How to Build Empathy into Your Marketing Strategy

Advice for hoteliers on how to be authentic in your marketing and avoid coming off as tone-deaf.

Yesterday we shared 12 social post examples from hotels that are continuing to engage guests in a way that feels authentic. Today we apply these tips to your marketing strategy more holistically.

In a Harvard Business Review article published after the last recession, the authors wrote, “In frothy periods of national prosperity, marketers may forget that rising sales aren’t caused by clever advertising and appealing products alone. Purchases depend on consumers’ having disposable income, feeling confident about their future, trusting in business and the economy, and embracing lifestyles and values ​​that consumption encourage.” It’s easy to market to people that have money, feel good and want to spend. It’s much harder to market to people that don’t.

With Covid-19’s impact, many people are dealing with significant hardships. The global economy has ground to a halt, and job losses are rising rapidly. Most of us are under shelter-in-place orders. It’s not the time for hard-selling or glib marketing messages, but marketing is still important.

In a Fast Company article published last week, Airbnb was criticized for halting its marketing spend in an effort to save $800M in 2020. The author says, “How much a brand invests in maintaining the relationship with its customers during the crisis defines its long-term success. In the case of Airbnb, this means keeping both sides of its marketplace (the hosts and the renters) going. If hosts lose revenue and feel unsupported by the company, they will leave (and many of them already are) and may not come back.”

Today, people have been cooped up for weeks and are dreaming about leaving the house. The right message can help you stay top of mind for when travel restrictions begin to lift and people begin planning get-aways. Finding the right tone and message can be hard so here’s what we suggest: Survey your guests.

If you’re a Revinate Guest Feedback customer, this is very familiar territory. We suggest you create a survey and send it to two different segments: 1) people who have visited you within the last year and live within a 5 hour drive and 2) people who have visited you within the last year that live out of state. We believe that local business will pick up first but your survey results will give you the definitive answer.

Some sample questions include:

  1. When travel restrictions are removed, how soon after are you planning to travel?
  2. Do you forsee your first trip being by car/train or by plane?
  3. How many nights do you anticipate your first vacation will be?
  4. How will you determine where you stay?
  5. What types of communications would you like to see from hotels during this period?

If you have furloughed staff and don’t have the resources to survey your guests right now, don’t worry. We can share with you that our Revinate Marketing customers are seeing success with emails about travel inspiration and at-home tips.

As we mentioned earlier, travelers are going a little stir crazy in their homes. They are looking forward to their next trip. If you can help them mentally escape for a bit and let their imagination run wild, you could inspire a booking when travel picks up again.

For example, Discover Puerto Rico offers some subtle examples of this, as reported by Skift. A tweet from the group included language around daydreaming for your next trip, rather than planning one today.

Emails that include at-home tips are also performing very well for our customers. These emails help guests turn their homes into mini-vacations, or at least until the kids start fighting again. What do people love about your hotel and can you give your customers the tools to recreate it? Do you play great music in your lobby? Share a playlist. Does your bar have a specialty cocktail menu? Share a video of the bartender explaining how to make it. Have a signature dish at the restaurant? Share the recipe. (Doubletree used this time to share its famous cookie recipe.)

Even though it was written in 2009, the HBR article that I mentioned earlier still holds up to the test of time. One particularly timely paragraph reads, “Reassuring messages that reinforce an emotional connection with the brand and demonstrate empathy (for example, by conveying a sense that “we’re going to get through this together”) are vital.”

Hoteliers are empathetic by nature. They are caretakers, pleasers and givers. During this time they can play a role in helping to calm and relieve customers of stress versus projecting. Don’t be afraid to engage your guests. They want to hear from you. Inspire them or make them feel better today and hopefully they can thank you in person soon.

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