Great to be sitting down with you Daniel – it’s about time we got you to be a part of our hospitality marketing series! You already know some of the other’s we’ve interviewed, now it’s your turn. Please, tell us about yourself, what your background in the business is, and where you are now professionally!
DANIEL CRAIG / REKNOWN: It's been an interesting ride, thanks for having me on! I started out in the hotel business as a front desk agent with serious attitude at a monster hotel in Toronto. Over time I started to like the work, so I lost the attitude and began to work my way up, eventually crossing over to the dark side (sales).
Then I left hotels to expand my horizons and spent four years working at Vancouver Film School in various positions, including as VP of Marketing.
It was at VFS that I awakened my creative side. But I missed the free dry cleaning and expense account, so I returned to hotels. In 2004 I became general manager of Opus Hotel in Vancouver.
I left Opus in 2007 to pursue a secondary career as a mystery writer. There’s a tie-in: my main character is a hotel manager. After my third book was published my intention was return to manage hotels, but then social media hit the travel industry like a noisy tour group babbling in a bizarre foreign language, and I thought, “This is big, and hotels are going to need help with this transition.”
So I started my own consultancy, Reknown.
In a depth, how do you and your company offer solutions to the hospitality industry?
REKNOWN: At Reknown I draw from my background as a hotelier, storyteller and marketer to help hotels and travel businesses manage their reputation both online and offline. More than a marketing function, managing reputation involves service, quality control, human resources and revenue management.
I’ve given presentations at conferences across Europe and throughout North America, and everywhere businesses are facing similar challenges. At Reknown we help clients adapt to changes in technology and traveler behavior and harness social media and online marketing as a competitive advantage.
What are some other hotel brands that you have has worked with?
REKNOWN: I first woke up to the power of social media at Opus, when I started the first-ever General Manager’s Blog. It attracted a worldwide following for its irreverent insider’s look at the running of a contemporary boutique hotel. I also learned how distracting social media can be when you have a business to run and people to take care of.
One day a traveler posted a review on TripAdvisor recommending I be fired. Indignant, I asked TripAdvisor to take it down, and they refused. That’s when I realized how much the playing field had changed.
Later, as an author, I also experienced the joys and pain of reviews. Now I help companies manage, respond to and cope with social media feedback and see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. I work with TripAdvisor as featured speaker at Master Class events across North America.
We have a great relationship, but I still can’t convince them to take down that review.
My key clients include Barcelona-based ReviewPro, a leading provider of reputation management solutions for hotels, and Tourism British Columbia, for whom I deliver online reputation management workshops across the province.
In addition I work with a range of hotel clients, from independents to international chains, as well as destination marketing organizations and travel companies.
Prospective hotel guests are looking for more and more from their hospitality providers. What are the key aspects that consumers expect to see from a hotel or restaurant they’re researching?
REKNOWN: I think that more than anything travelers are looking for transparency.
Transparency comes in many forms – in pricing, in service and quality, in location and amenities – and in various formats: marketing copy, photos and of course, video. The travel industry pretty much invented the old “bait and switch” routine – luring travelers with glossy photos and fairytale descriptions, only to reveal a much different story upon arrival. But we can’t get away with it anymore.
Social media has empowered travelers by creating platforms to exchange trip information and advice with the source they trust most: other travelers. If expectations aren’t met, they take out their grievances to social networks. And that can have a significant impact on business.
What is a most important communication medium that you think most hotels aren’t as clear on as they could be?
REKNOWN: I think hotels are struggling with social media.
How much time to dedicate? What do travelers expect? How to measure results?
In some cases it’s getting more attention than it deserves; in other cases not enough. Facebook and Twitter are great tools for building and engaging communities, but online reviews must be the priority.
But social media is just a part of the picture. To maximize reach and effectiveness we must integrate paid, owned and earned content into campaigns. These days success in online marketing is less about interruptive marketing than about inbound marketing and utility marketing: driving traffic, trust and conversion by publishing helpful, relevant content that answers the questions travelers have when planning trips.
Marketing is important for hospitality brands; often something that professionals rather than in-house sales directors should handle. How does a strategic investment in online marketing through a proven third-party lead to a return on investment for a property?
REKNOWN: A big part of what I do is training because I believe that the most authentic social media comes from on property. But many companies don’t have the in-house expertise, and keeping up with changes in technology and traveler behavior can be overwhelming.
