Staying ahead in 2012

Staying ahead in 2012

Most hotels are in the midst of the sometimes tedious, sometimes exciting, budget planning for 2012. As always, the industry has progressed as consumers change their behavior and utilize new tools online. Hotels that stay ahead of the trends will continue to win in 2012. Don’t be mistaken; there is still an opportunity to create significant distance between competitors in your marketplace if you embrace an aggressive digital marketing presence. Here are five things you should be considering to win the future in 2012.

1. ZMOT  

Even if you are unfamiliar with this acronym, you are not unfamiliar with its effects. ZMOT stands for Zero Moment of Truth, a new marketing model embraced by Google that provides unique insights into how consumers are interacting with brands — and each other — before making a purchase decision. 

Essentially, ZMOT argues that past marketing models were built to influence three stages in the traditional mental model for marketing: stimulus (someone sees an advertisement), shelf (the consumer goes to make a purchase and decides from the available options) and experience (the consumer enjoys or does not enjoy their product or service). ZMOT claims that a great shift is occurring between “stimulus” and “shelf.” Once a consumer becomes aware of a product or service, they are conducting their own research, tapping into other’s reviews of the product, watching video, researching competitors, comparison shopping and more. Essentially, by the time they reach the “shelf,” or buying opportunity, consumers have already made up their minds.  

Some useful stats featured in ZMOT: “The average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011, up from 5.3 sources in 2010,” and, “84% of the shoppers said ZMOT shapes their decisions.” The implications of ZMOT are numerous, but consider this question: If your average traveling consumer is utilizing 10.4 different sources of information before making a decision, on how many of those do you have a controlled and strategic presence? Your ability to attract new customers has extended far beyond your own website and search marketing presence.    

2. Don’t abandon search marketing  

There has been a trend in the industry to raid the dollars allocated for paid search marketing. Some argue they can get the same performance through organic search engine placement, while others believe they need to diversify their marketing efforts at the expense of the paid search budget. 

While I agree a robust, diversified digital marketing campaign is important, it also is vital to fund your paid search efforts based on rate of return rather than an arbitrary budget number. Turning down or turning off a profitable paid search campaign can lead to lost opportunity with new customers — customers that easily could be lost to your direct competitors. Google reports that 89% of paid search traffic is incremental. In other words, it was able to prove that when an advertiser paused their paid search campaign, 89% of that traffic did not come back through natural search placement.  

3. Mobile is exploding  

The desktop — and laptop — are losing significant share to tablets and mobile devices, and the impact on travel planning is dramatic. In a recent report, we learned that “56% of business travelers use a mobile device to get travel information, more than double the rate of two years ago.” In addition, “61% of mobile users said they would consider booking travel components using their mobile devices.”  

Establishing a cohesive mobile strategy — starting (but not ending) with the development of a mobile website and branching out to local and mobile search marketing campaigns, check-in campaigns and mobile outreach marketing — has become a proven and profitable marketing channel, not a bleeding-edge idea.  

4. Video is a key untapped opportunity in travel  

According to Google, 46% of personal travelers are watching travel-related videos. Video production used to be a very expensive endeavor that only large travel organizations could afford. Not anymore. Be it developing key content through your own production or inspiring your loyal guests to use their devices to capture great video, the presence of online video is becoming an important component to a well-rounded marketing campaign.  

5. Do not commoditize  

New website technology like HTML5, gorgeous web travel applications and engaged social marketing initiatives are allowing hotels to once again create differentiated experiences in comparison to the competition. The goal is no longer to follow a set playbook (build a website that looks like others, search engine optimize for your name and location and offer the best price on your website). That model is important, but too simple, and does not allow for great points of differentiation. Look instead at what you can do that others are not. Look for what your customers want, and build online, engaged experiences that can surprise and delight them.   

Ultimately, marketing can create separation from your competition, but only if you embrace it as a vast communication vehicle built and optimized to celebrate your hotel’s strengths.