I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
Hospitality Marketing: The Ultimate Guide to Email, SEO, Social Media, and In-person
Hospitality is an overwhelmingly personal business. Whether you’re serving drinks, providing a roof to sleep under, or whisking an adventurer away to the far ends of the world, hospitality is all about creating an unforgettable experience for your guest.
For the most part, the key ingredient to that great experience is a personal connection — sometimes it’s as simple as a smile from the person at the front desk or a waiter remembering a customer’s name, and sometimes it’s as elaborate as a personalized welcome amenity when checking into a 5-star hotel.
Whatever that connection may be, if you want to be successful with your hospitality marketing, you need to find that link and leverage it across all your marketing channels. In this guide, we’re going to look at hospitality marketing as a whole and give an overview of some of the best ways to promote businesses in the industry.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in and see how you can give your hospitality marketing that personal touch.
Email marketing for hospitality companies
Let’s start by taking a look at email marketing. Although this marketing channel is often overshadowed by social media, it’s actually one of the highest converting mediums around. In fact, for every dollar spent on email marketing, you can expect a return of $38 — a 3,800% ROI.
Clearly, email marketing is still alive and well. Here are some ways to make the most of this tried-and-true platform.
1. Segment your list
When you have a large mailing list, chances are that not every piece of marketing material you send out is going to be relevant to every single subscriber. Sending one megablast to everyone on your list (even if it’s not pertinent to them) can leave your subscribers thinking your business is overly spammy or salesy.
Email list segmentation helps direct your email content to the subscribers it’s most relevant to. It achieves this by splitting your list into groups based on interests, behaviors, or other metrics.
Indeed, according to one survey, open rates for segmented campaigns were 14.31% than non-segmented campaigns, and click rates were 100.95% higher.
How you split up your list will depend on your specific business. If you’re a hotel chain, for example, you can segment your list by location: everyone who’s expressed interest in your Virginia Beach hotel would be in one group, and everyone who’s interested in Juneau, Alaska would be in another.
From there, you’d only send Virginia Beach emails to the first group, and Alaska emails to the second. This makes it less likely each group will unsubscribe — 9.37% less likely, to be precise.
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2. Personalize your emails
Personalized emails have 27% higher unique click rates than non-personalized emails, and emails with an individualized subject line led to a 65% open rate for businesses in the travel industry.
Injecting your emails with that personal touch doesn’t require a ton of effort: you can start by simply including the receiver’s name in the subject line. A subject like “Ryan, still thinking about that trip to Aruba?” is much more effective than simply saying “Still thinking about that trip to Aruba?”
Beyond subject lines, you can personalize the body text too. Try starting out emails with a personalized greeting, such as “Dear Ryan” instead of “Dear Customer.” Take any opportunity you can to namedrop your receiver, and you’ll be on your way.
But personalization doesn’t end with names — it can include dates, birthdays, and behaviors as well. Take a look at this email from Hawaiian Airlines:
This email capitalizes on the receiver’s birthday and offers 500 free miles, making the customer feel like they’re not such a stranger to the business.
Here’s another personalization example from Opentable:
Individual business can build off this idea as well. If you have any record of what your customer ordered, send them an email asking, “how was your ravioli?” If you’re a hotel, ask them how their recent stay in Aruba was. It’s a great way to form a better connection with your clientele.
3. Use emojis in your subject lines
This tip goes hand in hand with personalization. In general, people are averse to sales — they prefer personal connections over ones that come across as overly salesy or business-like. Since emojis are commonly used among friends, family, and other close connections, utilizing them in your email subject lines can make your communications seem more like messages from a friend than marketing materials from a big business.
Additionally, adding a splash of color to your email subjects can help them stand out in your audience’s inboxes. Color naturally draws attention to itself when placed against a black and white background, so using it in email subject lines can be incredibly effective in increasing open rates.
In fact, 56% of brands surveyed by Experian noted an increased open rate for emails that used emojis in their subjects.
