Advanced Marketing Strategies For Luxury Hotels In 2014

The past few years have been simultaneously strange, wonderful, economically interesting and – most of all – have produced a lot more marketing noise. People are bombarded on a daily basis with advertising, and when someone is looking for a luxury hotel you’re up against a myriad of competitors. Cutting through this noise is a skill not many possess or even attempt, so let’s look at how we can help your hotel stand out from the pack in 2014.

luxury hotel marketing 2014 googleForget trying to rank for a bit, and let’s put a focus on not only grabbing the attention of the consumer base, but siphoning them into your social follower base and your newsletter. The focus and main point behind this article is to get you less dependent on free Google traffic and more focused on building an audience that loves your hotel.

By now, most luxury hotels have the usual social media suspects (FB/Tw/Inst/Pint/Yt) up and active with content and user interaction on a daily basis. This is great and over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of the luxury hotels doing exceptional things through social media in regards to marketing.

For the most part, I’m still finding that most luxury hotels are not stepping out of their comfort zone and they’re still not quite “getting” social media. With this guide, I’m hoping to make you think differently and get a true ROI from this new-found audience and how to grow it faster than you had ever previously thought possible.

Why Ignore Google?

Firstly, far too many hotels rely quite heavily on the free traffic that comes from the organic search, and while it’s great it can also be seen as a crux. The other reason is also because the folks from Google have said this themselves, even though that may sound a little crazy. The reasoning behind it is so that your website is focused for the user, not for search robots.

You should see some of my clients’ reactions when they hear me say we’re going to ignore Google in our marketing efforts. Of course the statement is a little false, as anything we do will eventually trickle down and help us rank better at the end of the day. You will also be going outside the realms of low quality SEO and just focusing on things that make your hotel stand out and win the hearts of potential customers.

Are Backlinks Still Important?

Links are still gold in not only my books, but in Google’s as well, and that’s reflected openly in the search results. Spammers have been clearly taking advantage of this as well and I’m sure some of you hoteliers have noticed the craziness that goes on. While junk backlinks can still rank a site well and fast, it surely won’t last and this is not a strategy for a legit hotel brand.

Unnatural Links Notice from Google

I’ve seen too many hotels fall into the bad SEO trap and get link building done that ended horribly. Links should be earned not built, so below describes activities that will not only attract links, but combine brand and audience building through social media.

Still not convinced? Consider this then…

Google is looking to enter the travel industry even more with possible upcoming changes that would potentially make the organic search game even tougher. From a recent article covered by Tnooz:

Presumably the same functionality could be extended to how products appear on Google Maps, Local and on mobile devices (tours and activities arguably being the one sector of the industry with most to gain from always connected, on-the-road travellers).

Google could, of course, conceivably roll the entire concept to into a Hotel Finder-type standalone service purely for attractions, tours and activities.

How this will all play out in terms of commercial and placement is yet to be determined.

Tell me this: would you rather have people know to come directly to your hotel instead of seeking out an alternative on Google? Let’s now see how you can push new marketing heights and reach new levels with these actionable marketing strategies I’ve come to know and love.

Actionable Inbound Hotel Marketing Strategies

Welcome to the meat of my article, and where you’re going to have a few takeaways to go and try out in your hotel’s marketing efforts. There’s a good chance you’re doing a few items on the list already, but I bet the majority of it won’t be on your current task list.

Let’s put away the notion of having SEO and social media marketing as two different tasks and let’s start thinking about doing things that tackle all that in one. I much rather prefer doing things that score my clients links, gain them social followers and make people think of them when they’re coming into town.

Relationship Building

It doesn’t whether you’ve heard this term before or not. What’s important in this day and age of marketing is having an audience that listens, cares and shares. Without this you’re going to be dead in the water over the next few years, even quicker if your competitors are actively engaging the audience you want.

Sadly, this isn’t always the easiest task although you can use this to your advantage. It takes a lot of time and resources to make “friends” with social influencers and get your content shared with the right people. Knowing who is the most active in your industry both on the consumer and business side of things will come in very handy, so let’s talk about how we can do that.

Finding influencers for fun and profit

I tend to stick with just Twitter as my relationship building tool of choice, as it’s a platform for communication. Albeit only 140 characters at a time, you can still do a lot of amazing things with Twitter besides telling the world what you just ate for dinner.

Wefollow Hotelier Results

WeFollow.com – This is the place to find influencers on Twitter and quickly. This is my go-to place for finding influencers within minutes. Just use their search function to browse various lists like hotelier, luxury hotels and luxury travel. Don’t forget to look in your city as well!

Topsy.com – The social search engine is a great source for finding out who’s talking the talk and walking the walk. Just search for a topic or keyword related to your area and you’ll quickly see who’s content is getting shared the most. This tool is invaluable and you can even set alerts to monitor topics you’re wanting to keep a keen eye on.

Traackr.com – For those with a larger budget, I’d definitely consider checking out this software suite that goes above and beyond any of the free tools out there. If you’re putting a huge effort into relationship building, I would take Traackr for a spin and see if it makes a big difference. There are other tools out there as well like Buzz Stream and of course Klout. I, however, have had the most experience with Traackr and quite like all of its features and reporting.

