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October 28, 2014

How To Use Your Hotel Data to Drive Growth (Travel Tuesday)

October 28, 2014 | By | No Comments

Use your hotel data to drive growthAs you put together your hotel marketing and business plans for 2015, here are a couple of questions to keep in mind: What’s a guest really worth to you? And how much do search, metasearch, mobile, social, OTA’s, TripAdvisor, and all the other digital and traditional travel marketing tactics contribute to that total? What’s really driving your guests to find and book your hotels?

As you think about that, here’s one more question: Do you really think the OTA’s can’t answer these questions?

OTA’s don’t just outspend hotels on marketing because they have more to spend — though that’s unquestionably true. They also spend smarter. Most major online travel agencies have invested heavily in recent years building strong “data sciences” teams, statisticians and database wizards well-equipped to unravel the tangled web of modern marketing. Those investments have paid off, helping OTA’s achieve a dominant role in travel marketing, and resulting in higher distribution costs for hotels.

While Big Data has been, to this point, more hype and hope than help for most hotel marketers, the fact remains that your ability to compete effectively with OTA’s — and with the other hotels in your market — depends on gaining a deeper understanding of your guests. And gaining that deeper understanding depends on having and using the right data to drive your marketing decisions.

Even though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete head-to-head with the OTA’s from a technology and data sciences perspective, you can use the data you do have to improve your guests’ experiences before, during, and after their stays. And improving guest experience remains the one key area where hotel operators can always outperform the competition, whether from online travel agents, fellow hoteliers, or new entrants like Airbnb. Few things reinforce your brand value proposition as much as your guest’s overall experience when dealing with your hotel. The data you have available to you provides you a strategic differentiator – your competitors simply don’t know everything you do about the guests who research, book, and stay with you. Why not use that to your advantage?

Start small

For all the promises of “big data,” sometimes just knowing more than you do today represents a huge step in the right direction. How many times has your office curmudgeon (not that your company has one of those), stated “There’s no possible way we could know that” when assessing the impact of your marketing or promotions on “intangibles” such as voice reservations, walk-ins, or guest loyalty? When the alternative is “no possible way to know,” any information is literally infinitely better than where you’re starting from. Which would you rather have: No insight at all into your guests’ wants, needs, and desires? Or even a little bit of insight? Each improvement, no matter how incremental, positions you more effectively against your competition, and positions you for greater success down the road.

One best practice that’s emerged from digital marketing is the use of a “test and learn” approach, where savvy marketers analyze the data from each new initiative to figure out what’s working, then continue to “fish where the fishing’s good,” building on successes, and learning from less successful efforts. Apply a similar approach to building your measurements and increase investments on those efforts demonstrating positive results.

Focus your team and your talents

In most businesses, culture trumps strategy. “The way we’ve always done things” creates a powerful barrier to change, no matter how necessary. If you’ve long relied on anecdotes and opinions to shape your marketing strategy, it’s time to supplement your (usually quite valuable) implicit knowledge with some cold, hard facts. Don’t just look at “ROI” for your marketing initiatives; evaluate the number of profitable guests each produces, and the lifetime value of customers gained from each of your channels.

Assign someone within your marketing, distribution, or e-commerce group to coordinate your team’s efforts and align data collection, analysis, and reporting best practices and lessons learned across your organization. And make sure they have support among your executive team, too. Focus on long-term opportunities, while helping your team find short-term wins to apply better business intelligence in marketing, revenue management, and operations. Use technology to streamline and automate your analytics process; but, even more importantly, train your team members in how to apply the learnings new metrics and measures reveal. A big stack of reports piling up in your marketing team’s inboxes because no one knows how to interpret and act on the results represents wasted effort, and wasted opportunity.

Protect the “crown jewels”

It’s almost cliche to say that “content is king” when it comes to digital. It’s also true. And in a world where mobile plays a huge role defining your guests’ experience, the context in which your guests enjoy that content is “queen.” If content is king and context is queen, data represents the “crown jewels” of your kingdom. And just like any valuable treasure, that data demands protection. Assign someone from your technology team to ensure you’re following appropriate best practices for data protection. As we’ve seen recently with retailers such as Home Depot and Target, privacy matters. Ultimately, any data about your guests belongs to the guest, not to you. Protect their private information as though your business depends on it. Because it does.

I’ve said before that OTA’s aren’t evil; they’re just doing their jobs. When used properly, they remain a key component of your overall distribution strategy. That doesn’t mean you should just outsource your entire hotel to them. You have the information you need to find, attract, and convert the guests you want available to you, as long as you invest the time and effort to make that information work for you. It’s time you get that information to do its job, too.

