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Tradition Meets Technology: Branding in the 21st Century

By Jennifer Rodrigues
May 25, 2011

A commentary on the recent Cornell publication, “Building Brands in the Internet Age: Analytics, Loyalty, and Communications.”
Internet analytics.  Even the name sounds complicated (and pretty boring!); however, collecting and measuring your hotel’s image from internet sources, measuring loyalty and communicating with your target consumers in the internet era is far from difficult and is of upmost importance for hoteliers who want to make sure that they get the best “bang” for their marketing buck.
In the May of this year, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research Summit Proceedings, several commentators, consultants and field experts weighed in on the subject of “Building Brands in the Internet Age: Analytics, Loyalty, and Communications.”  Here is my take on the participant’s observations.
Online Anaytics
A formidable title, but one that simply means to collect, categorize and measure your brand through the user-generated content you find at online review sources.  The most successful technology is relatively primitive: manually searching the sites and collecting the information you seek. 
In this case, there is simply no substitute for human analysis.  Start with the most influential sites and social media forums to data mine and monitor guest responses to your hotel brand.  Scope out “influencers”—those forum users who command the most power—as their comments are viewed as the most valuable by fellow users.
Categorize the data and comments to understand the overall message your brand is giving.  Is it good, bad, ambivalent?  Is the message you’re communicating the message your guests are receiving?  Categorization can be as simple or complex as you need; whatever works to generate a clear message of the positive and negative aspects that your brand is communicating.
A Word on Online Surveys
It is tempting to use online surveys exclusively to gain feedback about your brand: the low cost and mass distribution capability of these surveys make for a valuable alternative to direct mail surveys.  Not surprisingly, however, experts have found that direct mail must continue to be an important part of a comprehensive any market research.
D.K. Shifflet Associates, a tourism and travel research firm, discovered that online surveys cover only 75% of U.S. households.  Unfortunately, the 25% of missing households are an extremely important demographic for the travel industry, as often that demographic has the income and time most readily available to make them frequent travelers.  Among its other findings, D.K. Shifflet found that the internet overrepresented household incomes under $50,000, and underrepresented the business travel demographic. 
Bottom line: implement online surveys to supplement, not replace your direct mail surveys.
Loyalty Program Effectiveness
When it comes to measuring loyalty, the hotelier must focus on incremental spending, or that spending that wouldn’t occur without the customer’s participation in the program.  By far, the most successful loyalty program is one that emphasizes high quality.  In such programs, not only is brand equity and satisfaction improved, ROI is greatly increased.  In the alternative, programs that emphasize discounts or free rewards rarely take in additional revenue.  In addition, such discount programs target customers not particularly loyal to the brand, thus, brand equity is low and ROI suffers.
Communicating the Brand in the 21st Century
While the methods of collecting feedback and communicating with the customers have changed, traditional brand communications principles are still the most effective.  Once you have collected and measured brand perceptions (collectively known as “brand auditing”), use 21st century technology (online surveys, social media, OTA sites, industry forums) to create and communicate your brand’s promise.  Most importantly, follow through by providing the service necessary to fulfill this brand promise.
“Building Brands in the Internet Age: Analytics, Loyalty, and Communications,” proved to be an insightful look into the modern age of analytics, measurement, and communications in the hospitality industry.  The key takeaway from the proceedings is that—even though the internet age has revolutionized the way in which we receive data, measure loyalty and communicate—traditional industry branding methods still apply.  For the most effective marketing in 2011 and beyond, take advantage of twenty-first century technology while continuing to utilize all the knowledge and tactics that proved most successful in the past.

About the Author:
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager with ThinkInk and TravelInk’d, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division, TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. For more information on TravelInk’d, please visit or contact Jennifer at For more news about PR and marketing in the travel industry, follow TravelInk’d on Twitter @TravelInkd and visit the TravelInk’d Facebook Fan Page.


Jennifer Rodriques

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Also See: What's In Store for Hotels in the Gogobot Era / Jennifer Rodrigues / May 2011

Speculation on the Google/ITA Effect; What the Acquisition Could Mean for Travelers, OTAs and Hotels / Jennifer Rodrigues / April 2011

Hoteliers: Your Public Relations Cheat Sheet; Here’s how to better relate to public relations by understanding the misconceptions and the benefits. / Jennifer Rodriques / June 2010

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