QR codes and Mobile Apps: What can they do for Destination Marketing?

First I must define yet another acronym and piece of digital technology that has been sprung upon us as of late to “help” us as marketers connect with our customers.  Help it will – if properly adopted as a technology to achieve conversion – and not simply a cool thing to add to a travel guide just because we should

By definition according to Wikipedia, a QR code or “Quick Response” Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. Simple enough right?

A QR bar code looks like this:

acoupleofchicks.com QR Code

 

Users scan the code into a smartphone (QR code readers are either built in or are a free app download) and they are taken to a web based landing page or mobile app.

As a marketer, the worst thing you can do is to simply send a QR code link directly to a website – and even worse, a website that is not mobile friendly.

(ok so the QR code example above when scanned goes directly to the acoupleofchicks.com website…we did that on purpose to show you what NOT to do…and we had a contest page that was out of date but you get the point).

QR codes will certainly revolutionize what we can do as marketers to reach customers – but must be used at the point of consumption, or close to the end of the travel buying cycle.

Why? By asking a prospective customer to scan a code that you have placed in a print Ad, on a window storefront, or on a brochure – you are asking them to engage with your brand – and you had better have something unique to say or offer.

A customer now has so many choices about how to consume content and marketing messages that it’s critical for travel marketers to give them something valuable, especially if you want to continue the dialogue (and don’t we all!). Smart phones and other mobile devices have made it so that consumers expect instant results all of the time whether they are looking for a nearby restaurant or a particular product or service.

So how do travel destinations use this to their advantage?

The Destination Marketing organization has always been the “official” point of reference for travellers. DMO’s and VCB’s small and large are funded and organized very differently, but all are in place to achieve the following primary objectives:

A. Encourage visitation to their Destination
B. Ensure stakeholders receive the benefits of Tourism
C. To act as the official voice or guide to the destination for consumers

Marketing efforts such as digital display and pay per click advertising, social media marketing, traditional print and television etc. all ensure that the destination is visible to its target audiences when consumers are in the travel dreaming and planning stages.

Beyond the visitor centres and visitor guides that are usually associated with a destination VCB or DMO, how do these organizations provide value to stakeholders and consumers beyond drawing consumers to the destination?

Enter Mobile.

Destination marketers can now use innovative mobile marketing vehicles such as mobile Apps and QR codes to continue the engagement with consumers while they are in market and experiencing travel. As well, mobile plays an important role in the post travel time where consumers are likely to share their experiences via review sites and social media. If a destination can effectively engage a visitor while they are in market, and act as the guide throughout their experience and post experience – they are taking the role of the DMO to a new level.

Mobile devices such as the smart phone and tablets have given us the opportunity to do just that. The travel buying funnel starts with online research, word of mouth (via online review sites, social media and face to face accounts), and continues with conversations both online and offline. That buying funnel for a destination should also extend throughout the travel experience to ensure that stakeholders are being seen while visitors are in market, that consumers are feeling guided – and that they are willing to talk about their experiences – and to visit again.

How can destination marketers use mobile devices, Apps and QR codes to achieve this?

1. At the very least, a destination marketing organization needs to have a mobile version of the website:
Travellers are now relying on smartphones and tablets and do not typically browse websites from mobile devices.

2. Provide a Destination App that gives value to the consumer:
Users will only download an App that provides value. Offer mapping functionality or unique travel experiences with walking routes to your destination app. Give them a reason to use your App while they are visiting and encourage consumers to share experiences while they are in the destination.

3. Use QR codes to offer consumers value and to drive visitors to stakeholder products and services:
A QR code marketing campaign must be specifically designed to assist visitors when they are in market.  The QR code could send consumers to a page offering them special offers from restaurants and stores – with codes visibly displayed for scanning from their mobile devices in travel guides, websites and on storefronts – used to assist visitors while they are experiencing the destination will ensure consumers actually engage with the brand. This will also encourage consumption of stakeholder products and services. A campaign such as this will also allow the DMO to continue to act as the official “guide” to the destination while consumers are in market.

So what can a DMO do to ensure that I as an avid traveler am engaged throughout the buying cycle?

A destination can provide me with a useful mobile app (love this one from Tourism Australia) to download before I visit; one that may help me with directions and other tips to making my experience easy and more fun.  (I am guessing that the app cannot ensure that I will be on time for my flight – but you never know…)

A DMO might also want to promote on their website, and on their social media sites that they have a useful App available so that I can download it in advance and can plan how I will use in while I am travelling.