Tim Peter helps companies put the Web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs across multiple industries. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Hotel News Now, where Tim Peter writes a quarterly column for the magazine’s Digital Tech Impact Report.
Tim Peter

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August 16, 2013

Facebook Isn't Offering a Mobile Payments Platform. But What They Are Offering is Far More Interesting.

August 16, 2013 | By | No Comments

Facebook moving into commerceOn yesterday’s podcast, I mentioned that Facebook was launching a PayPal competitor as reported by AllThingsD. Turns out, not so much.

But, what they are doing is really interesting all the same.

TechCrunch clears up the confusion noting Facebook’s payments test is a companion that fills in billing info. Key story highlight:

” The feature pre-fills credit card and billing info for making easier purchases through PayPal, Stripe, Braintree or other payment processors in third-party mobile apps. It’s not a payment processor itself, but could help Facebook prove the ROI of its ads.” [Emphasis mine]

Now, clearly there’s a need for this kind of app. I’ve mentioned before how poor usability hurts the growth of mobile.

But the bigger trend, one I’ve mentioned in the past is that “he who owns the data, owns the customer.” (You can read more about that in my presentation on where marketing and online distribution are headed below):

Companies like Facebook, and its AGFAM brethren—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, plus eBay who deserves an honorable mention—recognize the value of customer data.

You’d think Facebook would love to get a piece of the highly profitable payments pie. But this move shows where they believe the real value lies.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of marketing on the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter

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January 28, 2013

Finding and Following Your Customer's Digital Footprint

January 28, 2013 | By | 3 Comments

4 ps of marketingI had the great privilege to guest host @IBMBigData’s weekly CXO Chat on Twitter focused on Customer Experience Optimization. The session was called Finding & Tracking Your Customer’s Digital Footprint and looked at your customers’ digital footprint and how you can leverage consumer behavior in your marketing and customer service efforts. It was an incredibly lively discussion and I learned as much as I shared.

Since it was on Twitter, my answers were limited to 140 characters or fewer. But I think that really focused the discussion clearly on the best things you can do to improve your customers’ experience using the data available to you. In the sections below, I’ve tried to capture the spirit of the session while adding some context (e.g., tweets/questions/etc. from other participants) where appropriate.

Anyway, check out the Q&A for yourself:

Can you follow your customers’ digital footprint?

  • It is possible. But first think about what you’re collecting and why.
  • Customer relationships depend on trust. Make sure you have treat customer data with care.
  • Have a clear sense of what’s your data (aggregate usage information, opens, clicks, shares, retweets, etc). vs. customers’.
  • All personally identifiable information (PII) belongs to customers, always. Handle with care.
  • If you’re uncomfortable telling customers how you plan to use their data, ask yourself whether you should collect it at all.
  • RT @IBMbigdata @Marco_Saito “Capture” probably wrong verb. “Access” better. Footprint doesn’t need to be in your database…
  • Finally, remember you don’t need to know everything to know enough to help customers achieve their goals.

How can businesses track the digital footprints to profile their customer base?

  • Don’t be afraid to start small. Gather the data that will help you help your customer.
  • Exactly: RT @DnBUS: Businesses need to rethink marketing segmentation. It’s more dynamic & individualized than trad. demos.
  • Focus on your customers’ behaviors first. They’re a better predictor of future behavior than anything else.
  • Great point. RT @Marcio_Saito Most times, more important to know which venues customer are (context) than what they said (data).
  • Ask customers permission and to volunteer additional information in exchange for content, services, utility.
  • Then (where appropriate) join those disparate data together to create a clearer picture of customers wants, needs, dreams
  • RT @ValaAfshar: Mature service orgs are using prior contact history and predictive analytics to deliver proactive services.
  • One participant on Twitter (@marksalke) asked: “But do customers/consumers care to be ‘analyzed’?”
  • My reply: @marksalke It’s an important question. Depends on how you’re going to use it. Customers want help. If if helps, then yes. If not…
  • But don’t ask customers for the things you should already know (past contact, repeated discussions, etc.)

How far back should we trace the digital footprint? Why?

  • Only go back as far as necessary to help your customers accomplish their goals. Remember trust matters more than anything.
  • Exactly right: RT @stevemassi: customer will ID themselves when theres value in it for them
  • Whenever you’re gathering customer information, ask “how does my having this help my customer?”
  • It’s very easy to slip past “helpful” and towards “creepy.” Don’t go looking for data you can’t use to help your customer.
  • @SJAbbott Seeing those trends is fine. Data in the aggregate is cool if you exclude PII. Just don’t try to mine individuals that way.

