Marketing your hospitality business

The UK hospitality industry achieved a turnover of more than £98 billion in 2017, according to Business Insider earlier in 2019. This was the third successive increase in as many years (up from £86 billion in 2015 and up again to £92 billion in 2016).

The website Plan Radar on the 22nd of July 2019, also forecast an increased contribution by the hospitality industry to the UK economy by the end of 2019 - despite the economic uncertainties around Brexit and the shortage of staff felt in some sectors of the industry.

Hotels represent a large sector of the industry, but it also includes innumerable restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and leisure companies and organisations.

Nevertheless, economic certainty spells less travel for business or leisure, comment consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in their review of the hospitality industry for 2019. The effects are exacerbated by an upsurge in new rooms created in the hotels sector – where supply threatens to exceed demand.

This guide offers ideas for marketing your hospitality business and discusses:

Why market your hospitality business?

The overwhelming message from industry analysts is that while there may be room for some growth, the rate of increase has flattened off in recent months – and will probably continue for some time into the immediate future.

In short, all branches of the hospitality industry face keen competition in a straitened market.

As competition increases, so it becomes even more critical to market your particular business to stay ahead of your rivals and claim your due share of the spoils.

A briefing paper by the Business and IP Centre of the British Library, suggests that successful marketing starts by identifying your target market – through regular and careful market research.

But it needs to go much further than this by developing the means to emphasise your business identity and position your particular brand in the market. That is how you will set yourself apart from your rivals and competitors and bring focus to the way your target customers perceive your market offering.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers a concise yet comprehensive definition of the marketing required by any business: “Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”.

If you are engaged in the increasingly competitive hospitality industry, your business may need to pay closer than ever attention to that process of identifying the customers for your business, anticipating their demands, and satisfying those requirements in a way that maintains the profitability of your business.

The CIM also stresses that any such marketing needs to be consistent over time – developed against the background of a carefully structured, longer-term marketing strategy that reinforces some of the key messages about your business, its products and its services. That is the path not only to creating your brand but also developing longer-term recognition, loyalty and commitment to it.

Ideas to market your business

That is the theory of marketing and explains why it may be critical to your hospitality business. So, how do you develop your marketing strategy, and what needs to go into it?

Before the age of the internet, marketing was very much a lucrative practice for specialist firms of marketing professionals. Those firms continue to exist today, of course – and you might still find yourself committing to a substantial part of your precious budget in meeting their fees.

Today, however, you also have access to practically unlimited resources and an endless array of marketing tools which you may use to develop your marketing strategy entirely online.

First of all, we offer some ideas on marketing your business online.

Online ideas

  • good design is essential to any online marketing, suggests the Marketing Donut – and that starts with the webpages for your business and any presence on social media;
  • any website for a business in the hospitality sector needs to be clear, display comprehensive product information (including the location of your hotel, restaurant, bar, café, or leisure enterprise);
  • as with any online marketing, but with any aspect of hospitality as its cornerstone, excellent customer service needs to be offered – from the initial visit to your landing page, through booking a room, table, or any other of your services, through to feedback, reviews and a complaints procedure;
  • once you have set up your presence on the internet, it is also essential to monitor how well it is performing – and that means regular and comprehensive web analytics;
  • this gives you an analysis not only of the number of visitors to your website, but also how they navigate through its pages, and the response of visitors to your call for action;
  • probably one of the most widely used web analytics tools is Google Analytics – it is surprisingly comprehensive and is also free to use;
  • indeed, if you want to save time – and, potentially, a fair bit of money, there is a host of software tools to automate the production of online marketing;
  • suites of programmes do everything from automatically creating web content and social media, managing your business emails, and even SMS messages – other programmes concentrate on one aspect or another of online marketing. An article in the Entrepreneur Handbook on the 6th of September 2019, reviews a handful of each type of these.

While automatically generated marketing may have the appeal of convenience and simplicity, you might want something altogether more bespoke to market your hospitality business – and, for that, we need to take a closer look at the various elements of online marketing. Specifically:

