It seemed, much like the old saw about the weather, everyone talked about how important hyper-targeted marketing was, but no one was doing anything about it. That, says Brian Bolf, senior vice president of revenue management at Sightline Hospitality, and David Tyre, vice president of business development at Zoox, all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into “tried and true marketing tactics” such as digital campaigns and targeting efforts based on attribution models and obvious value propositions like lower rates or upgrades. With the weaknesses of those approaches exposed by the pandemic, the two told LODGING, data micromanagement has begun coming into its own, challenging or supplanting hospitality marketing methods that just couldn’t measure up to the moment.
A Changed Market
Bolf notes how previously reliable marketing methods quickly became passé as restrictive travel suppressed demand for the available guestroom supply. It seemed there were far fewer of the digital searches that drove existing marketing efforts, which was further complicated by what he terms “the unique behavior of individual markets.” It became clear to him that a change of tactics was in order. “In this situation, you need to remain fluid and aware of the ever-changing booking and demand trends that were occurring.” What they needed, he says, was the ability to “critically dissect who is traveling, where they’re coming from, and how to attract them to your hotel.” What they needed was real-time information that could be quickly accessed and deployed to identify and effectively market to likely customers.
Data on Tap
As it just so happens, this was precisely the type of information Tyre’s company was now providing. Zoox, which was founded in 2010 as what Tyre calls a “WiFi integrator,” originally supported its clients’ existing WiFi networks with call centers, but in recent years, had changed the model to become “more data centric.” This, Tyre explains, involved collecting the data that resided on clients’ “WiFi ecosystems” but leaving clients to do their own integration, using the Zoox platform to self-market their services to their WiFi users. Until COVID, says Tyre, their efforts to sell their product, Zoox Smart Data, was met with comments like “It would be nice to have it but we don’t need it.” However, he says, that changed when the coronavirus arrived on the scene. “It’s a different story now. Everyone wants our product. We’ve actually thrived and grown during COVID because our product helps our customers during this time.”
“Market effectively, transparently, and probably most importantly, sincerely.”
Tyre says his company serves numerous industries, including hospitality, partnering with the clients’ WiFi providers to become part of their network once the user logs in and accepts terms and conditions, after which they can log into their social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Their data, he says, is captured legally as part of the authentication process. “By opting in to use our services, they are agreeing to let us collect some data like that collected by other apps. The end result is that we have users’ age, email address, pictures, and likes from social media. If we integrate further into the property’s management system, we can compile more useful data from the Zoox network, including hotel spend, loyalty points, etc.”
Although much of that data is already available on social media, Tyre describes the benefits of his product in terms of the ability it offers to easily access and use that data. “It’s true that data was always there, but no one was collecting and providing an easy way to access it. From our dashboard, clients can have in one place the information that is readily available between our authentication process and social media.” This data, he says, is placed in a data link that clients can access to search all people on Zoox’s entire WiFi network. This, he explains, enables, for example, a hotel, to identify guests who have searched for a particular product or service, which can be featured in a targeted promotion.
Tyre believes data is the driver of marketing, although he says 95 percent of data collected is never used, however, once someone learns how to tap into that data, it opens up a whole new world. “It changes how to market to guests, especially younger ones,” Tyre notes. Further, tapping into this type super-targeted marketing offers competitive advantages, especially during a pandemic.
Identify the Markets to Target
Bolf can verify that what he was seeking—that ability to “critically dissect who is traveling now”—has paid off. “The campaigns that are working and making a difference are those that are very specific to the travelers that are out and about and are considering future travel. So, some hotels might be focusing their marketing towards crew, government, and local education segments, while some others might be focused totally on other segments such as healthcare, national resources, and social groups.” What they can also determine and put aside, he adds, are the demand generators that are not in play now. “You don’t have the concerts, the festivals, the wineries—all of which are shut off now.”
A WORD ABOUT PRIVACY ISSUES
It seems the concept of privacy is evolving in these days of interconnected servers, social media, and ancestry tracing. This was apparent in the response of David Tyre, vice president of business development at Zoox, when questioned about privacy concerns related to the data his company’s product Zoox Smart Data gathers from client companies’ combined WiFi systems. As he explains it, data is basically the price nearly everyone below a certain age is more than willing to pay in exchange for free access to their myriad social media, bank, and retail accounts and services. “Younger adults especially are used to this; they understand that they can get Facebook for free mainly because of the data they provide. They don’t have the same concept of privacy.” That said, Tyre adds that his company’s respect for the laws of countries that restrict the collection and use of data and the wishes of those who may understandably be “creeped out” when an offer reflecting knowledge of their likes and dislikes and buying habits pops up. “We only collect what the user has already agreed can be collected, and if they opt out—even at a later time—we delete it.”
Increase Customer Spend
While both Tyre and Bolf agree that the “old reliable” methods may again prove useful in future, sunnier days, hyper-targeted methods seem to be what the current market requires in what might be described as “Hunger Games”–type conditions to generate more revenue while occupancies are low. On this, Tyre says, “Data has changed the equation—just having basic knowledge about guests has the potential to boost revenue at a time when hotels have costs but not occupancy, a time when just another $1 per room in revenue can be the difference between whether a hotel decides to close or stay open.”
Looking to the Future
As Bolf sees it, the overall goal of marketing is the same as it always was—to identify, attract, and acquire customers and win their repeat business and positive reviews. And, right now, one of the keys to that is catering to their concerns about COVID. “You have to be the one that stands out, the one that can help reduce the anxiety of those travelers coming back to the market so that they select your hotel.” He makes the point that what may be necessary in a tough market should serve hoteliers well in all markets. “Market effectively, transparently, and probably most importantly, sincerely. Really demonstrate what you are doing for that traveler, and not just in words, but in actions. The hotels that are really proving it and doing and demonstrating it are going to be the ones that will be successful.”
Looking further ahead, Bolf stresses the importance of ‘building back better’ with the best team members they can bring back or bring in and otherwise do all they can to make their best post-pandemic impression. “Make sure you have your ‘A team’ back in place before your first customer arrives, because you really only get one shot at this. Don’t forget the importance of making every customer happy, and, of course, garnering their positive reviews, so they can tell other customers that you are doing it right. Fulfilling your promise to the travelers is just critical.”