Category Archives: Online Resources

The Declining Value of Social Marketing

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Is social media a marketer’s dream, or a dreadful nightmare that just does not seem to go away?  Is everybody using it, or are people just hopping on board right as the calendar changes to 2014?  NextStage surveyed 1,700 U.S. and Canada-based companies about their own social media use, and the results may surprise you.

It is first important to get some context on exactly what social marketing entails.  Social marketing means creating a social presence and using that social presence to drive conversions.  Conversions cover everything from loyalty to acquisition to retention, and even customer service.

All interviewees were director level and above, knowledgeable social managers with two or more years’ experience in social, with more years in marketing in general.  Companies ranged from mom and pop shops to Fortune 100 corporations.  Wide varieties of tools were used to glean information about social campaigns including Expion, Google Anayltics, HootSuite and ReviewAnalyst among others.

So what did these businesses think?  Would they do it all over again?

Marketers who said they are new to social media: 6%

It almost seems like a cardinal sin for a marketing manager to have at least two years of experience on the job and still claim to be new to social media.

That being said, with so many social media platforms out there, it stands to reason that some marketing managers may be new to outlets like Pinterest, Instagram or Reddit.  Part of people’s newness claims did amount to an inability to keep up.  One respondent even said, “We’re not sure the platform we need is out there yet.”

That “which platform” question will be a considerable challenge for marketers in 2014 and beyond.

Marketer who said they were happy with social media: 7.75%

This low a percentage should not be a real surprise to marketers.  All successful efforts came down to four essential details.  The top two spots in this regard were knowing and respecting their audience.  Those who claimed success talked about knowing their audience and showing it respect.

Respect came in several forms including shared interests, shared social causes and shared social beliefs.  Letting an audience have a say and digital transparency that was seconded on non-digital channels were also highly ranked.

The third basic element for success was the old “location, location, location” slogan.   You want to go where your audience is, while not trying to push them in a direction where they do not wish to go.

The final element was deciding what to measure and then finding or making the tool that could accurately measure it.  A marketing manager’s office is a revolving door of vendors with lots of solid products, but they have to be the correct product for what you are attempting to measure.

Marketer who said they are going to “do something else”:  10.5%

This can include everything from revamping social marketing campaigns to completely rebuilding social teams to everything in-between.  Although these people are unhappy with their results, they are not unhappy enough to abandon social media altogether.  However, they are just unhappy enough to consider alternative spends.

Did these companies consider this social spending a waste of money?  Definitely not.  All of them considered their social campaigns learning experiences, and most believed that the campaigns simply did not succeed as well as they would have liked.

To find out what percentage of companies were dissatisfied with social, and where the rest of respondents fell on the survey, click here.

Modern Travelers: Smile Onsite About Service, Irate on the Internet

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Picture this scene:  You are traveling to see family during the holidays, and you decide to stay at a hotel for a few days.  The building itself is beautiful, with a nicely decorated lobby filled with incredibly friendly and helpful staff members.  You walk into your room and instantly notice it is bright, clean and big.

This was the travel experience of TrustYou’s marketing director Margaret Ady, and despite all of these positive aspects of the hotel, she gave a mediocre review.  What was her reasoning behind this decision?  She had to pay nearly $22/day for internet service.

Her frustration in having to pay for the internet service is not unique in today’s travel landscape that offers Free WiFi nearly everywhere you go.  To go online and voice one’s concerns with an average, or below-average review has also become the norm in the hospitality industry.

TrustYou worked with New York Univeristy’s Donna Quadri-Felitti PhD, from the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, to release its first annual global reports, based on an analysis of over 14 million reviews written in 2013 to identify key trends in user reviews.

The consensus from the data matches Ady’s experience:  in most destinations, travelers were smiling about service, but irate over the internet in 2013.

