Experts outline 2013 digital marketing plans

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As the importance of marketing roomnights on digital channels increases year after year, hotel marketers are forced with some tough tasks headed into 2013.

Most importantly, hotel digital marketers face difficult decisions regarding what efforts to allocate large portions of the budget toward, where to allocate personnel resources and how to get the most return on dollars spent.

A panel of hotel digital marketing experts on a recent Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International webinar offered a number of suggestions on how to plan and execute 2013 digital marketing strategies.

Core strategies
Stick with the core marketing initiatives and add in a few newly emerged “must-haves,” such as mobile and tablet marketing, said Max Starkov, president and CEO at Hospitality eBusiness Strategies. In 2013, the hotel’s digital marketing budget should be separated into three silos: return-on-investment-driving basics; flexible funds for unforeseen challenges and business-driven needs; and a portion for website upkeep and operations, he said.

Starkov suggested taking a really hard look at the website assets because they are the center of a hotel’s digital marketing universe. Offering different versions of a hotel website customized for different devices is important. Different platforms serve different consumers, Starkov said, also adding that consumers change the kind of screen they’re looking at throughout the day.

“Hoteliers should have a presence on all three (desktop, mobile and tablet),” he said.

Then, Starkov recommended focusing on “good old-fashioned (search-engine optimization).”

“Google changes its algorithm and does serious updates over 500 times a year. Is your website ready for all of those changes?” he said.

On the search-engine marketing front, Starkov said efforts toward retargeting can provide large returns. Retargeting campaigns target consumers who already viewed the product and follow them to serve up banner advertisements with concrete, actionable offers. Starkov said the ROI on retargeting campaigns starts anywhere from 600% to 800% and can be as high as 2,500%.

Create a plan
To effectively budget digital marketing strategies for the year ahead, it’s important to create a tangible action plan, said Bryan Owen, director of creative services and interactive marketing for Hershey Entertainment Resorts.

For Hershey, Owen creates a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year with a list of new design projects down the left axis and a timeframe for implementation across the top.

“That way you can determine if you have too many things on the same timetable and you can ask for outside help if needed,” he said. “Listing the dates across the top ensures you don’t get a late start or fall behind.”

Owen suggested sharing that document, and other budget documents, with all of the internal hotel teams that need to be on the same page. It’s also important to assign some personal accountability to the projects, he said.

When sharing these documents with other teams, particularly the hotel owners, it’s important to keep a common language, which usually means numbers, said Loren Gray, director of ecommerce at Ocean Properties Limited.

“Refer to what is being spent and draft averages per month,” he suggested. “Most of the time they’re not looking at how the sausage is made, they just want the sausage.”

A proper budget shows money being spent and expected returns, Gray said.

Although digital marketing is increasing in necessity, Gray suggested not forgetting about tangible items. For example, he said hoteliers can’t attend a tradeshow without some “touchy-feely things” at the booth.

He also suggested keeping a “slush fund” in the budget for marketing projects that weren’t anticipated at the beginning of the year. For example, earlier this year both Microsoft and Apple announced partnerships with Yelp to provide users with local content. Yelp is “pay to play,” Gray said, and working with the company was not previously in his budget; however, it was imperative that he allocate some funds to ensure his hotels were visible.

“Keep well informed on the trends,” Gray said. “You’re the guy who’s supposed to know about that.”