It is no secret that social media has drastically changed how hotels are marketing their properties.
In the past, it was typical for the hospitality industry to use traditional channels like television, print, and radio to promote their products or services. These days relationship building in marketing is essential.
While these channels are still used today, they are not nearly as effective as they once were. Thanks to social media, hoteliers not only have direct communication with their customers, customers now have more access to one another to share their experiences.
As a result, the hospitality industry has had to adapt its marketing strategies to focus on word-of-mouth and online reviews. Why? Because social media has made it possible for your customers to be your best marketing channel. Remember, you're not here to sell furniture; you're here to sell experiences. Let your customers do it for you.
We're sharing some insights and tips from a recent conversation on the InnSync Show between Cory Falter and Ed St. Onge of Flip.to on how to utilize your customers as your marketing channel best.
7 Ways to Encourage Relationship Building in Marketing
1. Understand Your Customers
As with anything in business, the first step is understanding your customers. What are their needs and wants? What type of experience are they looking for? How can you provide that to them?
Get to know what sort of traveler they are. Are they family-oriented, or do they prefer to travel solo? What kind of budget do they have? What is their ideal vacation spot? What will get them excited about what it is you're offering?
"If you're not engaging your consumer to get them to speak about what made them choose your hotel, your product will not be right." Ed says, "If you don't understand what your consumer wants. You're not correctly putting out the story to attract other consumers."
Cory and Ed advise hoteliers to avoid making assumptions about their customers' wants. The best way to understand them is by asking them directly. You can do this through online surveys, social media polls, or even just by conversing with them when they're on the property.
"You really need to understand who they are and what they want, so you can start changing the story that you're putting out there," Cory says.
2. Get to Know Your Consumers
As hoteliers, you don't sell tangible products. You sell time and experiences. Part of the experience is how consumers want to be treated.
"If you're not making an emotional connection, you're in the wrong business," Cory says.
It all comes down to relationships. If you can build a relationship with your customers, they will likely come back and tell their friends and family about their experience.
Ed says, "In selling experience, your customer is your most important asset, not just because you want to win their business. It's actually because they have the knowledge of their experience with you. Their voice can be key for your marketing and promotions."
3. Get Feedback
"When you talk about the consumer being the best marketer for hotels, it goes beyond just the old days where it was word-of-mouth marketing when you had no understanding of what that was doing for you." Ed says, "now it's so intertwined into how we consume and research decisions."
Another way to use your consumers as your best marketing channel is by getting feedback from them. The best way to do this is by conducting surveys or sending out polls on social media. You can also encourage customers to leave reviews on your website or on popular review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp.
Ed says, "Listen, if it's positive, that's great. If negative, that doesn't feel good, but it also creates an opportunity to understand your consumer better."
Getting feedback from your consumers is important because it allows you to make necessary changes to improve the overall customer experience. In addition, feedback gives you insight into what customers like or don't like about your product or service. This information can be very valuable when making marketing decisions.
We all need to remember that your consumer's experience with you starts well before they show up.
Cory says, "you can bet that before your prospect goes to hit that 'book' or 'buy now button,' they are absolutely going to be looking at your reviews. Relationship building in marketing will fuel those positive reviews, and therefore down the funnel ROI."
Your prospect is looking at everything being said about you before making a decision. So if you're not paying attention to your online reputation, or if you're not encouraging your guests to tell their stories, then somebody else will be doing it for you.
4. Present Your Story in the Right Way
"A lot of times, we want to put out there what we think is important about our story without really understanding if that's resonating with our consumer," Cory says.
It's important to ensure you're presenting your story in a way that's interesting and relevant to your consumers. For example, highlight your property's family-friendly amenities and activities if you're trying to appeal to families.
Ed says, "You need to sell the dream."
Cory adds, "It's not about what you think is important. It's about understanding what's important to them and then packaging it appealingly."
Bottom line: your consumers are your best marketing channel. So start paying attention to them and use their feedback to improve your business. You'll be glad you did!
5. Have a Consumer-First Mentality
To keep your consumers happy, you need to have a consumer-first mentality. This means putting your customers' needs and wants above everything else.
"It all comes down to service," Cory says. "Your ability to provide great service will always be the differentiating factor."
When you have a consumer-first mentality, everything else falls into place. Your relationship building in marketing efforts will be more effective because you'll be focused on the right things. In addition, your customer retention rates will improve because customers will appreciate that you're always looking out for their best interests.
Ed sums it up perfectly: "At the end of the day, if the customer isn't happy, it doesn't matter what you did right. The scale of unhappy guests will outbalance any other marketing efforts you employ."
So if you want to use your consumers as your best marketing channel, ensure you always have a consumer-first mentality. In everything your organization makes decisions around - setting goals, even in how you look at reaching new consumers - try your customers first. See who they can introduce you to and how they can help you.
If a guest has a family outing at your property and you created the most incredible memories of all time, that takes that purchase and that experience to a whole different level. That's what's special about hospitality; even the smallest thing can stick with your customer forever.
6. Make it Easy for Prospects to Choose You
The final piece of the puzzle is making it easy for prospects to choose you. In other words, don't make them jump through hoops just to do business with you.
"You want to make sure that every touchpoint is as streamlined and as easy as possible," Cory says. "Because if it's not, they're going to go somewhere else."
So take a look at your entire customer journey and streamline it as much as possible. Make sure your website is easy to navigate, your booking process is simple, and you provide all the information customers need to make a decision.
The goal is to make it possible for prospects to do business with you as easily as possible. If you can do that, you'll be well on your way to using your consumers as your best marketing channel.
7. Encourage Your Guests to Share Their Stories
Your guests have stories to tell, and those stories can be valuable marketing tools. But you need to encourage your guests to share their stories with you.
One way to do that is to ask for feedback at key points throughout the customer journey. For example, you could send a post-stay survey or include a comment card in the room. You could also encourage guests to post reviews on TripAdvisor or other travel websites.
Another way to encourage guest story-telling is to create opportunities for guests to share their stories with you. For example, you could host a contest where guests can submit photos or videos of their stay. Or you could set up a photo booth at your property and encourage guests to take and share photos.
Giving your guests a reason to share their stories with you is important. If you can do that, you'll be well on your way to using your consumers as your best marketing channel.
So there you have it: four ways to use your consumers as your best marketing channel. By building a healthy relationship in marketing, putting your customers first, making it easy for prospects to choose you, and encouraging guests to share their stories, you'll be well on your way to success.