While those tools and tricks do help, I highly encourage you to be involved socially enough to spot with the naked eye who the big fish are in your niche.

Event Marketing

One of my favorite marketing strategies for luxury hotels revolves around events and all that they offer. The beauty of it all is that events are both local and global. Hosting an event drives room sales and everything else that comes with it, but it’s also a great way to score links and brand buzz from around the web. “How so,” you ask? Well, let’s break down a few things I do with my team while preparing to market an event to put it all in perspective. As with any marketing task, you need diligent planning and ideas put on the table before you get started.

Muck Rack

Initial PR – Announcing the event or conference comes with the benefit of attracting links from a variety of sources. While the links are just the icing on the cake, the press coverage can make or break the event so make sure you’re doing all that you can. Besides putting out a press release, look to places like MuckRack.com where you can connect with journalists looking to cover stories. We’ve had a lot of success connecting clients to local journalists to get amazing coverage on local blogs and news sites.

I would also like to think you’re planning on capturing social media profiles of people attending the event? If not, you need to start incorporating this into your signup forms right now. Connecting with those people will play a big role in keeping the talk going and I will discuss more ways like this below.

Most of you hotel marketers have a go to PR consultant which of course is first on the contact list. Don’t hesitate to also try another consultant to utilize their contacts.

Event Websites – Another aspect often neglected by the hotel’s I’ve worked with were taking an hour to submit the event to the right websites. Even if you’re targeting a smaller specific group to this event, you might as well get the digital marketing benefits that come with having your hotel talked about and linked to.

Eventful New York

While I don’t think you need to submit your event to all the sites out there, I’d still stick to the authority sites like Yelp, Eventful, Yahoo Events, Eventbrite and LinkedIn for B2B. You can even look to your local newspapers online, many of which will have an event listings section which you can get listed on.

Social Media – Every event nowadays should have a hashtag associated with it, not only because it keeps communication focused on a centre point, but because it allows for content gathering with ease. You will have to kick off the use of this hashtag, so it should be used on a daily basis right from the get-go to encourage others to partake.

By now you should hopefully have built up a few relationships with those influencers and this is where they will come in handy. Reach out to them in any way you can without being a nuisance, although your event should be highly targeted to their followers as well.

You should also put your event attendees to work and encourage them to participate with the hashtag and the event in general. You will find people will happily share on Facebook, pipe in with a Tweet and even blog about their trip back on their personal or company blog.

Luxury Hotel in Mexico

Bespoke Experiences Are A Must

This is crucial! Just about every major city’s luxury hotels offer experiences unique to their hotel, but rarely are they really all that creative. This is where we can really make your hotel stand out and give your marketing team something to use in order to acquire natural links and get some buzz going.

Some of the typical experiences you’ll find already include a romantic getaway, local dining packages and of course a spa experience is usually on the menu. This is all fine and dandy and while your hotel may be guilty of being stagnant with ideas as well, don’t take it too hard. When you jump onto the market with something new, the amount of attention you should be able to score from that will be huge.

Thinking outside the box

I would sit down with your team and start looking at what else you can offer clients. Perhaps a supercar to go with their suite for a few days or a local chef to come cook for them in their suite. Whenever I’ve done new experiences for clients in the past, I tend to reach out to other local businesses that offer a one-of-a-kind product. This should especially be exciting for a customer who has never been to your city and can experience more of what it has to offer.

People crave a bespoke experience!

Not only can you market this new experience to your current social media and newsletter reader base, you can also make use of it to:

1) Drive a big PR campaign to score invaluable links, brand buzz and press coverage. You’ve now created something that (hopefully) deserves to be talked about, so get the word out. Look to your social media relationships and press release services to get the ball rolling and let the world know you’ve got something no one else can offer.

2) I mentioned working with other local businesses on these new experiences, and for good reason. If you carefully select the right companies with the largest social fan bases, you’re going to have an opportunity to get them to also help spread the word. This also opens your hotel up to gaining more natural links and social media followers from these partners due to you both thinking outside the box.

This alone should be enough to create quite the stir and hopefully inspire you to dive deeper into the bespoke experience route. If you can pull this off, you’ll leave your competition in the dust.

Advanced Social Media Marketing

There’s doubt that social media marketing has taken the hotel world by storm, and it’s a very powerful marketing weapon. Before you start thinking you can skip this section, I’ll tell you now: what we’re going to cover here falls under a more advanced marketing regiment and I guarantee you’ve only tackled one or two of the items on the list coming up.

While I don’t want to give away all of my secrets, I’ll certainly go over a handful of innovative and exciting marketing strategies that will distance you from the competition. I know I’m repeating myself a little with that statement, but it’s important to me and it should be a mantra that’s on your mind as well.

Produce Great Visual Content With Local Producers

What does that mean? Take a look at the vast selection of both locally and globally known photographers and videographers that you could work with. You may or may not be surprised at how many luxury hotels I come across who have the most awful teeny tiny pictures and poorly constructed videos. This reflects poorly on your brand, and in this day and age it is an absolute must to have content that compels.

