Swarm Marketing for Your Hotel
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | October 30, 2011
There have been a lot of Aha moments in marketing. Positioning. Branding, The New Coke fiasco. The advent of Social Media. And even Flashmobs. One such moment occurred in 2004, when many believe the concept of Swarm Marketing was born. In that year, two brothers from New York created a parody of the US election process and posted it on their website. They emailed some family and friends with the clip, and voila, within days, it the parody was seen by more than 80 million worldwide. It went, as we say today, viral.
Basically, dictionaries define a swarm as a large number of things massed together and usually in motion. Think about a school of fish, a horde of bees, or a herd of wild horses. And think about consumers too. Connected by social media networks, consumers are sharing the swarming traits of these fish, bees, and wild horses that will change the way you think about marketing your hotel. A few years ago, Chuck Brymer, President and CEO of DDB Worldwide, wrote a book on swarm marketing in which he shows how human digital swarms are like their animal brethren in nature.
First, swarms move fast. They dart from place to place, often turning on a dime. Think about how quickly a catchy ad or a video clip on YouTube can spread exponentially to a worldwide audience. Ditto with a guest, either happy or unhappy with their stay at your property, who blogs his/her experience to a multitude of followers. And this spreading can happen in a Nano-second.
Second, swarms are always connected. For people, this changes the nature and scope of family, friends, colleagues, communities, or neighborhoods. They are more likely to trust what their swarm members say online than anything you can put out in your ads, websites, or sales calls. In other words, increasing the influence that people have on each other -- e.g., by sharing what products/services are good, bad, or ugly -- will tend to make popular hotels more popular and widen the gap between the good and the bad or ugly. It is word of mouth gone wild – or, as I often term it, word of finger. Swarm theory also tells us that swarm members move to the same place or brand. That's probably the understatement of the year. All you have to do is watch a group of high school kids spread the word via texting, Facebook, and Twitter, about the new coolest brand of jeans and see how fast every store (online or brick and mortar) sells out of the must-have item. And if they didn't have a good time at their senior banquet held in your ballroom, woe is you for trying to book their future banquets, weddings, bar/bah mitzvahs, Quinceañeras, ad infinitum.
People now rely more of their swarm members about where to stay instead of your hotel's advertising. So while you may control the property, you no longer control the hotel's brand message and/or image. What a business traveler from Chicago tweets about his stay carries more weight with his swarm than the slickest TV ad your agency produces. What the young mother puts on her Facebook page will influence others far more than the new weekend family package you tout on your website. What a meeting planner posts on his/her blog will prompt other planners to hold or not hold their meetings at your conference center much more than any sales person could hope to do. And don't forget those high school kids either.
Finally, swarms have no leaders. There isn't a celebrity ant, an organizer bee (although there is a queen but she doesn't lead), or a head horse to lead the group. Yet they move together because they share interests, values, needs, and information. So do your guests.