In 2017, property managers invested more time, money, and energy into digital marketing than ever before. In the past few years, travelers have become increasingly proficient at using the internet to plan and book every aspect of their vacations from beginning to end. Consider the following statistics about the popularity of online reservations today:

  • 148.3 million travel bookings are made using the internet each year
  • 57% of all travel reservations are made using the internet
  • 65% of same day hotel reservations are made from a smartphone

As more people turn to the internet for their travel needs in 2018, it’s up to you to help your target audience find your website, learn more about your property, get answers to their questions, understand what makes you different, and ultimately make the decision to book a reservation with you.

To do all that, you need to develop and execute the right digital marketing strategy for your resort. Not sure where to begin?

Here is the 7-step process every property manager needs to know to start investing in digital marketing for resorts in 2018:

1. Know Your Audience

In order to build efficient and cost-effective digital marketing campaigns that drive real results for your property, you have to start by understanding who your audience is, and who they aren’t.

Taking the time to identify and understand your audience will help ensure that you’re able to:

  • Present the right voice, style, and personality in your marketing material.
  • Craft messages that resonate with people and drive them to take action.
  • Effectively leverage powerful audience targeting tools when building advertising campaigns on Facebook and other social media tools.
  • Choose which types of marketing campaign ideas you should test first to drive results.

To gain a clearer picture of who your audience is, work to answer the following questions:

  • What are the basic demographics of your ideal guest (age, gender, location, family size, education level, income level, etc.)?
  • What are their hobbies, interests and passions?
  • What do your guests care about when they travel? What do they care most about when it comes to staying at your property? What don’t they care about?
  • What are their pain points when it comes to traveling?
  • How do they prefer to be communicated with? What tools do they use to contact and engage with you? What are interactions with guests like?
  • What other brands and products do your guests like?
  • Where do they spend their time online? (Tip: you can get a better idea of where your target audience tends to spend their time online by leveraging resources like this one from the Pew Research Center).
  • What kinds of messages and visuals are you currently presenting to them, and how have they been responding?
  • How much money do they typically spend during an average stay at your property?
  • How do they spend their time while they are staying at your property?
  • How do they spend their time while they are away from your property?
  • What amenities and accommodations do they request and rave about most?

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Compile your raw answers in a Google doc or spreadsheet, then work on building a handful of customer personas from your answers. Need help getting started? Explore this beginner’s guide from Buffer.

If you’re not sure how to answer some of the questions listed above, consider enlisting the help of your guests, email subscribers, or social media followers by sending them a simple survey to fill out. To boost participation, offer an attractive incentive (promo code, free night, free meal, etc.) that can be unlocked at the completion of the survey.

2. Craft Compelling Stories

Digital marketing isn’t about selling—it’s about storytelling. In order to convince travelers to book reservations at your property, you need to get them excited about the experiences you have to offer—not the rooms you have available.

Nearly every digital marketing campaign you create and launch—whether it’s an email promotion, a banner ad, a video, a landing page, or a blog post—is very likely going to incorporate storytelling in some way. As a property manager, it’s up to you to decide what kind of stories to ultimately create and share with your audience.

In the travel/hospitality industry, crafting and sharing compelling stories can help you:

  • Differentiate from local competitors
  • Build awareness about your property and your business
  • Humanize your business and establish trust with prospective guests
  • Drive website traffic and boost audience engagement
  • Compel travelers to avoid missing out on something special

Not sure what kind of stories you should be telling to achieve the outcomes outlined above? Start by creating and sharing the following types of stories with your online audience:

  • Origin Stories – Share stories about the history of your property, why it exists, how it has changed over time, etc.
  • Team Stories – Share stories about your team members and what they do to help create amazing experiences for travelers who stay at your property.
  • Local Stories – Share stories about the local area. Feature other business owners and people in the community. Help interested travelers feel like they already know the people and the place they’re thinking about visiting.
  • Guest Stories – Share stories from happy guests who have stayed at your property in the past.
  • Experience-Based Stories – Share stories that feature the types of experiences that guests have when they stay at your property.
  • Visual Stories – Share stories with videos, photos, and audio to help people get a more complete picture of what it’s like to stay at your property.
  • Helpful Stories – Share stories that help prospective guests learn from the travel experiences that others have had before them.

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Pick one of the story types mentioned above and start working on building a story that you can incorporate into a future digital marketing campaign for your property and audience.

It could be something as simple as writing a blog post about the fun experiences that one of your guests had while staying at your property. Or maybe it’s something more involved, like interviewing local business owners and community members on video and asking them what makes your local area so special. Or it could simply be sharing the first photo you took after you built or purchased your property.

The key here is to think about what kind of stories you can craft and share to make your property seem irresistible to interested travelers who find you online.

3. Choose Your Channels, Think Resources, Set Goals

Once you have a firmer grasp on who your audience is and what kind of stories you want to share, your next job is to start thinking more about the channels you want to invest in, the resources you have at your disposal, and the goals you’d like to achieve with digital marketing.