While I am in the destination, a DMO could invite me to scan a QR code (from a travel guide or on a storefront sign – or from Times Square for that matter!) using my blackberry – taking me to a page that shows me that I am steps away from half price lunch at a quaint sushi bar, and that there is a big sale at the shoe store located in the shopping district known only to locals!  Heaven…

I will then tweet that I love this place and upload a photo to Facebook of my new shoes!

Can the internet get full?

ORC2011A valid question posed at the most recent Online Revealed Canada Conference, held March 8-9 in Toronto.  From an opening keynote delivered by the inventor of Google maps, Michael T. Jones, who spoke about everything from how he and his colleges invented Google Maps at his dining room table, now used by more than 1,000,000,000 worldwide, to an interactive workshop presented by Alfredo Tan from Facebook Canada, which allowed for an intimate discussion about the inner workings of Facebook – this year’s Online Revealed Canada Conference hit a new level.

When I was preparing conference recap “sound bites,” which are traditionally delivered by myself, and conference co-chairs Patricia Brusha and Edward Perry at the end of the 2 day event, I was overwhelmed by the concepts and success stories that were shared, and the amount of information that we had to summarize.

This year, Online Revealed was presented in association with the Hotel Investment Conference and the new Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit.  The three events brought together the who’s who in the hospitality industry in Canada and beyond, culminating with the Google e-Tourism awards presented at a special luncheon, which featured such digital marketing success stories as….Newfoundland Labrador and National Capital Commission – Mosaika – what really stood out to me more than anything was the pride we had in our industry, and in each other for the work we have done in marketing Canada, and Canadian destinations, to a very global audience online.

Six years ago, the first Online Revealed Conference was held in Ottawa, where a group of 150 attendees gathered to share and learn about how to market ourselves in an new online world.  This year in Toronto a packed house of over 550 attendees gathered to learn, collaborate and share the many successes in digital marketing we have had in this industry over the past 6 years.

Back then, we were just starting to discuss the impact of the internet on selling tourism online, with concepts such as  search engine optimization, and building quality website content. Now, we are discussing concepts (then unheard of) such as mobile marketing and managing online reputation in a saturated online review-osphere that extends beyond Tripadvisor to include Blogs, OTA reviews, and niche social websites, where consumers are spending more time interacting online than actually viewing websites or even searching in search engines.

Who could imagine six years ago that in 2011 we would be discussing concepts like Google maps, a technology that is literally mapping out our planet?!

Our marketing reality is now a complex online ecosystem consisting of search engines, online intermediaries, review sites, social networks, news portals, niche discount sites, destination portals, brand portals – all of which are now being consumed on various platforms including mobile smart phones, tablets, laptops and beyond.  This digital evolution represents the largest shift in media consumption that we have seen since Television, and it does not seem to be slowing down.

In addition to the pride I felt in being part of an industry that has grown together and learned together to master this ever-changing online medium, and through the various highs and lows of the past six years including SARS, a world-wide recession and a Canadian Olympics to name only a few, it was overwhelming to once again see how coming together at an event like this, with a community of people willing to share and learn from each other makes a difference in how brave the new media world moving forward.

Thank you to all that shared in this year’s Online Revealed Canada, and those who have contributed to doing innovative things to market Canadian tourism.  As an industry we are doing amazing things, we are reaching our consumers in new ways and interacting with them in the digital places where they are living.  We are also doing what we have always done, and that is to tell stories and to share with the world the Canadian experience.

By the way, the answer to “can the internet get full” (according to Google’s Michael T. Jones) is No.

Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness

You have settled into 2011 and gearing up to implement the marketing plan you completed in 2010. But hold on! The Internet has changed again!

This is a fast paced digital world we live in – but perhaps we need to take a queue from Don Draper, our favorite MadMen Ad exec when he says “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness.”

Why is this relevant now in the age of an exploding online medium?  Let’s just take a breath, re-group and bring it back to basics. There is content coming at us fast and furious – whether its Mobile Apps and Tablet Marketing, or Viral Video’s, or Facebook, Twitter – and what about YouTube and Foursquare? How do we really make consumers happy now?  Is it still as simple as delivering on a promise and providing a product or service that makes your customers happy?

If so – how do we engage with consumers who are changing their online user behavior as quickly as Facebook changes its profile layouts?  I have had numerous conversations with clients who are second-guessing where they allocated their marketing dollars because of the following:

FEAR of missing the next big thing.
RESOURCES – both financial and human.
CONFUSION about what tactics to focus on as the online world shifts again – and again – and again.