Content

  • probably the most fundamental feature of your digital marketing effort goes into generating the content;
  • the content is designed to inform your customers about your services, providing them with the information they want to know – as opposed to only that information which you think they should know;
  • the content offers a way of educating your customers in a way that helps to build their trust and confidence in your business brand and product offering;
  • it is aimed at providing the kind of education or information that encourages your customers to believe they are making a smart decision by patronising your hotel, restaurant, bar, café, or leisure facility – the content of your online marketing, in other words, lends value to the services you are offering;
  • besides being informative, your content also needs to be engaging – your customers want to read it, rather than simply gain nuggets of information from it;
  • in that context, it is important to be aware of the difference between advertising and content – according to the website TextBroker, 70% of people prefer to inform themselves through an article rather than an advertisement;
  • so, consider content that tells a story, design an infographic, create a series of blog posts, or commission articles to intersperse between the more obvious advertisements;
  • with high-quality content, you may be able to build reciprocal links all over the internet – which not only increases traffic to your own website but also establishes your credentials with search engines – helping you to gain a more prominent placing in their listings;
  • when creating your content, remember, too, to use all the various media which the internet puts at your disposal – content is no just the written word, but also includes, videos, images, links to social media, email marketing, and the imaginative and creative use of advertising;
  • content aims to hook your visitors on the landing page, but to keep them sufficiently engaged to want to stay on your website and explore your other pages;
  • information on that first page needs to be enough to engage the visitor and potential customer, therefore, by providing an outline of the critical facts they may want to know – yet whetting the appetite sufficiently for them to hunger for more, which may be found on other pages of your website;
  • if customers’ answers to key questions may be found on the first page, they are likely to stay on your website or return to it if and when other questions might arise;
  • by keeping your target group of customers at the very centre of attention, you stand to build trust and confidence through customer loyalty;

Videos

  • if a picture paints a thousand words, a video can recount an entire story – think carefully about the story you want to tell about your hospitality business;
  • as we have seen, there is a place for engaging content, just as there is a place for relevant images and photographs and videos, too – think about using them all to make any visitor’s experience not only informative but also entertaining;
  • according to the Digital Marketing Institute, viewers watch an estimated one billion hours of YouTube videos every day;
  • watching a video is considerably easier for many people, who prefer not to wade through reams of text but get the information they need through moving pictures;
  • but it is equally important to remember that there are different types of video;
  • the first to spring to mind might be the “explainer” video which informs and educates a visitor to your website of the type of hospitality business you are running;
  • while there is probably still a place for the type of video that provides a virtual video tour of your establishment, overuse of this kind of media has perhaps made them somewhat old-hat and dated;
  • an alternative might be a videoed interview – against the backdrop of your establishment, of course - preferably with a special or well-known guest, food-writer, or celebrity;
  • video production has become a favourite of so-called “influencers” – in effect, they might act as brand ambassadors for your hospitality establishment by promoting it through their videos;
  • your payment to such influencers might be by way of a free overnight stay, courtesy meal or night at the bar – and by tracking the volume of their "followers", you also gain feedback on the effectiveness of this kind of marketing;
  • if you are confident enough to really push the boat out with your video marketing, a live interview often succeeds in getting up close and personal with potential customers – especially when you link to such videos on social media sites;
  • according to global systems providers Cisco, 81% of all businesses are now using video as part of their marketing efforts and, thanks to the high regard in which video is held by search engines, an estimated 80% of all traffic will be comprised by video by the year 2021;
  • video also helps build customer trust, confidence and loyalty, according to the Precision Marketing Group, which claims that 90% of viewers say they were helped in reaching a decision by watching a website’s video;

Images

  • marketing is all about providing reassurance to customers who may not have visited your establishment before and are unfamiliar with what is on offer – they may feel that they remain in the dark until they take that leap into the unknown and make a booking or reservation with you;
  • images of your establishment, its ambience, the service you offer and the food and drink you serve helps to dispel that sense of uncertainty – well-chosen pictures can convey exactly what the customer wants to know better than any number of written words;
  • what is more, anyone browsing your business offering online has come to expect an array of pictures – the connection is instant and emotional – and it is no accident, suggests Digital Marketing Magazine that Instagram is predicted to have captured a third of all social media users by the year 2021;
  • at the same time, however, the very power of the image has not been overlooked by experts and professionals in the field of marketing – the effective use of imagery has become far more competitive, high quality cuts it, creativity is essential, and you need to avoid well-worn stereotypes of the photo array of hotel rooms, its facilities and pictures of the dishes you might be serving in your restaurant;
  • a standard, ill-thought-out image is simply not good enough, warns Digital Marketing Magazine, as it insists that customers have become far more discerning in their reaction to marketing images – 69%, for example, claim to have been put off a business offering because of the company's use of an inappropriate or poorly composed picture;
  • it might be worth stressing the point that images, photographs, designs and drawings you find online are almost certain to be covered by copyright laws – you cannot use them without the permission of the owner of the copyright, which might or might not come with a fee to pay, and may be owned by the original artist or by someone else;
  • copyright law in the UK is by no means simple and straightforward, explains a posting on 90 Digital on the 1st of May 2019, so if you are planning to use pictures, photographs, artwork, drawings or other designs made by another person, it is essential to establish who owns the copyright and seek permission for its use - or run the risk of costly litigation;
  • you can also sign up to stock image websites, where you pay a small fee to download and use an image;

