Earlier this week, ehotelier published a very poignant article by Bill Lee entitled “Marketing is Dead.” Find the article here: http://ehotelier.com/hospitality-news/item.php?id=P23835_0_11_0_C
In all likelihood the title was engineered not as an absolute statement of fact but rather a tool to spark debate. And debate we shall! While it’s quite egregious to say outright that traditional marketing channels like newspapers, magazines, television and direct mail are ‘useless,’ Mr. Lee is right to insinuate that the cumulative gravity of these channels is most likely diminishing. The real question then is how much they are diminishing, and this is where I strongly disagree.
The problem now is that we’ve overestimated the importance of new electronic channels, while simultaneously relegating traditional channels to the sidelines, without the proper evidence to justify such a shuffle. When it comes to this false frame of mind, we hoteliers are guilty as charged, probably more so than in other industry circles. Perhaps by refuting some of Mr. Lee’s claims, I can restore the balance between old and new, a balance that actually works.
To start, buyers do in fact pay attention to traditional marketing channels, just that they are more skeptical and inquisitive than ever before. They’ll listen to traditional mediums, but they’ll cross-reference your products and their purported benefits via the Internet. It’s your job, as a hotel marketer, to be flexible and meet consumer needs and concerns in a manner that’s appropriate for each and every channel.
Next, I have to quote Mr. Lee to demonstrate this one. He states, “Think about it: an organization hires people — employees, agencies, consultants, partners — who don’t come from the buyer’s world and whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned with his, and expects them to persuade the buyer to spend his hard-earned money on something.”
This is perhaps his most deceptive and muddled point. We are all from the buyer’s world. We all have to be persuaded to spend our hard-earned money because it is scarce and because we’ve worked hard to earn it. Moreover, the interests of organization and its associated people have to overlap, at least in a Venn diagram sort of fashion. The best employees are the ones who are passionate about their jobs. Agencies can only really prosper if their partners prosper as well. I could go on, but this sentence is bunk, discrediting the remainder of the essay.
Further, community marketing has always already worked in tandem with traditional models. Ever heard of the term ‘grassroots’? Rarely do people take salespeople at their word 100% of the time (unless of course you also believe that the word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary). Cross-referencing and fact-checking have been common practice since the founding of commercial trade nearly 10,000 years ago.
Mind you, it’s not all hogwash. Mr. Lee rightfully points out that in this rapidly changing economic landscape, building social capital and involving customer advocates are worthwhile processes. These activities will help you get external (and hopefully unbiased) feedback to refine your product offerings.
As a hypothetical counter case, let’s suppose that Coca-Cola decided to dedicate its marketing budget entirely to social media while Pepsi maintained its traditional marketing channel mix. How would do you think the two beverage giants’ market shares will compare after two years?
What I propose is nothing new, nothing revolutionary. It’s called synergistic marketing, combining traditional channels with websites and social media networks. However, the concept here goes beyond simply finding a balanced channel mix by which to advertise and sell your product, but a mentality shift away from absolutes and rigidity. The world is changing and you need to be open to change in order to correctly adapt. As a crude example, seeking out customer influencers via Twitter might be a plausible tactic today, but who’s to say Twitter will have the same preeminence 2 or 5 or even 10 years from now?
The ironic twist for hotels here is that I can’t watch the evening news without running across a flashy commercial for hotels.com, an online travel agency (OTA) and an accommodation marketer that falls outside of Mr. Lee’s definition of tradition marketing. If the old channels were truly dead, then why would a new channel use them to disseminate its message? Maybe they realize the power of television advertising, a traditional channel. Or, maybe they’re just wasting their money. You decide.