My advice? Bring it Back to Basics:

1. Know Your Customer (and make them Happy)

• Check your website analytics for top referral traffic and focus on building on them and building more target referral traffic.
• Use a social media monitoring tool like Radian 6 , Revinate or free tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Advanced Search or others to listen to your customers and understand how to make them happy.
• Allocate time and resources to understand changes in how your target audiences are researching and transacting online.  Read and educate yourself about digital marketing tactics that work.
• Most importantly, if you’re taking the time to ‘listen’ to your customer’s online behavior – be sure you act on that information. Simply monitoring the conversation without adjusting your strategy will not help you understand how your consumer wants to receive your messages now and in the future.

2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize. Understand Your Objectives

• Are you looking to increase sales? To build a new audience? Launch a new brand? Increase brand engagement?
• With all of the new tactics available to marketers today, it is more important than ever to set specific and measurable objectives for campaigns. (It makes me nostalgic for the Mad Men days really)

3. Stick With What Works
• If you have already developed an active Twitter following and you’re seeing ROI (in sales and or website traffic etc) keep going!
• Roll it out across your other brands, build a team of Tweeters to help in building and engaging your audience further – think about what would take a successful campaign to the next level.
• If Google AdWords campaigns worked well last year to drive targeted traffic during need times, or to sell specific packages or products – build on it and do it again with a new twist, or put more dollars towards it perhaps instead of a tactic that did not perform as well.

4. Don’t Forget About Search

• Although Facebook has surpassed Google in user time spent online, the World Wide Web is a complex Ecosystem that is constantly growing and changing.
• Focus on making sure you have a strong web presence across all online channels that help to guide your consumers to transact.
• Ensure you have taken care of the basics like search engine optimization, good creative and content, Google Places optimization, a good mobile version of your website etc. and then you can focus on other channels to build your traffic.

5. Integrate. Integrate. Integrate.

• Make sure you integrate your campaigns online and offline.
• Your brand’s digital footprint should have a consistent tone, creative brand message, and should always drive your target consumers to transact.
• A Facebook page with 2,000 followers is only successful if it allows you to drive transactions and build engaged followers. Consider a contest through a customized tab, or a strong call to action or offer for your Facebook community only.

5. Measure + Measure + Measure and then Adjust

• Measure against successes from 2010. Make sure you have defined Key Measurables in place (such as increases in unique visitors, increases in time on site and pages visited or increased sales.)
• Did you launch a new Blog that has increased traffic by 20%? How do you grow it from here or how do you encourage more transactions on the website as a result of the Blog traffic?
• Have your efforts on LinkedIn increased leads to your sales department?
• What can you do to ensure you grow these successful marketing channels?
• Do the tactics outlined in your Marketing Plan work to build on what you have already started? (Perhaps you have allocated budget to building a linkedIn Company page or display advertising campaign to further grow and engage your base of followers, or you have allocated more resources to Blog more frequently.)

Keep it simple – stick to the tactics that will help you achieve your objectives and don’t worry about all the noise.

It can get overwhelming to look at all the marketing tools and tactics that are available to us today. If you execute marketing programs efficiently, with the proper focus on measurement of ROI, (very do-able in the age of digital marketing) you may have the confidence and extra resources to be able to adjust and try new things.

To take a lesson from Mad Man, Don Draper – Budget + target demographic + medium = time for a scotch.  Just make them Happy!

The Buck (Doesn`t) Stop Here

Guest Post by Patti Ellis

Surviving Today`s Online Wilderness
They say opposites attract, and in this case, it couldn’t be more true.  I’m geekaliciously nerdy with a fond appreciation for any type of electronic gadget that is connected to the Internet.  I love to travel, and have a penchant for room service and fine wine.  My husband, on the other hand, would actually prefer to be wearing camo and living outside several hundred miles from civilization; living off the land as it were, cooking on an open fire whilst sharing tales of yesteryear with his hunting and fishing buddies and enjoying a brewski or two…

It’s deer hunting season here in Nova Scotia, and I received a rare invitation to spend this past weekend in a dilapidated camp in, well, I’m not sure where really, as I was blindfolded and permitted entry only after consuming several shots of Zambuca and successfully passing a hazing exercise that I am to never speak of again.

Let me set the scene for you, and relay to you why I feel this story is even remotely related to being worthy of a Chick blog post…

The hunters in this area have been hunting there for 20-30 years.  For many, it’s generational.  Their grandfathers, fathers and now their sons – and a few wives and daughters – now participate in the experience.  It’s competitive and very strategic, they tell me.   And, now it’s all about the technology.

In a very Sopranos-esque type of sit-down, they meet at the end of the day and compare their notes and discuss at great length any sightings, tracks or scrapings.  Then, they whip out their daily-collected SD cards and view them on laptops or digital cameras to see who visited what, where and at what time, and to check lineage (something to do with antlers and points).  They use high tech walkie talkies to communicate while they are out and about, and they use their GPS to keep track of landmarks, and their Blackberries to check the wind, weather conditions and temperature.  And, they drive big, expensive four wheelers that have names like “The Grizz” which ironically sounds very much like my first car, which was a muffler-less Chevette and very similar in size, I might add.

