Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5 Marketing Lessons from Reading Hotel Reviews

I was recently reading hotel reviews in preparation for a business trip I have coming up next month. While I have looked up Trip Advisor, Yelp, and other review sites before, this time it really struck me how detailed, passionate, and dynamic some of the reviews were...it was as if some people had made it their life's mission to write up every detail of their hotel stay, from the condition of the bathroom walls, to whether the ice machine made noise, to how much and when you could hear the people next door -- as if it were a class assignment!

These reviews taught me a lot about what people look for, and the hotel experience is a great metaphor for life, business, anything.  Their observations were a perfect window into what people want out of an experience, whether it's a hotel stay, a meal, a vacation, a business transaction,  even a relationship.

There were, of course, huge discrepancies. In one instance, someone wrote that the beds were horrible, while another wrote that the bed was so great he went home and bought one of his own! Some liked to continental breakfast, while others wrote that it "sucked." Some thought it was the quietest, best hotel experience they ever had, while others swore they'd never go back. Some couldn't stand to leave, others couldn't bear to stay. And yet despite these variances, there were some common denominators in the comments, that shed a light on what people want, and serve as important marketing lessons for business owners. Here are some of them:

1. Look like your picture
I read countless comments where disgruntled customers could not get over the fact that the hotel looked nothing like it did online. The photos they saw raised their expectations, when it reality, the facility was pretending to be something it was not.
Marketing lesson: authenticity means being consistent in your branding and identity, and that when people meet you in person, you match the image they had conjured of you from your web and social media presence.When you tell your story and present yourself to others, tell it like it is, and be honest about who you are, your story, what you're really great at, what you're less good at, etc.

2. Location Location Location
Many hotels earned great reviews simply because they were in the right place -- near the ocean or golf course, shopping and restaurants, the highways or the mall. Customers seemed to be willing to forgive a lot in return for being able to walk to the corner restaurant or supermarket, sightseeing, or bike trail.
Marketing lesson: Be where you customers wants you to be, and let them find you easily, whether that means creating videos if they are looking for that, ebooks and downloads if they are asking, and particular services they will find useful. Listen to your customers and potential customers, and make yourself as available as possible.

3. Include freebies whenever possible
Customers were disgruntled at the idea that they had to pay for certain items they either hadn't expected to, or had not been informed about. It was clear from the comments that hotel guests hated paying for parking, breakfast, wi-fi, and other extras, and whenever these were included, it was a huge plus for the hotel, even if their overall pricing was higher. Items like free cookies, afternoon cheese and wine or refreshments, free breakfasts, and even fresh flowers in the room, seemed to leave guests tickled pink and thrilled to come back, even at the higher price point.
Marketing lesson: Reward your audience, subscribers, followers, and customers, with freebies as much as possible. Offer a free consultation for perspective clients (I like to do this.) Launch contests for giveaways on your blog and web sites. Off helpful downloads from your web site, with tips about your industry, or a new report you recently wrote, or even a compilation of valuable information.

4. Be nice
Customers took notice of the staff, front desk reception, waiters, and everyone they came into contact with. If someone was rude, they mentioned it. If something had gone wrong and no one sought to make it right, it was noted.
Marketing lesson: be nice to your customers and potential clients, even in difficult situations, or if there has been a misunderstanding. If there is a conflict or complaint, hear them out and offer solutions. Let them know you are listening. Offer discounts to make customers feel special, and incentives for people to sign up and join.

5.The social media shuffle
It's one of the realities of marketing today that customer experiences can be magnified a zillion times through a little thing known as "social media." Businesses small and large are doing the social media shuffle, trying to stay on top of customer experiences, complaints, expectations, and keeping their brand in the customers top of mind. If they didn't like their room decor, morning eggs, or how their  checkout went, chances are they are going to tweet about it, or even blog or facebook it. Not to mention taking their own photos and videos.
Marketing lesson: Be prepared for the social media shuffle by having a strategy to handle customers complaints, and even positive experiences. If a negative experience is posted about your business, product, or brand, be prepared for the best way to handle it. In some cases, you might ignore it and let it pass.  In others, you might published an apology post, or a public offer to make it right, and fix the problem, whatever it was. Social media tools are great for showing that you as a business owner are paying attention to your customers and are on the ball. Ironically, handling a problem correctly can make your image even better in the eyes of your customers then it was before, and savvy marketers and business owners are aware of this.

So...did I miss anything? Comment here!

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