The best case scenario, I think, is to find someone with strong written communications and analytical skills and a keen understanding of branding and service to manage social media in-house, and to outsource strategy, training, guidelines and ongoing mentorship to the experts.
What are your Reknown's offerings that lead to success in the hospitality market-space?
REKNOWN: I think what we at Reknown do best is help our clients cut through the clutter and decide what they can ignore and what they need to focus on. Social media can be a massive time-suck. It also exposes businesses to considerable risk, so it can’t be ignored. As a former hotelier I understand the unique challenges of the travel industry. I understand that if a guest comes calling they must drop everything and attend to them.
We help businesses take advantage of opportunities and mitigate risks so they can focus on what they do best: creating memorable travel experiences.
Hospitality video marketing is steadily becoming a more important part of a solid online-marketing formula; what is driving video to make it more important?
REKNOWN: Imagery in general has become a huge part of online marketing.
In a world of constant distractions, video grabs attention and tells a story, often without words, so no translation required. Video is especially effective it’s hard to fake, unlike descriptions and photos. Before purchasing travelers want reassurance they’re making the right choice, and video shows them what to expect.
What is it about quality video that gets viewers to convert into sales?
REKNOWN: I discuss this in my article, How to Make Compelling Video Content for Hotels. When I was a film school executive I sat through a lot of painful student films, and a few brilliant ones. The same goes for the travel industry, where there’s are a few gems, but a lot of video is cheesy and dated and cliché-ridden.
It’s understandable, because it’s far easier to get video wrong than right.
And it’s expensive to produce high-quality video. Still I think it’s worth the investment, at least for hotels that are selling experiences, because it’s such a powerful means of marketing. A good example is the concierge-hosted videos made by InterContinental Hotels.
An area of video often overlooked is footage shot by travellers.
Travellers arrive at our doors with camcorders in hand, chronicle their trip experiences and upload them to YouTube. This can be great content for brand social networks. Search for it, and when you find something you like, ask for permission to share it. If it comes from travelers, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Amateur video shot in-house also has its place, but proceed with caution. Use home-made video for social networks, where behind-the-scenes footage, staff interviews and local tours, when well executed, can be fun and compelling. Don't use DIY video to create your own video tours or main promotional pieces.
Solicit a professional when creating a hotel video tour:
Why might you believe that a property that invests in a comprehensive video marketing strategy will likely experience positive return on investment (ROI)?
REKNOWN: Shooting great video is only the half of it. You need to make sure it is seen.
The more compelling, informative and entertaining it is, the more likely it will be seen. I’ve seen lots of expensively shot video languish unwatched on YouTube. You need to market the video, give it prominence on your website and social networks, and utilize social media’s powerful sharing features to get it seen.
A great video combined with a large viewership will pay for itself many times over.
In your eyes, what are the most important must-haves for an effective promotional video for a hotel property, resort or restaurant?
REKNOWN: There are four points that I can list of the top of my head:
- Tell a story. And by this I don’t mean fairytale or fantasy. Show travelers what to expect. Travelers want to see everything: exterior, rooms, amenities, facilities and the local area.
- Include people. Shots of empty spaces are boring. Bring spaces to life with real people doing things that real travelers do.
- Be original. Enough already with the ecstatic couples in bathrobes clinking champagne glasses. Be inspirational and aspirational, but authentic too.
- Be on-brand. No 80s porn music, no Vivaldi, no game-show hosts. Pick music and a voice that complements the story the imagery is telling.
What changes will we see in the hospitality market in the next decade – how will properties have to adapt?
REKNOWN: Trip planning has become confusing and time-consuming for travellers.
I see more consolidation: everything travelers want, the ability to compare offerings, pricing, features, availability, reviews and photos and videos from travelers, experts and marketers, all in one place. TripAdvisor does this well. And it seems this is where Google is heading, though it’s a work in progress.
I also think video reviews from travelers are going to be big because, as I said, they combine two powerful influences in travel marketing: imagery and authenticity.
Can you go into more detail; how has a client of yours benefited from your company’s services?
REKNOWN: Social media and online reviews have had a disruptive impact on the travel industry. Many business owners and operators feel they have lost control of what is being said about them online. I’ve shown hundreds of companies worldwide that in fact they still have a great deal of control, and they can influence that which they cannot directly control.
This means actively participating in social networks, building communities, and publishing fresh, helpful, accurate content.
Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and discuss what you do, and what you stand for, and how you support the industry! Where can we find you?
REKNOWN: My pleasure! Here’s where to find us:
Website and Blog: www.reknown.com