And, yet, with all of these tools, the elusive buck manages to sneak in unseen and unheard.  He has a six-course meal of apple after apple all the while seemingly knowing and not caring that every movement is being flashed at and recorded by high-definition game cameras.  He’s smart, selective and he’s been around the block a few times.

I *had* to interject myself into the conversation at this point, much to the group’s delight.  I suggested to this pack of Survivormen that they consider changing their strategies as they all hunt, nap and eat at the same time every day. Any self-respecting deer could easily figure their schedule out; perhaps offer something else up for dinner? Maybe some carrots or a Hosta side-salad would do the trick; afterall, isn’t using apples for bait the same as using direct mail?

Ok, perhaps I lost them with that last point, but what struck me is the similarity with which they were doing the tried and true albeit with the latest in technology.  We as Internet marketers, do the same thing only our tools are websites, mobile phones, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Consumers are getting smarter, and not only do we need to use technology in innovative new ways, we also need to ensure we’re actually reaching the consumer (i.e. that they’re actually eating a mixture of apples, carrots or the Hosta side-salad).

So, where do we invest our 2011 marketing dollars?  Download our 11 Tips for Budgeting in 2011 to learn how to get the most, ummmmm, bang for your buck.

Crisis Communications in 140 characters or less

Ink on your fingers from reading the daily newspaper and CNN as the source for all breaking news is almost a distant memory, as news comes to us now via Twitter and other Social Media channels almost instantaneously – and not through the same media filters of the past.

As events take place in real time, Twitterers are commenting, re-tweeting and sharing images making the Twitterverse the place to have access to the real story, or perhaps just commentary without the accuracy of old traditional media (although that could be debated I am sure).

News junkies, and the media themselves are getting their fix faster than ever, which means that when disaster happens, everyone will know about instantly – as it happens, leaving brands little time to send in the PR team to handle official statements and manage the messages.

So what happens when an emergency occurs that demands that a brand respond and or participate in ongoing commentary to help neutralize negative information, and help shape a more positive spin on events as they occur, and immediately after, without an active digital component to their PR strategy?

Those in the travel and tourism industry (and any industry for that matter) need to be ready and on stand-by to deal with emergencies from both a customer-service perspective as well as a media relations best practice. Specifically if you have a Social media presence – especially on Twitter – you need to be ready to use the channel to directly respond to media and customers or risk losing control of the message – or worse.

Take the recent emergency landing of an Emirates Airline to JFK airport in New York City. The plane originating from Dubai was escorted by the national guard back to the airport under suspicion that it was carrying explosives (this according to Twitter) Specifically it was reported via Twitter that:

@NYCAviation Emirates Jet lands safely in New York amid global Terror Alerts. This and about 4 other tweets per second we being shared within seconds of the jet landing.

Communications and PR professionals need to have a plan in place as to how to respond if they are actively using Twitter as a communications medium, and they need to be able to issue a statement in 140 characters or less. The reality is that any company that operates in the public eye needs to monitor and manage their online reputation on an ongoing basis.

Specifically if they are using Twitter, there needs to be a plan in place to use the channel as a brand voice, consumer response channel, and as a means to manage the now instantaneous news coverage that is now our media reality.

Whether it’s a natural disaster like flooding or an earthquake, or a threat of terrorism, corporations need to include in their emergency preparedness plans how they will use their official voice in social media to counteract, as well as inform the public as to the status of the situation at hand.

This brings us to a discussion that is on the minds of every brand CEO, and should be…who manages Social Media and what kind of resources should be allocated? Is Twitter the job of Marketing, Public Relations or Technology?

If you are a brand like Emirates Airlines, and you are going Twitter as the brand, you will need to ensure that the Tweeter or Tweeters have access to senior level executives or a PR team that can jump in to help craft the messages required at a time of crisis. Emirates had not as of October 29th when the JFK incident took place tweeted since early January of 2010, amidst hundreds of Tweets per minute trending around the incident.

The danger in having a Twitter account, without proper management or strategy, is that when a crisis occurs and the Twitterverse is a buzz with comments about the incident (including those who are actually on site of the incident, media and the general public), the brand can be seen as non responsive – and this in the PR world is not a good thing.

