The game’s a-changin’ – the world’s smaller, competition is heavy, the amount of communication outlets seems to grow everyday… and, concurrently, the number of ads that people now see in a day is staggering, the amount of marketing messages that people are exposed to is incredible. Yet YOU are still supposed to not only RUN your business, but to continually GROW it year over year… and more often than not, with media/marketing budgets that border on the “silly.”

So, it begs the question: Without an endless stream of money, an endless amount of time to keep up with constantly changing world of media and media placement, and the endless energy to do all of this — what’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck?

And the answer is simple… I don’t know. Well, that is to say, I don’t know SPECIFICALLY for your situation. But what I do know is this… “He who blends with the crowd, spends with the crowd… he who breaks the mold, takes the gold.” (Yeah, I just made that up — pretty cool, huh? That must be why I’m in marketing.)

Anyway, enough auto-back-patting. The idea is simple. The average consumer sees 3,000-5,000 advertising message / PER DAY… not a typo. PER. DAY. That’s ludicrous. If you tried to remember all of the ones you were exposed to every day, you wouldn’t remember but 2%… maybe. Which goes to show, that the majority of advertising messages are COMPLETELY ignored. So, the majority of the ones that are remembered (sadly) are the ones who have media budgets that resemble the GDP of a small country. But, what about other ones? And to cut more to the chase… how do you become one of those other ones?

Here’s where the answers become a bit more clear… or, that is to say, slightly less blurry. So I’ll break this down into two sections, or something like that. I’ve always thought the saying “think outside the box” was exceptionally funny in relation to the travel business… because that’s pretty much all that people think about when they think about travel marketing… but it’s equally important to remember to think inside the box… so this is where we’ll start.

THINKING INSIDE THE BOX:

We’ll talk about external marketing efforts in a minute, but before that I want to make a small point. The reason marketers choose the external media they do — be that print, online, banners, media events, OTA partnerships, e-blasts, corporate sales initiatives, or whatever the case may be — they choose it based on the most desirable of demographics and in the places, during the events, where they are most attentive, or most trapped — hence, the term “captive  audience”. In other words, the goal is to put your message in front of the people you believe would be most interested in hearing about all you can do for them while they are “captive” and more likely to pay attention to it.

With that in mind, no matter what your media schedule looks like, you should never neglect the opportunity to market yourself to the most captive audience of all… your current guest. As to what to tell them, well that is still up to you, but remember, you don’t have to buy media in your own lobby/hotel/ship/airplane. That space can pay off big-time if used correctly. Use it wisely, and use it often.

It can be anything from straightforward branding, rewards program messages, corporate information, the promise of future offers with e-mail signup, or services that your guest may not be aware of — even links and jump-offs to other parts of your external marketing initiatives. Bottom line, give them a reason to interact with you and to delve deeper into your brand, if possible in a more personal capacity.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX:

Now that we know you’ll be doubling your external exposure by having opened a large segment of the population’s eyes internally… lets talk about what some of those externally(s) may be.

SOCIAL MEDIA:
As you all know, I’m a huge fan of social media. It’s a relatively low cost medium, which can have astronomical results – if done right. Suffice it to say, if you have a different message, and you can convince someone to interact with you on a personal basis, that goes a lot further at decision-making time than any banner that might continually grace the corner of your favorite news website.

SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT. OR AT LEAST SAY THE SAME THING IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAY:
This may seem like the simplest, most basic idea there is in marketing, but it’s amazing how often people lose sight of this. The fact is this: Especially within the hotel segment… the brands are almost entirely undifferentiated – a long list of included amenities no longer make a “sales proposition,” these amenities are important but they are expected by all guests nowadays. So you have to find SOMETHING else to say about yourself that makes you memorable. Otherwise you’re just like that other 3-star hotel in Dallas based on TripAdvisor ratings. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, but remember… we’re not shooting for “OK” here… we’re shooting for “really OK.” What WOULD be better is to be remembered as [insert brand here] in Dallas with the [insert unique saying here] or [insert different telling of the same thing here].

It comes down to this… yes, you have all the necessities. Your rooms are nice, your people are well trained, you’ve got good reviews on TripAdvisor — so do more than a handful of other local hotels — but YOU have alligator wrestling matches in the pool on Saturdays (consider offering this on Wednesday nights… gotta give the business traveler a night out, too, right?) OK, so that’s a stretch, but I’m making a point here. Point is… it’s memorable. In a world full of vanilla — you have rocky road to offer.

