Maximizing Your Hospitality Email Campaigns' Strategy
Email campaigns, when executed right, are an effective way to engage your audience in an impactful way. While it's essential to act creatively when developing a campaign, it is equally important to think critically. Identifying the desired ROI on an email initiative serves as a guiding light in the execution of the strategy. This blog intends to 'look under the hood' of why you are doing what you are doing and share some of our thoughts and findings in strategizing effective email campaigns for the luxury hospitality sectors.
First, Think Critically.
Generally, hospitality clients understand that email communications are part of the sales process. As an agency, we have been able to move past having to pitch why email campaigns are an essential tool, but hospitality clients rarely know what they can and should expect from this touchpoint. In initial conversations about email campaigns, we find that the discussion focuses on the design rather than the strategy. That's when we come in to change the focus.
We get it.
Email platforms have evolved so much in the past ten years and display impressive video tutorials that show seemingly easy drag and drop features to build beautiful designs. At first glance, they seem slick and easy to use. And if you have some basic web design or tech know-how, it's pretty easy to navigate once you what all the tutorials.
But then what?
These 'do it yourself' design tools don't consider how to build an effective strategy. A simple goal is that hotels want to connect with their guests in a meaningful way and expect a return on their investment. To achieve this goal, you need to put the breaks on design and define why you are doing what you are doing.
Before you research email marketing platforms, we challenge you first to answer some key questions. This initial thinking will help define everything needed to properly execute an email that will give you the ROI you are looking to achieve. It will also guide your decision-making on the right platform to use.
1. Know Who You Are Talking To
How did you build your database?
Email marketing databases primarily consist of past hotel guests in the hospitality sector. If your hotel is savvy enough to collect good data at restaurants, spas, and other outlets, the database would include those emails also. Additional contacts could come from sign-ups on your website. Direct hotel bookings will provide you with complete contact information, while reservations from OTAs will require the Front Desk Agent to be diligent about asking for email information upon check-in. Active data collection is essential to boost the likelihood that a follow-up booking would be direct.
It's fair to assume that your database is familiar with your product or services at some level. Either they experienced your services or have inquired about learning more. This engagement is an advantage and should help your open rate. It varies by industry, but the hospitality industry's average open rate is 20%, with a click-through rate of 3%. It's a quick calculation to see what 20% of your database is.
If you are developing a new hotel, you may need to boost your database to announce your opening. We have been able to find advertising partners that provide opportunities to access a highly qualified list. If you can get your hands on a great list and are in the opening phase, this is seriously considered as you grow your database. Purchased lists can result in a lower open rate than the types of groups mentioned above.
Who's on the list?
Not all contacts are created equal. It's essential to have a system to add tags or other data about your contact to segment as needed. Segmenting will be used differently in the hospitality and luxury real estate sectors, but the general philosophy is similar. If you give people information, access, or messaging about something that speaks to their likes or past behaviors, they will be more likely to engage. It seems simple, right?
Let's look at hospitality. Email platforms, like Navis, integrate directly with the booking engine and POS. This active integration allows all sorts of data to be accessed to segment the correct email at the right time to the right person. For example, suppose you are looking to fill the shoulder season and know that the average booking window is three months. In that case, you could send an email to the past hotel guests who booked in the shoulder season, approximately three months before the shoulder season started. Let's take that a step further and target this email to only send to past guests from a previous shoulder season who also booked a spa treatment, ate in the restaurant, or lived in the drive market. We want to most opportunity to get granular when it makes sense. If you rely heavily on OTAs, you won't have access to this critical data, so encourage direct bookings. Also, we don't recommend extracting data from your POS and uploading it to a separate software. There are solutions for hotels, and our team would be happy to point you in a few directions that have worked for us in the past.
For the luxury real estate sector, you'll also want to segment with the available data or the information you have collected in your sales process. For example, you may target leads from a specific advertising initiative that live in a particular city/state or location or said they were interested in a specific type of home. The best way to retain this data for segmenting is to integrate your CRM with your email software platform. Not all CRMs work with every email platform so check with your CRM rep or Agency to get the right system for optimal integration.
2. What Are You Talking About?
What is the message/offer/pitch you want to communicate?