Some suggestions for Emirates and all brands to consider in the future when under fire (I guess literally in this situation):
1. Prepare a statement consistent with other company official statements provided by the PR team that uses positive language such as “safe” and safety measures – and be sure to thank the authorities for handling the situation. Anything to neutralize the situation. These official tweets will then be re-tweeted and be visible as the “official” voice in all of the clutter on Twitter. Media also fact find using Twitter first using Tweeters with authority or official Twitter accounts as credible sources for information.
2. Monitor the Twitterverse through the crisis and on an ongoing basis to ensure that you can correct any facts, respond to direct twitter questions and address the media – directly via Twitter. A simple way to monitor a situation such at this one would be to go to Twitter Search and type in the word Emirates. All related tweets will appear in real time. (a more robust form of measurement is recommended as a long term strategy)
3. Communicate with the PR/Communications teams to ensure the message is consistent across all mediums.
4. Establish and use Hash Tags (such as #Emirates) to insert the official brand voice into conversation.
5. Respond to Tweets that are posing a question as the official source so that negative buzz can be minimized, or to correct information that is incorrect.

Having a Twitter presence without a defined strategy and an active brand voice to support it is a disaster waiting to happen. In the new media space, there is only minutes to craft a response in 140 characters or less and hope that by engaging in the discussion there will be a positive PR spin on the story as it unfolds.

Consider using this example who is Tweeting as the official voice of your brand, and make sure that if you are actively engaged in social media as a method of marketing and communications, that you have considered what resources you need to fully support your tweeters. They could make the difference between a positive or negative spin that may effect your brand reputation for years to come.

social media strategist vs social media enthusiast

I am an enthusiast of many things. Although I can appreciate a fine wine, and perhaps even describe the ‘nose’ of a good chardonnay – I dare say that I could lead a wine tasting session, or describe the process of oak aging or barrel fermenting.

I would say however that I am both an “enthusiast” and a “strategist” of Social Media. (and perhaps an evangelist and even a connoisseur of a good tweet).

Social media is as most would agree the new ‘medium’ in digital marketing. There are many out there trying to decipher how to…how much…and where to start in creating a social media “strategy” to attract a target consumer to engage and transact.

There lies the difference between a social media ‘Enthusiast” and a social media “Strategist” – it’s in the strategy (not just in the enthusiasm!) Wow – so that’s not rocket science!

Allow me to explain.

We must begin with what constitutes a good Social Media strategy.

1. Develop a good plan.
Sounds simple enough right? Start with who you are trying to reach and what social media channels they are likely frequenting. Decide what you are trying to achieve (ie. traffic back to a website, building an email database, an increase in brand awareness etc), chose the correct channels to populate (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr or all of the above), populate with content and build a community of followers.

Once you have decided on what social channels to include in your campaign, develop a plan to build a community – with an editorial or content strategy to support your goals.

For example: If you are primarily going to use viral video’s with the goal of driving traffic to a transaction – make sure that the YouTube channel you create has many points of reference and links back to your website.

Make sure that you have optimized your video’s properly to be found in search engines – and have populated other places with the video (like your website and Facebook page) and that you have added social media sharing tools to encourage more pass along distribution.

Also – ensure that all of your campaign elements are integrated and talk to each other.

2. Ensure that you have enough of a budget and resources (time, expertise, dollars) to not only plan, but execute the strategy.

This is the tricky part. How do I know what resources I will need after the campaign ‘shelf life’ is up?

Social Media channels like a Twitter account for example typically do not exist in isolation. Typically, a Tweeter is representing a brand voice, or has a Blog associated with it – or a transactional website in which to drive traffic to.

If you are going to engage in social media marketing, you should plan for it to be part of your long term marketing strategy.

4. Measure and assign key performance measurables

Use social monitoring tools (there are many) as well as website tracking tools like Google Analytics to see how the campaign has impacted your campaign goals. Is Facebook now a top referrer of traffic to your website after launching an aggressive Facebook brand page?

How has the time and resources spent on Twitter affected the traffic increases in traffic to your company Blog?

5. Learn and Continue Building
This is a key point as many social media ‘enthusiasts’ may not pay enough attention to the fact that the foundation built in the beginning stages has a big impact on future social media successes. An isolated brand Twitter page with no integration into any other parts of a company’s marketing mix – no matter how many followers it has – will not result in long term success.

In addition, those who live in the social communities such as Facebook, Twiiter and beyond expect transparency, commitment, and for you to add value to the social media ecosystem.

A one off viral video campaign will most likely not work to create any spectacular results without a long-term plan about how to leverage the traffic it has generated, or to engage that audience enough to act.

Social media enthusiasts are passionate about what social media can do – and they make excellent community manager’s and community developers. Just because an enthusiast has a large list of followers on Twitter does not necessarily mean that they can map out a good long-term strategy and help guide the set up and execution of a successful social media marketing campaign.

