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OK, Big Thinkers, it’s pop quiz time: If you’re a hotel, resort, restaurant, spa, retail store, or other service provider, what’s the simple, proven, and single most effective way you can improve your brand’s digital marketing? More to the point, what will absolutely kill your other marketing efforts if you don’t take care of it?
Now before those of you outside hosptiatlity run off— and before I answer the question— stick around for minute. For many industries, the same tactic matters just as much.
I’ll give you a few hints:
- It’s not SEO.
- It’s not paid search.
- It’s not social media (at least not in the sense most people think of it).
So, what is this “magic” tactic?
It’s managing your brand’s online reviews.
Think about all the places your guests and customers encounter reviews and ratings for your business:
- Traditional search engines, like Google and Bing
- Map sites like Google Maps, Mapquest, Waze, and Apple Maps (you can read more about the business implications of the integration of search and maps here)
- Online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity, and Hipmunk
- Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — with many customers using the cameras and connectivity on their mobile phones to post pictures, ratings, and reviews while they’re experiencing your product. The could be in the middle of their stay, in the middle of dinner, or in the middle of talking to you and start sharing with their friends and family and fans and followers how they feel about the service you provide
- Travel and food blogs
- Even brand websites for many hotel chains now feature ratings and reviews of their properties
In fact, just about every interaction a potential customer has with your brand online provides insights into what they can and should expect.
If you’re not a hotel, resort, or restaurant, don’t think you’re out of the woods. Plenty of dedicated sites exist across a variety of industries, while the non-industry specific sites (search engines, social networks, mapping tools and the like), often provide the same picture of your brand to customers.
So why are review sites such a big deal?
One word: Money.
Studies from Chris Anderson at the Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research and Michael Luca at Harvard Business School [PDF link] show revenue gains of around 5% to 11% for each increase in star rating across popular review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp (this data supports the findings from my own research behind the P’s & Q’s model I talked about a couple of weeks ago).
Additionally, Pew says that “…82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, including 40% who say they always or almost always do so.” That’s, y’know, a pretty big number.
Now, review sites aren’t perfect. For one thing, Maritz Research posted research a few years back [PDF downloads of part 1 and part 2 here), that suggested only between 45%-60% of users trusted the data (it varied by site and demographic group) and that only a small percentage of users actually wrote any reviews at all. (H/T to Tnooz for the link to the study). But those numbers are changing. Recent research from BrightLocal shows that “84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation” and now “7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to.” That’s a big shift.
False reviews still do pose some problems for consumers too. Some businesses either try to promote their own brand or, worse, downgrade their competition. Happily, states have begun to crack down, with New York recently charging some businesses with false advertising for trying to game review sites. And many of the review sites themselves have taken actions to eliminate false reviews from their pages. While not perfect, this undoubtably signals a positive direction for businesses overall.
Or at least those focused on improving their review scores.
Your brand is not some mystical, intangible thing; instead a brand is the sum of all the experiences your customers have with your business. Not just what you tell guests about yourselves, but what they experience, every step of the way. Your customers travel through myriad steps prior to making a purchase decision and each step informs them a bit more about who you are and what value you provide. And, increasingly, reviews communicate your brand more effectively and more efficiently than any other marketing activity you undertake—whether it’s the brand story you want your guests to hear or not.
Yes, fake reviews are a problem. But that’s beginning to work itself out.
And, yes, improving your ratings and reviews takes effort. But not working to improve your customers perception of your brand and business costs you money, every day. I didn’t say it’s the easiest way to improve your marketing’s value. I simply said that it’s the most effective way. So, before you start another marketing campaign, take a look at what your customers say about your business and your brand, then ask yourself, what can I do to improve what they say about me.
If you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via 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:
- Digital Marketing Directions 2017: The Key Digital Marketing Trends Driving Your Business
- Are Employees the Key to Good Reviews?
- Today and Tomorrow: Mobile and The Changing Customer Journey
- Mobile Makes E-commerce Even More “Frictionless”
- Shouldn’t Mobile be More than Last-Minute? (Travel Tuesday)
- The Zen of Digital Marketing Strategy
- 7 Steps to E-Commerce Heaven
If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing guest behavior shapes hospitality marketing, e-commerce, and distribution, be sure an 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 want to take a moment to review the slides from my recent seminar, “Digital Marketing Directions 2016: The Key Trends Driving Your Hotel Marketing Next Year” here:
Finally, you will definitely want to check out some of our past coverage of the mobile, local, social web and how to make it work for your hotel, including:
- Is Social a Waste of Time for Hotel Marketers?
- 5 Fantastic Insights Into 2016 Travel Marketing Trends: Hospitality Marketing Link Digest
- 6 Key Hotel E-commerce Tips: A Cheat Sheet to Drive Direct Business
- 5 Hospitality Marketing Trends You’ll Want to Keep in Mind: Hospitality Marketing Link Digest
- Expedia’s Accelerator Program: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing
- For Travel Marketers, Content is Still King
- Trends in Hospitality Digital Marketing for 2016
- 8 Great Posts About 2016’s Top Trends: Hospitality Marketing Link Digest
- 5 Key Facts About Mobile, Millennials, and Hotel Marketing
- How Safe Are Independent Hotels from Airbnb?