Low-budget innovation

As marketers are tasked with the challenge of doing less with more, social media is considered a channel that can have a viral effect and spread messages to increase brand awareness.

Just a few years ago, people would claim that social media is the new FREE marketing channel. We soon found out this is not true, even though there are some social media tactics that can be executed for free or low cost (but it still costs resources). Other marketers were a victim of marketing peer pressure and only did social media marketing because “everyone else is doing it — we probably should too” and quickly labeled it as a fad that could not be measured and a big waste of time.

Fast-forward a few years, and social media marketing has become mainstream while still confusing and complex for many marketers and many top executives. Unclear objectives and numerous metrics, like the value of Facebook likes and retweets, add to the confusion.

However, social media marketing has made it to the c-suite and is considered a must-do (whatever that means). Now big ad and PR agencies (we are talking about the traditional ones) are charging top dollar for social media programs and campaigns. So we went from one extreme to the next.

The reason for writing this blog post was a realization I had — that true marketing innovation to leverage technology and digital media is possible, and while there is always some cost associated, it doesn’t have to cost what some of the big agencies would like to have you believe.

I just heard about an interesting social media program leveraging Instagram by Shangri-La, executed by Ogilvy. While quite creative and well executed, we can assume Shangri-La paid a lot of money to its agency.

Recently I was a keynote speaker at the HostelWorld Asia Summit in Bangkok. is the leading OTA for youth hostels — it’s like the Expedia for hostels. While we hotel marketers are quick to dismiss the fact that hostels cannot be innovative, and it is a completely different target market, I was amazed by the level of innovation and creativity I heard about in talking to these hostel owners. While the target market statement might be true, some of the ideas and concepts could definitely work in the luxury hotel segment. And considering that the marketing budgets of hostels are minuscule compared to some of the hotels, creativity comes even more to the forefront.

It really struck me when the owner from the The Yellow Hostel in Rome told me about his Instagram initiative that will power his own Rome City Guide, which is currently in development. When he told me that he will spend around €1,000 (US$1,305) on the entire project, and then thinking about the Instagram program of the major luxury hotel chain that I am sure was slightly more expensive, I was even more amazed how hotels are not leveraging the full essence of social media to really engage the audience.

If we were to calculate the ROI of these two programs, which in fact is extremely easy, we would all come to a surprising conclusion: the small, “primitive” hostel owner (who also happens to be an architect and professional photographer) clearly wins the marketing prize here. And this program would also work for luxury hotels.

The other thing that impressed me is how hostels are looking to build authentic experiences and integrate locals, especially as creating authenticity has become a buzz word in the hotel world.

I can only say I learned a lot from this conference — most importantly, to think differently again, and to be creative and challenge the new norms that are being established by the big, traditional advertising agencies. I also learned that social media is an equalizer and gives small businesses that can be creative and take risks the opportunity to beat the big brands — something that wasn’t possible just a few years ago in the world of marketing, when big advertising budgets dictated brand-building success. Finally, I learned to watch the hostel space more carefully, as some interesting low-budget innovations are being created every day. It may be a lesson that some of the big hotel brands should also take to heart.