Why User Generated Content is The Great Equalizer in Hotel Marketing
By Michelle Wohl VP of Marketing & Client Services, Revinate | November 27, 2011
The rise of user-generated content is one of the most disruptive forces in hospitality since hotels moved their marketing materials and booking engines to the Web. Why? User-generated content is the great equalizer of marketing. It allows consumers, not brands or properties, to own the reputation of a hotel. It allows boutique hotels with small marketing budgets to compete against large chain hotels with lavish loyalty programs. It allows great service and quality to drive marketing through consumer reviews.
When I was a marketing director for a consumer products company in the '90s, our website was the most important part of our marketing mix. We spent hours agonizing over wording and design, imagining that each pixel could somehow affect our brand. It was the primary way we spoke to our customers. In addition to telling customers who we were and what we did, the website needed to reflect our corporate values and our personality. And of course it needed to drive sales.
Today, there are infinitely more ways for a company to reach customers online. As the head of marketing at Revinate, my job is to engage with our prospects and clients in communities -- both real and virtual. I tweet regularly with product updates and industry news and provide insight where I can add value. I maintain a dialogue with users on social networks, such as Facebook, forums and industry sites where I am able to comment on stories. In other words, our Web site is just one small way that people learn about the company online. The lion's share of my efforts are spent in more interactive ways.
In March of 2009, Skittles launched a Web site that got marketers all over the world buzzing. They didn't introduce a new slogan or a new flavor. Rather, the site was revamped to just be a portal to Skittle's social networking pages. In effect, they sent the message to consumers that the brand was defined by its customers, not its corporate office. I was very impressed by this controversial move since I do think marketing has changed a lot within the last ten years thanks to social networking and the proliferation of user-generated content on the Web.
When I think about how my family traveled when I was younger, it had everything to do with brand. My father was a loyal Hyatt customer so when we went to New York we stayed at the Hyatt and when we went to Hawaii we stayed at the Hyatt. To him, Hyatt was a trusted brand. He knew that if he booked us a room at any Hyatt, anywhere in the world, we would have a clean room in a safe neighborhood with good service and amenities. He depended on the brand name because he didn't have the time or the inclination to reach out to his friends or a travel agent or pick up a city guide at the bookstore.
Today, my choice of hotel has very little to do with the brand or the corporate marketing efforts of the hotel. Rather, it has everything to do with recommendations and referrals since they're now so easy to get online. For example, I can ask my personal networks on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. I can do a Google search and read reviews without even clicking on a hotel's link. I can read reviews on more than a dozen popular review sites and OTAs. I can engage in travel forums or pose the question on Quora. Regardless of the site, I am sure to receive many responses that are ripe with personal anecdotes, travelers' photos and even video. Any suggestion can be verified in just minutes online, without having to pick up a phone.