A proactive approach to hotel digital marketing

Guest blog Q&A feature with John McAuliffe from WebCanada and Cendyn SVP Michael Bennett: A strong believer that creative marketing is only successful when held accountable to the results it produces, webcanada thought it would be interesting to get Michael’s take on what hotel digital marketers should focus on today.

John McAuliffe: If I were to join an independent hotel property as a digital marketer, what would I want to tackle first?
Michael: Since the majority of a hotel’s marketing spend today is digital, taking a look at your digital marketing performance is your first step.

I would assume your property has an agency partner because they don’t have a brand supporting the marketing so you’ll want to connect with your agency and get access to the digital media plans and results right away.

When I worked at KSL the properties were all independents. While I was on the corporate level, my property level marketing teams were almost all teams of one. If this is the case for you, your agency is your team.

You need to know how the agency and campaigns are performing right off the bat. If they’re underperforming, you need to address that first and foremost. It’s the peel-off-the-band-aid mentality. It might hurt, but you just have to do it fast.

John McAuliffe: What would I want to consider when evaluating this agency?
Michael: At the end of the day, you will be held accountable for driving business. So, if you have an agency partner that is spending money and you can’t connect what they’re doing back to revenue, it’s time to find a new agency.

John McAuliffe: What kind of results should I expect to see?
Michael: The expectation of any owner in the industry is a 10 to 1 stabilized return over time. It gives them confidence in their forecasts and the ability to report out to their investors and/or the street. You want to be in a position where you can go to your executive team whether you’re at a property or a corporate and say, ‘We spent two million dollars this year and it generated 20 million.’

John McAuliffe: In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to generate stable results?
Michael: I’d say you need to make sure you understand your media mix and proactively look at your results. In most agency situations, the hotel gives the agency 10,000 dollars. They spend that money during the month and they come back 15 days after the month end and say, ‘You got a five to one return on that. You made 50,000 dollars back in revenue.’

The first question you should ask yourself is, ‘Is there anything we could have done differently with that money to maximize the return?’ Our account managers at Cendyn look at our customers’ activity on a weekly basis. Conversations with our customers often sound like, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re seeing—and by the way we’ve moved some money to TripAdvisor metasearch and we’ve seen a massive increase so we’re going to continue to shift until we see a diminishing return. We’ll re-allocate the budget from this other channel because it’s not performing.’

The idea is to be proactive around your media mix so there are no surprises and you don’t have to sit in front of an owner and say, ‘Sorry we’ve missed the return estimations by five points.’ Instead, you can say with confidence, ‘We did everything we could and we got to an eight to one return. Now we’re going to look for additional opportunities to try and get a couple of those points back.’ That’s an example of a conversation that inspires confidence that you know your business, how guests are booking, where you’re spending your money, and so on. It’s about being proactive.

John McAuliffe: What else can I do to be proactive?
Michael: Revenue managers have a wealth of data and successful digital marketing is all about data. You need to get to know your revenue manager because they will be able to share information about the rate, the demand, the market, who your competitors are and what they’re doing. They can tell you things like, ‘There’s x demand in the market so we think we can charge x.’

Ideally, you want to leverage their data with what your agency is telling you. If you can marry the two together, you can get pretty sophisticated and improve conversion.

While there are some very specific disciplinary things that a revenue manager does in terms of turning the dials and a marketer does in terms of creating campaigns, I see the lines between digital marketer and revenue manager becoming more and more blurred. It’s really all about driving demand and rate.

John McAuliffe: That’s great advice. Is there anyone else within the hotel that I should be talking to?
Michael: Talk to sales. Their job is to lay the base business in the hotel. So, if 50% of your hotel’s business comes from group sales, they’re going to lay it in and then they’re going to tell you where the gaps are.
They will tell you things like, ‘We’re slow in September. We’re slow around Christmas. We’re slow around X.’ This intelligence lets you build a marketing calendar around the right promotions to fill these gaps. If all goes well, you fill the gaps and then everything on top of it is gravy.

If you operate in siloes the hotel is destined to fail. Actually, it’s almost guaranteed to fail. I’ve seen it happen. When you work together with both revenue management and sales, you can make smarter, better educated decisions about how to spend your money and what type of business to drive, which your hotel owner will love because it’s good, high rated, more profitable business.

John McAuliffe: Any suggestions on how to effectively collaborate with revenue management and sales?
Michael: You don’t have to spend hours and hours in meetings. Start a routine of getting together once a week with a set agenda. That’s all it takes to get it started. You’ll develop a cadence over time especially when the hotel or corporate leadership is committed to holding the teams accountable. For example, at White Lodging, marketing, revenue management and sales had KPIs that crossed over and bonuses were impacted.


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