There are always digital marketing pundits and experts willing to offer their thoughts on trends in marketing, even for a niche like Motel Marketing.
They are often quick to jump on the bandwagon of other digital trends and suggest that we will see the emergence of technologies such as augmented reality and "the internet of things". Or should that be "internet of everything"?
In digital marketing lingo we call this the shiny red object object syndrome where everyone is fixated and distracted by the latest digital marketing trends, social media platforms or emerging technology to the detriment of what they should really be doing - getting back to basics.
What is Getting Back to Basics for a Motel Marketing Strategy?
At the very core it means attracting guests to your motel through better branding with a photography first approach, and ensuring guests can find you online and quickly understand how your motel meets their needs (the ATTRACT stage or the FOCUS part of Locus Focus).
Simultaneously you have to DELIGHT guests with your outstanding product, service and value (the LOCUS part of Locus Focus). This in turn creates a positive feedback loop that continues to increase bookings and enables greater yields through higher pricing in the long run.
Product, Service, value
a particular position or place where something occurs or is situated.
focus (visibility, clarity, conversion)
the centre of interest or activity.
Stage 1: Attract
This is arguably the hardest part of a marketing strategy for motels and one where if I am being honest about it - most don't do a good job at.
That normally seems to be due to an overwhelming desire to reduce costs and maximise profits in a competitive environment, but leads to sub standard branding and in particular, brand identity, photography, website and copywriting.
Telling a motel owner for example that spending $400 on updating their logo will actually yield a positive return on investment in the long run is often a hard sell, because they may not see the big picture.
Sure most motels have a marketing website but is it really a "marketing website" or more a brochure site that simply has mediocre photos and a lengthy description written in haste for the website person a few years ago?
Your motel marketing website should instantly show visitors you offer a comfortable, clean and convenient place to stay that represents value for money, and is the best choice compared to your competitors.
Guests haven't got the patience to read about the hosts story, how long the motel has been in the family or a long and tedious description of the local area that reads more like a Wikipedia article. They don't care about the hosts, they care much more about the Free WiFi, the TV and whether you have air conditioning or heating (depending on the time of the year).
Your about page might show pictures of you the hosts - but it should ultimately be about them and what problems are solving.
One way to approach this is to centre your messaging (copywriting) around unique selling propositions that your motel excels at. That could be cleanliness, location, comfort or convenience (proximity to hyper local attractions).
These should jump off the page and hit the visitor between the eyeballs, and be backed up with great photography that backs up these assertions visually.
Online presence is your visibility online and that includes not just your Marketing Website, but all other channels such as Google My Business, Google Adwords, Online Travel Agencies (Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda etc), TripAdvisor, Facebook Page (and Reviews), Email Marketing etc... if it's information about your motel and online, that is your online presence.
Your online presence should be optimised for communicating the value proposition to guests, via great photography and copywriting backed up with a good brand identity.
I recommend a photography first approach, which means making sure your photography is:
- Accurate: Not showing photos from six years ago which are out of date. Your photos should reflect exactly what the guest will see when they open the door for the first time, in terms of both amenities and smaller aspects such as pillows and cushions.
- Appealing: Even if your motel rooms are actually very simple and small (in fact even more so). That means the white balance and colours should be perfect with no colour casts on walls and floors, there should be appropriate lighting used and the images super sharp and clear. That means they need to be taken by a professional photographer and definitely not a point and shoot camera or mobile camera phone. They must be correctly exposed to the right of the histogram and have correct contrast with black and white points to draw the eye in.
- Eye Catching in terms of your main hero shot. That one leading photo used across your online presence should have something in it to catch the eye. That could be a street lamp, room light, rising sun, setting sun, bright colours, impressive perspective, epic backdrop etc. It should not look like every other motel hero image.
- Informative by showing key features of each room type such as convenient parking, televisions, bathrooms and other amenities that guest avatars are looking for.
- Vertical: Easy to look at in terms of photos being straight with verticals 100% correct. The camera should not be pointing down or up but precisely vertical in every single photo except detail shots. This is why using a level tripod is essential.
