Vic Walia, Senior Director of North American Brand Marketing for Hotels.com presented the evolution of their company’s successful marketing study and strategy. Hotels.com is part of the on-line travel bookers industry, which is a definite commodity category. Competitors include Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline with Hotels.com being the lowest spender in the group.
1). They first identified their target customer as being 39-49 years old with a propensity to travel – business or pleasure.
2). They came up with five elements of differentiation to establish their value proposition for their targeted market;
a. Loyalty program called Welcome Rewards equating to 1 free night for every ten paid nights. Any number of different trips and/or hotels can be used to accumulate the 10 paid nights.
b. A toll free phone line (800-2-hotels) operates 24/7 with access to listings and reservations at 85,000 hotels. While booking can be made on line, they feel that clients want access to a person.
c. Risk free booking policy
d. Lowest price match guarantee
e. Customer review capability. More than a million client reviews of their hotel experience are available on line.
3). They next chose media channels where there competition was not advertising, such as;
a. Advertising in major airports,
b. Shuttle buses to/from airport parking,
c. On flight airline magazines (partnership with American Airlines),
d. Hang tags from the rear view mirror of rental car (Hertz partnership),
e. On coffee cups and cup sleeves at the airport, and
f. News video advertising targeting business travelers in hotel elevators.
4). The clay cartoon character, “Smart,” was chosen not as the spokesman for Hotels.com but rather an advocate for the Hotels.com experience. He appears in all printed, URL, television, and video advertisements.
5). Augmented Reality (AR) videos were prepared on the ten most popular cities in the United States to visit and vacation. By going to virtualvacay.com the prospective customer can view and “experience” each of these metropolitan meccas before making reservations. The Hotels.com marketing team was delighted to see that the average visitor to the augmented reality website was spending 8 minutes there.
However, the expanded and future use of augmented reality is on hold because the bounce rate was too high. It turns out that most customers do not have webcams, which are necessary to interact with the AR videos.
Walia feels that the continued advancement of smartphones will add to the utility and practicality of AR. He hopes that the future smartphone capability includes a prospect holding his phone up to a hotel and the room rate is retrieved.
In conclusion InterACT 2010 presented case studies and principles on the use of the variety of social media in supporting your client’s branding and marketing efforts. Social media is a growing tool used by customers to get access to yet control specific information, which they want. The interactivity is creating a dialogue with customers.
Surveys indicate that customers still trust their printer and ad agency to help them learn about these new tools and how to apply them as an integral part of their marketing campaigns. Initially printers will have to hire consultants to teach them the ropes. But the learning curve, as expressed by numerous InterACT 2010 presentors, can be quick, exciting, and lead to new business.