How do you use the digital footprint to personalize the customer experience?

  • Focus on behaviors first. What do your customers do? How can you enhance the experience based on what you already know.
  • Tough to give examples in 140 chars, but consider the following scenarios…
  • We already know so much that we could use better. On website, what browser, referrer, geolocation, search query, etc.
  • How can you use that data to offer more relevant responses, content, experiences?
  • On social channels, activity, friends, followers, fans, etc. What do these tell us about customer wants, needs, dreams?
  • @tmustacchio It’s one approach. Though instead of “all available” data, focus on most meaningful data first.
  • Definitely. RT @IBMbigdata Use digital insight to fill in gaps in customer story to then personalize the exp
  • Great! RT @adamtoporek Blend internal data with social/public footprint for total picture. Then take WIIFM approach to cust

How do you bridge the gap between digital and physical footprints?

  • Carefully. ;) Again easy to slip into “creepy” territory. Instead ask, “How do my customers use these channels together?”
  • Pay attention to transitions. Are customers shifting between physical/digital based on choice or frustration?
  • For many businesses mobile will be key. RT @DnBUS A5: One way to integrate physical & digital footprints: mobile.
  • Keep messages consistent across channels as people move. Help keep them from getting lost.
  • 60% of consumers between 18-34 sleep with their phone due to FOMO (fear of missing out). Offline no longer exists.
  • @SMSJOE That’s right. Customers don’t think “channel.” They think “company.” If you do it bad in one channel, it can follow you.
  • Mobile will drive much of the transition between offline and online. See here: http://ow.ly/hch4Q
  • RT DnBUS @stevemassi Good point. We must also get permission to observe mobile use & offer guidance. Understand context of use 1st
  • @marksalke @stevemassi Many already are today. Mobile doesn’t just mean your app. It’s a truly “personal” computer now.

How can businesses take advantage of digital footprints to innovate, differentiate and grow?

  • Again, think first about how it helps your customer. Use data to improve service.
  • With rise of consumer review, photo and social sharing sites, your brand is what your customer says it is.
  • Exactly! RT DnBUS A6: Digital footprints can fuel innovation by revealing what customers need & want & what they expect from you.
  • Customers who have great experiences tell their friends. Customers with bad experience tell everyone they know.
  • Listening to what your customers real needs then applying those lessons will help you improve products and quality of service.
  • Yep. RT @ValaAfshar The art of building trust is to use the information *not* to manipulate, but rather to personalize and inspire.

What best practices should companies employ in leveraging and cross pollinating digital footprints?

  • Protect your customers’ private data first, last, and always. You don’t own it but it’s entrusted to your care.
  • @OBI_Creative I basically agree. But remember you have to listen deeply for what they really want, not just what they say they want.
  • @OBI_Creative Think Henry Ford’s (apocryphal) “faster horse” quote: http://ow.ly/hciUm
  • Establish and maintain cross-functional teams representing different aspects of customer journey. Avoid silos at all costs.
  • Each member of team needs to reflect context as well as content of digital footprint. How/why it matters to customer interaction.
  • @thecxguy asked: “but the question remains. What is “private”?”
  • I responded: Tricky question. Consumers will differ on where the line is, but I still believe PII is (mostly) private.
  • RT @DnBUS: Remember that each “touch”/interaction–regardless of communicating team–is a brand experience.

Should customers disguise their digital prints from businesses? Why or why not?

  • Whether they should or not, they will. Especially from companies that haven’t earned their trust.
  • Customers will increasingly protect their footprint when companies misstep. Don’t misuse what isn’t yours.
  • Customers should share their footprint but only if they receive value in exchange. Data is currency.
  • RT @thecxguy exactly. progressive biz will show their cust what data they collect, what they use it for and give option 2 opt out

It was a great session and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with this group. You should check them out, too.

