Finding the audience, Marketing Hotel Tech Companies

Over the last decade I have been mainly involved with marketing for hotels and hotel technology companies. Some things went well, some didn’t. In this series of articles, I’m going to lay out some of the things I’ve tried that failed and how I learned and developed ways to market startups.

The first step in any marketing plan is finding your audience, not just a theoretical list of potential buyers. But where are they, how to reach them, what channels can be used etc.

When I started working on international marketing for a hotel technology startup the first question we asked ourselves was how to we reach hoteliers. We had been working on marketing for hotels so we knew how to use all the usual tools like AdWords and so forth.

We were sure doing search ads for things like Hotel Marketing Services, Hotel advertising etc would bring us visits that we could convert. After all it worked for hotels why shouldn’t it work for us.

We rapidly discovered that no hotel (our target audience) actually searched for our products on-line.

Door-to-door sales worked but wasn’t scalable — certainly not if we were going to move out of our city and go for global market. We had even tried press releases, thinking that our innovative product would be news. Nobody seemed to care much.

We were now stuck with a problem, how to get visible to as many hotels as possible at the least possible cost. The startup I was working at at the time was bootstrapped and funds were very limited.

At the same time we noticed that a lot of the work we were doing with hotels was extremely successful, not overly complicated to learn but somehow none of the hotel clients we had been working with were doing anything like it. Many had much more complicated solutions that didn’t work as well.

We decided we would start publishing educational articles explaining how we get the results we got, that it wasn’t magic and it could be replicated if hotels followed the simple actions we did. This was was a pretty heated debate as one side of the team complained that if we give out all our “secrets” we have lost our intellectual property, and myself and the marketing side trying to figure out ways to get visibility.

Despite never quite reaching an agreement, the marketing side started publishing. We broke down all the actions we did that got results and spoke openly of how to replicate it locally.

The fact is that hotels rarely have the time to do it themselves. Sure some do — but the majority didn’t. However showing them how it’s done worked.

And there we started our first B2B marketing funnel for hotel tech. First write interesting and helpful content, even if it meant risking to explain everyone how we did things. This got us visitors, from there we started retargeting.

This solved how we could target a qualified audience — if they clicked to read an article they were obviously interested in the subject. From there we could retarget them and send them to more salesy content.

It was cheap and it became massively effective.

The rule we set was that content could never become salesy, ever. Content had to be helpful and educational. If it didn’t help, if it wasn’t going to bring the reader something that would improve their lives as hoteliers, we didn’t publish it.

However with the retargeting, there we were absolutely ready to sell.

So we set the rule:

If you’re going to educate, educate. If you’re going to sell, sell. But never pretend to educate in order to sell.

Some companies do that, but the vast majority are trying to sell through their education, explaining how their product solves all the problems etc. These are the snake-oil type marketers.

Be honest, help the reader. If they go off and do it themselves or use another company and ask them to implement your plan it sucks. But if you really are as good as you say you are, they’ll eventually get tired of doing it themselves or find out that your competitors suck and come back to you. And even if they never do — nobody has a 100% close rate. At least now you left a great impression.

Education is the best marketing in the world. If you have a great product.

On the other hand, if your product isn’t that good, it is the worst marketing in the world since everyone will be going to see your competitors.

I’ve worked with Tnooz, Hotelmarketing.com, Skift and more as the obvious channels to distribute news. Nowhere is it more obvious that you better make great content than when working with them. They publish your content if it is great, they can’t afford to look like marketing mouthpieces for companies.

In summary, if you’re in a B2B space like the hotel technology market. Your reach to hoteliers is quite limited. To filter out those who would be interested in your product, educate them with really good stuff.

If you wouldn’t read it yourself after work, don’t publish it.

Once you have gotten their attention, then you can advertise to them about your products.

Martin Soler