07 October 2009

Being Found Online: Inbound Marketing to help drive visitors to your sites

Change; we hear a lot about change today. President Barak Obama spoke widely of change in his lead up to the presidency and as we now know, it was his mission statement and attitude towards his governance of the USA. Amidst political rhetoric, there was change on another scale that was taking place right through the political campaign. Politicians are known for their vast budgets during their campaigns and there was none greater than this. The Obama political campaign not only topped budgets but there was a change far greater in their approach to the campaign itself. This political campaign was the first ever US presidential campaign that targeted internet marketing unlike ever seen before. Some speculate that the personal one-to-one nature of the internet marketing campaigns were part of the driving force in the Obama victory.

Change; there is great change taking place in the internet marketing domain unlike ever seen before. On average a person is hit with over 2000 sales or marketing messages each day. This is almost too much to contain when you think about it. Telemarketing, trade shows, seminars, direct mail / response, TV ads, news paper ads, banners, billboards, etc. clutter our lives so much that meaningful messages are often diluted or drowned in this ocean of messages. The marketing and public relations domains are hard pressed these days to come up with penetrating ad content that reach their target audience. The great change we notice taking place in the internet marketing domain today deals with a concept termed inbound marketing. This strategy deals with the concept of being found by consumers rather than pursuing and hitting consumers with marketing messages.

The concept of being found is like a tropical bird that flutters colourful feathers and dances to a beautiful beat in the hope that its partners hear them and advance in their direction. Being found is all about developing an expert opinion in your industry and attracting visitors naturally to your sites. The concept of being found needs to be applied meticulously as one can imagine, there are plenty of birds making plenty of noise in the jungle.

Being found entails trying to understand who you are trying to attract in the first place. What is the marketing persona i.e. your target market? If you are a hotel based in Leicester Square in London, UK then your target market could be tourists visiting London looking for a central location to stay; or the theatre market with so many production shows in close proximity; or even perhaps the younger tourist club goers catered for in the region.

Marketing for being found in the internet domain carries two basic ground rules – content and engagement.

Without content there is very little value to the consumers you want to bring on to your site. Content could be in the form of a blog site, articles, reports, white papers, press releases, eBooks or useful snippets of information. The critical characteristic of the content should be that it is useful and interesting to the target market. Content is absolutely critical. Let us explore some of these content tools.

Blogging for business is one of the simplest forms of creating content. It is short and if interesting could hold an audience captive. It is important to not only blog about who you are but more so the wider context of your services and products. Consumers are savvy. They know when a business blogs for the purpose of profit. They are not interested in subscribing to product descriptions. They seek unique value. A hotel near Darling Harbor in Sydney, Australia could capture a wider audience by talking about the happenings in its surrounds. For example speaking about tours from the harbor, the opening of the Lindt café close by, the Sydney aquarium and updates on its seal population. Perhaps if one is targeting the Japanese market, the mention of the Sydney Fish Market being in walking distance to Darling Harbor and providing some of the freshest seafood in the world would provide that edge i.e. that unique bit of knowledge which makes subscribing to your blog worthwhile and a true value addition. The key is to make content interesting, non commercial and more so viral in its nature.

Article writing campaigns add tremendous value to your site by the exposure they provide your site through their numerous channels of distribution. They also add fabulous SEO value to your site. eBooks are useful when given out free due the viral nature of the product i.e. people love to share free things especially if its current and interesting.

Speaking of SEO it is critical that the content we spoke of previously follows strict SEO guidelines. SEO is not as complicated as many people make it sound. SEO takes time and it is not a miracle strategy that promises immediate results. It takes time. Once you get your head around that concept it is not that complicated. It involves for the most part using the appropriate keywords i.e. words that your target market are likely to type on search engines in order to find you. A powerful set of keywords used in attractive content is a key step to SEO. Building links is possibly even more important. That is the same as asking other sites or blogs to hold your web link on their URLs. That basically counts as a vote for your site. The more votes you have the more important Google or Bing think you are and the more SEO value you hold. The more SEO value you hold the higher up the search engine results your go. Of course SEO experts would also say that your web URL, titles, descriptions, the use of ALT text, anchor text and the listing of your sites on search engines such as Google or Bing are important and they are indeed. However instead of trying to trick search engines I think what most companies or businesses should do is to try and focus on the most significant element of SEO – content and votes. The more interesting your content and its significance to your target market and other sites, the more likely you are to attract more visitors to your sites.