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Tim Peter

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December 10, 2012

3 Key Trends for 2013

December 10, 2012 | By | 5 Comments

2013 trendsLast week, I spoke to a travel industry group about where they are today and where they’re heading tomorrow. Many of the trends facing the travel industry hold true across markets. And as I looked at 2013 (and beyond), three key trends seem to lead all others:

  1. Own the data, own the customer.
  2. Content + context = conversions.
  3. It’s all e-commerce.

What do these mean? Well, here’s my take, in a hundred words or less:

  1. Own the data, own the customer. You could call this “Big Data.” But I prefer to think of it in terms of true customer insights. IBM recently reported that 90% of all the data ever collected occurred in just the last 2 years. That’s astonishing. But when you look at who’s doing well by their customers’ data — providing useful, helpful tools as opposed to just another advertising campaign — it’s companies like Google, Walmart, and Apple, using insights to deepen their relationships with customers. If you’re looking at “Big Data” only as a way to target customers more effectively, you’re slipping further behind those who are using it to help their customers.
  2. Content + context = conversions. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra targeting. The more you know about your customers — and in particular about their specific contexts at any point in the purchase cycle — the more likely you are to close the sale. Customers access your information in many contexts today: Desktop and mobile and tablets. Social and search and display. On-site and offline. Offering messages that answer their questions in their appropriate context will make the difference between conversion and continued shopping.
  3. It’s all e-commerce. Finally, consumers’ access to information in these many contexts means they’re always shopping. I’ve said it repeatedly, but, your customers no longer go online; they are online. Whether your company’s about B2B, B2C, non-profit, for-profit or anywhere in between, you’ve got to engage with your customers in the ways they’re comfortable. And you’ve got to ask for the sale in every appropriate context.

Customers access what they want to know about your offerings where they want, when they want. How effectively you understand this (Own the data), provide information that’s appropriate to your customer’s situation (Content + context) and make it easy for them to buy (It’s all e-commerce) spells the difference between success in 2013 and failure down the road.

Want to talk more about how these trends apply to your business, drop me a line. I’m happy to help.

If you’re interested in learning more about digital marketing, e-commerce and where it’s all headed, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While targeted specifically to the hospitality industry, many of the lessons apply across lines of business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter

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October 16, 2012

Why "Big Data" Matters to Marketers

October 16, 2012 | By | No Comments

Marketing value from Big DataMany readers and clients have asked me lately about “Big Data,” what it is, why it matters, that sort of thing. Happily, Raj De Datta breaks down the three areas where companies are using Big Data in a post at Search Engine Watch:

“The big win in big data are big data applications. They are distinct from big data analytics because they actively adapt websites based on big data insights. This nascent category has the applications that automatically act on the insights from specific big data analytics. These are not general-purpose applications – they ask specific questions of the data and act on those specific questions.

In our case, the question is why isn’t a given web page capturing more demand for its content. This requires that we interpret the page, the demand it is capturing and web-wide demand for that sort of content.

It is the same question that SEO professionals ask of the pages they improve – with the exception that it is focused on the long tail where it is never efficient to have people, with their extraordinary judgment and creativity, spend their time.

With larger sites, there is no way to answer that question at scale for every page, every day without a big data application. And the big data application must be continuously learning from public data and customer experience to improve its actions.”

The key point here is when Raj mentions “Big Data” applications as a “…nascent category.” Much of the promise of Big Data remains in the future. Of course, as long-time readers know, I believe the future is already here, just not necessarily in the hands of everyone yet.

It’s safe to assume, for instance, that companies like Google, Amazon, Walmart, Expedia, Trulia, and others are experimenting with Big Data to anticipate customer needs and aggressively adapt to changing consumer behavior. They have the tools and resources in-house, as well as the volume of data necessary to learn quickly.

So what’s a smaller business supposed to do? How can marketers working anyplace other than “the big guys” benefit from “Big Data”?

Here are a couple of steps:

  1. First, make sure you’ve got a solid web presence. You can’t learn anything about your customers if you don’t have a place to send them.
  2. Next, make sure you’ve got analytics in place. Whether you use Google Analytics, Adobe SiteCatalyst, or something else, you have to be able to learn from what your customers do. Don’t know much about analytics? See our analytics overview (or drop me a line to get help).
  3. Develop a testing culture. No matter how well you know your customers, their behaviors online may differ from their behaviors elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to A/B test your pages and content to improve your results.
  4. Get help. New tools are coming on the marketplace all the time that can help you compete with the big boys. For instance, sites like Unbounce.com and HiConversion offer testing tools that help level the playing field without breaking your bank. Additionally, tool exist to help you measure the effectiveness of your online advertising and customer behavior across the web (with more coming every day). And, I’ll humbly suggest people like me to help you sort out the tools and techniques and put those tools to good use. Contact me if you’d like to learn more.

Big data means big changes for many marketers going forward. But tools and talent exist to help you close the gap with the big boys on the block. There’s a maxim that states, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.” Big data is here, today. If you want to harvest the big returns it offers, it’s best if you start planting some seeds.


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