The new marketing paradigm
The marketing and advertising arena is evolving at a remarkable rate as nascent digital technologies and media proliferation give rise to unprecedented ways of engaging with consumers. This has triggered a transformation in consumer purchasing behaviour where online purchasing and a surge in mobile transactions have come to the fore. As maintained by McKinsey, 1 in 4 consumers use social media for purchasing decisions. Hoteliers must take advantage of such changes in order to remain relevant in a highly competitive industry.
With its roots in the traditional form of “word of mouth”, influencer marketing has become a lucrative digital marketing strategy for growing hotel brand awareness, customer loyalty and driving direct bookings. This is because digital word of mouth is diffused significantly faster than its precursor and has the potential to reach a much larger audience. More importantly, though, social media Influencers have seen an exponential rise in authority, credibility and trust among today’s consumers.
The rationale behind this is intuitive; people are more likely to trust peer recommendations than traditional ads such as tv commercials when making travel purchase decisions. Consumers are looking for authentic advice and have become desensitised to traditional advertising with self-promotional ads increasingly ignored or rejected. Furthermore, the digital arena has seen a greater number of online users downloading ad-blocks on their browsers.
OTA’s, commission and the book direct trend
What do Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) have in common? They include attractive package deals and user-reviews for hotels and venues. Yet, as we all know, selling a room via an OTA comes at a high cost; a booking fee for the consumer and commission for the hotelier. A survey by Kalibri Labs, a big data firm, found that a stay sold direct with a hotel would be at least 9% more profitable. This is because it facilitates your ability to up-sell and cross sell.
Although OTA’s are far from obsolete, Millennials and Generation Z are presently finding out about potential venues through Influencers on their Instagram who steer them to the hotel’s social-media page which will have direct links to their website. An incredible 1 in 5 minutes on a mobile phone is now spent on either Instagram or Facebook, anywhere in the world.
Who are travel Influencers?
Travel Influencers are the new generation of reviewers who can provide a real life experience of the hotel venue through travel blogs and user-generated content on social media. They reach future customers by engaging on a personal level and building durable and trustworthy relationships with their followers, your potential guests.
Instagram is the fastest growing media platform to date, with 800 million active users, and growing by 100 million every six months. It’s business model revolves around visual imagery. Visual imagery is an extremely powerful tool from an advertising perspective because the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. User-generated content including visual imagery and live videos are progressively taking over the new marketing paradigm. These images have their own artistic flare rooted in an Influencer’s personality and public image. In this way, they offer a fun and unique perspective into a hotel experience as opposed to the standard images found on hotel sites and travel magazines.
Furthermore, user-generated content is perceived as a non-intrusive form of marketing because it only reaches individuals that have actively followed a given influencer or chosen to explore their content. Thus Instagram provides a platform for consensual hotel marketing where ordinary people are empowered to influence each other’s travel purchasing decisions.
Guidelines for a hotel influencer marketing campaign
Counter-intuitively, it is more effective to work with influencers with a smaller following (“micro influencers”) than those with millions or thousands upon thousands of followers (“macro influencers”). This is because engagement is far more important than reach when it comes to hotel marketing. “Micro influencers” have the greatest engagement rate and the strongest relationships with their followers, and thus have more authority when it comes to influencing travel purchase decisions.
It is vital that you define your target market using data driven tools such as Google Analytics to profile your typical guest based on region, average age, lifestyle and income. Your chosen influencer must align with your desired demographic so that you engage with your target audience. Their followers, your budding customers, will be likeminded individuals with similar tastes to your typical guest. Targeting your campaign may decrease your overall website traffic, but will facilitate higher conversions and increased ROI.
Engage regularly with your influencers to improve customer service, brand loyalty and positive brand awareness. Let them know about any future deals you are offering and provide them with promotional booking codes to share with their followers. Communicating with your influencers can provide you with more data on your present and prospective customers including their fundamental motivations and expectations when choosing a given property. Using this information to your advantage can improve the overall guest experience and can also equip you with the means to decipher what is required to open into a new market.
A quantifiable case study
Influencer Marketing has facilitated greater competition in the market where smaller/independent hotel brands now have greater potential to compete with larger chains.
John Fowler Holiday Parks, have 3 family oriented parks based in the south of England. Following a sustained influencer marketing campaign, they saw a 67% increase in revenue, a 630% Return on Investment (ROI) and a 52% increase in organic conversation rate.
-Traditional hotel marketing via self-promotion is deterring today’s consumers.
-“Word of mouth” marketing via influencers on digital media platforms constitutes the most authentic way to reach out to potential customers, increase engagement with your brand and in turn drive direct bookings.
-Using influencers is about gaining the trust of customers and prospective customers by showcasing your hotel through the eyes of a typical guest.
-Influencers are ordinary people their followers can relate to and whose lifestyles they aspire to imitate.
-They enable your brand to cement relationships with prospective customers before they have even considered visiting the city or location of your hotel.
As stated by the Marriott, “Influencer marketing is here to stay, and should play a central role in your strategy to win the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers” (Marriott’s Vice President of Global Creative & Content Marketing).
Alexandra Agha is an Influencer Relationship Manager at Swayy.