As much as content is important to the strategy of being found, it is pointless unless the businesses engages with its consumers. The internet has made the lives of marketers simpler and more resourceful. Never before have sales and marketing teams ever been able to engage directly with so many consumers (millions!) using such simple tools. The internet has become social. There are watering holes in every savannah and it is up to marketers to try and find them. Watering holes are where your customers or target market gather. Where the elephants, buffalo and giraffes gather to drink water is where you want to be if you are trying to sell the latest and tastiest varieties of green herbal delights. Social media platforms have made engaging consumers even simpler. Engagement need not be complex but it can turn out to be lifestyle marketing. Hanging around where your consumers hang around to talk is an age old theory. For example where would you hang around in ancient Israel to discuss the latest news – the Synagogues; or where would you go to in old London to discuss politics and trends – Speaker’s Corner. I am sure you understand what I am saying. The internet has made news sharing and discussions even simpler. There are more watering holes available today than any great African grassland holds. Blogs, Google Forums, Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Answers, Linked In groups, Facebook Fan pages, Facebook groups, Twitter, You Tube, Hi5 and MySpace are all watering holes where consumers gather. It is up to you to listen out for topics of interest and engage consumers; or even start new conversations. Do not be blunt, nobody likes a salesman pushing products where value addition is sought after. Always remember to focus on adding value. Make sure your consumers see the value addition and seek out your product rather than have your product pushed at them.

Forums are abundant today. I contribute to and edit a blog spot named www.StrengthTrainingChronicles.com  which engages weights trainers, rugby enthusiasts and gym goers with useful material. In order to engage with my consumers and discuss / learn new trends I Google searched Forums for such watering holes.  The results I received were unmanageable. From specific community / social web sites such as bodybuilding.com to countless numbers of forums focusing on varying aspects of the sport the research results were too many to count. Results ranged from geographic variations from London to LA and sport niches from StrongMan competitions to Nutrition. Finding watering holes is simple. Communicating with your consumers and adding value is what will bring more consumers to your site. This is public relations campaigning and brand building as never witnessed before.

Bringing guests to your home is wonderful for most of the time. But do you let the kids play around the vases or bring the movie crowd into the garden? Having a specific landing page is essential. This welcomes your target market to a target web page. Once found, visitors must be made into leads. Leads are people interested in listening to you about your product or service. Leads must be then converted into sales. Leads sometimes take time and need to be nurtured with emails or promotions together with calls to action   
 
If it cannot be measured it cannot be managed. Being found must be quantified in order to determine if you are being found to begin with and by the right consumers. There are so many companies that have gone bankrupt in 2009 by paying little attention to ROI (returns on investment) or budgeting their use of internet marketing. ROI is all about making the decision if your course of marketing action was worth it or not. It is important to make note of the number of visitors to your site, the ratios of lookers to bookers and the ratios of those moving onto your landing page and then entering their email information onto forms. These figures are particularly useful when gauging a new marketing tool you have employed such as engaging a certain forum or a press release or article. Google Analytics and other tools make these functions simple.

We spoke of change in the beginning and there is great change in the horizon. We are seeing a convergence of web design companies, sales, marketing, advertising agencies and public relations into one company focused on being found via inbound marketing. The days of effective TV, Radio and advertisements on magazines are shrinking as the number of ads clutter useful listenable messaging. Meaningful, attractive and lucrative value addition to any business via inbound marketing and being found is set to make waves of change in the world of marketing as the internet becomes a necessity for business.

