Industry Update
Opinion Article26 June 2014

Growth hacking: How to grow your hotel business on a shoestring

In a world of branding overdose and melting marketing budgets, growth hacking can help hotels to fast track their business without shrinking their margins

By Youri Sawerschel, Strategy & Branding Consultant at Bridge.over

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Magazine advertisements, gaudy flyers, hotel directories, lavish press conferences and branded apps are only a few of the traditional tools hotel marketers utilise to draw customers' attention. Traditional marketing is akin to throwing bottles in an ocean of information and hoping that people will receive the message inside, find it attractive and decide to place an order for more bottles. In other words, traditional marketing is a highly uncertain activity; and throwing more bottles to increase the odds of reaching more people can rapidly become an expensive endeavour.

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retention of customersIn a world heavily saturated with branding, and hotels with ever

decreasing budgets to spend on marketing, there is one technique hotels can employ to grow their business without shrinking their margins. Growth hacking is about growing a business customer base by using alternatives to conventional marketing tactics. Leveraging social networks online and offline, growth hacking solely focuses on the acquisition and retention of customers.

The following points are three ways to start growing your business today, while

simultaneously staying in the Finance Director's good books:

1. Newsjacking: riding on someone else's notoriety

Press conferences are to PR managers what newsjacking is to growth hackers.

Newsjacking is about selecting a piece of news already receiving traction and jumping on the bandwagon to release your own spin. An apt example was the pop-up beach set up by the Hilton Hotel on the banks of the River Thames in London in January 2013. The hotel had skilfully set up the beach on Blue Monday – the so called "most depressing day of the year." Consequently, the hotel was mentioned in several stories given its association to the "Blue Monday" angle. The result: more than three million people were exposed to the newsjacking campaign.

Sometimes however, a piece of news is not always required to promote the hotel. To

create the buzz around the opening of its New York flagship property, Citizen M used limousines as mobile billboards reading "free Wi-Fi is real luxury" and parked the cars in front of all major palaces in the city. The campaign went viral with thousands of people sharing the pictures of the limousines across social media.

Articles regarding hotels are rarely exciting on their own. Hotels should concentrate its

efforts on looking for popular news items relevant to its brand and creating an angle, instead of pushing out half-exciting news stories via traditional media channels.

2. Inside-out marketing: Your customers are your sales team

Traditional marketers rely on sales teams to acquire customers in a linear way. Growth

hackers practise inside-out marketing to leverage existing customer bases to grow exponentially. Inside-out marketing uses the loyal customers already in the base – no matter how few – and draws them in with incentives to help spread the world.

With its "Tweet a

Coffee" initiative, Starbucks enables its registered customers to give coffees to their friends as gifts simply by sending a tweet. As a result, each coffee purchase is shared on the social media network. Global lodging and accommodation website Airbnb's referral programme encourages inviting friends to register to the site, by giving both the sender and recipient $25 of travel credit. By creating personalised invitation vouchers and focusing on mobile user-friendliness, Airbnb increased bookings up to 25% in certain markets. Drawing from Airbnb's example, hotels could also incentivize its customers to invite their friends to stay in the same property or brand by offering them similar travel credit. Another way for hotels to use its customers as its sales team would be to offer additional benefits when booking (room upgrade, airport transfer etc.) on the condition that they invite their social circle to also book a trip. When it comes to selling your product, there is no need to shout about it. Instead, quietly inform your loyal customers: they will close the sales for you.

3. Co-creation: merge your product with your communication

Traditional marketers work for months on the development of a new product/service, in

the hope that a big launch party will turn people into brand advocates over night. Growth hackers think that a launch party is the equivalent of playing roulette by putting all chips on one number and crossing their fingers to win the jackpot.

Growth hackers don't dissociate product development and marketing. Prodigy Design

Lab, a spin-off of a real estate developer, launched a competition to crowdsource the interior design of a new hotel in New York City. Irrespective of who won the competition, Prodigy Design Lab gathered together a crowd of people that felt involved in the project and would ultimately want to share its development with their respective networks. For example: restaurants could invite their clients to taste dishes before the launch of a new menu; clubs could involve their patrons to decide on the line-up of guest artists; and hotels could organise workshops to test, comment and improve mock-up rooms.

In other words, don't spend too much time and money tweaking every component of

your new offering. Remember "no customers will care about your business until they feel part of it".

A change of mindset

Newsjacking, inside-out marketing and crowdsourcing are just three examples of how

growth hackers approach sales and marketing. More than a set of tools, growth hacking is a mindset that focuses on the use of non mass- marketing tactics to grow, acquire and retain customers. 
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Youri Sawerschel

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    Youri Sawerschel
    Strategy & Branding Consultant at Bridge.over
    Phone: +41 22 809 88 15
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