The coronavirus crisis has altered the traditional sales funnel, say hotel marketing experts.
Hajko works from her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and she got the idea for a marketing campaign Spire Hospitality calls The Great American Road Trip when she decided to travel to unique destinations in search of memorable experiences.
Hajko calls her experiential bucket list “quirky” and “unusual.” She visited the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to see the Synchronous Firefly event that takes place in early summer. She then drove about an hour northwest and stayed at the Caboose Motel in Titusville, Pennsylvania, a lodging accommodation associated with Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, an excursion train. Each room is a free-standing caboose.
CABOOSE? CHECK.: Theresa Hajko, director of revenue management at Spire Hospitality, this summer spent a night in the Caboose Motel in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The experience was on her ‘quirky’ bucket list. During her trip, Hajko discovered she is not alone is seeking unusual travel experiences that include time spent outdoors so she created a marketing campaigned called The Great American Road Trip that offers stay-packages to prospective guests of Spire Hospitality’s hotels.
During the road trip, Hajko met other travelers intent on checking experiences off their bucket lists. “When I got back, I shared my trip on social media and I told other people. Everybody was so engaged with the idea of the road trip. I think right now travelers are looking to getting out and do something but they don’t necessarily want to involve air travel. Getting outdoors and back to nature is so popular right now.”
Hajko said the marketing campaign for Spire Hospitality is meant to encourage the road trip and to generate business for the hotels in its management portfolio.
Spire Hospitality’s Great American Road Trip offers package priced $25 above the sell rate. Guests participating in the program get gifts such as dining coupons, a S’mores-making kit and a picture frame.
The program kicked off in mid-August and so far Spire Hospitality’s hotels have sold more than 80 packages.
LISTEN: CARE PACKAGES: Hotels can attract business during the coronavirus pandemic by sharing a message of safety and caring. The care must be obvious with how the business treats its staff as well as serves its surrounding community, say experts. Episode 286 of Lodging Leaders podcast examines how the coronavirus crisis has reshaped the traditional sales-and-marketing funnel and what hotels need to do to attract the attention of prospective guests.
Besides the guests who booked are hundreds more who were made aware Spire Hospitality’s hotels through the campaign. “A unique package will get attention and drive potential guests to your hotel’s website,” Hajko said. “If that potential guest doesn’t make a reservation right now maybe they’ll (book) in the future.”
Creating consumer awareness is step one in the traditional marketing funnel.
At the top of the funnel is discovery or awareness. Next is engagement with prospective customers as they learn about your business. Then there is lead nurturing, when the customer is considering the offer and marketing leads turn into sales leads. The final step is the sale or the conversion from a looker to a buyer.
While some marketing tactics remain tried and true, the coronavirus pandemic has flipped the sales funnel because consumer buying habits have changed since mid-March, when the pandemic hit the U.S.
PERSONAL SPACE: McKinsey & Company’s survey shows consumers plan to wear face masks in hotels and other retailers.
Glenda Lee, a consultant with TBT Hospitality in Washington, D.C., has worked in the hospitality industry for about 30 years. She has experienced a lot of ebbs and flows in the hotel business and notes her sales-and-marketing strategies are embedded in her early-career experiences in hotel operations.
In the age of COVID-19, Lee says today’s marketing funnel is different than it was when it was first created nearly 100 years ago.
“The scientific understanding of a funnel is pressure to push something into a space. And that really was the original definition of the sales funnel. It was visualizing the sales steps and doing some compression to go into a broader concept of what I want you to do.
“Today? Buyers resist compression. Buyers want what they want when they want it,” Lee said.
“Sales folks have to reinterpret the funnel. Do we still need to go through stages of introducing and making them aware of our product? Yes. But sometimes in the pursuit for engagement and loyalty those steps are skipped and are not as linear as they used to be.”
Other factors influence buying decisions such as third-party reviews, discussion groups and one-to-one referrals. As such, Lee said, “I might be engaged and click buy before I know about the company, fully about the brand. Before I even engage with a sales person, I’ve already made up my mind that I’m going to buy. Whatever sales pitch you have I don’t need to hear. In fact you might talk me out of it if you give me a pitch I don’t even need.”
