Digital marketing is an increasingly important part of any hotel’s communication strategy, so invited three leading practitioners to offer their insights: Sarah Fernandez (Director of Marketing Communications Asia: Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts); Tom Thrussell (VP Brand Marketing & Digital: Centara Hotels & Resorts), and Eugene Oelofse (Director of Marketing & E-commerce: Outrigger Enterprises Group).

What are the most important and effective social media channels for your brand?

SarahDifferent channels succeed in each country. For Thailand, we see that LINE is quite effective in reaching the local market. In the Philippines, Facebook is best as we see many inquiries and bookings coming through the hotel fan pages. In China we use WeChat and Weibo, but WeChat is definitely the most important as it allows users to pay for services directly from the app. You have to focus on the main channels for your region and target markets, and use these to deliver a consistent message.

TomThere is a risk of trying to embrace too many social channels. We focus primarily on Facebook and Instagram to engage, entertain, build relationships, and visually immerse our current and prospective customers in the Centara lifestyle. We are also huge advocates of YouTube. Video is how consumers want to research products. It drives brand engagement, and it hugely increases conversion rates and time spent on websites.

EugeneFacebook still reigns as the number one channel, but Thailand has shown good results on Instagram and LINE. Snapchat is difficult to mobilize but works well in North American markets. Small operators should probably stick to Facebook as it’s easy to mobilize and quick to leverage. The content is usually dual purpose and can be rolled out on other channels, so it’s always a win.

What role does paid advertising play in your overall strategy?

Sarah* – There needs to be a balance between targeted paid advertising and an array of PR and social media activities to increase the brand presence, as well as an emphasis on online reputation management. Paid advertising is not the main component. Guests want to hear from other guests and to relate to brands, not necessarily to be sold a product through constant advertising.*

TomAdvertising spend is a significant portion of our marketing budget, but year after year we are increasing the proportion of ad spend on online channels, with search engine, display, social and mobile advertising all playing increasingly dominant roles given their relevance and measurability.

EugenePaid advertising is something which we unfortunately have to employ; however, I stay away from this being the basis of any strategy. If we invest too much in our paid marketing we have to look at the actual cost of acquisition, or it might just work out better to hand over more inventory to the OTAs.

What is your approach in structuring a marketing budget?

**Sarah **– Planning ahead is the most important aspect, consulting with the commercial team to set the objectives for the year, identifying the time/target market, and setting the call to action. Then I can decide what times of the month the campaign needs to take place, what markets it needs to reach and which media to use, and finally what type of message we want to place in the market.

**Tom **– We look at our current market mix now and at where we want to be. We study customer behavior to understand the profiles and travel booking activity of our existing and prospective customers, and we assess how and where to reach and interact with them. In a global marketplace, a one size fits all marketing approach does not work; a brand cannot engage with a Chinese customer through the same platforms or media as a customer from Russia or the Middle East. And consumer marketing is less effective in markets where travel decisions are driven through the trade. We use this knowledge to focus on activities which can bring the most significant measurable returns.

EugeneWe have to create strategies that reach every touch point possible, so the old idea of fully integrated campaigns still reigns supreme. Most marketers are so focused on the ROI metric, but there is no one mechanism that yields this magical ROI number.

What makes an effective marketing campaign?

**Sarah **– There two types of marketing campaign: the first is just to create brand awareness and doesn’t have a specific promotion. The second is a promotion-based campaign which aims to generate revenue or create a market response. A brand awareness campaign depends on the available budget; if money is an issue, target markets must be prioritized, and the most effective channels selected. Campaigns for a specific promotion should identify the goal, the target market, and the active time period. Setting specific goals with targets makes it easier to identify whether or not the campaign is successful.

TomFor me there are two common and necessary goals to each and every campaign: increasing revenue (be it short term, long term, or both) and driving positive brand engagement with content that is engaging, relevant, and true to the core brand identity.

How do you know if a campaign failed? What metrics do you use?

Sarah – *For brand awareness campaigns, the main aim is to create a ‘billboard effect’ to increase the brand’s presence. Unless the product experiences absolutely no difference in terms of revenue, it’s hard to quantify success in figures. But for *promotion-based campaigns, it’s easy to see if targets have been achieved. Tracking the results, however, may still be complicated as specific links, codes and rates need to be created to ensure accurate results.

Tom – *A campaign is not successful if it doesn’t meet its core objective. However, this doesn’t mean it has failed. I strongly believe in a test and learn culture, so at Centara we test new initiatives and pilot new activity. If it drives success, we may run it again or tweak it slightly for further improvement. If it doesn’t bring success, we learn from it, analyse the shortcomings, and try something different. All campaign results are incredibly insightful, both good and bad, and all can help drive future success. *

EugeneOutrigger employs some really effective software platforms which allow me to dive deep into the results of past campaigns, taking into account the original objectives, so we can reach an outcomes-based conclusion on which to base future decisions. I think it’s important to note that you’ll never nail every single campaign you initiate, and as we go into new markets we need to cultivate a proper understanding of the consumer, which can only be done through trial and error.