Here are a few emoji-laden hospitality emails to help get you inspired:
Social media for hospitality companies
Obviously, social media has huge potential as a marketing channel, so let’s explore how hospitality businesses like yours can use it to your advantage.
1. Maintain a consistent brand identity
Just because each platform is different doesn’t mean your identity should change along with them. Maintaining a consistent brand identity across all your marketing platforms is vital to the success of your promotional efforts. In fact, curating a consistent brand identity increases revenue by 23%, according to Lucidpress.
Writing out a clear and concise style guide is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your brand identity stays in tune with itself across all your different platforms. In most cases, this is as simple as writing out some guidelines regarding tone, color usage, and logo variations.
For example, are emojis appropriate for your brand? Or are you trying to position yourself as a very traditional and conservative bed and breakfast? How about your color scheme: what colors fit, and which ones are off limits? What variations on your logo are allowed on social media?
Answering questions like these will help get you started and provide you with a clear ruleset that you can apply to all your marketing efforts.
Take a look at how Bareburger maintains consistency across its emails, website, and social media. Even without seeing the company name, you can recognize the restaurant from its tone, emoji usage, colors, fonts, and art style.
2. Focus on video
Consider this: most visual content on social media is image based. That means that your audience is going to see primarily static content when they scroll through their feeds.
But what happens when you throw a dash of motion into the mix? Well, your audience is likely to focus their attention on it. It’s a base evolutionary instinct: if you’re in the jungle and you see something move, you look at it. Similarly, when you’re out in the wild on social media, and you see a video, you check it out.
If you’re a hospitality business, you need to corner the millennial market, and utilizing the power of video is one of the best ways to do so.
3. Leverage the power of influencers
As we’ve already discussed, the general trend within the hospitality industry is to become more personal. To that end, influencers are perhaps the most powerful tools available to hospitality businesses.
So, what exactly is an influencer? An influencer is someone who has gained a large following on social media due to their personality or expertise in a specific niche. Influencers usually build very personal relationships with their audience, meaning that when they make a product recommendation, their followers treat it as if it were coming from a friend.
In short: it’s word-of-mouth marketing on digital steroids.
Luckily, hospitality is an especially easy business to design an influencer campaign for. To start, all you need to do is invite an influencer to eat at your restaurant, stay at your hotel, fly on your airline, etc. Some influencers will do this so long as you offer them free service, but be prepared to pay.
Here’s an example from nutrition and fitness influencer Derek Simnett. While this post is likely a genuine post and not a paid influencer campaign, the effect is the same: the influencer ate at the restaurant, posted about it, and now all his followers have a recommendation from someone they trust and admire.
SEO and organic marketing for the hospitality industry
SEO (search engine optimization) and organic marketing are all about getting people to come to you naturally, without paying for advertisements. Most of the time, this refers to optimizing for Google’s search algorithm so that you appear as the first result for related searches, but organic marketing also refers to any unpaid social media post, email, or web content that serves a promotional purpose.
Let’s dive into a few tips to help you make the most of this type of marketing.
1. Host a contest or sweepstakes
Breaking news: people love free stuff. Giving away free stuff like free entrees, free airline miles, or a free night at a hotel are great examples of ways you can attract interest in your business.
What’s great about contests and giveaways is that they give you a chance to expand your email list and your reach. Since people are less likely to turn down free items, you have a great chance of attracting new business from people who wouldn’t have given your establishment a chance otherwise.
Everyone wants a free meal, hotel stay, or flight, so by offering the chance to win one of those totally free of charge in exchange for an email address, you can build up your mailing list very quickly.
Here’s an example of a recent contest that was run by Brad’s Deals and Expedia:
The risk-reward ratio here is great. For a big company like Expedia, $1,000 is nothing. But in exchange for a small giveaway, they can expect to get thousands of new leads that have already demonstrated an interest in traveling.
If you’re a small company, you don’t need to offer a prize as big as this one. Start small: offer a free dessert, one free night, or a free game of mini-golf. The key is to find something that fits your business’s budget.
2. Create content that caters to voice searches
As research into natural language processing improves and accuracy crosses over 95%, voice searches are becoming a major part of organic marketing strategies.