Here are a few examples of common channels you’ll see in a digital marketing strategy:

  • Email marketing – With email, you’re focused on capturing email subscribers, sending targeting email campaigns, and nurturing leads into customers.
  • Social media marketing – With social, you’re focused on sharing organic updates, launching targeted advertising, and engaging with followers on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.
  • Content marketing – With content, you’re focused on creating and sharing helpful content that brings more people to your website and helps establish you as a trusted resource.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) – With SEO, you’re focused on optimizing the content on your website and in your blog posts to ensure that you’re showing up in search results on Google, Bing, and other search engines.
  • Paid search – With paid search, you’re focused on creating and launching advertising campaigns that show up in search results on Google and Bing.
  • Direct marketing – With direct, you’re focused on traditional offline advertising tactics, such as mailing brochures to prospective guests who have shared their contact information with you.
  • Display advertising – With display, you’re focused on developing banner ads and other types of visual content that can be placed on other websites that your target audience might be visiting.
  • Website – With website, you’re focused on providing information, answering questions, and driving people to take the actions you want them to take (check availability, request more information, book a stay, etc.).
  • Mobile – With mobile, you’re focused on ensuring that your website visitors can successfully access and use your website from their smartphones. You may also be focused on communicating through SMS text campaigns.

As a property manager, you need to decide which channels are worth investing time and money into in 2018. In order to make the right decision, you need to go back to thinking about your audience.

You also need to think about the resources (people and marketing budget) that you have on hand. Do you have extra money to spend on paid advertising? Do you have an employee who can help with writing blog posts or managing your social media profiles? Do you have the tools in place to capture email addresses and build email campaigns to send to subscribers? Do you have the time to learn everything there is to know about SEO? The answers to these questions will help you decide which channels to focus on and test first.

Finally, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve by investing in digital marketing? Do you want to boost property awareness? Build a social following? Boost website traffic? Capture more leads to nurture? Different channels can be used to help you achieve different goals.

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Think about the next 6 months and make decisions about what channels you’d like to invest in, how much money you’re willing to spend, and what specific goals you’re trying to achieve.

4. Build Your Team

When you have a better idea of which channels you want to invest in, the next step you need to take is to build your team. Executing on a digital marketing strategy takes a lot of work, and if you want to actually be successful in driving ROI, you’re going to need help.

Here are all the roles you should be thinking about as you look to hire new employees, or leverage existing team members who can help you with your digital marketing efforts:

  • Content Writer / Copywriter
  • Social Media Marketer
  • Email Marketer
  • Rich Media Producer
  • Website Manager / Developer
  • Advertising Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Reporting / Analytics Manager

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Think about what your digital marketing team should look like. The team you build will ultimately depend on your goals and the channels you’re choosing to invest in first. You might find that you only have the budget to hire one person to help you—and that’s perfectly fine. Give them the tasks that you don’t have time for, work together to prioritize tasks based on your goals, and scale your team after you start seeing real results.

5. Use the Right Tools

In addition to hiring more people, you can also boost digital marketing productivity and success by putting the right tools in place for yourself and your team. Here are a handful of recommended tools to look into when you’re ready to build and execute on a digital marketing strategy for your resort:

  • Coschedule – For building editorial calendars and managing content.
  • Canva – For creating graphics and visuals to use in social media posts, blog articles, and email campaigns.
  • Facebook Ads – For reaching your target audience on Facebook.
  • for Business – For email automation, website optimization, and advertising.
  • TweetDeck – For monitoring your target audience and engaging with them authentically in real-time.
  • Airtable – For managing your ongoing digital marketing projects. 
  • Buffer – For scheduling social media updates.
  • Google Analytics – For measuring success and tracking progress in real-time.

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Explore these tools and decide which ones would be helpful when it comes time to start executing on your digital marketing strategy.

6. Execute, Evaluate, Optimize

Eventually you will get to the point when you’ve done enough planning and prep work and you’re finally ready to start executing on your digital marketing strategy. When you get to this point, don’t look back. Don’t be afraid to fail. The best thing you can do to boost your success is to simply start trying. Start executing on your ideas. Learn from failures, double-down on successes, and track progress at every turn.

Before you hit the ground running, make sure everyone involved is on the same page it terms of timeline, roles, and the specific goals you’re trying to achieve. Make sure everyone has access to the tools they need to be successful.

When campaigns end, evaluate performance and think about what you can do to improve when you launch your next digital marketing campaign.

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Be willing (and excited!) to test new ideas, new channels, and new hypotheses based on findings and outcomes.

7. Level Up Your Knowledge

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to digital marketing. Because trends, channels, and user behavior changes so often, you need to spend time regularly leveling up your knowledge and seeing what’s working for other people.

WHAT TO DO NEXT: Always be on the lookout for actionable blog posts, case studies, videos, courses, podcasts, and other material that can help you become a more effective and more well-rounded digital marketer for your property.

Over to You

How have you used digital marketing to boost reservations at your resort? Tell me in the comments below.