Multi-Generational Marketing: Know your Audience and How to Engage Effectively

By Todd Ryan Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel | November 18, 2012

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." Business schools often teach of the "4Ps": Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. But when you scan any number of hotel job postings for a Director of Sales and Marketing (DOSM), the results seldom reference or include strategic marketing. Sure, most of the job descriptions require a candidate be able to develop group pricing strategies but what about the other marketing channels?

Most Directors of Sales and Marketing are given their first opportunity to lead a hotel sales team based on individual sales experience and leadership potential. They may have spent years honing their craft and reaped the benefit of company-sponsored sales training. Their hard work pays off with a promotion where they lead a group sales team under the tutelage of a seasoned DOSM. With credible sales experience and leadership qualities, they are then promoted to run the sales and marketing division for a hotel. The "sales" part of the DOSM is what most hotels focus on when hiring a new leader -- but what about the marketing? With less emphasis on the marketing side of the business, it is no surprise that many DOSMs fall into the one-size-fits-all trap.

Emeritus Professor of Marketing Theodore C. Levitt, Harvard Business School, sums up the difference by stating that "selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for you product. It is NOT concerned with the values that exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs." Yet, most sales leaders in hotels focus their attention on sales and leave little focus on marketing.

Before you can expect to market to a particular group of people, you need to understand the characteristics of each segment and the channels from which you use to market. If you are seeking to grow leisure travel targeting the typical AAA member, your message and vehicle of delivering that message must be tailored specifically to that demographic. You cannot run a marketing campaign without proper planning and expect to make a return. According to AAA's 2011 media kit, 59% of all members are over the age of 55, which means most of their members were born prior to 1960. So while many people are eager to activate social media channels, tweeting a special AAA package to a company's followers might not be the best option. Depending upon which source you use, 66% of all Twitter users are under forty-five years of age.

Let's start by examining the differences between Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980, and Generation Y, also known as Millennials born between 1981 and 2000. Generation X encompasses some 44 to 50 million Americans and generally a group that is more ethnically diverse and better educated than previous generations. This was this first generation of "latch-key" kids as a result of the rise of two-income families and divorce. This generation was also more self-reliant and adapted well to change. Valuing freedom and responsibility, those of Generation X were the first to grow up integrating computers and technology into many aspects of their lives. They tend to live for the weekend and value having fun. Therefore, Gen Xers tend to work hard, play hard and also appreciate less formality.

According to the findings of Nelson Barber, an associate professor of hospitality management at the University of New Hampshire, Generation X buyers are more apt to make purchasing decisions based on purchase-related information they discover while researching products. They are proficient in search methods and typically use this information to ensure that they are getting the best deal possible and are not being taken advantage of by marketers. Gen Xers prefer straight talk and are turned off by manipulation which can make marketing to them a difficult task if not done with careful thought. Affordability and quality are key traits of this demographic group. They take more pride in getting a great deal than spending money on frivolous items and are not as brand loyal as previous generous – often testing the waters. As a result, Barber concludes that Generation X consumers will often look to the Internet in addition to other avenues and thus companies must target this segment over a greater spectrum.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.