What COVID-19 Means for Forward-Thinking Hotel Marketers
- Posted by Tom Dibble
- On June 8, 2021
[This article was originally posted to HotelExecutive.com in June 2021]
The task at hand for the hospitality C-Suite and executive stakeholders is not insurmountable, but how we reanimate our sector’s ecosystem in response to demand is fraught with multi-dimensional challenges across the globe. It can feel like a real-life game of ‘Pandemic Tetris’.
Each set of blocks raining down representing different facets of the challenges ahead of us as societies. Such as vaccination initiatives, government ordinances, socio-economic impacts, reversals of progress, to name just a few components of the reanimation process. We will continue to experience the effects of this pandemic on our industry for years to come, with the hope that it will be an aggressive decay model, as we travel that journey.
One of the key effects that will require your cognitive process more so now than in years past, is how your media plans will need to adapt as a result of the pandemic and the shift in media consumption that occurred. Shelter-in-place orders had an effect on consumer media habits that will echo for years to come. Media planning for our industry has changed, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it is about time. For too long our sector has been stuck in a rut. Conditioned to accept the norm of digital media plans that aren’t always truly crafted strategically to align with real-world business objectives. Now is the time for a long-overdue change.
It’s been a year since COVID pummeled the travel industry. With optimism, confidence, vacation research, and bookings on the rise, people are more allured to travel than ever before. But during the pandemic period, media behaviors were altered, yet the challenge at hand is timeless. How do you acquire an unfair share of voice across all stages of a prospective guest’s digital journey? From inspiration through to deciding the destination, where to stay, and what to do when there. Your media plans from 2020 require more than simply updating the title to 2022 and resubmitting upstream if you truly want to consider how to adapt to the consumer shift.
Recent Pinterest data surfaces the fact that travel searches on their platform have increased 60% year over year. And seemingly, these inspirational searches are driving people down the funnel towards transactions according to the platform. The level of increase on the platform for a travel audience is up 40% from 2019. Pinterest has historically been a place for women. They composed around 60% of their global audience. However, during 2020, the fastest growth for Pinterest came from two emerging audiences: Gen Z and men. Both these audiences were up 40%.
The next wave of leisure demand will be dominated by travelers looking for more purposeful, intentional, and experiential trips. On Facebook, research indicates that when someone might be planning a vacation, in many cases, people do not know exactly where they want to travel. Travel discovery on Facebook and Instagram sees 68% of millennials finding ideas initially on Facebook, and the same is true for 60% of them on Instagram. Do you have a strategic, full-spectrum strategy for social or does it stop with top-of-funnel efforts in social media?
Research from Destination Analysts places Facebook a leader in terms of the platform that Millenials and Gen X’ers are most receptive to travel messaging over. Instagram places second and is favored by millennials more than Gen X. And if you’re discounting Tik Tok as a fad or not a place for travel brands, think again. Gen X is the dominant receptive group on that platform. Tik Tok exploded in 2020 in the US and shows little signs of slowing.
One of the biggest stories from 2020 is CTV and OTT growth. A Connected TV (CTV) is a device that connects to or is embedded in a TV. Different types of CTVs include Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV etc. Over-the-top (OTT) is the delivery of TV/video content directly from the internet. Think Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix. The rise of CTV and OTT has led to the phenomenon known as “cord-cutting,” which is the growing trend of customers canceling their traditional cable and satellite TV subscriptions in favor of only using these streaming or video-on-demand streaming services.
In the US, these platforms experienced a surge in usage that shows sustained patterns of consumption that seemingly have little desire to regress. According to Nielson, during the height of countrywide shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic, weekly time spent watching connected TVs grew significantly, rising by more than 1 billion hours as the weeks passed. And while this rise in total media consumption was to be expected, the consistently high levels of CTV/OTT usage suggests that life in the new normal includes a heavier dose of connected TV use than ever before.
In 2020, global CTV impressions increased 60% YOY, bringing it neck-and-neck with mobile as the top driver of video. The past year upended the way we engage with content, and brands had to adjust accordingly. As consumers flocked to their devices, marketers followed and adapted marketing strategies to plant themselves firmly within the household. Advanced creative video formats generated a 309% lift in engagement during these times. As for display, dynamic creative generated a 37% lift in CTR over standard creative according to research from Innovid.
