When it’s time to target your marketing efforts, remember the words of Willie Sutton, who reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” In this case, however, the money is in the form of potential customers. And where are they? Online! According to eMarketer, Americans spent an average of 5.6 hours a day online, which amounts to about a third of the time we’re awake each day. This includes time spent on smartphones, desktops/laptops, and other connected devices (tablets).

But with the advent of ad blocking software, spam filters and the overall marketing overload, getting your message to be seen and to resonate online becomes more difficult each year. That’s why Resort Trades has checked in with two digital marketing experts, Mark LaClair, managing partner at TotalScope Marketing, and Carrie Vandever, digital enterprise manager at Resort Trades, to learn how to break through the clutter. Here are the top five takeaways.

1. Use an Integrated Approach

Ask LaClair which channel is best, and like parents with children, he can’t name a favorite. “Use them all,” he says. “Your marketing efforts need to work seamlessly with social media, your website, email, and other channels. The idea is to have a campaign with enough gravitas and then leverage the strength of each channel.” He also believes that digital campaigns are even more effective when traditional media are also included, such as magazine advertisements, billboards, and radio.

Mark LaClair
Mark LaClair

Email generates less buzz now, but it’s still a very effective channel when done right. “You’ll want to use a service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact to segment your list, so you can send content that’s relevant to the recipient,” LaClair says. “They can send from their IP address, which will help prevent your IP address from being flagged. The best list is email addresses you’ve generated through relationship marketing rather than ones that are purchased. To avoid being caught in a spam filter, scrub your list before you email, because if too many are invalid, that could cause your email to be flagged. The content should be relevant to your domain.

2. Content is King

No matter which channel is used, make sure the content you’re providing is welcome. On social media, the best posts provide usable information in a fun way. Are there events happening near your resort? Post information about them. Did kids in your activities program make some cute crafts? Post some photos of them showing off their creation. That’s also the type of posts that parents will want to share online with their friends and family, providing added exposure to people who are probably great prospects.

Once a prospect clicks through to your website, the user experience (UX) is crucial. Making it fun and easy to use is paramount for converting prospects, and responsive and mobile-friendly design is a must (bonus point: search engines are now preferencing sites that are optimized for mobile). Ensure diverse tools such as chat, SMS and social media are in place so customers can get in touch.

According to Vandever, blogs are the best proven method of how to stay on top of the search engines because of their RSS feed nature. The objective is to build an audience by providing interesting (not advertorial) articles. “Typically, resorts are finding blogging once a week or so to be the most effective,” she says. “Consistency is important. Check with Buffer and Copyblogger for hints on how to find interesting content and avoid pitfalls that might be a turn-off. And remember that storytelling is always the best approach to capturing your reader’s attention. SerpIQ and Medium reviewed blog posts and found that lengthier content ranked higher in results. The recommended length is more than 1,500 words – search engines view time spent on a page as more favorable.”

“The bottom line for any ad, email or missive is authenticity,” Vandever adds. “Skip the gaudy artwork, the overly young and attractive models posing as desk clerks, the gushing over how your resort is ‘nestled’ somewhere. Keep all your communications conversational, educational and/or entertaining and above all, authentic.”

Carrie Vandever
Carrie Vandever

3. Get Social

According to a recent article on BusinessInsider.com, 20 percent of the time spent on digital devices is on social media. Although the younger set is migrating to Snapchat and Instagram, Facebook is still king, with 1.65 billion monthly users worldwide. Instagram has less than a third of that, 500 million.

“If you’re wanting to promote an offer, Facebook is a great choice,” LaClair says. “It allows you to really target certain demographics. They know when people are in the area or have visited. This allows you to send an offer to return to your destination to someone who has already visited. That’s going to be a very good prospect.”

He says platforms such as Instagram and Twitter are good ways to get a conversation going, but TripAdvisor is vitally important for the hospitality industry. “Work with them as much as possible. Learn how to leverage the platform both in terms of reviews and advertising.”

4. Be Ready to Respond

According to Vandever, the most productive use of digital marketing tools is in lead generation. “You’re not going to sell over the Internet; let’s make that perfectly clear,” she says. “With a lot of time and attention you might attract visitors looking for a vacation in your neck of the woods, but remember you’re competing with every hotel and motel within a 60-mile radius. It makes a lot more sense to use the Internet to build a classic ‘sales funnel’ to which you can selectively market. But for any leads you generate, you’ve got to be able to respond immediately, preferably by telephone if you can’t get them to visit your resort. This is the point at which we see a number of resorts falter, particularly ‘legacy’ resorts. The minute you get a phone number, you’ve got to have an enthusiastic sales-oriented person on the task! The most successful results come from an inside sales representative who works hard and puts in the daily effort. If someone books a discounted vacation, your sales rep should give them a call as quickly as possible to welcome them and express how delighted the whole staff is to hear they’re coming. And, oh by the way, let’s set up a meeting while you’re here.”

“After you speak with a lead, you should send an email or text to say thank you. Think of each lead as your only way to get your next meal! As far as following up on old leads, stick to a simple subject line such as ‘just checking in’ and a one-sentence body such as, “are you still interested in visiting [your resort’s area]?”

5. Measure Your Results

When you can see what worked and what didn’t, you can improve results. “Use Google analytics to see where traffic to your site is coming from,” LaClair advises. “The social media sites have tools for measuring how many clicks each posts resulted in, and often will detail the audience that viewed the post.”

Email services also include measurement tools, such as the percentage of people who opened the email and how many clicked through to the offer.

“Then, you can look at your page views to see if they converted into bookings. The more you work with website conversion, the better you will understand what works and what doesn’t.”