple, which is hugely attractive to hotels that lack the manpower and resources to go it alone in the digital space.


The search for solutions usually starts with Google, and the results are more staggering than simple. Hundreds of companies bombard us with attractive words like highest conversion rates, best ROI, all-in-one solution, no-hassle marketing partner, and so on down the line. They all promise to brave the chaos of cyberspace in our stead, freeing resources for other vital pursuits. Instead of facing the juggernaut of digital marketing and ORM alone, the whole thing gets boiled down to few admin screens and e-mail threads with your account manager. And if I receive one more email promising me to get me on the front page I may burst a blood vessel!


Well, as the Roman poet Ovid once wrote, “everyone’s a millionaire where promises are concerned.” The speed of information has also increased the speed, and often carelessness, with which promises are made. It’s true that there are many good servants to be found—but alas, there is also an abundance of poor masters.


Knowing what type of partner you’re dealing with is a matter of making the right queries, and understanding how these agency make money. To that end, perhaps the most telling question is this:


Who exactly is performing our marketing work?


If the answer is a dedicated expert with a small client list who designs and implements personalised strategies, you may well have a good servant on your hands. If you’re dealing with an account manager who provides broad oversight for many clients, often relying on automated systems and pre-defined strategies, “poor master” is a better description. You might spend a lot of time and money waiting for miraculous returns that never come. Worst of all, you might never have a clear sense of what’s going on.


Assembly lines are great for producing automobiles and mobile phones—they’re not great for marketing your hotel. Automation and ‘sameness’ means profit for agencies, not for you.


Another important question to ask is whether the agency in question is already representing—or will represent—any number of your close competitors. Do they service other hotels that operate in the same geographical areas, competing for the same customers? If so, it’s not a great sign. The purpose of working with a digital partner is to give your hotel a competitive edge. If all the same tricks and tactics are put to use for the competition, what kind of edge can you possibly expect? You might end up with a lot of pretty graphs and charts, but nothing that does much good for your bottom line.


Achieving Simplicity


Smaller, more focused agencies with a specialisation in the types of marketing and promotion your hotel wants—these are often good servants. Larger agencies working in digital design and other aspects of branding, or who make profit by churning out systematised strategies for countless clients—these are often poor masters.


Seek those who take more time to understand your hotel’s unique situation and goals, and beware those who promise the world with very little input. Seek those who are easily accessible over the phone, and beware those who can’t be reached without a support ticket.


It’s true that a good servant might cost a little more, but the promise of real returns will be stronger. Today’s hotelier, faced with endless promises of glorious simplicity, has much to gain from Steve Jobs’s perspective: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard…to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”



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