Considerable energy is put towards executing the right brand strategy. Market research, defining brand standards and the target audience, is qualified in demographic and psychographic terms. Agencies are selected to finesse the messaging creative, and finally that messaging is communicated out to the audience at large. Historically, this is done through a variety of media channels, and more importance is given to those channels where the largest and most compatible reach and frequency exists.
However, the world around us has changed as we have gradually shifted to new modes of media consumption. Although television retains its importance as a mass-market media, the concept of mass market itself has evolved. The advent of digital media has shifted the idea of a one size fits all media strategy into hyper fragmentation.
Major hotel companies have adapted to this change by creating marketing departments that focus on digital media. But are digital “marketing” departments truly that, or are they tactical outposts focused specifically on one key aspect of marketing — advertising geared towards traffic acquisition and conversion alone? Digital marketing experts may push back at this assertion and correctly lay claim to strategic thinking as well, but that strategic thinking is geared towards marrying technology, data and digital media to achieve the most cost effective traffic acquisition. Digital marketing, in effect, is focused on the lower funnel. Its main objective is to expand the revenues of the hotel’s most cost effective distribution channel — its own website. The ease of measuring cause and effect from ad exposure to conversion is simply too tempting and therefore the digital effort remains focused on revenue generation and demand fulfillment rather than longer term demand generation.
What then is the impact of digital technology on the marketing trifecta: brand awareness, engagement and reach? The shift in eyeballs to digital media consumption has been significant, and there has therefore been an addition of digital channels to the media mix of advertising but key issues remain. The first one is that hotel brand marketers still lag behind consumers in emphasizing the scope and role of digital channels. Although mass communication is important, strategies need to evolve beyond print, radio, and TV.
Where digital media channels have been adopted, their share remains low relative to change in media consumption patterns. While digital media did not even exist as a channel 15-20 years ago, its recent growth has been massive. There has been a significant change in media consumption patterns as more and more people consume media through digital channels relative to print, TV and radio.
A recent conversation with the Marketing Manager for an upscale chain brand was instructive. He talked about doing outreach to an audience composed of those who enjoy the finer things in life. When the conversation turned to execution however, it turns out 100% of the budget had been devoted to print advertising in magazines for fine dining, wine etc. There had been nothing devoted to digital media at all. The reason given was that digital media is for direct response campaigns, not building a brand. This example may seem extreme, but to some extent this is a political issue as well; brand marketers wish to retain their distinct identity and because digital is perceived as lower funnel, it gets underrepresented.
Second, the principles that govern digital outreach are those that have been adopted wholesale from the offline world. An emphasis on contextual placement, the halo effect of the sites, is fine but data now allows for a conversation on a one-on-one basis with your audience.
Where and how do we find a balance in digital marketing? First and foremost, recognize that you need to be ahead of media consumption patterns rather than behind. If your audience is shifting to digital make sure you are giving enough thought, effort and financial support to that channel. While the impact of digital media spend can be tracked to the last dollar, the impact of offline efforts is typically harder to track. However, you can’t put tracking targets on digital, have faith in the offline world, and then just hope that your digital efforts will perform better. Ensure you have brand retention and engagement goals and then measure impact. After all, just because you can track return from digital investment down to the last dollar, does not mean that is all you do.
Parag Vohra - GM of Hotels - Sojern
Parag has been involved in the hotel industry and digital media space for 14 years. His in-depth knowledge of the online travel space and deep knowledge of search marketing makes him a valuable asset to his clients and colleagues.
Before joining Sojern, he spent five years at Wyndham International and two years at Marriott International, learning the hotel space inside and out. He then served Director positions at Yahoo!, Travelzoo, and TripAdvisor.
Parag has a B.A. in English Literature, an M.S. in Hospitality, and an MBA in Information Systems and Marketing from Bentley University.
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