Prospecting Campaigns: The Modern Billboard for Hotels
What are the best types of online campaigns for your hotel to run? Confusion abounds on this topic.
Many hotels have questions about which types of campaigns are best, what return to expect on them, and the true value of those campaigns. For campaigns for a specific special offer or a rate plan, there are clear goals and targets.
However, prospecting campaigns – ones designed to introduce your hotel to new audiences and increase brand awareness – are part of a bigger picture. They help your hotel in the medium and long run, not just the short term.
In the online world, where so many things can be easily tracked, many of us assume we can track anything and everything – however, sometimes it’s more difficult to see the real value of a campaign. Here’s why these prospecting campaigns are so important:
The Modern Marketing Mix
Branded campaigns and non-branded search campaigns are essential parts of the modern advertising and marketing mix for hotels. To some hotels, these campaigns, especially non-branded ones, may seem like optional or minor activities. In reality, they are vital to your online presence and brand, which in turn likely makes up half or more bookings for your hotel today.
The way I like to think about branded campaigns vs non-branded search campaigns or display campaigns is as follows.
25 years ago, even 10 years ago, you would have placed an ad for the hotel on the yellow pages. The yellow pages would be an equivalent of your current branded campaigns. Other examples would be listings in wedding magazines and other industry publications.
You used to have a pretty good estimation of how many people were in possession of the yellow pages and how many copies of magazines were in circulation at that stage. At the same time, one could infer that people who reached you via the yellow pages already were familiar with the hotel and your brand. That is, they were actively looking you up and seeking out your hotel.
On the other hand, I’m also pretty sure that 25 (or 10) years ago you would have invested in a billboard to the side of the motorway, so that you could get your brand out there for people who might be in the area and might be interested in the hotel. In that case, you could have an estimation of the traffic in that particular area of the motorway, but it would have been very difficult to extrapolate that to the actual number of people seeing your ad and being influenced by it.
There are a huge number of cars going by, but how many are reading your sign? How many will remember it, or call you to make a booking?
Prospecting Campaigns Are Investments
When before you would have considered that spend as an investment, today we have prospecting campaigns in the form of longtail keyword campaigns and display campaigns. These might be campaigns designed to appeal to people who are looking for hotels near the airport you’re located next to (with keywords like “place to stay near Dublin Airport”), or to show off your hotel restaurant to people looking at a good place to eat in Galway.
You can create a series of messages online for new customers to see, but it would look a bit silly on a line of billboards!
The return on these can be minutely measured due to the attribution models and online tracking in place. However, these campaigns also have an unmeasurable effect in terms of branding. True, impressions can be accurately measured. However, it is still difficult to gauge how many of those impressions sparked interest or generated recognition for your brand in the user’s mind.
The Challenge of Cross Device Attributions
This is doubly complicated by the fact that cross-device conversions – a relatively new development for the industry – do not always account for the total of last click conversions we see on the reports. For a deeper look at attribution models, click here.
For example, an ad impression on mobile can trigger a direct conversion on Desktop. At the moment, the industry is working toward overcoming the hurdles of cross device conversions. The current attribution models, however, are not comprehensive enough for this type of conversions to be taken into consideration.
How do you deal with these challenges? My recommendation is to measure returns and CPA (cost per acquisition) for branded campaigns, and to be very demanding in that respect.
However, with regards to non-branded prospecting campaigns, whether they’re display or longtail keyword campaigns, one good approach is to have a discretionary budget that is considered an investment. Then, measure the level of impressions you’re getting and see how many new people are being fed into the funnel.
Did the number of calls your hotel receives go up once your billboard was up? You can apply the same principles to your online prospecting campaign
Your longtail keyword campaign has the disadvantage of being in direct competition with your competitor set, as well as with every major OTA around. This will unfailingly drive your costs up, as each click will have to be more expensive to be able to better compete with the other bidders.
However, your ads in this space are showing alongside those of your direct competitors and all OTAs. If you reduce spend on or remove these campaigns, you ensure that the only results searchers will see will be for your competitors and for OTA’s. While your organic listing will show up for relevant keywords, Google’s continued focus on monetization means that organic results are being made less prominent. Ads will always be seen first.
There is an intrinsic value to these campaigns that cannot easily be quantified, and is entirely dependent on your strategy.
This is why non-branded campaigns are valued so highly by many hotels. They’re just like the billboards you would have invested in before the digital world became so important. These campaigns get your hotel in front of new eyes who might be interested in your hotel.
We have so much data available to us today that it can be easy to think that the value of every effort can be perfectly measured. That isn’t always the case just yet, but these prospecting campaigns are still extremely valuable. Both branded and non-branded campaigns are essential, in just the same way that you value your traditional marketing channels.