In hospitality, marketing automation is on the leading edge of industry technology. Despite years of 50 percent annual growth, marketing automation is still the new new thing for almost all companies in the United States.
“We see only about 3 percent penetration in non-technology midmarket companies,” Act-On CEO Raghu Raghavan told VentureBeat.
The good news is, it’s unlikely your competitors are leveraging their guest data with marketing automation. There is a huge opportunity at this moment in time for organizations on the forefront of the industry to benefit from the power of hotel marketing automation before their competitors get up to speed.
The not-so-great news here is, hospitality as an industry is not optimized for maximum marketing automation success. Guest data exists in disparate systems and there’s often no way to look at it all in once place, and more importantly, act on it. There is also not currently an alignment of goals and functions across departments, as there was previously no way for marketing to leverage data like revenue management insights, for example.
Acknowledging the limitations of hotel marketing automation
To achieve maximum success, it’s important to understand what hotel marketing automation does well as well as what its limitations are.
Hotel marketing automation works well with a well-defined process in place; it doesn’t automate your entire organization so much as streamline and scale a hotel’s ability to talk to guests on a personalized level.
All marketing automation relies on preset logic (“If this X happens, then do Y”; “if X does not happen, then do Z”). Hotel marketing automation specifically also relies on a hotel’s ability to collect and centralize data. So, if you can’t create a segment of incoming guests based on their dates of stay in your marketing database because you don’t have emails for your incoming guests, then you can’t send those guests content that is relevant to them and the dates of their stay, specifically.
Your organization needs to be engaged in collecting vital information like email addresses in a centralized system, so your marketing automation program has the data it needs to function.
Preparing your organization for marketing automation
If you are considering using marketing automation in your hotel, you need to first prepare your organization in the following ways:
1. Know your guests
IF you are going to get the most out of your marketing automation solution, you must go through the process of defining the types of guests who stay with your hotel up front. Marketing automation relies on segments you create based on commonalities in your guests’ data. Do you want to communicate with guests who have stayed a certain number of times with the hotel or spent a certain amount of money? That’s one segment. What about guests who previously booked through an OTA? That’s another segment. You need to think about the different ways you can slice and dice your guest database before you start automating the messages you send to them.
2. Collect the right data
Very early on in your hotel marketing automation journey, it will become clear that data quality is everything. Of course, having accurate, current email addresses is critical. So, it’s important to train and incentivize your front desk staff to have incoming guests verify or provide their email addresses upon check-in. They should also, if possible, make note of the guest’s reason for the stay, as well as whether they’re traveling alone, with a spouse, or with children. Having this data can help you get very specific with your database segments, so you can deliver highly relevant content that is more likely to be successful than generic blast emails. (According to the DMC National Client Email report, targeted email campaigns produce 30% more opens and 50% higher click-through rates than undifferentiated messages. Additionally, 76% of all email marketing revenue comes from more advanced practices than generic broadcast email.)
Simply collecting guest emails is the first critical step of this process, but data can extend to purchase and stay history, geographical location, and even interests. For example, you could market to golf enthusiasts specifically based on previous tee time bookings.
3. Leverage data across departments
On that note, it’s important look look to the data you already own, and align goals across departments, to get a full 360 view of your guests. In cases where insights and goals are aligned, a more synergistic relationship can be achieved. For example, the revenue management team has unique insights into a hotel’s guest database to leverage for marketing campaigns.
When a hotel’s marketing team leverages revenue management data, they can better:
- Address forecast periods of low demand with highly targeted, segmented email marketing campaigns
- Mitigate last minute cancellations with quickly created, targeted campaigns
- Create upsell campaigns to drive additional revenue
- Gain insights into all segments to help inform the optimal mix of business (discussed in more detail below)
Revenue managers also need to be in lockstep with sales managers, especially where corporate business is a significant portion of occupied rooms. And often revenue management is the final authorizer for corporate rates. Given such high cross-functional integration, revenue teams are starting to get more involved in marketing and sales-related technology decisions.
4. Test on a small subset of your database first
Most organizations cannot wait to get started with marketing automation. However, it’s important to run tests with smaller subsets of your database to see what’s working and what’s not working, so you don’t cause a massive spike in opt outs, or worse, spam reports. Every hotel’s customer base is going to be a little bit different, so take time to test on small samples to see how they respond to your new marketing capabilities.
It’s also a good idea to warm up your IP address before you jump into marketing automation with both feet. CLICK HERE to access our on-demand webinar, Email Marketing Best Practices for Hoteliers, which includes information on how to warm up your IP address.
5. Have patience
Ultimately it takes time to get hotel marketing automation working. It requires discipline and commitment as well as buy-in from multiple stakeholders within multiple parts of the organization, including marketing, operations, revenue management, and sales.
When implemented correctly, marketing automation really can be a boon to hoteliers that are looking to be movers and shakers in the hospitality industry. However in all the excitement surrounding this emerging technology, it’s incumbent upon hotel marketers to be cognizant of the issues that can arise, and to therefore prepare their organizations accordingly. With the right alignment of goals across departments, maximum profitability can be achieved.
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