Industry Update
Opinion Article14 October 2021

HSMAI 2021: Defining Success In The New Market

By Stephanie Smith, Founder and Digital Matriarch at Cogwheel Marketing

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In September 2021, Stephanie Smith of Cogwheel Marketing and Melissa Kavanagh of Westgate Resorts did a joint presentation on “Defining Success in the New Market”.

While Stephanie is an expert on branded hotels, Melissa covers the other side of the equation with independent hotels. Each side of the coin uses different attribution models and different KPIs to measure digital marketing performance. It is not as cut and dry as one may think…

Key takeaways from the HSMAI Presentation

  • Attribution models are about understanding customer journeys
  • Marketing doesn’t get a seat at the commercial strategy table if KPIs do not align with total hotel goals
  • Add a holistic approach to the channel mix against the comp set to be part of true commercial strategy
  • Slice and dice website behavior before AND after getting to the booking engine to see how different segments of traffic behave

The Problem with Website Analytics Data (For Independent Hotels)

Back in the old days before the internet, there was saying in marketing that half the money we spend on marketing is wasted. Unfortunately, we don’t know which half.

Since the birth of decent website analytics, we are now spoiled with ALL the data. In fact, we have so much data that if you added up all of your reported revenue from disparate sources, we’d likely be making double the revenue that is on the books.

We are now faced with both: attribution theft and lack of clarity in the data.

The bottom line is that there are no absolutes in website analytics data. All of these models are about understanding how a channel plays into the consumer journey.

Sample Assisted Conversion Report

Look at the Assisted/last click column:

  • Value close to 0 shows that the channel functioned primarily as the final conversion interaction.
  • Value close to 1 shows that it’s equally assisted and final.
  • Value more than 1 shows channel functions in an assist role.

Model Comparison Report

Focus on how the conversion values shift by comparing different types of models

Attribution Models & Tracking Capabilities (For Branded Hotels)

While all of the above is AWESOME, branded hotels are much more limited in their data capabilities.

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned (For Everyone!)

Here’s the problem with everything we just looked at: None of it is 100% accurate.

Where does display show up in those previous reports? How do you really know the impact it has, when so few people click to measure them on the website? What about social?

Most of what is measurable in these reports is bottom of funnel.

Take a giant step back and look at ALL of the costs associated with marketing the website against what is produced.

Test branding tactics by turning them off and on to see what impact it has on search volume and search traffic to the site.

Evolve Past ROI (and ROAS)

I’m not saying don’t pay attention to ROI/ROAS, I’m saying it is only part of the larger picture.

Ask yourself these questions when running a campaign:

  • Since more ROAS is calculated off booked data, are you considering your cancellation rate?
  • You can get a great ROAS from Expedia Travel Ads, but is the hotel, as a whole, still performing?
  • Did your campaign drive enough revenue to make a difference, in the right segments?
  • Did you actually shift share, either from the OTAs or from the comp set?

Other Hotel Marketing KPIs

What other KPIs should I be looking at? Did your $250 spend on Expedia Travel Ads make a dent in this month’s budget?

Same with MetaSearch, was 100% of that revenue in your ROI calculation incremental? Or was it a channel shift? If channel shift, you should be calculating on the difference in paid commission.

Ask your Sales and Revenue Manager what KPIs they are trying to reach and then find alignment.

A Different Way to Look at Channel Mix

Channel Mix is a fan favorite KPI for digital marketers.

I still think of Channel Mix as layering a cake, but (recently) some of those layers are missing. Thanks, Covid.

Channel Mix is only as good as compared to your comp set.
Instead of comparing your website performance against itself (or as an ROI against agency fees, ugh) – why not compare brand.com against the comp set in Demand360 or Kalibri Labs?

Instead of jumping to turn on Expedia Travel Ads, have you looked to see if you already outperform the comp set on that OTA?

Get a Seat at the Table

Sometimes marketing doesn’t get a seat at the “table”. There are very few Vice President of Marketing positions within hotel management company. But every company has VP Sales and most have VP Revenue Management. Heck, many companies don’t even have a marketing position at corporate.

Why? Misaligned KPIs.

While it is true most non-marketers appreciate a good ROI, it stops there. How can you show impact on total hotel performance or on specific segments?

Website Journey Analysis (For Independent Hotels)

Step 1: Get Visitors to the Booking Engine

How well is the front-end of the website doing to entice visitors to look for a room? The conversion rate of getting visitors to the booking engine will show you how good your photography, content and call to actions are working.

Apply a Got to Booking Engine goal to source, landing page and device type reports, and be prepared to break each of those down further.

Step 2: Get THROUGH the Booking Engine

Once visitors get to the engine, what is happening to them?

Funnel Analysis

Create a funnel that explicitly shows each step of the booking engine, from room results, to checkout, and booking.

By looking at this funnel, not only can you see the conversion rate of each step, but you can see if people where people are going on the site, if they leave the engine.

You can also see how the funnel changes when you update rates, or there are availability shifts. Additionally, you’ll see the effect of engine-wide changes, like shifting where the full price of the room is shown to the consumer.

Booking Engine Segment Analysis

Just because more people from a particular source get to the engine, doesn’t necessarily mean they convert well once they get there.

Create a segment of visitors who arrived at the engine, and apply that segment to source, landing page, and device type reports. Again, be prepared to break one down by another dimension. You can use this data to better understand WHY particular traffic behaves in a certain way, or see if a particular source is over/underperforming the rest of traffic.

Flywheel, NOT Funnel (For Everyone!)

While Melissa’s loves a good funnel, Stephanie hates the word. Therefore an entirely new flywheel was created to showcase the evolution of the customer journey and the respective KPIs along that journey.

Note as well where revenue management and on-site operations come into the customer journey.

More Resources Around Hotel Marketing Attribution and KPIs

Thank you again to Melissa Kavanagh for your partnership in this presentation!

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HSMAI ROC Americas


Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas — Dallas, TX United States
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Stephanie Smith

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