A global marketplace, however close and intimate it might be, is still global and complex
Tim Ash, in his very interesting book “Landing Page Optimization” (1) briefly – but always eloquently – summarises the difficulties associated with identifying the type of user that visits a website. In fact, the entire on-line commercial world seems to be struggling with customising their websites to match their clients expectations. It is almost unfair how mercifully privileged we – the hotel industry professionals – seem to be when it comes to knowing our visitors. With very little effort, we can know so much about our on-line visitors, before they even turn on their computers.
The very simple and obvious fact that sets us aside from most of the rest of the electronic marketing world is that with even a single property, we can (and should) organise our electronic marketing efforts in the same way that otherwise only multinational corporations could! For we have one great, merciful advantage: Travelling is all about people coming from far away and looking for something that is similar to our specific product. Knowing the source, and the product requirements is so useful, that it would be greedy to wish for more!
If you are reading this article, you are most likely the interested-enough type to know that the statistical and even geographical data that you can get from your web analytics engine is wonderful. Nevertheless, knowing what an individual first-time visitor wants is something that you either never find, or something you will find out well after they have left your site – most frequently without having made a booking. In most other industries the game is then usually played with the painful gathering of statistical and usability information and the drawing of conclusions over time.
Statistical analysis and usability reporting (quality work can help ensure that you bypass the dangers highlighted in the well known cliché claiming that “in this world there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics”) is a solid and scientific method of measuring results and basing design decisions. In fact, those rare birds amongst us that have the budgets, run concurrent websites measuring visitor behaviour in each of them, which leads to some solid designs, based on what really works best for their clients.
Despite all this being a really, really good way of approaching the best possible website layout and structure of what is called landing page optimisation (the promotion of the flow of on-line visitor action, so that they end up doing what you want them to do), the fundamental difficulties remain when you want to open up your hotel to new markets. Increasing numbers of new visitors is easy – yet not the actual goal. The trick of the trade is exactly on this point – not just getting them to come, getting them to book too. And for that, it would be wonderful to be able to optimise your website so that the additional visitors you have just brought over, actually like, trust and book your hotel.
Behavioural enthusiasts will often go down the route of applicable psychological models, or “behavioural styles” like those of Myers-Briggs or Keirsey-Bates (2). The idea here is that accepting there are several specific types of visitors, will get you a guideline that will allow you to address different types of needs and wants through different designs.
Despite this sounding like a really clever way of driving incremental conversions of lookers to bookers – there is a certain impasse (actually two) that make things disproportionately tricky.
First, these models have to remain fairly crude to allow for applicable website-related decisions to be taken and implemented. This means that for you to have something specific to ask from your designers that will help them understand your website is aimed at getting more business, and not just have cool stuff on it, your potential online customer base has to be placed in psychological “pigeon-holes”, usually reserved for extreme personalities. So, when most of us would fit somewhere in between, reality is forcing us to use caricature-like personalities.
A an example comes to mind which is constructed on imaginary scales, but which should help pin-point the difficulties we have here:
Think of visitors to your website as “30% workaholic” or “45% independent thinkers” and you will get the picture. We have given a percentage of “workaholic” and “independent thinker” to measure “normal” visitors, but we still have no way of accurately designing specifically for these people. We can make efforts and gestures, but we can’t be sure. An analysis of our visitors on these imaginary scales (lazy – workaholic and dependent – independent thinker) would probably end up sending us to our website designers with a brief asking for a website for rather lazy people that are rather dependent thinkers. Assuming that our website designer can do something to satisfy our brief (which is very unlikely to say the least) we have clearly not addressed our audience very well. It is arguably going to be better than what we have done so far, but the cost-benefit ratio of actually changing our website is going to be tough to argue with the GM when we are asking for the money to pay for all this…
The conclusion is inescapable. It may be intelligent, complex and all in all down right impressive pigeon-holing, but it is pigeon-holing nonetheless. Any such crude segmentation will generate psychological profiles with diametrically opposing wants and needs. So, you will know that your visitors have different needs, but it won’t be easy to know which to go after – let along how to go after them. Imagine for example that you have very similar numbers of Extrovert and Introvert users, as well as Thinkers and Feelers (both scales from the Myers-Briggs psychological types). What would your brief be? And even if you don’t you still won’t immediately be very certain how to address their different needs (if you are doing this for the first time it will take time and effort for you to find out).
Naturally, with psychology and consumer behaviour having been around as academic subjects so much longer than internet consumer behaviour, there are theoretical alternatives; but when viewed from the angle of “having to do something with your website to influence them” all segmentation approaches become somewhat unrealistic.
