The travel and hospitality industry is undergoing a massive transformation. For example, established industry hoteliers are slowly giving room to ‘startups’ like Airbnb. According to the 2017 Travel and Hospitality Outlook published by the Deloitte Centre for Industry Insights; global business travel expenditure reached a record-breaking 1.2 trillion dollars in 2016. Spending habits have also changed. Customers are moving from buying commodities and products towards buying experiences.
The rapid evolution of the hospitality industry also comes with an increased frequency of disruption and innovation due to economic factors, consumer demand and global environmental and political changes. The emerging hospitality leaders are not necessarily the ones who have more money – rather the ones who can stay agile respond to these changes and disruptions with innovative marketing. However, the reality remains that for many small to medium businesses in the travel sector, dealing with seasonal competition, making insightful decisions based on data analytics and optimising content and engagement to convert customers can be a daunting, almost impossible challenge. Let us take a look at how The Old Miller’s Inn designed their campaign to stay agile and increase online and offline traffic.
The marketing manager at The Old Miller’s Inn came to Gainbuzz with a unique challenge. The Old Miller’s Inn is located in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. However, 45-minute distance from city center and the fact that not many people know about this retreat was a real barrier to growing their customer base. Their marketing manager came to us with two goals in mind:
They wanted more people to visit their premises, website and social platforms.
They wanted to improve the experience of existing customers from the booking process all the way to the check-out.
We did a quick initial needs analysis and found that although they were close to the city, their customers only came through word-of-mouth referrals from previous customers who had stayed there. Their web and social presence was also limited – although they had a website, it was dated and there was no valuable information being given out to anyone who logged in to their site – or their Facebook page for that matter. Essentially, unless they had visited before, customers had no real clue about the full extent of the offerings that The Old Miller’s Inn could provide.
One of the biggest challenges was that aggregators like Airbnb as well as the bigger hotel chains actually hold a huge share of the entire market. So, for smaller inns like Old Millers, sustaining growth was also about resiliency, creating unique experiences and creating boutique brand appeal – something that the bigger chains would not be able to provide. There were mainly two major concerns:
How would they capture such a large target market?
Travel behavior changes according to the context in which the customer is traveling. For example, you may not engage in the same activities, behavior or even stay at the same place if you are going on a business trip as opposed to a family vacation. It can be a challenge for hotels to predict the consumer’s intention for the trip, even if they manage to get the customer to visit their website. We had a difficult time pinning down the “typical” target customer who would be likely to visit and enjoy their stay at the Old Millers Inn.
How do they leverage their existing customer base?
As mentioned earlier, Old Miller’s Inn already had an existing, small but loyal customer base but had no idea how to use this knowledge to increase their web traffic as well as get more bookings. Their marketing manager approached us with a request to create a strategic marketing and advertising plan in order to attract new customers both to their website and to their physical location.
After our needs analysis and looking at the challenges and goals for The Old Miller’s Inn campaign, it was clear that we needed to know more about the customers in order to resonate when them as a brand. We also came up with ways in which we could use existing information to leverage their online presence and improve booking ratios. We took a multi-pronged approach to reach an integrated marketing solution.
Target customer audit
We did a thorough audit of recent customers. While demographically diverse, we did find patterns that helped us identify different subsets for targeting. For example, frequent patrons included couples celebrating anniversaries or looking to get away for a mini-vacation on the weekend. Another subset included people hosting wedding receptions or pre-wedding photo shoots. Finally, a couple of institutions also hosted leadership retreats at this location. While age and demographics may not have given us clues, this customer behavior definitely gave us a window into what kind of people would want what The Old Miller’s Inn had on offer.
Based on our research, we then came up with integrated engagement strategies:
Improving customer experience
Marketing veterans know that customer experience drives more loyalty then perks for promotions. Along with the management at the Old Miller’s Inn, we came up with strategically engineered packages featuring tie-ups with the local restaurants, retail businesses, local festival and event organizers. For example, our deluxe anniversary package included promotional offers highlighting the most romantic places in activities in the area making along with the purchase of a booking for more than 2 or more nights. Similarly, from the leadership retreats, we arranged outdoor activities to fit with the organizers’ programme. By personalizing the customer experience, we were able to provide the memorable as well as engaging stay.
The next step was to create an attractive referral program so that the customers that went away with positive experiences could share it with other potential customers. For this, we created and published an attractive promotional offer for past customers giving them the opportunity to win a free two-night stay for every active referral that converted into a paying customer. These were sent out via email, snail mail and also published in the local Church newsletter as well as wedding magazine and community Circular.
Since we did not have an extensive budget, our campaign plan involved placing outdoor advertising at strategic locations – the local and city YMCA, churches, bridal magazines, as well as Digital integration using social media, guest posts on local influencer blogs as well as revamping our own online presence by branding and creating relevant social media accounts such as Twitter, OpenTable, Tripadvisor, and most importantly, by reinventing our own website, showcasing past experiences of past patrons. We also looked into limited digital marketing strategies on a small-scale such as Google AdWords, SEO, and email blasts.
The key to improving marketing agility and tackling complex multichannel marketing is to start looking at the entire branding game as complex, integrated activity rather than individual marketing functions. To this end, we identified multiple key performance indicators early on:
Initially, the Old Miller’s Inn website only had 50 visitors a month. However, after implementing the new campaign, we saw a small but significant rise to about 120 visitors per month. Since digital marketing results take a few months to fully reflect, analytics will have to be gone for a longer period of time to confirm these positive results.
We saw a sharp rise inquiry calls after posting on local influencer blogs, outdoor advertising in strategic locations – and most importantly after we introduced their referral program. The majority of these calls were only information-seeking, however, a significant number also ended up converting into paying customers.
Before we implemented strategies to personalize and customize the experience to the context of their trip, we did a one-page customer satisfaction survey at check-in, and then PA the survey again at check out. Overall, customers rated their experience as satisfactory or good. After we implemented the customization strategies and offered packages with local activities and discounts, not only did we see customer satisfaction go up with the surveys but we also noticed a marked increase in the number of inquiries and referrals through these same customers.
“Gainbuzz helped us craft a comprehensive, and dare I say, successful campaign to increase footfall and improve the customer experience at the Old Miller’s Inn. The needs analysis we did together gave me surprising insight into the strength of our customer referrals – and helped narrow down our focus enough to make a dent in the market without spreading ourselves thin in terms of finances. By showing us ways to meaningfully reach end-users within our budget, Gainbuzz has helped us see that even smaller hotels like ours can use integrated marketing to trigger growth, improve customer experience and get bigger and better referrals”
Thomas Walsh, Marketing Manager