11 ways marketing can prepare hotels for life after COVID-19

Only a couple of weeks ago, we never could have imagined the world would come to a complete stop. Who would have thought that we all would be practicing social distancing or that a large percentage of the population would be under “stay-at-home” orders?

Well, that is the world we are living in.

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But are there steps that hoteliers can take now to best prepare for business after the coronavirus crisis? Yes.

Whether you are the general manager of an independent luxury resort, the director of sales and marketing for a convention hotel or the owner of a smaller boutique property, there are many prudent steps to minimize the pain and, more importantly, prepare for better days.

In terms of marketing, the first question to answer is how should you be budgeting during the coronavirus pandemic?

As a general rule, if you are able to maintain your marketing budget during this time of crisis, then you should do so. A short pause is understandable, but historic data and research have proven time and again that companies that actively market during a time of crisis experience higher sales and net income than those going dark. At minimum, you should not cut more than 50 percent of your marketing budget. So, if you currently spend 10 percent of gross revenues on marketing, then don’t go below 5 percent. Note we are talking about gross revenues during good times because this needs to be viewed as an investment spend approach. 

Also, there are many things you can do now while you have the available time that can be very beneficial for future business:

1. Audit Your Marketing Assets

There is much you can do during this slow period to improve your content performance with an audit. If you have not kept an inventory of your content assets— photos, videos, blogs, presentations, white papers, e-books, email, infographics, articles you’ve published—to date, this is a great time to get started. 

  • Look at each piece with a critical eye.
  • Which images and high-quality pieces can you repurpose for other channels?
  • Which receive the most backlinks or social shares?
  • What garnered the most traffic to your website?

Note that there also may be opportunities for:

  • Optimizing with new calls to action and keywords.
  • Adding internal links to new products/services.
  • Updating with fresh content.
  • Promoting again when business picks up.

2. Record Videos Today for Social Media Use in the Future

Even though we all realize that videos are a key tool for the marketing toolbox, there is always an excuse why they can’t get done. Well, now is a great time to record and/or at least make plans for your videos because they are terrific search-engine-optimization fodder and can form a basis for all types of other content, too.

  • Consider embedding the video in a blog post and include the transcript. 
  • Take screenshots and use them as images in social. 
  • Take quotes from the video transcript and use them alongside images on Instagram in the coming months.
  • Reuse those quotes in media releases and upcoming blog posts.

3. Interview Customers and Employees

Use Google Hangouts or Zoom to conduct and record video calls because many people now have time on their hands. Interview your customers and/or employees about their experiences and knowledge of your products, services and culture. In the coming months, these transcripts and videos will be a rich source of insider info for your blog posts, social content, media releases and more.

4. Plan Webinars or Make a “Frequently Asked Questions” Video

Planning and conducting a webinar can be a very effective way to answer frequently asked questions about your hotel, amenities, destination, advantages, new products and/or services. This also can be a means to introduce new team members and is an especially effective marketing tactic in business-to-business applications because 91 percent of professionals say webinars are their favorite content format for learning. If webinars aren’t your thing, then make an FAQ video and push it out on LinkedIn, YouTube and other social/media portals. Or create an FAQ section that can be added to your website.

5. Improve Your Online Reviews Strategy

If you do not yet have a plan or policy for responding to online reviews, now is the time to compile one. The web is filled with online reviews that companies have not responded to. You do not have to go back and answer each one, but this is a good time to make sure your more recent reviews have a thoughtful response. Create a reviews policy and, if you have a good candidate, train an employee now to manage your online reviews going forward. Write a few template responses and go over your brand messaging with them. Coach them on how to respond to negative reviews and when to escalate legitimate customer-service issues to the right person. Provide to them the tools they need to monitor reviews and get alerts. Show them what you expect as far as measuring the value of reviews and monthly reporting.

6. Evaluate and Enhance Your Digital Marketing

While having a deep digital footprint in your marketing communications platform typically is critical to success, during a time of crisis it is mandatory. Digital marketing has the advantage of being faster, less expensive and more effective than traditional marketing. An email or social media campaign can connect a marketing message to a targeted subset of consumers for a fraction of the cost of a TV ad or print campaign, immediately. Become hyper-segmented with your targets. Consider finding mediums that will allow you to capitalize on underpriced attention and think outside the box. 

7. Update Your Hotel’s “Google My Business” for Customers

If you are operating with special hours or are taking special care to avoid the spread of COVID-19, let customers know what has changed. Update your hours and business description, share Google Posts with updates and offers, and make sure your contact information is correct in case people want to reach you.

8. Brand Photoshoot and Video

Just like “social videos,” this may be the perfect time to get your brand video and/or photoshoot completed. If you are able to do so, now can be a very good time to do the project that has been put off year after year, perhaps because you always felt it would interrupt business or customers. Because business has likely slowed for videographers and photographers, you can probably get a good price, but you also will be helping them at a time when they may need the work.

9. Update Your Website

Like photography and videos, take this time to update and/or fix your website. Or maybe you need a new site altogether. Now is the time. Get your hotel ready for the next stage of business.  

10. Consider an Outreach Strategy

Whether or not reaching out to your customers during a pandemic is appropriate depends entirely on your type of business, your existing relationship with customers and the purpose of the communication. Are customers used to hearing from you regularly by email, social media or text messaging? Do not let that relationship drop off—but avoid crisis-related promotions. What you can do is get creative and think of how you can offer reassurance, social connection or tangible assistance during COVID-19. Consider:

  • SEO and online marketing—solid avenues to build connection and trust with people.
  • Hosting an online video space once a week for people to check in and have a light discussion. 

11. Do a Deep Dive into Your First-Party Data

Review your analytics and sales/lead data. What do you know about your customers? What do you know about prospects that didn’t pick you? What is in the analytics data that you have missed in the past—are they on iPhones, all visit from city X? Compare offline and online trends and determine what you could fix today that you have never had time to do. Perspective matters. Focusing on the future and what we can do to prepare for recovery matters. Rather than sit on the sideline and wonder what happened, take a proactive approach. Don’t allow your hotel or resort to turn a two-month crisis into a six- to nine-month business downturn because you laid low. Now is the time to invest in your company. 

Joe Bouch is the president/CEO of 78Madison, a marketing, digital, advertising, public relations and social media agency that specializes in serving independent hotels and resorts. For more information, visit 78Madison.com or call (407) 788-7070.