05 October 2009

10 Key Methods to Distribute your Hotel Rooms Online

The internet is possibly the most significant channel for the sales of your hotel rooms. If not utilized immediately many hotels could find themselves with empty rooms.


The internet provides hoteliers with formidable access to almost every person in the world who owns an internet connection. This is reach beyond compare and achieving sales online is partly the result of maximized online exposure. The more a hotel room is exposed on the internet (together with content and recommendations) or more so made visible to the market persona (customers!), the more likely it is to be booked.

Listed below are ten gems that detail how a hotel should think about distributing their rooms online. These are some of the tools that would make your distribution approach powerful and formidable.


1) Direct sales - A hotel should have its own booking engine on its own website. Anyone loyal to a hotel brand name would search for your hotel website and would like to book directly with you. The joy of your own booking engine is that the reservations are immediate. On request bookings are as old as fossils and should be avoided.

2) GDS connectivity - If you used to sell your rooms to high street travel agents and  tour operators as a part of their package deal I am pretty sure you already work with a GDS system such as Amadeus, Sabre, Worldspan, etc. The beauty of having these connections is that online travel agents connect to them too and now have access to your rooms which could be sold online to their consumer base.

3) CRS connectivity - Many online travel agents are now able to build an XML interface to most Central Reservation Systems. The trick is to ensure that your CRS provider has this capability. It is worthwhile asking them which online agents they are already linked into. Having your CRS connected to an online agent means your rooms are now visible to many consumers who frequent these online channels.

4) PMS connectivity - Most hotels use a Property Management System to manage their reservations. Some PMS systems enable online travel agencies to connect to them using an XML interface. The trick is to ensure that your PMS provider has this capability. It is worthwhile asking them which online agents they are already linked into. Having your PMS connected to an online agent means your rooms are now visible to many consumers who frequent these online channels.

5) Wholesalers / Tour Operators - Wholesalers and some tour operators request hotels to enter their rates and inventory onto an extranet. This database of hotel rates and inventory is made available to many distributors of room inventory. For example HotelBeds in Spain or Gullivers in the UK request hotels to enter their room rates and allotments onto extranets which are then distributed to many dot coms globally. This is a lucrative channel for sales as the room exposure is phenomenal. The more wholesalers you work with the more sales channels you open up to.

6) Extranets with OTA s - Many Online Travel Agencies have the facility to enable hotels to enter rates and allotments directly onto their systems (extranets). Sites such as Expedia provide these facilities. Some of these sites drive most of the room sales online due to their brand name and marketing, and having your property on their sites exposes your room to consumers. It also gives you the opportunity to liaise and negotiate with the OTA on rates and sales.

7) Channel Management Systems - With the use of so many extranets the manual work required from hotels in updating rates and inventory across so many channels makes it impossible for hotel staff to manage the work load and often requires the hiring of more staff. Channel Management systems provide some help in this. They request that hotels enter rates and inventory onto one extranet that updates hundreds of OTAs. Preferential rates for certain OTA s are also possible.

8) Aggregators - There are many companies that make it their point to connect to every possible online channel to gather as much hotel inventory as possible and then resell that inventory to any distributor. Working with them does improve your exposure.

9) Call centre - There are still many online users who are not comfortable with entering their room requirements online. They insist on calling a 'person' and making the same booking over the phone. Having your details available for calls enables this channel of exposure.

10) Inbound Marketing - The world of public relations and internet marketing is changing rapidly / dramatically and market indications predict shifts in marketing online. Shifts towards social media, SEO, community building, blogs, article submissions and engaging with online consumers is set to be the new wave in internet marketing. First movers are bound to benefit in this arena and finding yourself internet marketing consultants would prove useful. For example most internet sales today (averaging over 70%) are made via organic search results e.g. via Google search or Bing, by consumers as opposed to other channels.

For more details on how to more forward on any of these channels please don't hesitate to contact Johann@MasterBusinessChronicles.com