Reviews

  • if you are running a hospitality business, you almost certainly have very decided views about the importance of online reviews;
  • love them or hate them, however, you might want to pay attention to the considerable importance which your customers are likely to give such reviews;
  • in an article dated the 21st of November 2019, UK Domain reported that 86% of your potential customers will have read a local review before deciding whether your establishment is any good or not;
  • among the 18 to 34 age group, a staggering 95% of them are likely to have read a review before deciding to visit your hotel, restaurant, bar, café or leisure facility;
  • customers are likely to read an average of 10 reviews before reaching any decision, and for 40% of them, the reviews need to be less than two weeks old;
  • reviews have gained a bad press because of the temptation to entice customers to post favourable reviews in return for some type of reward – a practice which is undoubtedly unethical and borders on irresponsibility;
  • but if your website reserves a place for genuine reviews and if yours is a reasonable invitation to write a review, it is a way to improve your search engine optimisation (SEO), produce greater user-generated content, and drive the reputation of your establishment;
  • of course, you also run the risk of receiving negative reviews but provided they are treated in a calm, reasonable, and sympathetic way, you might turn them to your advantage;
  • by listening to a customer’s complaint, investigating its substance, offering an apology and addressing what may have gone wrong, helps to show that you put the customer experience above all else – a critical attitude for any business but for one in the hospitality industry an absolute necessity.

Offline marketing

Online marketing undoubtedly has its part to play. At the end of the day, however, your hospitality business does not exist solely on the internet – it is a bricks and mortar establishment very much in the real world.

And real-world marketing has its part to play, too. This may include magazine advertising, flyers etc.

A hospitality business – in practically any corner of the industry from the grandest 5-star hotel to a modest bar or restaurant – has a particular advantage denied to many other enterprises.

That opportunity lies in a branded bottle system.

Branded bottle systems

Like many other marketing initiatives, branded bottle systems are simplicity itself. In this particular instance, you are likely to encounter a steady stream of customers who order fresh, clean, still, or sparkling water to drink. Water is a daily necessity, of course, and for anyone in the hospitality business, it is an essential product offering.

A common solution is to offer a pre-packaged, plastic bottle of still or sparkling water. But this sorely misses a golden opportunity for any hospitality business.

By offering freshly-filtered, pure, clean, chilled water in your branded bottles, you may seize yet another opportunity to put your company name and logo in front of a guest. This may perhaps also remind them of your commitment to sustainability by not adding to the growing mountain of plastic waste that continues to pollute the environment.

By installing a filtered water system, you may bottle the water you offer while maintaining a constant and endlessly reusable means of subtle marketing.

Not only does it contribute to your overall marketing strategy but your in-house bottling system is likely to provide a considerably cheaper alternative to supplying plastic bottles of water – which might cost up to twice as much to provide and take up a great deal of your precious storage space.

Summary

The hospitality industry makes a significant contribution to the UK economy but is currently facing the twin challenges of uncertain demand and overheated supply.

In an increasingly competitive environment, therefore, effectively and successfully marketing your hospitality business becomes more important than ever.

A robust and consistent marketing strategy is essential to defining your business identity and positioning your particular brand in the market. It helps both to inform your existing and potential customers who you are, what you do, and how you distinguish yourself from rivals and competitors.

Inevitably in this day and age, much of that marketing is likely to be done online. We have outlined some of the key ideas for maintaining that online presence, for monitoring and analysing it, and for keeping regular tabs on its effectiveness through an awareness of visitor number to your website, the pages they have navigated, and their responses to your calls to action.

There are many tools available to help you build and maintain an effective marketing strategy online, and it may be worth familiarising yourself with some of the critical elements of any website – such as the content, videos, images, and reviews.

While concentrating on your online marketing strategy, however, do not lose sight of the wider picture and the opportunities that lie beyond the internet. A prime example is offered by the personalisation of branded bottles when using your own in-house bottling system to supply pure, clean, freshly filtered and chilled still or sparkling water. Your guests – and staff – are likely to thank you for your commitment to a sustainable method for supplying refreshing, premium tasting and healthy water.

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