Broadcast TV remains a staple to reach Boomers and older groups, but if you want cost-effective, highly sophisticated targeting techniques to reach Gen X and Millennials, then consider this territory to reach potential travelers with a pent-up demand to get back and explore the world once more. The rise of this platform and its viewership provide more meaningful ways for you to engage at the right time with the right target audience at the right moments, bringing together the targeting precision of digital with the high impact of TV viewership.
To have an engaging digital consumer experience via this format, your asset library needs to be revisited. If you don’t have usable video in your library, budget for it. It never ceases to amaze just how little, meaningful, A/V assets hotels and resorts have for such channels to market that are primed for immersive connections in short formats. In these visual-first digital platforms, your libraries need to capture attention, inspire, and connect to have any chance of garnering consumer attention. The right content needs to be created for these objectives and it might be more cost-effective than you think. Don’t underestimate the power of the moving image to create emotive connections and engage with your brand.
With the plethora of channels to market, ensuring you are aligned with business objectives remains vital, especially in the current sector’s economic climate. That said, not having a culture of marketing experimentation means you might miss out on opportunities to explore and capture new potential guests throughout different stages of the digital customer journey. Before you commence on your journey of exploration, ensure you are funding the channels that continue to perform for your property currently. And be careful not to dilute those most valuable connections to the marketplace by rushing to add in others by simply displacing media dollars from the known to the unknown.
Experimentation budgets should exist in their own right and be added to media plans for core vital, tried, and tested channels that continue to deliver against the clearly defined and acutely specific goals. We are, after all, marketers – and healthy doses of experimentation run in our blood. You have to speculate to accumulate – but do so scientifically and pragmatically.
If vaccination saturation rates continue to increase and COVID cases and deaths continue to decline, predictions are set that many Americans will book more trips than at levels they did before the pandemic in the short-term, before reverting to a more traditional frequency. Mainly to make up for lost time and to reconnect with friends and family and spread their wings once more with purpose. The effects of the last 14 months on digital consumer behavior likely won’t wear off anytime soon. As we continue the journey of our new reality, there is much to strategize. A shift from the norm of geo-feeders, a shift to new channels and formats. Also the change in what people are seeking from the vacation experiences and how content strategies need to adapt as a result to appeal and capture that attention.
The digital landscape of today makes it harder to reach target audiences on a concentrated and impactful scale when there are so many different touchpoints of value in the landscape. The digital footsteps someone takes in our sector from inspiration through to returning home far outweighs the touchpoints other industries experience. In fact, it can be dizzying. The complexity of a sophisticated media plan can be mind-boggling depending on the business objectives and supporting dollars to make them attainable. You need to find a balance between stimulating the top of the funnel and capturing the bottom-funnel demand with the limited funds you have in your arsenal.
The adage of doing more with less has never been more acute than the recovery period we find ourselves in. With that said, occupancy continues to tick up, hotels are pushing rate and finding it in cases, meaning there are positive signals that the track we are on is very healthy. Demand is returning. How are you capturing it and are you filling the funnel for the future demand? Supply will be aggressively competing against you in the next 18 months.
Economic factors will impact your marketing planning for 2022. Not only should you be earmarking media dollars that will provide statistically relevant data outputs from experimentation, but you also should account for the already returning rise in the cost of media. In 2020 we experienced some of the lowest costs of high-value media than we’ve seen in over a decade. In fact, when this pandemic first started, the cost of media on Google plummeted to an all-time low. That tide started turning at the start of the year and won’t be seen again. The window of opportunity I spoke of at the beginning of 2Q19 has passed. Inflation of the cost of media will be something to forecast for in the budget season that is about to commence.
Looking at historical data means you typically will end up using plans of old and get the same or similar results. Rather than looking behind, look forward to how consumers are changing as well as the channels you currently use to look for areas of emergence or growth for experimentation. The key is to look for new or expanding opportunities in places you might not have utilized before or had discounted completely.
I have some relatively simple advice. Take your time this budget season. Challenge the status quo at all turns. Take the necessary time to truly consider the ability to earmark for experimentation and create that culture within your operation that supports it. Embrace and drive change within the marketing organization. Focus on the end-to-end journey and align the most appropriate paid, earned, and owned media strategies and tactics to drive performance.
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