As travelers turn increasingly to reviews to help with their hotel booking decisions, hotel management is under constant pressure to focus on improvement of review scores connected to their hotel portfolio.  In 2013, hoteliers rose to the challenge, with a majority of regions/countries (including leaders the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom) posting an increase in scores.

To read more about this report, including the recent drop of five-star reviews in major markets across the globe, click here.

Top Weekly Travel Ads: A Family-Friendly Summer

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As companies begin to gear up for family-friendly summer in 2014, travel ads use children and parents to capture a large and profitable portion of the traveling public.  Skift.com put together a list of the five top travel ads from the past week, which you can view here.

You may not have advertising budgets that allow you to create and distribute commercials like this, but capturing the family message is important because it is such a key travel demographic.

Priceline’s latest ad features William Shatner reprising his role as the Negotiator.  He plays the role of a protective parent after his daughter’s date books a room using Priceline’s no-bid Express Deals hotel booking tool.  Negotiator Rises

Disney Theme Parks is not marketing to protective parents, but they do encourage them to create unforgettable memories with a child’s first trip to this vacation wonderland.  Disney’s message is simple: Take your children to a Disney theme park if you want to make them happy.  Magical “Firsts” at Disney Theme Parks

Expedia’s new ad tugs at a parent’s heartstrings, following a young boy whose bedtime storybook seems to come to life when on vacation with his mom.  The ad encourages would-be travelers to discover their real-life fairy tales via travel.  Create Your Storybook

A To-Do List for Hotels in 2014

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Kelly McGuire of the SAS Institute created a to-do list for analytic hospitality executives in 2014.  This list includes higher-level items that will help to build a strong strategic analytic culture.  There are also tactical items that will help you stay on top of trends McGuire thinks will have a major impact on the industry in the near future.

1) Think More Strategically – This is a common goal for every company at the beginning of a new year, but it is easy to be bogged down by the day-to-day analyses or job tasks.  Keep asking the important questions like where you and your team are, and where you want to go.  Do you understand your organization’s business strategy?  Do your goals line up with this strategy?

2) Encourage Cross-Departmental Decision Making – With digital marketing coming into the forefront, and the recognized value of review and ratings data across multiple departments, cross-departmental thinking will be even more of a focus in 2014.

It is important to establish regular communication with counterparts in other departments (marketing, operations, finance and revenue management).  Bringing your best information to the table and making decisions as a team will strengthen your group as a whole, as well as the individual members.

3) Develop a Common Business Language – A number of companies have started data visualization projects to pull together data from across the organization and provide “single version of the truth” reporting for executives and managers.  Without first establishing a cross-functional team to come to agreement on definitions of key metrics, kata access and data acquisition rules, these projects will fail.  McGuire believes there will be much more of a focus on data management in 2014 as these initiatives get underway.

4) Carefully Evaluate New Data Sources – With plenty of new data sources available to you on a daily basis, it can be tempting to gravitate towards all that is new and shiny.  However, you need to realize that adding new data sources can be time-consuming and resource intensive.  You need to fully understand what the data is and how it can contribute to your decision making process.

Make sure you can develop clear answers to the following questions:

Can the data enhance or augment existing analyses or business insights?

Do you have resources available that can understand the data and be able to use it in analyses?

What actions could you take with insights gained from that data source?

5) Tell a Story With Your Data – Getting your point across to a wide range of personas within your organization requires careful thought about how you use data in your presentation material.  Rows upon rows of numbers, mathematical formulas or complex graphs will not grab the attention of any but the most advanced audiences.  Instead, use a couple of “pictures” that make your point with the most impact.

To read the rest of McGuire’s to-do list for the new year, click here.

Getting the Most out of Deals and Promotions

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A great way for a company to focus on strengthening its awareness and garnering more followers on social media is to advertise deals and promotions.  Initiatives like this can be a push for short-term tactical sales growth.  They can also strengthen a major strategic message or unique selling proposition (USP), or simply raise awareness.  However, it is also important to deliver a high-quality experience with these deals and packages.

