Technology, politics, the environment. The world is changing before our eyes. For many, 2016 was the year that made us question everything. Social media became a worthy news source, we lost beloved entertainers, and Donald Trump became our President-elect. In the midst of all this, travel marketing changed dramatically - despite or maybe because of the surrounding chaos.
Marketing Becomes a Dirty Word
Consumers are smartening up. With documentaries like The True Cost and The Minimalists becoming mainstream, now more than ever consumers are turning a critical eye toward marketing and advertising. Marketing after all, is the reason we’re compelled to get the best deals on Black Friday, or why we cave in and purchase that pair of shoes that’s been chasing us around the web. Certainly there’s something to be said for nurturing a warm lead, but marketing's power on consumer consciousness is much bigger than that. Look at Apple, convincing us we need a new iPhone each year, or H&M putting out new merchandise weekly, $9 jeans made possible by sweat shops across the world. When these truths are revealed, customers realize they've been brainwashed by marketing messages all their lives. And then what? The voice of the customer begins to drown out advertising with good reason. Real product reviews from real people provide details an ad won't. Guest photos from a resort may reveal the pool is packed in peak season, and so on. Socially conscious consumers do not trust advertising and marketing becomes a dirty word. Marketers need to rethink their strategies in the coming year.
Find better ways to market to your customers organically. A testimonial is more trustworthy than an infomercial. User generated content is key. The good news: marketers can save a lot of money by pulling out of traditional forms of advertising and investing in online reputation and social media. Interacting with customers and listening to what they have to say, and sharing real content from real people will take you far in 2017 (washing your mouth out with soap, not required).
Voice: The Next Pay-to-Play Frontier
"Alexa, what are the best hotels in Portland," I asked.
"Society Hotel, Hotel Vintage, Hotel Monaco, and Hotel DeLuxe," she quipped back.
We already know we need to provide relevant content in the right places at the right time. The newest emerging marketplace for advertising is voice. Consumers are now relying on their Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant for everything from news, to online shopping, and even vacation planning. While they go by many names, one thing is certain, search as we know it is changing. With the advent of Smartphones, consumers stopped calling and started texting, and a few years later, mobile browsing beat out desktop browsing, fat fingers and all. In 2017, many will abandon this type of search due to tiny keyboards, driving laws, and most importantly, because something shiny and new came along. Enter hands-free voice commands and powerful voice recognition technology. It's only a matter of time before marketers will be able to advertise via voice. If we can pay for the top three positions on Google search, if we can target customers on Facebook feeds based on their behaviors, then what’s stopping voice from becoming the next marketplace? Voice search is on its way, of this I’m certain.
COMMUNICATION BECOMES EVEN MORE PERSONALIZED
If you’re not speaking directly to your customers, chances are they’re not listening. With digital advertising flooding search channels, proper targeting is key. Think of Times Square in New York—there is so much advertising, so many glimmering lights, videos, tickers, that it’s sensory overload. Consumers can only absorb so much – so narrowing your target audiences and making ads relevant to the end user is the best way to be heard. Facebook’s auction model ensures that the most relevant ads are seen first – fostering a better experience for users and a better result for advertisers.
Likewise blasting your entire email database with a one-size-fits-all message is a fast-track to unsubscribes. Investing in a good CRM (customer relationship management system), allows marketers to provide niche content to the right customers at the right time. It’s like that email from OpenTable wishing you a Happy Anniversary, or an appreciation offer to past guests who haven’t re-booked. Targeting niche audiences nurtures the database and drives incremental revenue. The latest CRMs include text functionality so that the relationship doesn't have to end when the guest arrives. Products like GoConcierge make hotel stays even more seamless. Guests can text requests, “we need an extra pillow,” or “is a late check-out available today?” and get instant answers. All of this adds up to a more personalized experience and customer satisfaction before, during, and after a visit.
THE UBER OF...
The Uber model has changed the way we travel in cars but what about the Uber-effect on other industries? Did you know you can hire a vetted massage therapist from an app to show up at your home? Just like Uber, there’s no fumbling with your wallet at the end of the transaction, a reasonable tip is included automatically, there’s no commute to and from the spa, no waiting, and on and on. Doctors even, are now available on demand. In certain states, you can connect to a doctor via text and FaceTime to diagnose common illnesses that would normally require a doctor’s visit.
Uber has affected the travel industry in some key ways as well. Uber has identified a customer base that is willing to pay more for service (UberX vs. UberBlack), what we in the hospitality industry refer to as ancillary revenue (think upgrade your room, add a bottle of wine, etc). Uber has turned regular people into drivers, making the customer experience more personalized. In hospitality, the equivalent of an Uber driver might be an Airbnb host, and if you haven’t already read my post, 6 Reasons Why Airbnb Is Better Than Hotels, it’s worth a read. Moreover, Uber has made the transaction much easier by automating tipping (no hidden fees), mapping the location/destination (transparency), and providing real time updates of your driver’s whereabouts (personalization). Add that all up, top it off with reviews of each and every ride, and it equals customers that expect more in 2017. How can you uberize your transactions?
WE REVIEW EVERYTHING (INCLUDING EACH OTHER)
My husband has always thought this would be a good premise for a fiction novel. He pitched the idea to me over dinner in Portland two years ago. Imagine if you could review someone after you went on a date with them, if your performance reviews at work were public knowledge, if your neighbors could review your front yard - the list goes on. Was it a believable premise, we wondered? Today, it's not only a great book idea, it's a reality. As difficult as it can be to open yourself or your business up for reviews, it's an integral part of the customer journey. Your future customers are seeking the truth. They're searching hashtags on Instagram and reading reviews on Tripadvisor.
If you're a hotel and you're not optimizing your TripAdvisor account, or a restaurant ignoring your customers on Yelp, you’re hurting your reputation more than the harm a few bad reviews might do. Moreover, reviews go both ways—sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp allow business managers to respond to reviews, which means you get the last word. A timely response shows prospective customers that you’re listening. If you’re in the process of renovating guestrooms and a customer complains about the mattresses, let them know they’re being replaced. It’s less about responding to that individual customer and more about writing a response for the next 100 people who will read your reply during their planning process. Be sincere and engaged; respond to every review, not just the bad.
One only has to look at the volume of review requests filling our inboxes to recognize the power of reviews. From your $2 coffee purchase, to your red-eye flight, it seems like everyone wants a review for everything. A few strategies can help you lead the pack.
- Strength in numbers - if you can collect enough positive reviews, the occasional negative review won't harm your reputation.
- Offer employee incentives - when your employees' or managers' bonuses are tied to customer satisfaction, their performance will improve dramatically. Better reviews and better employees? This is a win-win.
- Smarter solicitations - request feedback throughout the customer's experience and you'll prevent bad reviews from being posted by turning things around right there and then. Along these lines, request reviews only from customers who express satisfaction.
- Parcel it out - not all review sites are created equal. Catering an event? Request a review from a bride on The Knot. A corporate event? Cvent. A restaurant review? OpenTable or Yelp. A hotel review? TripAdvisor.
These simple steps have helped hotels and restaurants drive more positive reviews online, and generate more business as a result. But wait, there's more. Pay attention to these reviews and identify opportunities. If you notice no one ever complains about price, and if you're receiving 5-star reviews, it may be time to raise your rates - another way reviews can help you grow. Above all else, remember that managing your online reputation begins offline. If you're exceeding your customer's expectations, and providing experiences worth of sharing, you're likely to get positive reviews without even trying.