Even if you are an avid fan of behavioural modelling, and you completely disagree with my views here, you will most likely still agree with the second, rather more tangible impasse in question.
Doing it properly often means doing it the expensive way. Conducting market research on your visitors, be it with questionnaires (brrrrr), or through concurrent running of multiple versions of your website, or in any other way, will require the involvement of experts and time. In other words, it will not be cheap to do. So imagine the conversation between the keen hotel DOS when he or she is asking for the budget from the GM.
Additionally, there is always a very, very good chance that when the analysis is run, the resulting recommendations will require additional investment. I can see Expedia doing something about offering something to make their extrovert customers feeling at home on their website, but I can’t see the same happening at a 3 star independent hotel around the corner…
As it is often the case, the travel industry – in its usual idiosyncratic manner – will once again throw us a surprise. This time, it is a good one. To fully identify its value, we have to have a quick look at the theory and practice of the basics:
The theory of marketing suggests that you look at the market, and you create a product that will satisfy a niche.
On the other hand, the reality of a marketing is that almost invariably you are given a job “pushing” an existing product, and you have to figure out who is most likely to buy. Then, the battle is to find a way to communicate to them efficiently. With most hotels being built and designed before their internet strategy is formulated, the reality scenario is almost always the way things are done…. But that is OK, because in our industry, we know our customers are coming from somewhere else.
This simple fact – speaking from the point of view of the internet marketer – is the equivalent of gold-dust. The power of that knowledge can give us remarkable agility and accuracy. It is an advantage over most other products and industries, and one that can produce profit.
Each country usually comes with its own language. Consequently, each language is a tool to address each country. Given that we have some good information on the vastly different needs and wants of each culture, languages – or more correctly multilingual websites – can be superb conduits for each hotel to touch different markets with unparalleled simplicity and accuracy.
With multilingual websites, there are simple steps that you can take to make reasonably certain that you are going after the right people, whilst cutting down your costs.
In the hotel world, you know your product and you can easily see the origins of your market’s visitors. Rather than having to wait for your visitors to leave your site before you can start aggregating a general view of how they think and what they are looking for, you can put experience to work well before you start devising your individual messages for each segment. If your market doesn’t get any Chinese visitors (frequency of direct flights from/to China at the nearest airport would be a good guideline if you are not in the middle of a metropolis – not to mention the multitude of reports like the absolutely excellent Hotelligence by Travelclick) you probably don’t want to re-built your site in Mandarin – at least not before you build it in the more urgent languages (those of the international visitors to your area).
Apart from the obvious simplicity and applicability to our industry, and the consequential simplicity of the brief to your designers (e.g. I want a website for German and French travellers), international multilingual websites are a triple win for hotels that implement them.
First, you get to offer your international visitors a tool that will allow them to book from the comfort of their own language. Few would argue against the benefit of offering such a convenience to their international travellers (according to some studies, up to 70% of hotel bookers would prefer not to have to make a booking in English). If your CRS allows for the language, the market can be very easily reached and their need satisfied.
Second, you get to have your website seen in countries where you would otherwise be invisible. With search engines in each country behaving pretty much like right-wing extremists, a site that is in the language of the country (when done properly of course) will have massively higher chances of coming up and being seen than a website based in another language and country. This is absolutely true even when someone is looking for a specific hotel’s name…! This doesn’t just drive the visitor to you, it pulls him away from the local on-line agencies that will invariably capture this traveller, for the usual high percentage costs – and of course the infinitely higher risk that the booking will end up in one of your competitors.
Third, you have a wonderful tool in your hands to market to each country separately. A Mandarin website will be a great place to offer an appropriate message during the Chinese new year, without taking prime space away from the British and American travellers who can be offered a .co.uk and .com website respectively. Imagine the ability to promote per country… your toll free telephone numbers to the Russians and Greeks (who don’t like to use credit cards), your best rate guarantees to the Americans, and your Halal cuisine to the Arabs.
There are surprisingly few companies that will offer multilingual SEO (and not just claim that they do it once asked) from the world go. It (multilingual SEO) and International PPC are vital to your success and will be one of the fastest growing trends for the years to come This means that the early entrants will have similar benefits to those that had a website sooner than the rest so prompt action will yield good results.
Please accept our best wishes and kindly do remember to let us know if you think we can help.
1. Full Title: Landing Page Optimization – the definitive guide to testing and tuning for conversions, Copyright © 2008 by Wiley Publishing, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana
2. Ash’s Landing Page Optimisation provides great summaries for those as well.