Always engage with a true Social Media Strategist – one that has proven case studies and speaks to the points above if you are looking for a long term or even short term results…it will pay off in achieving brand ‘mavens’ and not just ‘followers’ who you may never see again.

If you are a connoisseur of a good discussion about social media marketing…I invite you to RT (Re-Tweet) this blog post and share your idea’s of what it takes to be a true strategist.

Storytelling and its role of marketing online

Patricia and I were recently asked by a colleague “why the focus on the story?” … “Isn’t what you do really more about Google algorithms, applying online marketing statistics and trends to individual web strategies, and measuring ROI for the client?

This question has had us thinking.

Why the story? Over the past five years since Patricia and I founded A Couple of Chicks’, we have had the pleasure of not only traveling across Canada and the US, but also of really knowing the places and people we are working with – and more importantly – what makes them unique.

So why are these stories so important to the success of what we do? I guess we could just go back to the marketing 101 textbook, which among other things, teaches us to understand the customer. Yes, we have research for that (and lots of it), and while many businesses don’t have the time or resources to individually know every customer, Patricia and I have been lucky enough to be invited into communities, and to really know the people we work with and are speaking to in the workshops and presentations that we do.

In fact, the “stories” have become so ingrained into our methodology that I am not quite sure that our strategies would be as effective without them.

Yes the latest digital marketing trend is important and relevant, and yes we need to understand the latest shift in Google’s algorithms, the new rules on 301 redirects, and how to add a source code to paid search ads for proper measurement – but we also need the narrative behind each unique web strategy, and the people that are building them. How can we truly roll out a successful and engaging web marketing program without first understanding the nuances of the business and who the customers are?

I will quote a Blogger who recently attended one of our presentations (said Blogger happens to be the “techy” son of the owner/operator of a successful Inn in Eastern Canada, who tagged along with his dad to listen to what the Chicks’ were saying about this whole online marketing thing). (Note the “story” in this paragraph)

He writes, “If every prospective guest to the Carriage House could flip through the pages of the guest book sitting in the lobby, they wouldn’t even consider staying elsewhere. With Facebook and Twitter, this is now entirely possible to do online, and relatively easy to promote.”

I could not have said it better myself! So although the research, the training, efficient process and project management skills are all key to assisting businesses to be successful online – sometimes telling a story does it best.

Hey L.S – we think you are on to something btw. The technology driven “writer’s utopia” may just be in sight, but alas we must make sure it is profitable too. And yes I did just use “btw” in that sentence!

Social media for hotel brands – the why not just the how

Great article in HotelNewsNow.com (HNN) this week discussing how the big hotel brands are looking at Social Media – specifically in more of a tactical way which is really quite refreshing to see. The article summarizes Kimpton Hotel’s & Resorts use of the social space for “forging specific relationships with their guests and building brand loyalty.”

Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimpton also points out in the HNN article that integration of social tools such as Blogs into the main websites is planned for the coming year as well as a continued focus on encouraging “tweetups” and other ways for social communities to connect around Kimpton brands. This approach to integration instead of a web presence over here on facebook, one on Twitter – another on a Blog will be confusing to consumers as we grow more comfortable with true interaction and communication directly with brands.

My guess is that the successful hotel brand website as it is today will look very different in the very near future and will need to be the central gathering place for all brand points online – as well as the place for transaction.

Jim Zito, VP of interactive marketing for New York-based Morgans Hotel Group speaks more about going back to what works offline to assist in strategy for the new online media world. Zito is consulting with groups offline and online to really listen to how consumer behavior has changed in the new social online world. Smart. Not jumping in without understanding why first and making sure you are truly ‘hearing’ what your customers are responding to.

Then there is Fairmont Hotels and Resorts – a brand who has not been shy in adapting to this new marketing medium. David Doucette executive director of Internet marketing for Fairmont speaks about the brand’s use of exsisting social networks where consumers are already living and interacting (Tripadvisor), as well as the launch of a new social networking platform built around Fairmont brand stories for Fairmont brand loyalists.

Brilliant if I may say. Fairmont has a storied brand history, an consumer segment that is passionate about the brand, beautiful historic properties – and ‘stories’ to tell which may just be why building a specific brand social media community will work for them. Fairmont’s www.everyonesanoriginal.com social media community has just recently launched.

fairmont's www.everyonesandoriginal.com social media community recently launches

fairmont's www.everyonesandoriginal.com social media community recently launches

What I like specifically about this article is that it focussed not on the “What” the big hotel brands are doing but “Why.” It is clear that Kimpton Hotels and Resorts, Morgan’s Hotel Group and Fairmont have clearly laid out strategy, deployed testing, feedback from their customers and have determined their key measurables for both Brand loyalty and ROI. This is clearly not a result of which chains have the largest budgets – and a good lesson to the industry as a whole.