- Revealing in terms of the field of view. Too wide and you will exaggerate the size of the room. Too narrow (for example a typical camera phone) and there will not be enough information in the photo. You may need to take two photos to show the same information one photo will communicate, and it becomes confusing to mentally put these together. The ideal width to shoot a motel room due to their compact size is about 17-24MM, and this can only be achieved with specialised lenses.
- Distraction Free by removing towels from beds, laminated signs from walls and TV remote controls from bedside tables. In other words, every room shot should be carefully staged beforehand.
Adopting a photography first approach means understanding that your photos are used everywhere across your online presence and therefore have the most impact in terms of attracting guests. That means you should not be scrimping and saving on your motel photography, quite the opposite.
I recommend listing all of these online presence channels (you will have different ones depending on your country and market) into a time management system that supports recurring tasks. Asana is a fantastic project manager and task management platform, that is free for five users or less.
Locus Focus also offers online presence optimisation services for an hourly rate for motels in the APAC region.
Get familiar with Asana and schedule reviewing your online presence on these channels on a recurring basis. We recommend doing this every three weeks. Two weeks is too short, and one month is far too long. The more you do this, the more you will start to identify areas for improvement and the gains and benefits will compound over time.
If you use another task manager then use that, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that you review your online presence on all channels and also attempt to discover new channels where you are currently not present.
This not only increases your visibility online, but optimises it for conversion.
After you have your online presence optimised you should might consider optimising your "Local Focus" motel strategy (not to be confused with Locus Focus - local focus means identifying hyper local attractions that are of interest to guests).
A Local Focus strategy simply means emphasising your location and therefore convincing someone to stay at your motel because it convenient and fulfils their requirements.
A Local Focus Motel marketing strategy will help to attract guests to your motel who were already looking at staying in the area.
That's because your motel blog should be featuring hyper local attractions that people are already searching for. This will depend entirely on your location and the attractions surrounding it, but lets say you are based on a highway on the Gold Coast in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
While you may not technically have a great location on the highway, what you do have is an abundance of very convenient restaurants, cafes, entertainment and other shops within walking distance.
That family of four staying in your two bedroom suite will love to know there is a mini golf located just 500 yards from the property. They will understand that much better though if they can see photos of the mini golf attraction and more information such as address, opening hours and a link to their website.
But imagine how powerful it would be if you had some friends stay at your motel and they took some photographs of their family visiting the local mini golf attraction. You can then take photos of them enjoying the experience and use these on your motel blog.
The secret with this strategy is that if you title the blog example with the name of the attraction you have every chance of attracting search traffic for that attraction as well.
If the attraction is something people would travel to another city for (for example - MovieWorld on the the Gold Coast) then this is even better. This means that someone will find your review of MovieWorld during their holiday research and then discover your motel is just a five minute drive away. Suddenly your motel has risen to the top of the search results in Google during the guests research phase.
Even business travellers these days are looking for new experiences. Something as simple as a quaint local restaurant which is walking distance from your motel is absolutely worth blogging about!
The other aspect to location for a motel is sheer convenience and thrift. If there is a supermarket within walking distance from your motel then show this, or better yet - review it by visiting it and taking half a dozen photos on your phone to accompany the blog post.
If you have a DSLR camera or can afford to have a professional photographer take the shots then by all means arrange this. This is what Locus Focus does when we shoot photography for motels, we always suggest taking Local Focus photography during our visit.
If you do promote local businesses, attractions and sights on your motel marketing blog then make sure you encourage those local businesses to return the favor by linking to your website or posting on their blog. That makes complete sense for them as well, because it is giving their guests somewhere to stay to enjoy the experience where they know you will promote them positively.
Alternatively, they may have an email marketing list, Twitter account or large Facebook following. In this case, you may suggest they post about your motel and suggest their guests stay at your motel.
This also provides opportunities to offer your guests discounts and special offers for these local attractions which can also sweeten the deal.
