Chain Reaction: How to sell the experience in a world of budget chains

Jazz Bovill of Arise explores how independent hotels need to adapt to overcome the draw of affordable chain hotels by marketing the unique experience you offer. 

Despite an incredible breadth of distinctive independent hotels across the UK’s travel landscape, booking accommodation from hotel chains remains the most popular option among UK consumers.

According to statistics recently published by Mintel, 50% of the hotel market in the UK is controlled by branded chains. Furthermore, within these chains, the budget brands remain ever-popular with 62% of hotel guests choosing a budget brand for their stay.

As a result, independently-owned hotels face the daunting challenge of standing out against the tempting promise of cheap and accessible travel in a noisy online world. Rather than competing on price, clever online marketing can change the promise of affordability into the promise of an experience, rather than simply a bed for the night.

With over 80% of consumers now booking holidays online, successfully conveying this experience through your digital channels is an essential factor in being noticed amongst the millions of other rooms on offer.

Consider your target audience

First of all, it’s important to understand the subtle differences in the market segments that are appropriate for each hotel type. This understanding is important for both your online and offline communication.

For the most part, similar demographics and interests can be targeted for both independent hotels and chains. Because hotel guests require different facilities and features for different occasions, it should instead be the benefits that your audience are seeking which should be given particular prominence when refining the target audience for an independent hotel.

Budget hotels, in particular, will always focus sharply on affordability as their primary benefit, but independent hotels can exchange this for other, more unique offerings, from character to location; service to style.

The aim is not to compete with budget hotels on price, but to change a guest’s hopes and vision for their travels through the effective portrayal of the overall experience and quality of a stay.

Focus on your unique selling points

What makes your hotel different? Historic character? Specialist ingredients? Modern flair? Chances are, these are what hotel chains – budget rooms in particular – will be lacking, giving independent hotels the edge in terms of distinguishable benefits. Your unique selling points should be central to the complete brand identity of your hotel, meaning that cross-strategy consistency is crucial.

Identify the central aspects of the experience you offer and ensure that these highlights flow through every channel of your marketing mix.

Social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, provide a means to capture a hotel’s identity and ambience through enticing imagery, while blogs and email marketing allow for a more thorough discussion of noteworthy details. It is an approach which combines all of your available channels to champion your unique selling points, and therefore demonstrate superiority over formulaic chains, which will attract and hold the attention of your target audience, as well as influencing their purchase behaviour.

Use the customer journey to your advantage

Before making a purchase, every customer goes on a journey from awareness to action, with interest and desire in between. This process, known as the AIDA model, is commonly used to help businesses of all shapes and sizes to hit the right contact points at the right time.

To use the AIDA model to your advantage when marketing an independent hotel against budget brands, it can be useful to consider the journey a customer takes when booking a budget stay, and then finding ways of adapting or subverting this journey for your own accommodation.

Let’s take a look at a practical example of AIDA in action. Sarah is planning a stay in York. She plugs her request into the first Online Travel Agency (OTA) website she comes across, this presents her with a list of places to stay.

Sarah began her journey with a specific destination in mind. The awareness of the hotel she eventually booked came courtesy of the OTA website. Such sites tend to provide accommodation recommendations based on the proximity to popular attractions or points of interest.

The hotel’s profile on the site drove Sarah’s interest, which in turn led her to the hotel’s website or social media platforms.

Successful, enticing content on these digital channels sparked her desire, and it is that desirewhich acted as the final catalyst for her to take action and make a booking.

Though this journey will inevitably vary for different types of hotel and guests, understanding a wider range of paths that consumers may take will develop your grasp on your target audience’s purchase behaviour and give you a strong foundation for planning and refining your digital channels. For independent hotels, every part of the customer journey should illuminate the experience of the hotel, and how this can complement the experience of the destination.

Share the experience

The overall experience of a stay is key to any independent hotel’s marketing strategy, but how exactly should this be communicated online?

The secret to effectively representing the identity of your hotel centres around letting your audience inside; virtually welcoming them through your doors so they can appreciate your offering and envision themselves as part of the scene you create.

Imagery and visuals are essential tools, especially when coupled with language that reflects the character of your brand. Show your audience every aspect of a stay, from the bedrooms to the restaurant; the local area to the people and beyond. Ensure that each mode of online communication used within your marketing mix is updated, consistent and tailored carefully to the values and messages at the core of your hotel.

With your target audience defined, clever consideration of your customer’s journey and USPs flowing through each stage, these methods will paint a clear picture of your hotel experience. It is this picture that will inspire your audience, change the stay they were envisioning and, ultimately, motivate their booking decisions.

Jazz Bovill is digital profile manager at Arise – digital specialists in digital marketing and communications for the hospitality and tourism sectors.

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