Carol Cork, the marketing director of PrivateFly.com believes that “Travel marketing is about experiences, more than just travel – there is a need to be disruptive and different.”  A successful digital travel marketing approach is to connect the brand with the reasons that customers travel.

PrivateFly.com combined strong content marketing and a partnership with Ski Verbier to create an amazing, all-inclusive ski experience promotion for the discerning skier.  Cork explains that it is not about selling a ski holiday.  Rather, it is about connecting the PrivateFly brand with target customers’ lifestyles and making it relevant and desirable.

Be Prepared

Here are a few things to keep an eye on when creating promotions:

-When finalizing a promotion, make the decision whether the campaign is a brand-building exercise or commercially driven.

-Offer travelers opportunities to buy an attractive value product while accounting for extra capacity.

-Underline the brand position/message while coming up with an attractive deal.  Some examples of this include find the lowest prices and smooth ways to confirm a booking.

-Target new customers, meet their current needs and match their propensity to buy.

Do’s and Don’ts of a New Marketing Campaign

Do:  Involve the team.  Marketing ideas and energy should be encouraged as widely as possible.  Members of a sales team, development team or finance team provide a vision not considered by a marketing team member.

Do:  Have a commercial lens.  It is important not to prize speed and agility over commercial success.  Create a criteria checklist to make sure your marketing campaign fits your target market.

Don’t:  Plan too far ahead.  Companies used to plan annual or semi-annual campaigns.  Now it is more about quarterly planning and a consistent flow of daily and weekly ideas.

Don’t:  Assume things are working when they are not.

 Some Tips for an Appropriate Communication Plan:

1) Deliver a message that is easy to understand.

2) Make the proposition an attractive one (whether financial or tangible).

3) Be relevant with the theme and content.

4) Ensure uniformity in communication across media channels and platforms.

5) Do not come across as just another deal or promotion.

Combining Business Needs with the Right Rewards

One thing that should always be considered when planning a deal or promotion is seasonality.  Campaigns should be worked out considering occupancy level, and key calendar dates; the validity of the period is always important.

When talking about rewarding customers, there always needs to be an element of benefit for the consumer.  This could be in the form of monetary saving or included amenity.  Overall, sustaining a structural approach to the execution of a campaign is crucial to remain feasible in operations.

Data Security Breaches: What Hoteliers Need to Know

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When retail giants Target and Neiman Marcus experienced security breaches with customer credit cards during the 2013 holiday season, it highlighted a growing crisis that must concern owners and operators of hotels as well.  Bob Braun, a senior member of Hospitality Net’s Global Hospitality Group looks at the issue of data privacy, and offers some ways to ensure hacking does not happen to you.

The Target and Neiman Marcus Problem:

Approximately 50 million Americans – more than 15% of the nation’s population – woke up one morning in December to find their credit card information had been compromised while Christmas shopping.  We are not talking about local small businesses that may not be completely tech-savvy, and have the wool pulled over their eyes.  In total, more than 70 million victims were compromised thanks to a security breach at major retail outlets.

Hoteliers Beware:

Hotels are obvious targets for identity and financial theft for many reasons.  Hotels transact a majority of business through credit cards, and those cards remain on file and are accessed multiple times during a guest’s stay.  As items like room service, a spa charge or a restaurant bill are charged to your card, the opportunity for an identity thief to access the information using sophisticated computer hacks, and other malicious software, normally without the hotel’s knowledge, increases substantially.

The recent technology boom across the travel industry has forced many properties to offer wireless internet access.  Typically, this service is unsecured, and an unsecured wireless network is “just as dangerous as leaving files of your most important personal documents on a curb for all to see.” (PC World)  At the same time, hotels have little say in the matter, as guests are constantly demanding wireless internet service.

