Hotel brands face a marketing conundrum: Though they may be national or global brands, the average consumer experiences them on a local basis. Travelers may have a general preference for one chain or another, but when it comes to deciding which specific property at which to stay and how much they enjoy the experience, it comes down to local. So how should global hospitality brands manage such a bifurcated marketing strategy?
It begins with nurturing a collaborative relationship between the global marketing team and those focused on the local level. In some cases, this may be distinct teams, in others it may just be different roles within the same team. Either way, it must be a conversation between these two sides, not a one-way dictation of brand-wide policy.
“It is easy for a central office to deploy marketing and other materials and expect properties to adopt these without a fuss,” says Alicia Kan, director of brand strategy for Globe Runner SEO, who has experience managing global hotel brands. “Involve properties as much as you can in the creation of brand guidelines, listen to their concerns, and make them feel that they were part of the process. This makes them feel that they have a stake in its success.”
Likewise, marketers focused on specific local properties should be confident in speaking up to voice concerns should a company-wide policy be an awkward fit for their particular hotel. Kan suggests that local teams seek out ways to customize global campaigns. She gives the example of how the annual launch of Beaujolais Nouveau wine could present a chance for a brand-wide promotion, but that each local property will want to find a way to promote and sell it in a way that fits that particular location.
But one of the biggest marketing focuses for hotels — and an area where the biggest mistakes in the global/local relationship can happen — is search strategy.
“You have to ‘claim’ the local listings in the search engines for organic results,” explains Bryant Garvin, founder/owner of Bryant Garvin Consulting, who has worked with a number of hotel brands, most recently Choice Hotels. “Even though we had a robust system in place, local properties would have people approach them and try to claim the listing so that they had control over it. The problem here is it completely ruined much of the organic SEO we had enabled for local properties.”
This is an example where a central, top-down marketing strategy needs to be in place, within which the local marketers can customize offers and promotions. Otherwise the two sides can work against one another.
At Choice Hotels, Garvin helped put in place a comprehensive pay-for-performance marketing program that “allowed the brand to aggressively build out online performance driven marketing activities.” The marketing was conducted by a centralized team, with regional teams focusing on Europe, Asia, and other locations to customize it to the regional difference which could and do occur. They also conducted a focused co-op program, which allowed individual properties to get more involved in the local marketing model.
This goes for social media marketing as well. Trying to run dozens of individual Facebook accounts for every property under a brand may not make sense. But while it may work best for a brand’s social media to be operated under a few catchall accounts, it may work best for individual members of local property teams to also have access to the accounts in order to respond to specific customer service issues or property questions.
Rebecca Brooks, founder of Alter Agents marketing, who has worked with hotel chains and hospitality brands like Royal Caribbean, sums up this dynamic as all beginning with a clear brand strategy.
“If the brand stands for high-touch customer service and client pampering, then all communications need to be rooted in those concepts,” she says. “From that platform, a brand can talk about accommodations, destinations, food, amenities, local flavor…The topics are endless as long as they stay in the parameters of the core brand values.”
But while the global brand marketing team can work out these big-picture messages, it is up to the local team to bring the passion and sense of individual place that will make a traveler’s experience memorable and specific.
Alex Palmer is a contributor to Street Fight.
Related content: In OpenTable Deal, Signs of Deeper Convergence in Travel and Local