Local hospitality businesses are some of the most resilient, creative, and determined folks in today’s economy. Over the past two years they’ve had to effectively reinvent their entire models just to stay in business. When your primary source of revenue comes from indoor dining and service is all but shut down, you’re up against a steep challenge.
Over the same two years, the team at Junction Consulting spent hundreds of hours training, consulting, and leading workshops for local businesses across Canada. We’ve partnered with provinces and regional organizations to make those resources available, and in many cases, we’ve made our training freely available to anyone who needs it.
The result has been that we’ve built the most comprehensive understanding of Canadian hospitality marketing that exists, including what works, what doesn’t, and what is trending.
In the spirit of collaboration, we’ve decided to share this knowledge and have compiled a set of the most significant, common, and relevant digital marketing lessons that we’ve gathered:
1. Visual Storytelling as a Differentiator
Your digital presence is your new storefront. How you present your business’ identity online, is how people become aware of you and it’s the primary way your guests gain an understanding of the experience you offer. However, most tourism and hospitality businesses are resource-constrained, lacking either the time or expertise to invest in crafting a digital presence. But visual storytelling does not require a professional-level photo shoot and it’s incredibly important, so let’s see how you can do it.
Take a step back and consider where most people will be building their understanding of our businesses—for many of us that includes review sites, listings on our industry directories, and the three to four most important pages on our websites (Home, About, Products, Pricing, etc.).
Then we can plan and create the best quality photography that our resources allow to build a consistent visual story across those key touchpoints. Use your phone to take photos of your store and staff and take advantage of free high-quality images from Destination BC to promote your location. You can also source royalty-free images from sites that provide free pictures such as Unsplash.com. If you have a larger budget, hire a photographer to take a large variety of photos of your business that you can use in different posts and on your site, or source stock photos from an image library.
While there may be many digital opportunities begging for our time and resources, it seems clear that a high-quality visual representation is the best, and first place to be making an investment.
2. Anchor Content is Under-Rated
Search engines have always been a bit mysterious, to the point that most operators either throw their hands up and leave them to chance, or they pay for rankings in the form of search engine advertising.
The practice of creating high-quality anchor content is widely used in other industries but is largely overlooked in hospitality.
“Anchor content grows in ranking and value over time.”
Also known as evergreen content, anchor pieces are content on our websites that are typically created by professional industry writers and are so valuable that dozens, or hundreds of other tourism websites will want to link to them. Unlike more ephemeral posts, anchor content grows in ranking and value over time as it accrues more inbound links and more authority. The result is an asset that attracts traffic and new visitors long into the future without additional investment.
Many people cite the seasonal nature of the industry as a reason not to create anchor content, but if we were to zoom out and look at the business on a multi-year time horizon, we’d see that those seasons repeat year after year. So by creating a high-authority piece on Summer Cocktails in Northern BC or Fall Wine Tasting on Vancouver Island, your content will have a head start each year while the competition is struggling to get their seasonal content published.
3. Curiosity About Email is at an All Time High
It’s no secret that I’m going to be pretty biased on this one given how much we love sending out our newsletter The Brief every week. My bias aside, we’ve seen more curiosity than ever from businesses about investing in high-quality email marketing. And the email newsletter industry in general has never been stronger.
The challenge, and the opportunity, is that great emails take creativity and originality. They don’t need the world’s greatest design, photography, or copywriting skills, but they do need to have a compelling reason for people to open and read every time you send them out.
“Email is a way to increase the return rate of past visitors.”
Large organizations can focus on deals of the day and other price-based incentives, but for most of us the goal is to build a direct relationship with our guests. Email is a way to increase the return rate of past visitors, fill slower time slots, and convert high-value customers who spend weeks, or even longer, considering a purchase.
The most successful brands publish regular content about their products, services, or expertise, such as recipes, product reviews, craft beer tasting notes, or updates from the kitchen. They convert readers to customers by making announcements and sharing relevant offers.
Here’s the formula for great email marketing:
- Have a compelling reason for people to sign up
- Build, and stick to, an editorial calendar
- Invest in your email marketing like you would any other appreciating asset
- Once you’ve earned those relationships, don’t be afraid to sell your products and services—just do it the same way you would to a group of friends
This all may sound like a lot of work, but when it comes to access to audiences, we can rent it by purchasing ads from places like Facebook, or we can own it by publishing great content that our customers will keep coming back for.
4. Make it Easier for People to Do Business with You
Alright, so we’ve got people to our website—the hard part is done. Now all we have to do is convince our audience that they’re in the right place, that we have the right offering for them, and they should book or buy now.
The problem is that most tourism business websites have become Frankenstein versions of their original intentions. What once started out as a simple sitemap has grown to include pages and links for every project, offering, content idea, and partner.
Great websites feel like a breath of fresh air because they are incredibly simple. Even if there are dozens of pages in the site, the user is presented with an easy-to-understand set of options on each page that clearly helps them to get whatever job they need done.
Simplicity starts by being bold. Now is not the time to be modest. What are you the absolute best in the world at? What do people love about your business? Why should people be so excited about their next visit to your property? They came to your site because they want to be sold, so sell them!
Once you’ve made your bold declaration, your next job is to make it as simple as possible for people to get the information they need and check out. You can start the process of simplifying your site by answering the following questions:
- Why do we have a website?
- What are they trying to get done on our site?
- Does the content on our site help them do that?
- Is it easy and obvious for them to book and buy?
Use your answers to streamline your site and remove anything that doesn’t serve your guest while highlighting the things that do.
5. Take Advantage of Collaboration Opportunities
One of the best parts about working in hospitality is the collaborative nature of everything we do. Just about every business in your community and industry is on your team and working to tell a similar story. Think about the golf course down the street or the hotel on your block—they all benefit from great storytelling about your neighbourhood.
To take that even a step further, there are entire organizations, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), whose sole purpose is to support you in what you’re doing. Groups like the BC Ale Trail, Wine Growers British Columbia, and other industry associations are hard at work every day telling the story of what you’re up to.
We’ve had the pleasure of working directly with dozens of these organizations, and one of the most consistent questions that we hear from them is: How do we get our local businesses to let us know what they’re up to?
“Your industry organizations regularly have content opportunities.”
Your industry organizations regularly have content opportunities, media visits, influencer collaborations, event sponsorships, group bookings, and other ways that they can support what you’re up to. Below we’ve compiled a short list of ways that we’ve found you can get more from your relationship with your local organization:
- Share your seasonal or annual goals with them
- Let them know when you’re launching or announcing something new
- Use your regional hashtag in your content
- Subscribe to, read, and reply to their email newsletter
- Come to them with ideas, even if they might seem out of reach
DMOs love creative ideas and will use their resources to bring people together by finding funding sources for projects that benefit the region as a whole.
Our hope is that you’re able to put these findings to good use, and that we can all work together to push BC’s hospitality industry forward.
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