Finally, hotels typically have a large number of employees, and many of these individuals have access to the credit card and other personal information of guests.  No matter how well trained and supervised, more personnel correlates to greater risk.  Factor in that low-level employees typically have access to this key information, and a historically high turnover among hotel employees and the problem becomes exacerbated.

What Should You Do?

There are some general considerations that all firms should be aware of that are essential to securing information.  These include:

1) Inventory and Identify Information – Hotel operators should inventory potentially sensitive information and document on which computers, servers and laptops it is stored.

2) Restrict Access and Collection of Data – Operators and owners should keep sensitive information on the fewest number of computers or servers.  The fewer copies of data you have, the easier it is to protect.

3) Use Technology – Hotels should utilize encryption and other means for storing, and secure connections for receiving or transmitting, credit card information and other sensitive data.

4) Design and Implement Effective Policies and Procedures – Firms should design, institute and follow and effective privacy policy, including policies for using social media, and should be careful not the overstate effectiveness of these measures.  It is always important to remember that no system is completely safe.

5) Passwords and Access – For internal communications and information, protect sensitive data with strong passwords, and change these passwords on a regular basis.

6) Deal with Vendors – The growing trend in computer systems and services is having expert vendors, outside the company, handle these matters.   Make sure to check their security practices, review agreements with these vendors to ensure they are implementing the best practices and that they are responsible for the security of the information they handle.

7) Review you Insurance – Cybersecurity insurance has gone through tremendous changes in just the past few years.   Make sure to review your policies and ensure that they are effective in providing meaningful coverage for your business.

Most importantly, hotel companies need to make a commitment to securing sensitive information.  The investment in protecting your hotel today prevents you from being front-page news – for all the wrong reasons – later.

A Day in the Life of a Data Traveler

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Improving the travel experience is a goal across the entire hospitality industry.  Technology now plays a critical role in the travel experience and smartphones have now become one of the most essential travel accessories today.  In 2013 alone, mobile data traffic soared, reaching 12 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.

Kelsey Cox of Marketing Tech Blog examines how smartphones have changed the travel experience, and influence how you make decisions.  Here are some of the key statistics she highlights in a helpful Infographic created by Mophie:

  • 82.6% of leisure travelers use their smartphones all the time on vacation.  This is a similar number to the percentage of leisure travelers (88%) who identify their smartphones as the top must-have device when on vacation.  Smartphones rank ahead of digital cameras, GPS and tablets.
  • On average, the top daily cell phone activities include:  talking on the phone (23 min./day), texting (20), e-mailing (18), browsing websites (16 ) and social networking (11).
  • Leisure and business travelers both have the need to feel connected while they are traveling, producing a skyrocketing of data usage while abroad.
  • Many travelers, unfamiliar with an area, will use their phones to find the perfect restaurant, an internet café or the closest beach, hotel or tourist attraction.

Find out more about a typical day in the life of a data traveler and take a closer look at the Infographic here.

How Much Should You Be Spending on SEO?

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Nearly every business today must make a decision about how much to spend on search engine optimization (SEO).  This is no longer an “if” question for businesses as a robust online marketing strategy is imperative for survival in a web-driven world.

“How much will we spend on SEO?” is the question that every business professional must ask themselves in 2014.  One of Search Engine Watch’s 10 most popular stories of the 2013, written by Jayson DeMars, took deeper look at SEO spending.  Here are a few helpful tips from DeMars, and hopefully all the information you will need to help make a decision about hiring an SEO agency and forging a crucial partnership with an online marketing firm.

