Contributed by Estella Hale, Chief Product Evangelist, SHR
With so many data-gathering technologies emerging in the last few years, knowing what to choose to serve your guest and your hotel is a growing challenge. But it’s an important challenge to meet. This is because the active use of guest information and the circumstances surrounding their travel is the key to meeting our guests where they are, and to truly making them feel expected and welcomed. If we can cater to particular attributes for each guest, and do it predictively, then that is exactly where we need to be. I think there’s a lot of promise in this field if we can just sort it all out.
This is why, recently, we sat down with Rich Maradik. He is the Founder of nSight for Travel, a leading provider of predictive marketing tools for our industry, and the former Chief Marketing Officer for Gaylord Entertainment. We discussed what he has seen in his day-to-day experiences, SHR’s position on the subject, and the best ways to use this technology to connect in meaningful ways with your hotel guests.
What is predictive marketing and why does it matter? “Predictive marketing comes with a lot of buzzwords, right? Big Data, AI, and more,” Rich said. “But I like to explain it as simply using technology to know your customer so well that you know what they want even before they want it. It helps to go back about a hundred years to the days of the old country store where a customer would walk in and the shopkeeper could speak to that customer about his or her family members, happenings, and preferences. So, predictive marketing today is really just knowing your customer like that shop keeper, yet in a global landscape.” To use a relatable T.V. reference, you want to be just like Mr. Oleson from Little House on the Prairie — you want to really know your customer on a personal basis like he did. And since you can’t actually “see” each one physically anymore, predictive analytics is a path to get there.
How do you make so-called “Mr. Oleson moments” happen at your hotel using predictive data? “There are obvious data touch points everywhere,” explained Rich. “For instance, how many times have we seen a guest check-in at a front desk and the staff there really has no idea who that guest is or what they want or if they’ve even stayed there before? What’s got to change is to empower the front desk with useful information. If you can say something like ‘I see you had a king bed last time. Is that still ok?’ or even offer an upgrade, then you are miles ahead in creating a memorable experience.” I feel that this speaks to the psychology behind wanting to be “known,” and I will take it even further to say that today’s guests expect to be recognized by your hotel. They are tech-savvy and realize that you have the data, so if they don’t see you using it, it doesn’t make them or the hotel seem very special.
This brought us to the next logical question; how do hotels get guest data to the right parties at the hotel? It’s quite a challenge to communicate guest data from the gathering point to the distribution point. It can really feel like a battle. “Like all technology, it won’t be utilized unless it’s simple enough,” explained Rich. “So, I feel that inside the PMS, there has to be a guest history that the front desk can easily understand. You need a smooth integration, therefore, with the CRM or the CRS to get that data in there.”
What about before the guest shows up, during the crucial decision-making process before booking? “Let’s look at a transient customer. They are going to go to many OTA and brand.com websites, spending actual days looking at rooms and rates. The job of us as marketers is to make that process as streamlined and short as possible for the fastest conversion,” Rich said. We’ve spoken about this in the past as appealing to the “audience of one,” plus the cost of distribution. So, what I feel it really comes down to is what you, as the hotel, have to say for yourselves. Who are you? What can you offer me as a guest? This is why, at SHR, we believe that distribution is everyone’s job, from the GM to the front desk. “We also have to understand that the customer is not making their decision in a vacuum,” Rich added. “They are looking at 15-20 places on average. So how your hotel is presented on multiple channels is a big deal. If you can just start with doing that part well, you’ll be way ahead in winning that relationship.”
We asked Rich if, using a scale of 1-10, we were to grade the industry on how well we are currently doing predictive marketing, where would we be? “In my opinion, we’re at a four right now. But what we lack in precision, we make up in volume,” Rich explained. “The next step is to take the friction out of the discovery and booking process by adding meaningful knowledge. The more precise marketing can get with the brands in the next few years, the more the tide is going to turn in our favor.” It’s interesting to note that though Hilton’s recent “Stop Clicking Around” campaign was a successful movement in this area, and one that has created new trust with their brand, even they are still a long way from where they will need to be in the future.
For Rich, there are two moments of truth for using data that he feels everyone must acknowledge. “Number one, we need to remember there’s someone sitting at a desk at a chain or management company right now, making decisions several times a day on how they are going to engage their guest market; Google, email, programmatic, etc. So, we need to make the data they need to create their strategies accessible and meaningful. Number two, there’s the Mr. Oleson moment! How can your frontline employees make that on-site guest experience better? You need to get the right data in everyone’s hands, otherwise, it’s just theory.”
What does the future hold? We look at it this way. The hotel industry has been riding high in occupancy and profits, so if we are only at a four in predictive marketing right now, that bodes very well for the future when we get to even a six or a seven. This fact combined with so many new channels also brings a new wealth of data. So, with predictive marketing tech applied, it means that our offerings to guests can only improve and hone in on what our guests want, and where they want and expect to be met.
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