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By Sara O'Brien

In early January, in this year's Top 10 Digital Marketing Resolutions, presented by HeBS Digital for the 15th consecutive year, we provided an action plan to follow during 2015. Created to help alleviate the complexity of our industry's most recent innovations, this action plan was designed to help you concentrate on what's most important: engaging your key customer segments and increasing direct online conversions and revenues!  

We went a step further and last week we presented an interactive webinar "Action Plan 2015: The Smart Hotelier's Top 10 Digital Marketing Resolutions", attended by hundreds of hoteliers. We received some great feedback and questions while we covered how to increase your online revenues/ROIs, gain market share, and stay ahead of the competition and OTAs in the coming year.

Here is a quick summary of the Smart Hotelier's Action Plan 2015 Webinar and some practical action steps to monetize your digital marketing resolutions:

1. Budget for digital: be where your customers are.

Hoteliers should be spending a minimum of 4% of their total room revenue on advertising/marketing efforts, of which 75% should be spent on digital marketing. In 2015, over 50% of hotel rooms will be booked online! It only makes sense to put more money where your consumer is.

2. Focus on business needs: don't be too quick to follow fads.

Make sure to focus on technology and marketing initiatives that achieve one single goal of driving direct online bookings and leads. This includes: website re-design and optimization, SEO and SEM/paid search, email marketing, customer segment marketing, direct-response banner advertising, as well as newer initiatives such as dynamic rate marketing, meta search, dynamic content personalization, multichannel campaigns, interactive applications  and highly-focused display targeting and retargeting. 

3. Invest in your property website. Optimize your presence on the three screens.

If your property website is two or more years old, does not offer responsive or adaptive design, does not support dynamic content personalization or dynamic rate marketing, or does not have state-of-the- art merchandising and reservation abandonment prevention capabilities, then it is time to make the upgrade.

4. Invest in a Content Management System with revenue-driving technology.

Choose a CMS technology that empowers you to seamlessly manage your website presence on the three screens via a single dashboard, engage users and maximize revenues from the direct online channel. Choose a CMS that enables your website to offer dynamic content personalization to fit the interests and preferences of website visitors and provides one-to-one marketing capabilities to drastically increase conversion rates and revenues. Your CMS should also feature a deep integration with the CRM and CRS to improve guest recognition and merchandising.

5. Personalize website content for the visitor.

Dynamic Content Personalization delivers unique and relevant textual, visual and promotional content to site visitors based on their demographics, location, website pathing behavior, past booking history, guest preferences, reward program affiliation or affiliation to a particular customer segment (transient corporate travel, leisure travel, family travel planner, corporate meeting planner, SMERF group planner, wedding planner, social event planner, etc.).

Dynamic content personalization based on geo-targeting is the logical first step and will benefit the property in the form of higher conversions and incremental revenues from those key feeder markets.

6. Reach guests throughout their travel planning journey with multi-channel marketing campaigns.

According to Google, the average site visits before the purchase is 21.6. Keeping the consumer engaged and reaching them multiple times throughout their journey requires using multiple channels. Begin by determining the business needs of your property.  Then make sure to analyze results in the campaign entirety to see how the initiatives worked together.

7. Integrate real-time rates in your marketing campaigns.

Dynamic Rate Marketing (DRM), a next-generation direct-response marketing category, allows real-time hotel inventory availability and pricing to be inserted in various marketing initiatives including meta search, banner advertising via the top travel ad networks, retargeting, Google Adwords and email marketing. 

A quick and easy way to start Dynamic Rate Marketing is to launch meta search marketing campaigns on TripAdvisor and Google Hotel Finder. Retargeting via the Google Display Network (GDN) is the logical next step. Taking this a step further and utilizing dynamic rate banners with concrete hotel rates and promotions on the GDN dramatically increases conversions and generates excellent ROIs.

8. Do not underestimate revenues from the search engines.

The reliable good old search engines generate over half of website revenue on hotel websites which is often forgotten when it comes to SEM/paid search and SEO budget planning. Create an ongoing SEO strategy to keep up with the new standards imposed by search engines. Make sure to budget sufficiently for SEM / Paid Search with at least 20-25% of the annual digital marketing budget.

9. Choose your digital marketing partner wisely.

A property's digital marketing partner should become an extension of the hotel company's team, work towards common goals and objectives, and provide solutions to business needs. This partner should also continuously bring forth new ideas, the latest best practices, and technology developments.

10. Do not be intimidated by the OTAs!

While it is true that OTAs have deep pockets and spend billions on digital marketing efforts, any property should realize they can outsmart and outspend any OTA on their property alone. Launching a comprehensive CRM program, including a simple Reward Program targeting and rewarding repeat guests, as well as budgeting for a robust direct online channel strategy, can shift the pendulum away from the OTAs. Develop a digital marketing strategy to "own" your destination and your destiny as a whole.

Below you can find the answers to the great questions we had coming in throughout the webinar. Keep them coming

Question: What advertising advice would you have for a highly seasonal market like Palm Springs, which seem to barely survive with flash sales?

Answer: First, we would recommend stopping flash sales. With all the latest targeting options, such as Dynamic Rate Marketing (DRM), you can target people that are known to be traveling to your destination. Palm Springs is also big drive-in market and the Top Travel Ad Networks we mentioned not only have a lot of fly-in data but also a lot of drive-in data, such as information from car rental agencies. You can serve banners to people known to be driving in to that market, displaying rates for the dates they are known to be traveling. You should also be sure to utilize Retargeting. If you get someone to your website, you need to be able to reach them again after they have left. They will likely be going to 21.6 touchpoints (Google) throughout their travel planning journey, including the OTAs, so you want to be working at getting them back.

