Yep, we are talking about cake. All the green paper ‘cake’ you, a smart hotel General Manager, will make if you understand your marketing funnel. So read on.
Traditionally marketers frame the customer purchase journey through the metaphor of a funnel. The notion is that customers start thinking about buying a product at the wide top end and are propelled (by brilliant marketing tactics) to the narrow bottom end where they buy – or, in the case of your hotel, book.
The internet has transformed customer purchase-making journeys, especially for travelers. The route they take to your door is getting more complicated every day.
Marketers are conceptualizing new customer journey models shaped like circles, infinity loops and whatever well paid consultants dreamed up last week. All you need to know is that understanding your customer journey, even if it’s shaped like a squircle or an eggplant, is important for conceptualizing smart hotel marketing campaigns.
Why should a hotel General Managers care about this crazy non-funnel?
GMs like you care about two things the most. Creating fantastic guest experiences and bringing revenue down to your bottom line. Understanding your hotel guest purchase journey is critical to achieving both of these goals.
If you understand what triggers, motivates and finally compels your guests to book your hotel room, you can make some smart choices about how to nurture them along their path to purchase, while giving them a delightful experience along the way.
It is important to be everywhere on the path to purchase. That means drawing consumer attention from the inspiration stage, through the time they spend researching, to when they make their final booking decision.
However, you shouldn’t use the same marketing message for a guest is who is thinking about where to travel as the one who is ready to book. You need to understand how to create experiences they crave at every step of their journey, craft the right message for the right moment and spend your limited marketing dollars in the most impactful channels.
Note that every guest moves uniquely through the funnel. Some may flounder at the top for months. Others will book on Google Hotel finder without even looking at your hotel website, while some will read every review and shop prices on multiple sites.
Nevertheless, some steps are common to all of them … so let’s dig in.
What does my hotel marketing funnel look like?
Stage One: ASPIRATION
Let’s call your guest Savannah. She will start her journey when something triggers her desire. Maybe it will be a friend’s humblebragging vacation picture on social media or a Visit New Orleans advertisement on the side of a bus. If you can be this trigger, you’re likely to create an emotional connection that will make Savannah more inclined to choose your hotel when she is ready to book.
So think about what you can do to light the spark that will eventually compel her to click the BOOK NOW button on your website. Luckily, hotels are often located in beautiful or exciting locations, so hoteliers can trigger desire simply by delivering beautiful content with the right message on the right channel.
The best channels to inspire travelers are Facebook or Instagram. According to Expedia, social media users are very open to travel inspiration. However, Savannah might also find inspiration in Southern Living magazine, a Rick Steve YouTube video or the Zero to Travel podcast.
Next, you need to understand the reason Savannah wants to travel so you can create content that compels her to engage. Maybe she is longing to create memories her children will cherish, or float in the Gulf of Mexico, or get backstage at Jazz Fest.
Note you should avoid selling at aspirational touch points. Top of the funnel (TOFU) content should be about your customer, not about you. It ought to entertain, educate and solve problems, not explicitly promote your hotel. Savannah is not ready to buy, and if you show her a picture of your hotel room, she will tune you out.
Example marketing strategies you can use in channels where your potential guests are aspirational are:
- Produce and post beautiful, fun and entertaining photos and video on social media.
- Launch paid Facebook and Instagram ads.
- Promote hashtag photo sharing campaigns on property to trigger word-of-mouth sharing.
- Produce blog content about your destination and share it online.
- Place aspirational ads in a travel magazine or podcast.
- Invite social media influencers and bloggers to post about your property and destination.
- Engage in conversations in online communities about your property and destination.
Okay, it worked! Our Savannah is inspired to visit your destination. What now?
Stage Two: AWARENESS
Savannah is ready to travel. Your content in stage one nurtured an emotional connection and trust. So now it’s time to bring Savannah to your website, and then follow her around the internet with ads for your hotel.
The more present your hotel is at this point, the more likely she is to maintain her interest. Your content should highlight your hotel’s Unique Selling Propositions such as location, amenities and fantastic views.
Example marketing strategies you might use in channels where your potential guests are in the awareness stage are:
- Retarget in-market audiences with programmatic ads on Sojern or Adera.
- Build custom audiences in the Facebook advertising platform and target social media ads at them.
- Launch ‘Win a Stay’ website contests to attract people to your website, get their email addresses and then use their email addresses to target ads to them on Facebook, Google, Bing and Instagram.
- Transfer contest entry email addresses to your email newsletter distribution platform and send newsletters with cool content about your hotel and local events.
Stage Three: RESEARCH
Savannah has now narrowed her choice to your hotel and three others. According to a 2015 Traveler Attribution Study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions, Savannah will visit an average of 38 websites before booking, so at this point, you need to make sure your hotel shines on all of them.
Example marketing strategies you might use in channels where your potential guests are in the research stage are:
- Manage your online reputation by optimizing the content on review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.
- Post timely and authentic responses to all guest reviews.
- Entice your guests to review your hotel to place well in review site rankings.
- Produce fantastic professional quality images of your property’s best selling features and use them to optimize your website on all third-party digital platforms.
Stage Four: BOOK
Savannah is ready to pull the trigger. At this stage, she is deep diving into the room types listed on your website and comparing prices with Online Travel Agencies.
Example marketing strategies you might use in channels where Savannah is in the booking stage are:
- Place Google and Bing search ads targeting users who have visited your hotel website and are searching for valuable keywords such as ‘hotels pensacola’.
- Place Expedia Travel Ads.
- Place TripAdvisor Sponsored placement ads.
- Optimize your hotel website to ensure the information users need to finalize a decision is easy to find.
- Optimize the hotel booking engine so completing the reservation is simple and intuitive.
- Bid on ads on meta search engines such as Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor and Kayak to increase direct bookings.
- Ensure your website and booking engine are mobile friendly.
Congrats! Savannah booked a room in your hotel. Take a minute to do a happy dance, and then remind yourself that she is still in your funnel. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.
You’ll want to continue to engage and delight Savannah, so she becomes a loyal guest and a repeat customer. Note the anticipation stage is also when she will be open to buying more stuff, like room upgrades and chocolate covered strawberries.
Example marketing strategies you might use in channels where Savannah is in the anticipation stage are:
- Respond and engage on your social media pages.
- Craft a fun, authentic email confirmation.
- Link to your local guide blog in the email confirmation.
- Send a second email with destination information a few days before her arrival.
Yay! She’s on her way! Surprise and delight Savannah while she is on property, and she will hop right back into your sales funnel again someday soon.