Over a quarter (26.2%) of US adults now own a smart speaker like the Amazon Alexa or Google Home, which means that more and more search queries are made in natural, everyday speech, not in the bite-sized keyword structure we’re all used to.
To make this clearer, let’s look at an example. A typical Google search for a hotel in Berlin might be “best hotel berlin”. But with Alexa, a user might say “Alexa, what’s the best hotel in Berlin?”
To catch that search traffic, you need content that’s conversational — simply using a keyword isn’t enough. Try to anticipate questions that people might ask out loud about your business, then post articles that ask those questions in a header and answer them in the body.
Make sure to craft content that works for every stage of the purchasing journey and focuses on location keywords. For example, if your hotel’s name is Hotel Brandenburg some headers might be:
- What’s the best hotel in Berlin?
- Where in Berlin is Hotel Brandenburg located?
- How much does it cost to stay at Hotel Brandenburg?
- Does Hotel Brandenburg have a gym?
- Is there a restaurant at Hotel Brandenburg?
Writing content in this way also has the added benefit of showing up for Google snippets — the box of text and little drop down boxes that appear below the “People also search for” on certain searches. For example:
Writing content in this way can help you not only catch voice search traffic, but show up in Google snippets as well.
In-person marketing for hospitality businesses
Despite all the focus on hospitality digital marketing, traditional in-person advertising methods can still be effective. To build a truly well-rounded and robust marketing strategy, you’ll need to venture into the real world and make face-to-face connections.
Here are some ways to do just that.
1. Display the Yelp logo to help get reviews
Let’s be clear: reviews matter. A recent survey from ReviewTrackers found that 63.6% of consumers checked reviews on Google before visiting a business. If your business has lots of great reviews, you’ll be well-positioned to attract more and more clientele.
Unfortunately, getting customers to leave reviews isn’t always so simple. For one, Yelp expressly forbids all businesses from asking customers for reviews — doing so can penalize your account.
However, there isn’t anything wrong with simply displaying the Yelp logo inside your business to help remind customers that the site exists. You can also say something like “check us out on Yelp”, but this is more likely to be misconstrued or misremembered by a customer as asking for a review.
2. Use “The Red Napkin Method”
If you’re looking to bring in new business, this method from Jon Taffer from Bar Rescue is a great strategy. Although it was originally designed for restaurants, it can be applied to all sorts of hospitality businesses with a little ingenuity.
At its heart, the concept is incredibly simple: the more good experiences a customer has with a business, the more likely they are to become a repeat customer. However, there’s two challenges you need to overcome: the first is bringing in a new customer for a first visit, and the second is getting them to come in for two more. Once they’ve had three good visits, you’ve likely got a repeat customer for life.
So, how do you overcome those hurdles? For now, let’s run with the original restaurant example: make a set number of vouchers for a free entree that can only be used by first-time customers. When the customer comes in, place a red napkin (assuming this isn’t your normal decor) on their table so the wait staff knows they’re an important lead and require top-notch service.
After they finish their dinner, ask them if they liked it. If they did, write them a voucher for another dish that you personally (notice the trend?) recommend to them. After they come back and enjoy their second dinner, offer them a free dessert voucher for their next visit. When they come back and enjoy their dinner yet again, you’ve got yourself a loyal customer.
So, how can you expand this concept into other businesses? Let’s say you’re a mini-golf course. Distribute some vouchers for a free game. When a customer comes to your business with one of the vouchers, give them a yellow golf club to designate that they’re a new customer. If they enjoy their game, offer them a free snack at your snack bar on their next visit — you get the idea.
This method can be extremely effective and doesn’t require a big investment. All you need is some creativity to find a way to apply it to your business.
All in all, if you’re in the hospitality industry, you’re extremely lucky. You’ve got tons of opportunities to forge personal relationships with your customers through email, to post pictures of delicious food on social media, to intercept location-based search queries with SEO, and to drive home a sale in person.
We hope this guide helps get your creative juices flowing. Have an idea for a topic you want us to cover? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
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