Preparing your 2014 digital marketing plan, part 2: Email marketing

In the dizzyingly complex world of digital marketing, email marketing often is a lost art. Yet few marketing programs can offer the level of consistent returns that email can. As marketers, we tirelessly examine new and sometimes extraordinary ways to find and appeal to new customers, but in the case of email marketing, hotels have a dedicated channel to communicate directly with people who already have done business with the hotel or at least expressed interest. As you prepare your 2014 marketing plans (read part 1 of my advice about that here), do not forget this important channel. 

First, evaluate the size of your database. This includes past guests as well as people who have signed up to receive information and offers from your website. How large is the audience, and can you set goals for growing the database in 2014? Specific action items might include more prominent newsletter signups on your website or a more comprehensive training program that encourages front desk agents to ask guests for their email addresses. Do you regularly export the emails collected in your PMS to grow the size of your audience? Email can be an effective tool, made more so by a larger audience. Establish tactics to proactively grow your database.

Next, consider the segmentation of your database. Techniques can become fairly complex in segmenting a database, including targeting people based on their location or sending special offers to people who traditionally have stayed with you at a particular time of year. However, at a minimum, you should attempt to separate people who have stayed with you versus those who only have expressed interest. Sending value-added offers or compelling information about happenings at the property to past guests always should be prioritized. For 2014, discuss and decide how you can support your strategic goals through the segmentation of your database.

Consistently sending emails to your database throughout the year is not just a goal — it’s a necessity. Email marketing is an oft-forgotten tactic. Hotels frequently go months (or even longer) between emails. However, email provides one of the most consistent ROIs among all online marketing initiatives. Emails can take less than US$500 to develop, send and track. How many reservations really are necessary to generate a positive return? In many cases, small- to medium-sized hotels can generate more than US$10,000 per email campaign. During your 2014 planning, develop a calendar outlining a year’s worth of emails. Send a minimum of one a month — preferably more — with relevant segmentation. By planning content now, you will have a plan to adhere to that always can be adjusted during the year if market conditions dictate.

Finally, too often I see hotels send offers via email that are identical to those found on their websites or OTA channels. Offers to your database should be unique. Give the user a reason to continue to subscribe to your database and provide your most loyal fans with strong, value-added offers. That does not mean you have to provide deep discounts. Instead, you could offer access to limited-availability events or complimentary upgrades to better room types. Either way, the value must be there if you hope to generate incremental revenue. 

There are a plethora of high-profile advertising and marketing options. However, don’t forget to plan for email marketing, one of the most consistent digital marketing programs available to hotels.