You know you want to send an email, or at least think you should, but you're unsure where to start? It's best first to identify what you are trying to accomplish:
- General Brand Awareness
- Announce an Offer
- Information Share (Value-Added)
It's essential to know the intention, so you can develop the proper tone of the copy, the right call to action, and learn how to measure email marketing metrics.
Let's walk through an example of each type of email, per segment, and expected ROI.
Hospitality - General Awareness emails are essential to reinforce your brand in an aspirational way. Think Instagram meets email. These are the easiest for resorts with lots of amenities to showcase. You could send an email to your database showcasing the best resort amenities in a specific season with great photos to entice your guests or announcing an award or accolade the hotel earned or a press piece you wanted to share. The ROI of this type of email is to get your brand back in front of your guest to put your property back in their thought process and have them start daydreaming about spending time at your hotel again. There should not be an immediate ROI on a booking, but you're playing the long game. In this type of email, you want guests to be reminded of the fun they can or have had at your resort. Invite them to take action to follow you on Instagram or introduce them to your blogs or share a link to your packages.
Announcing an offer, package, or promotion is the most accessible type of email to see ROI. If you offer a discount, especially for a limited time, you will see a more significant ROI on bookings. You must carefully weigh how much you emphasize sales or discounts in your messaging, as you don't want to train your audience to wait for the next deal. You want guests to find value in your room rates and be drawn to the unique experiences curated for them. The promotion could be a special Chef's Dinner exclusive to guests only on a specific evening or access to the spa in the evening with a particular package. People will pay for things they perceive are unique or exclusive. These are the guests you want. Your ADR will thank you for it.
Information Share emails have come to light in the past year. When hotels suddenly had to close, we were left with figuring out new and inventive ways to connect with guests. The hotels that sought ways to bring their property into the digital inboxes of past guests have been rewarded with reciprocated loyalty and have not suffered the same revenue loss. The ROI of this type of email is to bring your property into your guests' daily life and home. Sharing a mixology tutorial on a signature cocktail, a recipe from the head chef, or skincare tips from the spa are just a few examples. This type of content allows your hotel to be part of the conversations between families and friends. House this content on your website, blog, and social media to make it readily available as a resource to your audience.
Hotels can weave combination emails with a little bit of all three types of messages into a newsletter-style email. Suppose businesses will take this approach with their emails, which is an ongoing initiative. In that case, we recommend having a well-thought-out editorial calendar for at least the following three emails. This type of email takes a bit more time and thought but will result in a higher CTR.
Note that other emails for this sector include emails around the guest's stay (booking confirmations, cancelations). These are equally important to evaluate strategy and will be discussed in a future blog. The email types above are intended to be sent outside these stay-related email communications.
3. What's Next?
After narrowing down the intention of your messaging and maybe even what you're going to say, you need to think through the user experience. The 'What's Next' question typically adds a few more steps to this process. Here are a few questions we recommend our clients ask themselves in this phase:
- What's the email's call to action (CTA)? In other words, what is the intention of the recipient to do after opening the email?
- What can be clicked through to on the email? How many click opportunities are there?
- If the email was for a package, promotion, or blog, did the email link take you to the correct page? What's next for the reader?
- Is there a Book Now feature of an information-gathering form?
Think through an email's user experience from the moment it's opened, clicked through to, and then the ultimate ROI you are after. Setting these expectations for your email marketing campaign will help you measure success. Examples of measurable results include booking revenue resulting in an email package promotion or the number of people that clicked through and read a blog and the time spent on the site.
Can you spread your message in multiple ways?
The message in your email campaign likely has applicability in your other communication channel, social media platforms, blogs, digital ads, etc. Whenever possible, it's great to use that content to reinforce your message.
What's The Point?
- Why is your company sending the email? Is this a one-time event or an ongoing digital communication your company is committed to maintaining?
- We all love an open rate that exceeds the industry average, but an 'open' could be un-intentional by the end user. Now that the email is open, what do you want the end-user to do when they open it?
- What's the action triggering the ultimate ROI of your email campaign? Is simply exceeding an industry average CTR enough to say that an email was successful?
- Did the email you sent positively represent your brand?
Email Campaigns are an effective marketing tool that can yield a powerful ROI when executed with the correct thinking behind it.
Stay tuned next month when we explore impactful ways to use email marketing effectively to improve ROI. For further discussion, reach out to our Thinkers@SmarthinkingInc.com.