Stage 2: Delight
How does the actual motel product meet the needs of the guest? Is the bed comfortable, the shower hot and strong and does instant coffee taste like cardboard or is it actually a bit fancy? These are all things that can be improved over time and never just considered "done".
This is an iteration of constant improvement with a fixation on maintenance, cleaning and upkeep of the rooms and understanding how small improvements to the motel product can make a huge difference to the guest experience.
What can you improve in your motel room today that would make a difference to the product?
Here are just some examples:
- Adding wine glasses, wine bottle openers and wine buckets in addition to standard glass tumblers.
- Emergency torches located next to the bed. Great comfort for single travellers or those late night trips to the bathroom.
- Some insect spray in the kitchen, just in case the worst happens and an insect gets into a room. Unlike a hotel, in a motel you can't just complain to reception at 2AM and get shifted to another room.
- Door seals that prevent pests entering rooms such as cockroaches.
- A printed and laminated list of TV channels (updated as required).
- Using your Local Focus photography to create a colour compendium of hyper local attractions that guests can flick through in each room.
- Larger, more modern TV screens that have YouTube apps built-in (no-one uses DVD players these days).
- Faster, more reliable internet which supports multiple devices and is easy to login.
- Disposable slippers.
- Extra pillows in plastic bags (particularly thinner pillows as an option).
- Extra blankets in plastic bags for guests to use if required.
- Getting rid of stuff that guests don't want or need anymore, such as alarm clocks, DVD players etc, fixed line telephones, tourist brochures etc.
- Better signage such as check out times on the back of doors, emergency contact information etc.
- For cooler climates, electric blankets.
- Upgraded toiletries, especially locally made products. Accessories such as makeup removing pads, ear buds and sanitary bags for disposing of unsanitary things politely.
When your guests walk into your reception office is there actually somebody there to greet them or do they have to press the buzzer and feel like they are inconveniencing you? Does the reception smell like a curry house or coffee shop (hint: it is better to smell like a coffee house...).
Is the phone always answered because there is a transfer to mobile phone when busy which gets answered by another staff member or perhaps even housekeeping who are trained in customer service?
Do guests always get provided the WiFi password at check-in on a slip of paper together with check-out times and the motel address so they can easily order a taxi or get home later?
Do guests get a choice of skim or full cream milk and are they escorted to their room or just pointed in the right direction?
There are plenty of ways to improve the service offered in a motel that will elevate you above the competition. People have low expectations when staying at motels, so these small things surprise and delight guests.
Everything else considered price then impacts on the expectations of guests and therefore the review they may leave on TripAdvisor. Increasing the prices of your last rooms during busy periods to astronomical levels is going to destroy any hope of obtaining a 5 star review on TripAdvisor - regardless of how good your product or service is.
This doesn't just apply to motels though, the practice of raising prices extortionately during high occupancy is also a tactic that fails larger hotels in the long run.
There is plenty of solid advice in this article for developing a motel marketing strategy. Unfortunately there are no silver bullets and this is all hard work - but it is also fun and very rewarding as each small improvement can yield compounding benefits.
As a motel owner you should be very aware of your hyper local attractions. Promote these locations on your blog as a content marketing strategy with great photography to attract guests, and delight them with guest experience that exceed their expectations.
Identify your guest avatars and unique selling propositions. Make sure you brand identity (logo etc) is strong and appealing by updating it if required. Invest in really good, professional photography and do not compromise in this area.
Set aside a small budget for an epic, eye catching hero shot in addition to your room photography. This might cost an extra $200-$500 on your motel photography investment, but it will be worth it if done properly.
Rewrite your copy and room descriptions to reflect this position and ensure the message is simple, clear and to the point. Then once everything is perfect on your main marketing website, replicate this across your entire online presence with attention to detail and consistency.
Regularly audit your motels online presence, look at your Google Analytics and refine your strategy going forward. But don't keep your eye off the guest experience either, that is critical to building momentum in bookings and higher yield through better reviews.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.