Question: Should we create a phone number for target segmentation?

Answer: Call tracking is extremely important, especially with so many people coming to your website through your mobile channel. Seven out of 10 bookings that start on the mobile device will end up happening on the phone. So it's important get the full picture on how much revenue you drive by tracking phone calls. 

Question: What CMS was shown for the Dynamic Content Personalization?

Answer: The HeBS Digital proprietary smartCMS. We will be doing a webinar on the smartCMS in the near future.

Question: Displaying Real time rates and availability on your website and in campaigns: Are they only for tonight? What if our lead times are consistently much longer?

Answer: We showed real time rates on the mobile website because so many mobile bookings are last minute. However, the technology is available for you to choose any dates you have a need for. For desktop, we show real time rates for the upcoming weekends. You can have a rate for whenever you choose in your messaging. 

Question: Do you recommend hotels do TripConnect or TripAdvisor Instant Booking? What are you doing on your end to get the best ROI?

Answer: At HeBS Digital we have meta search marketing platform called the DRMGateway. We can manage the budget on a regular basis and display the real time rates in real time. The problem with some of the platforms such as TripAdvisor TripConnect is that they don't have that active management in place to optimize your bids and maximize return on investment. 

TripAdvisor's Instant Booking can be an OTA in a sense in that you are paying a really high commission. We would recommend that you first put all your marketing dollars towards a meta search campaign that is going directly to your website booking engine. To get the best ROI we are constantly looking at the competitiveness of the marketplace, what we are paying for clicks, if you have a low ADR and are in a really competitive marketplace that might be a case where you are not in the top 3. Every property and destination is a bit unique in terms of what needs to be done to get the best ROI.

Question: What if our budget is pretty set for the year. What types of things can we do within a limited framework?

Answer: In the short term, maximize the efforts that you HAVE budgeted for. For example, make sure that your SEO provider is implementing a robust local content generation plan and that you own results on the search engines from paid and organic. If you have an online media budget, see if you can fit in dynamic content banners into the mix. Or see if you can fit your planned initiatives into a multi-channel campaign, focused on a particular business need. For the long term, start thinking about 2016 already - it always comes fast. If it's time to invest in a new property website and backend technology, start the conversation now about how you can fit it into the 2016 budget (or sooner if possible).

Question: What is the best way to source local content?

Answer: Nobody knows the destination better than the property, so make sure you work very closely with your digital marketing partner to ensure you have the best and most appropriate destination content featured on your website. A blog is extremely important and, along with your digital marketing partner, you should be consistently blogging about things to do in the area. Another item to add is an interactive map that highlights things to do nearby. If you do work with a vendor to outsource local content, make sure that the content is ON your website so you can reap the benefits of SEO.

Question: Do I need to invest in a new CMS to be able to personalize content on my website?

Answer: There are vendors that offer this service on some levels. They do not specialize in hospitality, and you rarely will have control over the entire process or comprehensive strategy that is really aligned with your website content. If the feature is built into your CMS then you don't have to log in somewhere else, you can easily integrate personalization with all your marketing specials and promotions, and you can even integrate dynamic content personalization into your booking engine widget, PMS and CRS.

Question: My property has thought about creating a loyalty program but it doesn't seem worth it. There are expensive set up and maintenance fees.

Answer: It doesn't have to be a full blown loyalty program. You can have a sign up form on a landing page, collect the sign ups through a database offered by your CMS, log in functionality and even add a layer of Dynamic Content Personalization. Something like that does not have to be expensive - under $200/month.

Question: How should I choose adaptive or full responsive design?

Answer: Choose full responsive for websites under 25 pages. For websites with deep content and rich imagery, choose adaptive as the content may be compromised on mobile and tablet.

Question: Having recently purchased a Bed and Breakfast, how can I tell if our website is optimized for today's environment / requirements?

Answer: One thing you can ask yourself is, "how old is the website?" Technology moves so fast these days. If the website is over 2 years old, it is pretty much a guarantee that you are due for an upgrade. Do you have a smart content management system that will allow you to do the items that we covered in today's webinar (Dynamic Content Personalization, Reservation Recovery, etc.)? When was the website optimized for the search engines? Do you have promotions that are highly visible on your website? When you are reading industry articles, keep it specific to the hospitality industry. When you are reading about SEO, or design, there are specific rules for our industry. 

Question: What is a mini website?

Answer: When we discussed having a mini website, we were talking about having an application that people can go to when you are marketing multichannel campaigns. The application is dedicated to getting people to book the specific promotion that you are offering. The great thing about the application we showed for the Cyber Monday campaign is that we are able to get people to really focus on the promotion at hand, but also have functionalities like a countdown clock, email opt-in, and social sharing.

About the Author and HeBS Digital

Sara O'Brien is Senior Manager, Marketing at HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital technology and marketing firm (www.HeBSDigital.com).

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won over 260 prestigious industry awards for its digital technology, including its proprietary MetaSearch Gateway, digital marketing and website design. These awards include numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.

A diverse client portfolio of hospitality clients: restaurants to major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.

Contact: Sara O’Brien

Sara@hebsdigital.com / 917-546-0830

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