The first Digital Olympic Winter Games – thanks Tweeters, Bloggers and Facebook users for the inside look

Chris Breikss Super Fan Vancouver Olympics 2010

Chris Breikss Super Fan Vancouver Olympics 2010

The newest chick in the coop has inspired me to get back to my Blogging roots as I have moved towards micro-blogging sound-bites on twitter instead of taking time to muse about all things online. Thanks Patti for a fantastic guest Blog entry this week and thanks for the kick in the butt to get blogging again!

I can’t help as a proud Canadian to reflect on Vancouver’s achievement in producing an amazing Winter Olympic Games. We were truly watching the first ever Digital Olympics with this one – and I am happy to say that I think that Canada was well prepared for all of the media channels that were watching this country for the 14 days of the games. It will be interesting to hear now how the traditional media outlets faired.

Although millions were glued to televisions as Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada in overtime against the US hockey team (could not help but mention that one – that would have been so un-Canadian) – I wonder how many millions also watched events via live streaming video, or through a twitter stream of Olympic athletes tweeting updates live from events, ceremonies and from the general festivities that surrounded the games.

It will be interesting to see also how many downloads there were of the Olympics iPhone Apps, and how many Flickr streams there will be posted by athletes and athletes families from inside the Olympics Village and other “behind the scenes” places.

I must say that viewing photos live from a hockey game such as this one of “a young russian hockey fan” posted by my friend and colleague Chris Breikss after Russia lost to team Canada. Chris enjoyed many an Olympic moment on behalf of 900 of his Facebook friends- and I enjoyed seeing updates live on my mobile facebook app from friends as they experienced some of the winning Olympics moments live.   It allowed me to feel like a participant in the stories like no television broadcast has ever been able to do.

Kudos to the organizers, to the city of Vancouver British Columbia, to the Canadian Tourism Commission, to the media and bloggers, the athletes – and to all of the fans who tweeted, posted, blogged and text messaged your experiences of the games…the first digital Olympics was a great success!

How Social Media is really affecting the electronic distribution of travel

Patricia Brusha, co-founder of www.acoupleofchicks.com, moderated a panel this week at the HEDNA (Hotel Electronic Distribution Association) Conference, held in Las Vegas. The panel discussion was centered around the affects that Social Media has had on the electronic distribution channels for travel.

This article in Hotel News Now summarizes the discussion nicely – but I must also highlight the summary of points that Patricia gave me that nicely puts things into perspective.

The panel, which was titled, “Economy in Transition” with Panelists from Expedia, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Trust International Hotel Reservation Services, and Smith Travel Research, pointed out the following:

1. Watch the Buzz – but Buzz doesn’t always = Buy

2. Go back to basics with your value proposition, an easy booking process and good service. (seems logical)

3. Use Social Media to better understand your customer (Customer relationship management at it’s best – isn’t that a no brainer!? We can now see exactly what our customers are saying – all of the time.)

As Patricia stated “We’ve gone from going online to living online…Consumers, particularly in hospitality and travel, are looking for things relevant and authentic.”

So is Social Media affecting the electronic distribution channels for the travel industry? Sure it is…but we have been through this before and will be down this road again.

Perhaps as this panel pointed out we should get back to basics of listening to our customers (who are living online) and providing an excellent travel experience no matter how they found us.

Twitter for Tourism

Coming off busy few months of speaking to groups about online marketing strategy, I must conclude that this year the big burning question is Why Twitter? The Facebook phenominon has continued to evolve. I remember when there were only one or two people in a room that would admit to being on Facebook. Now audiences happily admit to their addiction to and even share stories about their experiences and successes.

    The verdict is still out on Twitter it seems. Although we have run across some great Twitter success stories over the past few months, there are also some very confused marketers who are wondering why they signed up and what they are supposed to be doing there.

    Last week in Halifax, we met the tweeting “Hotel Dog” as an example (aka http://twitter.com/thehoteldog or @thehoteldog as she is known as in Twitterland) who is a chocolate lab at the Best Western Chocolate Lake Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has been tweeting now for a few months to a loyal following and is even now featured on the home page of the hotel’s main website http://www.ChocolateLakeHotel.com .

    She gets fan tweets, fan mail, and has become an attraction unto herself at the hotel. Having a dog like Cocoa (her real life name) as a concierge also allows the hotel to engage with an audience of dog lovers who may also like to travel with their dogs. The Best Western Chocolate Lake is pet friendly of course. Now there is a great use of Tweeting in Tourism to engage a consumer audience!

