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Hoteliers – Use Your Marketing Dollars Wisely;
The Importance of Visual Imagery

By Dr. Diana Driscoll, July 7, 2010

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  -- Maya Angelou

As hoteliers jump into the (perceived) shark-infested waters of social media and on-line marketing, it is easy to see how a fear of over-spending can creep in.  The sheer volume of on-line marketing opportunities can overwhelm even the bravest of hearts, and empty even the fullest of wallets.
With the quickly changing profusion of opportunities, many hoteliers are encouraged to invest precious money and time into completely unfamiliar venues.  So, where must the marketing dollars go to get the highest ROI?
The appropriate and engaging use of visual imagery is one of the most important investments you can make in your hotel’s marketing budget; and there are a plethora of ways to utilize this imagery to engage, bond and guide your potential guest into making that important booking.  As explained by Laurie Babin in the Journal of Advertising, “The potential of imagery is both potent and provocative, especially when one takes into account that the forms of mental impressions include all five senses: hearing, touch, taste, smell, and sight.”  In other words, it is possible for a person to experience a sensory stimulus without the stimulus ever being present (the “potent” part).  The more senses stimulated, the greater the chances of a guest conversion and the extra benefit of better storage in the guest’s long-term memory (the “provocative” part).  With great imagery, your guests can feel as though they’ve touched the velvety-soft pillows, smelled the gardenias outside the window, and tasted the béarnaise sauce on the extra tender steaks.  This is what they need to feel in order to bond with your hotel, and to bond instantaneously.  Images that convey facts alone aren’t nearly as compelling.
People are visual beings.  If you think it’s mainly women who choose hotels based on imagery, think again.  (Caveat:  medical summaries are approaching.  If you are not interested in such a genre, please skim through lightly, understanding that the author - an eye doctor/hotelier - believes this to be some of the most compelling aspects of the article!).  
As reported in the NeuroReport (Sabatinalle, Flaisch, et al), activity in the part of the brain called the extrastriate visual cortex (as measured by MRI imaging; hang in here…) is greater when either of the sexes view emotional relative to neutral pictures.  The MRI indicates the speed of decisions when presented with emotional visual stimuli – it is a measurable response in the brain.   Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly to many), men make their choices when looking at pictures much more rapidly than women. 
What does this mean for your hotel?  If we liken this to “speed dating” for your hotel, the point may be more obvious.  If your target market is the male business traveler, keep in mind that in general, males take approximately 2.5 seconds to make a decision to continue reading (or not) when visual imagery is involved (according to a study by Xerox in conjunction with The Loyola College in Maryland, U.S.A).  Therefore, images must not just convey facts -- they must involve the extrastriate visual cortex by including subtle, yet emotive features.  In other words, such emotional stimuli may mean that the traveler makes the choice to be a guest at your hotel, but may not fully understand the reason for his or her choice (the extrastriate cortex is not a conscious level of the brain).  Much like “speed dating” or other short bonding experiences, one just “has a feeling that it is right”.  But these “feelings” are scientifically based, and measurable.
As explained by EVP, Creative Services of WD Partners, Lee Peterson, “Business owners often focus on the rational benefits of their brand out of necessity… speed, convenience, accuracy…but rationale works best when blended with great care with the emotional benefits of a brand….comfort, relaxation, trust….from our experience, no brand will reach its full potential until both are well attended to.”  
So, hoteliers are faced with the challenge of providing both the rational and emotional benefits of their brand, and to do so in as short of a time frame as possible.
Interestingly, for leisure travel, women are the predominate decision makers - taking an average of 29 days and performing 12 searches and visiting 22 different travel sites prior to making their vacation bookings.  With this sort of detailed evaluation, you will want to be sure that your visual imagery matches or exceeds that of your competitive set.  According to the TIA (Travel Industry Association), the vast majority of reservations are still made at the visual gallery or one click later.
As if hoteliers don’t have enough to worry about, a terrifying new trend is becoming obvious.  Because downloading imagery takes time, hoteliers and webmasters must be aware of this new threat – the ever-shortening attention spans involved in downloading visual stimuli.  Research from web performance giant Akamai produced in conjunction with PhoCusWright, indicates that in a study of nearly 2,800 U.S. travel buyers, 57% will wait THREE seconds for a hotel web-site to download before abandoning it for other sites.  Even worse, Generation Y (ages 18 – 24) expects travel sites to load in TWO and a HALF seconds.  With the ever-popular multi-tasking trend, many of these potential guests will pull up other site while a slower one is downloading, dumping the slower one for one that pops up faster.  
What does this all mean for you? 