Your media should strike a chord with the customer and hopefully spark an emotion which will more often than not lead to a sale. This especially applies for those marketing their presidential or penthouse suite, which should be drawing the attention of bloggers and mediaphiles. Show off your best assets and do it big!

Not only will having incredible content help your website and social media efforts out, it gives you a chance to cross promote with whomever you’re working with. Imagine working with a known photographer who has 50,000 Facebook fans at their disposal and will share what they did working with you. You would normally have to pay through the nose to get your content in front of an audience like that, but in this case you’re just paying their hourly fees.

Making Use Of Social Media For Customer Service

I know you already have a support number and email service, but how many of you are utilizing social media for customer service? It’s by no means a new thing to do but if the competition isn’t doing it yet, this can be yet another aspect that makes you stand out. Communication is key when running a hotel and allowing an almost instantaneous line to your social media team can make all the difference.

Hilton Google+

Google+

A lot of luxury hotel brands tend to still shy away from Google+ and in a world of so many social networks to monitor, do we really need yet another? While you may not see the benefit straight away, I would warn you to get in early as the clear and obvious benefits of authorship and personal results is going to be huge.

Google+ Local is also going to be quite important for local rankings and I would definitely be looking at ways to encourage users to leave reviews. Knowing Google, you can bet these reviews will become a huge factor in local ranking results so encourage and monitor. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback so instead tackle it head on and show the world you care and you will rectify the situation at hand.

Google Hangouts are another cool way to interact face-to-face with customers while drawing them into following your hotel on Google+. You would be surprised how many customers have responded to this kind of interaction, especially when someone’s about to book but wants some fast answers quickly.

Four Seasons Twitter Customer Interaction

Twitter

Twitter is obviously a great tool for communication and just about every luxury hotel on the planet is on there doing something. What I like about using it for customer relations is that it encourages not only the person to follow you, but you’re also attracting someone who’s going to most likely be a customer.

I would highly recommend this blog post showcasing not only how the Four Seasons does it, but how they do it well. If you happen to converse with a social influencer, well then you’re in luck as their followers will take notice of your hotel and that can only lead to good things. The downside, of course, being that if you have a true customer service nightmare on your hands, then you can hurt yourself pretty easily.

Tapping Into Bloggers

Tapping into the most socially affluent bloggers in the travel space is something I strongly push for with my clients, because getting the right blogger in your hotel needs to be done. What types of bloggers should you have come stay and play at your hotel? My list usually looks like this:

– Food bloggers to come and experience the food at your hotel and write about it
– Inviting luxury travel bloggers to come review the hotel to their blog readers and social followers
– Host an event for travel or food bloggers and let them do their thing

While I cannot give away my clients, I can say that I’ve tracked a lot of sales coming from affluent bloggers’ reviews as they can rank very well in the organic search results. Their readers trust the reviews and exposure they do, and you should encourage these bloggers to be nothing but honest in their reviews.

Hilton Social Media Contest

Social Media-Based Contests

The amount of social media based contests and giveaways I’ve done in the past few years has easily made it the most sought-after marketing strategy we deploy. After running well over a hundred contests or giveaways, I’ve definitely learned a lot and there’s one thing I cannot stress enough to potential clients… And that is to target the right demographic!

You’re a luxury hotel and you need to attract the right kind of person that will be a repeat customer, not just someone looking for a freebie. While giving away a stay in your hotel with some additional goodies is fine and dandy, I recommend making users participate with content of their own to be entered.

Having contestants have to participate by creating content in order to be entered will discourage “professional” contest people and attract true brand fans. This could include having them post an image to Instagram or – my personal favourite – creating a video which gives your hotel content to use. Youtube-based contests are a gold mine for free content and if you position it so the video with the most views wins, your brand is going to get a lot of exposure.

Social Networks To Be On The Lookout For In 2014

Leaving behind the usual social media suspects, I often get asked what other networks are worth being active on. If you have the resources and a little time, then I recommend playing around on the following newcomers:

Fancy.com – This is Pinterest’s little brother, although its audience is an affluent one with great taste and little regard for money. You can even partner with them and have Fancy users book your hotel from their site! While I didn’t think it would take off, it has been a great source of sales in 2013.

Stayful.com – Fresh on the market, this social travel network is aimed at being the Priceline for booking boutique hotels. So if you fall under that category, I’d definitely jump on board. Its user base is an affluent one and even though they’re still quite new, I’d definitely recommend testing it out in 2014.

Ryan Clark
ryan@luxurybranded.com

Ryan Clark is celebrating 10 years consulting for luxury brands across the globe helping them reach UHNW individuals online and off. He specializes in luxury digital marketing, SEO, PR and luxury viral marketing. Connect with me to talk about your luxury marketing strategy and how our services can help you achieve more this year. I offer a luxury gaps audit to determine where you're falling flat and where I see you can improve in your marketing efforts.   To connect with him online you can follow on Twitter @LuxuryBranded, connect on LinkedIn Ryan R Clark and read his column on Luxe Getaways Magazine where he covers the world of luxury.

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