Where does the Brand Level Marketing Stop and Hotel Level Marketing Begin?
You own or manage a franchised hotel under a specific flag. The brand may or may not have given you some marketing guidelines, or was wrapped up in onboarding training. Maybe your hotel just opened and you received some opening support, but now there is crickets. So now what? Are you confident the brand has you covered?
Many owners and hotel operators think, “Oh, the brand does that for me”. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself. What exactly does the brand do for my individual location? And what do I need to do, as a hotelier, to brand my business online, above and beyond what the brand does? How do I steal online market share against similar brands in my market? Read on to understand brand level marketing versus hotel level marketing.
Website Design / Layout
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: The brands give you a cookie cutter shell in which you must adhere. They handle all the massive interlinking and deciding sort order and page layout. Brands also are in charge of technical improvements, like making your site secure with HTTPS, increasing site speed and mobile enhancements.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Learn the brand systems and what you can and cannot do. If they allow buttons highlighting packages, then do it. If they allow landing pages, submit to build them. The list here goes on: page level messaging, tracking links for paid campaigns, announcements/alerts, etc. Complete every content section that can be completed to showcase your unique hotel features.
Hotel Paid Marketing
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: The brands have large marketing buckets that aren’t generally transparent. At some level, they are buying keywords on Google Adwords and billing back the hotels in some capacity. They buy a TripAdvisor Business Listing on the hotel’s behalf so you can have links to your website, phone number and offer. And, of course, they do umbrella marketing for each respective brand.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Find ways to get heads in beds for your hotel. This can differ per property, anything from Expedia Travel Ads, Facebook, Google Adwords (but don’t buy branded terms!), and local advertising. Local advertising can be with your CVB, University or other local demand generator.
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: Ensure direct connectivity and 2-way interface with hotel system and the respective OTA. They negotiate the terms (hard!) to try to get the lowest commission rates.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Focus on driving as much business as you can through direct sales and your website so you don’t have to rely on this channel. Audit the content and try to get your OTA content score up to 100% within the main OTA portals, primarily Expedia and Booking.com. On the images, look at the images associated with each room type. The brand content systems do feed to the OTAs but the content fields are not apples to apples and the OTA fields are continuously changing. This also helps reduce guest confusion upon check in.
Hotel Social Media (Facebook)
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: The brands have a main Facebook page for each respective sub-brand (ie Hampton, Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield all have their own brand pages) and is capable of setting up a parent/child relationship with an individual hotel. Thank goodness this is much cleaner than just a few years ago where most hotels had multiple pages, some archaic, floating out there. The brand can can usually help get you access and claim/merge rogue pages.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Get access to your hotel’s Facebook page. Under Settings > Page Info, fill in all the categories you can. Then post! If you don’t post for your individual hotel, most brands parent sub-brand content will filter down to your page. So, expect posts about other locations on your page. Then, run your own targeted Facebook ads focusing on local demand generators.
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: Collect copious amounts of ‘big data’ about your hotel and guests. They use this for personalization, increasing their loyalty followers and brand promotions.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Alas, all this data is not shared. Hold onto what few reports they give you, glean what you can and keep asking for more. Strive for a healthy channel mix and increased year over year traffic and revenue to brand.com. If provided, request or pull the hotel’s top referring domains report to see what partner sites are sending your way.
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: Most brands offer very little. As mentioned in the website section above, they offer the shell. In this regard, for a Hilton opening, they do provide custom home page and local area page content.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Go into the brand’s content system and fill out every category that you can. The old adage is “Content is King!” which holds true, but brand sites don’t have blog capabilities or many landing page options to do this well. Understand what makes your hotel and location unique against the competition and sprinkle it throughout your site. Don’t assume everyone knows your sub-brand standards, especially as it relates to food and beverage offerings, pet friendly rules and in-room amenities. Read your website content, often. Don’t wait until you have a guest complain about a misstated amenity.
Search Engine Optimization
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: First and foremost, large brands have domain authority on their side. Marriott.com is at 92, Hilton.com is at 91 and iHG.com is at 88. Just having a website on one of these domains is helpful. Also, each do some form of on-site search engine optimization, but it is generally brand focused. For example, if you are a Hampton Inn Timbuktu, the brand is primarily going to focus on hotel name along with Hampton / Hilton terms, and not “hotels in timbuktu”. Each brand is slowly progressing towards schema usage. A quick review of source code searching for ‘schema’ will showcase that some are using it more than others.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: For on-site optimization, you need to find keywords that are specific to your hotel and market. Look for keywords like “hotels near XXX” demand generator or university, pet friendly terms, etc. The re-write your meta description to include proximity to demand generators and unique selling propositions and amenities for your hotel. For both Hilton and Marriott SEO, you can revise both your title tag and meta description for your hotel. If applicable, drop keywords in your header tags. For off-site optimization, linking is all you. To focus on increase page rank within the brand’s massive domain, you need to find opportunities to promote your hotel website on other ranked, relevant sites.
- What Enterprise Brand Marketing Handles: Most brands are now using Yext to manage most of your local listings. Yext, a distribution service, sends (some) content and images to platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Apple, Bing, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Yellow Pages and Yelp. For the most part, Yext handles duplicate suppression which is helpful especially when you have a flag change.
- What Needs to be Done at Hotel Level: Yext only communicates certain pieces of information but definitely still get access and audit it. You should still audit individual listings for content and imagery to ensure your hotel is telling a consistent story across the internet. On each local listing, there is generally opportunity to enhance content which helps boost your respective profile. For new builds or flag/name changes, consider using a service like hotelport.co to clean up your UNAP (URL, Name, Address, Phone) consistency.
It takes a balanced approach from both the brand and the hotel together to properly market a hotel online. Some of these tasks under “what needs to be done at the hotel level” can be very time consuming and cumbersome, which is why the brands generally take a sweeping approach to fit hotels into manageable marketing buckets.
When you are competing against other hotels in your market, you never know what will push a guest to book one hotel over another, so do what you can do promote yourself better (and sometimes more accurately) than the competitor. If you are an independent hotel, understanding branded vs independent hotel marketing is crucial.
Contact Cogwheel Marketing if you need help executing the hotel digital marketing objectives.