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Be bold to be a hotel marketer

It came to me while watching the biggest advertising event of the year here in North America — the Super Bowl, that is. Companies jostle for a TV spot during this merchandising extravaganza, often paying millions of dollars for the opportunity. And yet this year, like so many others before, major hotel companies were absent from the fracas.

Aside from what this means in terms of using share of voice to influence share of mind, let’s focus on the advertisements shown. Now, when you pay that much money for a chance to share your brand or product with tens of millions of viewers all at once, you better have a good idea — no, a great idea — to lead with. Not only this, but given the Internet’s obsession with relaying the “best of,” these ideas linger with us all the way until the next year’s big day. On top of this, they often serve as launch points for entire month-long campaigns that transcend the airwaves into new media.

So, whether you work for one of the majors or are an independent operator, what can you take away from the Super Bowl ads? How can you derive good creative advertising solutions for a specifically targeted customer? What message are you trying to get across? 

Clear and provocative ideas are the base for any campaign.

This is not a “chicken or egg” situation. All advertising and promotions start with what you want to tell your customer. And these days, that had better be provocative! Looking back at the Super Bowl, if an ad didn’t pique my interest within a few seconds, my eyes would unglue from the television and focus on a brief discussion with those seated next to me or on what food item was within arm’s reach.

Whether in the case of a chain where millions of dollars are being offered up, or an individual independent property with a much more limited expenditure, advertising is an investment in your brand. For that investment to show a return, there has to be a return, and that return only comes from generating awareness and interest. If this foundation is missing, the advertising will not deliver desire or, ultimately, purchase. 

While I applaud the senior chain management in recognizing the need to build brand awareness through advertising, I would be giving two thumbs up to a program that not only had some visibility, but also some viable and provocative messages that would ring true to its target audience. 

Who was he/she sleeping with?

Remember the Westin advertising of the early 1990s? This very provocative selling line, coupled with some great creative development, propelled this multimedia campaign and, I suspect, delivered some huge awareness numbers for the corporation.

This was not just a summary of product features and benefits, but pushed beyond the everyday verbiage to communicate in a meaningful and memorable fashion. This work was done by a Madison Avenue advertising agency, and I am sure that it took some brave soul in the Westin marketing department to stick his or her neck out in defiant support for this idea.

On a smaller, local level, I have seen numerous examples of hotels that have worked at differentiating their property through unique and highly differentiated advertising. Calling Google Adwords advertising is a misnomer. Yes, Adwords work and are important. But do not confuse this expenditure for advertising that builds authentically new awareness. Give me some of that good, old-fashioned, idea-centric advertising, and this industry will be back on track to differentiating itself from the OTAs.

Keep in mind that even though I use the term “old-fashioned,” I am not opposed to the use of new media. Just look at the recent craze over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s a simple-yet-brilliant proposition that’s fun for others to watch online and keeps all participants accountable. If you have an elegant idea like this, new media can make you an overnight sensation. But know that as with most social network campaigns, it’s all too easy to be drowned in mediocrity. At least with paid advertising, you can “bribe” consumers for a piece of their time. Any way you slice it though, you have to be bold if you want consumers to remember you. 

Planning for 2016? (Yes, it’s already that time.)

Marketing is not just responding to TripAdvisor comments, keeping your website or social media up to date, and buying the usual collection of search terms in Google Adwords. To be sure, all of these are valuable tactics, deigned to keep your property at the forefront of guest inquiries and bookings. But by themselves, they are little more than loose trajectories, diddles in the face of a continually changing guest-centric, information-rich, OTA-driven environment.

I like to allude to warfare for analogies, and a campaign consists of many battles and skirmishes, all in the name of pushing towards some grand overall objective. Solid marketing starts with strategies that are designed to deliver this stated grand objective, and from those strategies a tactical, on-the-ground and minute-by-minute plan emerges. Without big ideas and the operational fortitude to fully integrate these programs into the fabric of your property’s persona, chances are this coming year will be more of the same at best.

So, I challenge you (throwing down the gauntlet, so to speak) to look at 2015 as the year that marketing makes a difference for your property. If your team members put their minds to it and you lead them through motivation and resource allocations, I am confident of your success.

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