On the flip side of that… lets say you just have vanilla. That’s OK. But don’t call it vanilla. Call it “Gooey, creamy, hand-pressed, French Bean Vanilla.” And not only that, make sure it’s only said on the radio by a deep voiced Brad Garrett type who says it slowly. It may be vanilla, but it’s the only flavor anyone will want when you’re done telling them about it, and they’ll want it, because it’ll be the only one they remember.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A GOOD REVIEW:
A lot has been said about TripAdvisor recently. Some say as many as 82% of people will not choose a hotel online without consulting it first. And 56% won’t book unless those reviews are favorable, so it stands to reason that this is big damn deal. Now, the reason I started this article with the “inside the box” is because I wanted to re-reference it here. TripAdvisor (and all it’s competition and clones) are a VITAL part of today’s marketing plan. Unfortunately, aside from writing 50 reviews about yourself from fake accounts, there’s not much you can do to change that — OK, just kidding, yes there is.

  1. Simple — Give good service, have a great hotel, offer a great experience. But this isn’t anything without the next step.
  2. Think inside the box… at the front desk, in the lobby, in the elevator, on the key card, in the room, on the backside of the eye masks, etc. Remind guests to review your hotel on TA. Why ask if you give such a great experience? Here are the numbers. 69% of the people who review anything on the internet do so to WARN others of a bad experience. 31% review positively to give credit where credit is due.

SO… of the 100% of people who review in general — there is a 70% chance that they will be negative. But, you can modify that percentage if you revise, or incentivize ratings from within the hotel… people who are outside of that normal 100% will now be motivated to review as well, skewing the percentages back into the positive bias for you, as opposed to the general negative.

To summarize: Although, not a “traditional” marketing channel with a traditional messaging… this is one of the most powerful sales tools available for hotels in recent years and should be treated with the utmost respect. In a world where people are having message after message thrown in their faces all day every day… this is one of the rare times that those sought after consumers are SEARCHING for those messages… so makes sure what they receive is a doozy.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF GOOD DESIGN:

I will put very little time into this as this as it can be the subject of much debate, and an obscene amount of subjectivity… but coming from a design background, I feel the need to address it here. And will say only this. I don’t care if you tell me that you will give me a non-allergenic puppy, calorie-free ice cream of my choice for the remainder of my life, or a real light-saber with every stay, if it’s typed in five different fonts, in eight different colors, with thumbnail-sized photos that are actually the size of my thumbnail… I won’t know, because I won’t read it. And if, for some odd reason, the word “Light Saber” DOES catch my attention… I won’t have the wherewithal to stay there because I will be terrified of what the interior of your hotel must look like if your external face to the world is like this. But that’s JUST me. And people like me… humans.

ALTERNATIVE MEDIA OUTLETS:

Print, check. Online, check. E-blasts, check. OTA partnerships, check. Local Business Bureau, check. Video games? Movies?! Music, even?!

I think it’s important to always keep your options open  —  don’t get caught in the rut of always doing the same thing. Chances are, if you keep doing the same things, you’re going to keep getting the same results. So, keep your eyes and ears open to other opportunities. For example: Jeep makes a huge cameo in the Call of Duty Video game series, and even had a branded level in the Tony Hawk Series. Charles Schwab ads showed up on the leader boards, and sports ticker footer of Tiger Woods ’08. Verizon has an entire virtual world and avatar “gifts” on the Xbox 360. And they even offer advertising space within the Xbox 360 home screens now.

But speaking specifically of the travel industry… The Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest structure, was in Mission Impossible 3, and the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami appeared/was featured in “The Bodyguard,” “Goldfinger,” and “Scarface.” In the entertainment category, Marriott recently had two featured playlists on Spotify, and Embassy Suites recently did a segment where they helped a needy family have a happy holiday on the Rachael Ray Show. I would assume that there was a little dough dropped into those, but whether or not there was, it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re looking for an emphatic, adoring, attentive, captive audience, who’s always looking for “the next big thing”… look no further than the entertainment industry.

So, keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground… or whatever senses you prefer to keep sharp, and search for new and different places to shout your message from. Because if you find the media that properly portrays you, in a venue that most suits you, and in a way that gets you noticed/seen above the clutter, you’re sure to reap the rewards.