She advises marketing specialists to remain fluid and nimble. And that means being ready to pivot depending on circumstances impacting travelers’ buying decisions.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: The Hotel Revival, a Joie de Vivre property affiliated with Hyatt Hotels, in Baltimore, Maryland, posted this photo on Facebook to let folks know it’s adhering to health and safety standards in the age of COVID-19. The boutique property markets itself as a socially progressive, community-oriented hotel, writes Lauren Cohen in Baltimore magazine. During the coronavirus crisis, the boutique property in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, offering free rooms to essential workers, including police officers who were sleeping in their cars between shifts. It has given out free bagged lunches and bags of fresh produce to residents. “Smiles are currency nowadays,” hotel GM Donte Johnson is quoted as saying. Hotels with a message of caring for their staff and their surrounding community will gain trust and loyalty from guests, marketing consultant Glenda Lee with TBT Hospitality in Washington, D.C., told Long Live Lodging.
Each hotel has to operate on its own. It needs to get tactical by re-examining its mission and change its messaging to fit with today’s consumer sentiments.
McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 U.S. Consumer Pulse Survey released in late August shows how consumer sentiment has changed over the six months since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.
People are tuned into what researchers are calling the health-and-caring economy. And hotels are part of the mix.
The survey shows an increase since mid-March of consumers’ intent to book a hotel stay in the U.S.
The study also reveals more people are shopping and buying online.
But for consumers who plan to show up in person at a business, including hotels, most will base their buying decisions on whether the business treats its employees with care and whether staff members and customers wear face masks.
The message consumers are sending businesses is loud and clear – health and safety is their top concern. But if your hotel can expand that consumer sentiment with a caring message, you may have a fighting chance at surviving the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
As an example of a hotel that cares, Lee points to Hotel Revival in Baltimore, a boutique property that is part of the Joie de Vivre collection that is sponsoring food-collection drives to help the unemployed.
“I am a staunch believer in cause marketing,” Lee said. “In hospitality, we’re defined about how we exhibit care. For sales and marketing teams, this is an opportunity where we become the storyteller, the care giver, the solution finder. We were before COVID, but we have to be a little bit more intense with that.
“So how that story is told, how that care is provided and how those solutions are presented can be the narrative that we use when we write out our sales pitches, when we deliver our presentations, when we do the site visits, when we make a social media post and even our email signatures. It can be a big thing it can be a very minute thing but the message has to be consistent that we care, and that should drive revenue from others who believe in that care.
“In 2020, that’s how loyalty is built.”
“The sales funnel is basically the buying path. It’s the path through which every potential hotel guest in the world gets narrowed down to who your actual guests are,” Barry said.
The first step in the path is awareness. The prospective guest has to be aware that Hotel A exists.
The next step interest. There needs to be something about Hotel A that sparks consumers’ interest.
Third, consideration is the point at which the guest will decide which hotel to choose.
Last is action or the buying decision.
“I’m not sure actual funnel has necessarily changed, but if you drop a jelly bean down the neck of the funnel there’s a block right now between the consideration phase and the action part of the funnel,” Barry said.
Travel consumers are nervous and hesitant to pull the trigger to buy. “In the past, the journey from consideration to action might happen two months in advance,” Barry said. “Now it’s happening two hours in advance of a trip.”
Barry offers some tips on what hotel sales and marketing professionals should be doing right now.
Hotels managers should divide the responsibilities among sales and marketing. Sales representatives should stand in the lobby and talk to people wearing business clothes or hospital scrubs. They should walk through the hotel’s parking lot or drive around and see what company-owned vehicles are parked there. “The most information and the best leads are coming from on-the-ground research right now,” Barry said.
She also advises managers review the arrivals report every single day. Who are the guests checking in? If you see a company name in their email, ask if there are other things your hotel can be doing to make them feel safer. “Make it easy for them to refer colleagues,” Barry said. “Then last is to call previous business clients and ask how they’re doing.”
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, most hotel sales and marketing folks “slammed on the brakes” and stopped reaching out. “We didn’t want to see tone deaf,” Barry said.
But now is a good time to reopen the channels of communication to find out how people are holding up and what’s new and different in their lives. “It’s about meeting people where they are right now.”