Focusing on driving more direct bookings has become a topic of great debate in the hospitality industry this year. Owners and operators alike are determined to focus efforts not only on managing the top-line revenue their strategies drive, but also optimizing the profitability for their hotels.
For insight on the latest trends and email marketing best practices that help hotels drive more direct business and profitability to that bottom line, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Erica Rich, hospitality marketing specialist at Revinate.
BM: Erica, as the industry continues to address the importance of driving more direct bookings, where should hotels focus in regards to email marketing to support that strategy?
ER: Email marketing is one of the most powerful channels for driving direct bookings, and yet it’s also one of the most overlooked. I find that so often, hotels focus the majority of their marketing dollars on acquiring new guests. And in doing so, they neglect a major revenue stream that can be pursued at a much lower cost – their past guests. Email marketing allows hotels to communicate with their past guests at precisely the right time throughout their journey – i.e. prior to arrival, while on property, post check-out, so on and so forth. Additionally, hotels have so much valuable data on their past guests that they are able to send extremely tailored messaging to this group all designed to drive direct bookings.
BM: What advice can you give on email marketing best practices? What are the best days for sending, what should a subject line say, how long should an email be, etc.?
1. First and foremost, manage your sender reputation. Every domain and IP address is assigned a Sender Score based on the sender’s trustworthiness. If the sender score is low, then mailbox providers (i.e. Gmail, Hotmail, etc) will block the sender’s email from being delivered. Sender Scores are based on a variety of factors including bounce rates, spam complaints, content and engagement. So basically, if you want to have a high score, make sure you’re sending to a clean list and are sending offers that your recipients genuinely care about. A hotel can check its Sender Score by visiting www.senderscore.org.
2. Keep subject lines short and C.U.R.V.E.(y). People are busy and inboxes are jammed pack. So it’s important to keep subject lines compact yet powerful. We recommend keeping them under 50 characters. C.U.R.V.E is a formula created by Alex Williams, the creative director & digital strategy director at Trendline Interactive, who spent years writing and testing email subject lines. It stands for Curiosity, Urgency, Relevancy, Value and Emotion. If a subject line includes at least two of these elements, it has a much greater chance of being opened, according to Mr. WIlliams’ years of research.
3. People have the attention span of less than a goldfish, which boils down to about 8 seconds. An email must capture the reader’s attention in approximately 8 seconds or less. So we recommend a clean, clear design with lots of white space and content that is easily scannable. A strong call-to-action must really pop off the page, as well as compelling imagery that compliments the content of the email.
4. Don’t even think about sending an email out that is not mobile friendly. The majority of emails today are opened on mobile devices so it’s critical that campaigns render well across all email clients including smartphones and tablets. On that note, because we are so connected all the time, it’s becoming less and less important that emails get sent at a certain time. With that said, we still recommend that our customers avoid sending campaigns on Mondays, Fridays and weekends. However, everyone has a different subscriber base and it’s so important that any email marketer test, test, test to determine the strategy that works best for them.
BM: We are finding the more we deliver the right price to the right guest at the right time, the more important accurate segmentation at the hotel becomes. How important is healthy segmentation when it comes to email marketing efforts?
ER: The importance of segmentation cannot be overstated. Industries outside of hospitality have become incredibly sophisticated when it comes to segmenting their database and sending highly-customized campaigns. As a result, consumers expect to receive promotions that are both relevant and personal. Anything outside of that becomes noise and is quickly disregarded. Hotels have to move away from the idea that blasting their entire database with a newsletter once a month is sufficient and they have to become more sophisticated with their approach if they want to break away from the competition and implement a successful and highly revenue-generating email strategy.
BM: Like many hotel guests, I stay at a hotel once on the other side of the world and then my inbox is hit with weekly emails from that hotel for spa treatment deals. What is your approach to targeting email campaign efforts to the appropriate audience?
ER: I once received an email from a very cool, hip Miami hotel that was promoting an offer available to Florida residents only. The fine print even stated that a Florida ID must be presented at the time of check-in. Well, I don’t live in Florida and I have never lived in Florida, so why in the world am I receiving this offer?
This is something I try to caution our customers against from the moment they come on board. Because our platform integrates with their PMS, they can easily filter by geography, last stay date, number of stays, length of stay. They can even segment by items like gender, specific reservation types, and those with or without children.
With all of this data available, there is no reason why they should be targeting a past guest with content that is totally irrelevant to them.
BM: What best practices can you share to properly monitor the success of email marketing efforts and their return on investment?
ER: The success of an email marketing campaign can be measured by the following indicators: open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate, bounce rate and revenue attribution.
At Revinate, we see customers achieving an average open rate of 18% and $13,500 in revenue attribution per campaign. The way we calculate revenue attribution is by tracking all reservations made by email recipients within 30 days of receiving the campaign. In order for the reservation to be attributed back to the campaign, the recipient had to have engaged with the email somehow – either by opening or clicking.
BM: Can you provide your insights on what the future of email marketing will involve? Are we close to custom tailored emails for each person resulting in unique offerings to each guest?
ER: The future of email marketing is “hyper-personalization.” Once CRMs are better equipped to integrate with multiple channels, hotels will have a tremendous amount of data on their past guests, allowing them to send highly-personalized, highly customized email campaigns. Of course, knowing what to send will still be a challenge. Email service providers will become better at providing the insights and recommendations senders need to optimize the data collected.
Personalization is certainly something that hotels can achieve today by leveraging the data collected in their PMS. By working with an email service provider – such as Revinate – that integrates with the PMS, hotels can send customized campaigns based on such data points as geography, spending and stay patterns, rate code bookings and more.