Psychoanalyst Louise Kaplan has written, “Adolescence is a time of active deconstruction, construction, reconstruction – a period in which the past, present, and future are rewoven and strung together....” We, as a culture and as an industry, are in our digital adolescence, where deconstruction and reconstruction are an essential next step in harnessing the real power of our capabilities because these capabilities cannot be fully realized until the online and the offline channels can work in sync with one another. The Great Wall that divides the online and offline worlds has begun to crumble, and now we must build a new reality that doesn’t divide them but, instead, brings them together.
Marketers are beginning to see this. Digital Marketing Magazine reports that number one among the top marketing priorities for 2017 is the online and offline journey. KPMG suggests that the offline-online relationship has become a web, noting that “both online and offline channels are effective in creating consumer awareness and demand, especially when they are used together.”
More often than not, however, when strategists make this move to create synergy between the online and offline world, they isolate one specific way, and it tends to be one directional. The go-to example of this is the frequent recommendation to use social media to create a buzz that drives offline business. It’s an excellent example, but digital business is far more complex than a point A to point B path. Google, which reports only online paths to purchase, notes that the travel booking and research process for the typical consumer holds as many as 700 or 800 micro-moments that span devices and websites for just one trip. What if we accounted for phone calls that occurred during this process? Or emails? But most of marketers don’t. According to Phocuswright, just 15% of marketers track both online-offline channels.
We know travelers do call. In fact, 8.7% of website visitors will call for more information after visiting a website (Google Analytics, Google Ipsos, NAVIS Analytics 2016). Comparatively, just 1.72% will book directly on the website. Unless you’re tracking those calls, then you never see a key part of this journey toward a booking. The journey is complicated, but there are ways to harness the flow from online to offline and back in order to capture more of your existing demand.
Creating ways to strategically drive traffic between online and offline channels to capture the traveler along this path is the new challenge for hospitality marketers. What follows are seven tactics that help hotels and vacation rentals stay engaged with the traveler across channels (because the potential for the traveler to wander off during this process is high).
1). Ditch the “digital budget.” When an average of 75% of property budgets are given to online marketing, there is a tendency to look only at online results as a measure of how well the strategies are performing. Think bigger picture about your marketing budget in order to properly allocate resources across your online and offline resources and measure results accordingly. Call center results should be reviewed against online KPIs, and each should be weighted accordingly. Call centers will have much higher conversion rates than websites, but websites will capture a higher volume of traffic. Look at the stay value of your online and offline bookings; they are not created equally. Then determine how to allocate your budget resources. You might borrow from that 75% that’s dedicated to digital marketing in order to offer training in reservations that will help agents learn to track and book business arriving from the website, for instance. In our experience, this can increase agent performance by as much as 10 points.
2). Merge sales and marketing goals. For many years in the hospitality industry, the reservations team, a.k.a. order takers have lived in the basement; the group sale team, a.k.a. sales makers have lived on the top floor; and marketing, a.k.a. the digital team has had an office in a separate wing. In order to see the big picture again, we need to abandon old ways of thinking about sales and marketing and bring these teams together under the umbrella of one goal, which is filling the house with the most valuable business possible.
3). Start simply. Bridging the divide between online and offline channels isn’t rocket science. Start with the basics and review every page of your website and every aspect of your online presence to ensure that you are offering your phone number in a clear-and-clickable way and not doing anything to discourage or inhibit travelers from making that phone call. Take it a step further and include chat and direct messaging opportunities as much as possible; however, beware that if you spend too much time on messaging details, you may ignore the high-impact aspects and suffer from analysis paralysis. Offering every option to be in contact with your property will vastly increase your opportunity to book valuable reservations—without spending more money on marketing.
4). Queue up email. Nearly 60% of marketers believe email will regain its importance as a digital marketing tool (Hubspot). Warning: email blasts are a thing of the distant past. The ability to blanket a large volume of people with a one-size-fits-all message is not what makes email valuable. Email becomes useful when you have already begun a relationship with a guest. If a reservations agent has gathered valuable information about a guest’s stay dates, travel needs, and interests, then email can become an essential tool for follow-up in the days immediately following a conversation but also for highly targeted outreach in the future.
5). Measure differently. Look past the last touch point when determining attribution. Many guests will find your website first, but that’s not where the attribution for the booking necessarily belongs. They will find your website, go to review sites, look at others sites, make a phone call or two, look at some websites, may make another phone call. Campaigns can’t be measured only with digital metrics—not accurately anyhow. NAVIS technology allows properties to track the movement of guests across online and offline channels so that you have a clear read on the path to purchase and your guest’s behaviors.
6). Rethink mobile. Forty percent of U.S. travel-related website visits originate on mobile devices, and while the sessions are shorter, conversions are higher than on desktop. Grabbing travelers while they’re on mobile phones making quick decisions is increasingly important. Not only does this mean tailoring your online experience to mobile, but it also means giving mobile users options. For instance, include click-to-call opportunities in your ads. When travelers are searching and driving or searching and standing in line or searching and doing any number of other tasks, they will hit click-to-call when they can’t finish the search. And once they are on the phone, the opportunity to book the reservation increases exponentially.
7). Reframe technology. Technology isn’t the primary means of capturing business. Instead, think of it as the bridge that unites offline and online channels and allows you to collate and compile information about each and every phone calls before it rings. Technology is what allows you to create a personalized experience to align to the guest’s journey.
Like a rubber band stretched to its capacity, then snapped suddenly back to a regular size, online marketing has been the sole focus of hospitality marketing for many years and is now coming back into focus as part of a bigger picture. Course correction is the natural next stage, and it entails a holistic vision of online and offline direct channels as the means by which profitable bookings are achieved.