SEO Payment Models

To get a better understanding of the dollars and cents you will be spending on services, it is important to understand the payment models used by agencies.  Typically these agencies offer four main forms of services and payment:

  • Monthly Retainer:  Clients in this model will pay a set fee each month in exchange for an agreed-upon array of services.  This is the most common payment model because it provides the greatest return on investment (ROI).  These arrangements commonly include regular analytics reports, on-site content improvements, keyword research and optimization.  (Average Range of Rates: $750-5,000 per month) 
  • Contract Services at Fixed Prices:  Typically before a client is ready to engage in a monthly retainer, they will select contract services they wish to have completed.   SEO agencies will commonly list their services on their site, along with a price.  An example of one of these services could be an SEO website audit, which will help determine your current strengths and weaknesses as well as keywords with the highest ROI potential.  (Variable Prices dependent on services)
  • Project-Based Pricing:  Project fees are similar to contract services, but they are customized specifically for the client.  Pricing will vary according to the project.  A local business may want an agency to help with local online marketing by establishing social media accounts.  Together the business owner and the SEO agency will decide on the scope and cost of the project.  (Variable prices typically between $1,000 and $30,000)
  • Hourly Consulting:  This familiar consulting model is an hourly fee in exchange for services or information.  (Average Range of Rates: $100-300/hr.)

Things You Should Be Suspicious of

With the amount of money you will be spending on SEO, it is important to heed a few warnings to ensure that you are getting the best service available.  Be suspicious of the following promises:

  • Guarantees – SEO firms generally cannot provide guarantees due to the constantly changing nature of the industry.
  • Instant Results – It is true that using some SEO tactics will garner “instant results” by gaming the system, but these can hurt you in the long run.  Instant results often involve SEO practices that are against the webmaster guidelines put out by search engines.  Major search engines like Google seek out these techniques and penalize them, resulting in a loss in rankings that could take months to make up.
  • #1 Spot on Google – It always sounds great when a company makes a promise like this, and hopefully you will be able to get it.  However, this is not something a firm can promise to hand over to you.
  • Costs Lower than $750/Month – When it comes to SEO, it is always great to find a bargain, but you really are not shopping for the lowest price.  What you should be looking for in your SEO agency is the best level of service.  Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.”
  • Shady Link Building Services – Link building is an incredibly important part of SEO.  It is impossible to have a highly-ranked site without inbound links.  As with most things, there is a dark side of link building.  Link trust is gaining importance to appear high in the rankings.  Make sure your agency’s link building services are ethical, white label services.  You may even want to ask them where they may be able to gain links for a business in the hospitality industry.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • SEO Takes Time.  A Monthly Retainer is Best. You must think of SEO as a long-term investment.  Aggressive campaigns and major pushes have their place, but the best and most enduring SEO results come from a long-term relationship.  The best agencies do not just wave a magic wand and get instant results.  Instead, they perform extensive operations that will produce results months down the road.
  • SEO Changes, and Your Rankings Will Change, Too.  There are plenty of competitors out there for your company to battle, and rankings will rise and fall with the changing of algorithms along with the entrance of new competitors.  It takes constant monitoring to keep your website ranking high on results pages and performing at top-notch levels.  Stay away from the one-and-done SEO tricks that simply do not work!
  • Not All SEO Services are Created Equal.  You have to keep in mind that SEO is not about shopping around for the lowest prices.  You should be focusing on finding the finest agency you can.  An SEO agency that defines its scope of services and takes the time to educate you is what every company should be looking for.
  • SEO is Important.  Do it.  The point of having a website is to increase and/or improve your business.  Unless people are finding your website, it is not even worth having one.  Do the smart thing and pay what it takes to keep your site findable by the people who are looking!
  • Hiring an SEO Agency is Best.  Do not fall into the mindset that you will be able to manage your SEO on your own.  A tiny percentage of business owners or professionals have the skill and savvy to do their own SEO.  On top of this, comprehensive SEO takes much more time than most business owners can afford.  Save yourself the stress because more than likely you will never get the same level of ROI that you would with a competent SEO agency.

For many modern businesses, SEO is the highest ROI marketing effort.  Direct mailing, broadcast advertising, online ads and other forms of advertisement do not provide the value SEO can.  It is no longer a question of whether businesses will spend, but how much to spend. As long as a quality SEO agency is the choice, the decision has the potential to lead to incredible amounts of revenue.