    I too keep hearing the research that reports that only 5% or less of North American’s are actually active on Twitter and that other social media channels like Facebook continue to expand to audiences that now include all demographics etc. etc. (It has now been confirmed though that my 82 year old Grandma Ivy is not the oldest Facebook user in Canada – but she is one active social networker!)

    Interestingly I put a call out to my “tweeple” this afternoon asking the question (in 140 characters or less of course so please excuse the grammer)

    Tweet: http://www.twitter.com/acoupleofchicks “Looking for feedback…Twitter working for B2C or just a great place for networking and B2B? thoughts?”

    This is the beauty of Twitter – one can shout out to their peeps and get some great feedback fast. A second validation for Twitter to consumers came from the http://www.fairmont.com/empress“>Fairmont Empress Hotel Tweeter who responded with the following via Twitter:

    www.twitter.com/FairmontEmpress “BOTH…success has to due with part instinct and part response. I get excited when I see RT of special offers & events posted.”
    With more than 900 followers I think it is working for Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel.

    Specifically I was looking for some comments about measuring the ROI of Twitter for a business to consumer audience. When we are asked in our workshops whether or not someone should be Twittering, the answer is always “it depends.” I can definately attest to the power of the Tweet for building professional credability, business to business networking, and for me and many of my fellow tweeters – fun!

    Then we come to the most recent news that Search Engines Google.com and Bing.com will index not only Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages and profiles, but also Tweets and updates in the very near future.

    Wow – now there is a game changer!

    The implications to this are too much to discuss in one Blog post, but it will definately shake things up in the future for businesses that rely on the web to reach their consumers (are there any that don’t anymore really?) Check out this “Marketing on the smart web” Blog post by Joe Buhler who discusses some of the implications in some more detail.

    In summary – at this point I will stick to the mantra that you should not jump into any form of social networking intiative for business (or personal for that matter) without a full understanding of the channel and the people using it.

    But I will say that the indexing of real-time results from status updates and tweets is reason enough to take a good look at all social networking vehicles as perhaps a necessary marketing and PR focus in the future.

Frommer's Travel Intention Survey: Some Highlights

Frommer’s recently commissioned a travel survey to help travel marketers better understand how to optimize their Web strategy.  The survey brought out some interesting insights for marketers of tourism and travel.

Frommers Survey sample:
1324 online travel consumers – asking what influenced their travel decisions,
inc. what determined where they go, what content they looked for when planning and booking a trip,
and what would improve their experience.

A Chicks’ Summary:

1. Needs Change depending on place in the buying cycle:
-Pre booking: images and written description of the destination important (DMO’s/Hotels – this is a key point)
-post-booking a map of the destination was the essential item of content, with travel tips,
weather, events and activities information and local dining and attractions. (Think post booking sales opportunities hotels…customers are already sold and looking for more information).

2.  Online Research most influential in making Travel decisions in 78% of survey
-Friends Recommendations next most influential factor 74% (note importance of social media as the ultimate word  of mouth)
-Travel books 54%
-newspapers 20%
-Travel agencies 4% (ouch! Consider the sample here though)

3. 85% of respondents said Price is a key factor in deciding on a travel Destination
*** 84% of survey looking for destination information during the pre-booking stage (this shows us how important the Destination marketing/VCB website is to the buying decision for a destination)

4. Good information on Destination websites (ie detailed travel guides and content) effect on decision to book:
-56% More likely to book with detailed content (stories/travel guides)
-43% No effect on booking (lower than I would have thought)

5. Important Content to Planning Cycle:
-Images:
-Info on Activities and Events
-Written descriptions of the destination
-Maps
-Weather
-Travel info (currency/border info. etc.)
-Video Content: (lower in importance – only 25% of respondants *note: Video is not considered important to research, but may act to make the website more engaging.)

7. Negative Experiences online include:
Confusing websites: 65% (make sure you are focusing on Website Usability best practices and test your site for ease of use)
Insufficient photos: 51%

**Content not bookable online only 35% felt this was a negative

Conclusions/Summary:

  • Content is still king: add good content to sites to not only inform and inspire customers but also to attract them through natural search. Content also plays an important role in the user’s experience on websites, which impacts on conversion rates and loyalty.
  • As users continue to embrace social media to connect with friends, and view friends recommendations as very influential in making travel buying decisions–  Social media will have a role to play in how friends can influence each other’s travel plans. Through Twitter’s “what are you doing?” Facebook’s status updates, Flickr’s photo sharing and beyond, it is getting increasingly easy to share experiences and thereby influence the travel plans of others.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
alicia.whalen@gmail.com
905-401-2249

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