  • You want your images to be found and downloaded easily and rapidly.  
  • You must make your images compelling – the “wow” factor can be achieved with the proper angle, lighting, colors and set up.  Is your target market looking for a romantic weekend?  Subtle and sensual photos are appropriate.  Looking for the strictly business traveler?  Photos of a relaxed businessperson reviewing a presentation over a cup of espresso out on the terrace may be more of what you’re looking for. 
  • You need to be certain that it is easy to book a room from the image pages, or one click after. 
  • Guests must feel as though they belong in your hotel, or I would go one step further to say that guests must feel as though they aspire to be in your hotel. 
  • Even still-life photos must be set up to communicate the level of energy you would like to convey to your potential guest.
  • As much as possible, images must appeal to all of the senses – not just the visual.  
  • Visual stimuli must appeal to the emotions, not just the facts.
  • A professional is most likely to be able to capture the above prerequisites, yet still keep an eye on the ever important SEO.
Visual imagery has become a method of marketing to a population that no longer wants to “be sold”.  In “Capturing Today’s Over-Marketed Consumers,” Jon Schallerf states, “Effective marketing and advertising strategies are necessary to bond today’s consumer to a business.  In fact, consumers have become so sophisticated in repelling advertising and marketing today, that the successful business must use new tactics to “sell” a consumer who repeatedly insists on not being ‘sold’”.  Imagery is an almost subliminal way to “sell” your property, and yet the guest feels as though the entire decision was an intellectual, not an emotional decision.  (There’s that extrastriate cortex thing again!).

What else should you consider when planning your visual imagery?

  • It is important to make your hotel a destination spot – this means including images of the area.  Make it a community, make it personal.
  • In order to develop a strong visual identity, imagery should be unified along all marketing fronts – both print and on-line media.  The images that guests see must be consistent, and this also spreads your costs of imagery along many different venues.
  • The colors chosen for your imagery are critical.  As stated by XEROX, “Color increases readers’ attention spans and recall by 82%.”  You want your hotel to be remembered – choose colors wisely.
  • Encourage your guests to take pictures of group interactions in your hotel and to upload them to their Facebook accounts or to the OTA’s.  (When the guest submits them, no legal disclaimers are required by the hotel.)  
  • Where else can you, the hotelier, utilize professional visual imagery?  The possibilities are nearly endless and include:  websites, travel sites, the hotel’s Facebook page, numerous travel sites, Pegasus, Global Distribution Systems, Flickr accounts, YouTube accounts, numerous bookmarking tools, Twitter accounts, blogs, as well as any and all printed marketing material– fliers, brochures, direct mail pieces, etc.
One other item worth considering is that you need not fear “feeding the OTA beast” by placing compelling imagery on these sites.  In the latest TIA (Travel Industry Association) study, it was found that although 68% of people shop for hotels on the OTA’s, only 39% choose to book there.  So for now, if your guests are window-shopping on the OTA’s, you want your window-dressing to reflect the quality your hotel can offer.  Your competitors certainly will.

By the way, while you were reading this article, 100+ hours of video were uploaded to YouTube.  Why?  We are visual people.  So go ahead.  Reach out, and visually, touch someone.

Dr. Diana Driscoll, LEED AP B, D & C, has found her passion in social media and “green” hotel development.   She recently received the LEED AP specialty for Building, Design and Construction (B, D & C).  As CEO of Ridgeline Hospitality, LLC, and the founder of, she heads up a team of experts to offer immediate assistance to hoteliers in this tough economic climate.  

Prior to forming Ridgeline Hospitality, Dr. Driscoll developed and managed office and retail developments through Driscoll Realty Developments, Inc., and acted as a Registered Investment Advisor in her own company - Professional Money Management,
Inc., all while practicing therapeutic optometry, where she received numerous awards for excellence.  

Philanthropy plays a large role in her work, as does public speaking and writing, where you may find her addressing topics from social media to medical research and LEED developments!  


Diana Driscoll, LEED AP, B, D & C
twitter: @dianadriscoll @HotelRescue
skype: diana.driscoll1
1834 Keller Parkway, Suite #400
Keller, TX 76248

Also See: Greening Your Hotel Meetings and Conferences /Diana Driscoll / June 2010

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