Digital marketing trends for the hospitality industry in 2017

Digital marketing trends for the hospitality industry in 2017

2017 is set to be a year that will see some key digital marketing trends in the hospitality industry become more commonplace. Given the rapid pace of developments, technology has never been more accessible and available. However, industry leaders want to know how exactly they can go about capitalizing on the trends, in order to further sales and marketing efforts.

The answer?

Those with the biggest budgets are already exploring a number of things listed below. However sooner or later we’ll be looking at an industry where these 2017 digital marketing trends for the hospitality industry are likely to be the new industry standards.

First let’s take a look at the key drivers behind the digital marketing trends.

1) Increased penetration of technology

83% of adults in the USA use smartphones or tablets to search for restaurant locations, directions, and hours. They use these devices in the following manner:

  • 75% look up menus
  • 55% read reviews
  • 51% order takeout or delivery directly from the restaurant website
  • 50% use rewards or special deals.

Such a large consumer segment preferring to go online has created a vast market for digital marketing in this industry sector.

2) Cost effectiveness and customization

Advertising through digital platforms is often more cost effective than traditional marketing methods.

For example, chefs nowadays encourage their customers to post pictures of their food on social media sites, providing free publicity to the restaurant owners. Also, connecting with customers via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or forms allows marketers to to capture the social profile of its consumers,  which can be used to run targeting email campaigns.

3) Increasing adoption by the industry

80% of restaurant operators agree that investing in technology helps in increasing sales, making restaurants more productive, and giving them a competitive edge. As a result, owners have increased mainstream technology use by 14% in their restaurants since 2016.

The hospitality industry will also make concerted efforts to adopt mobile pay systems. Statistics show that 43% of restaurants plan to incorporate mobile pay within the next 1-2 years. Mobile pay transactions are projected to reach the trillion dollar mark within the next few years, meaning it will be something the hospitality industry cannot ignore.

1. Sell an experience with visual content

While content marketing is considered the most important aspect of digital marketing, the type of content consumers expect will change. Visual content will continue to be a major part of that change as we will see in some of the trends below.   

Using visuals should still be a priority to any business in the hospitality trade. Just consider the following statistics:

  • Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other types of content.
  • 37% of marketers believe that visual marketing is the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging (38%).
Visual Content is 40 times more likely to be shared

How can you source inspiring visual content to share with your customers?

  • Hire a professional photographer. No matter how good your camera or how great you may be at picking Instagram filters, you simply can’t compete with a professionally shot photo.
  • Ask customers for their perspective. Make it easy for them to shoot and share.
  • Ask influencers to add their voice and perspective.
  • Ask fans to share visual content themed around your business or mission.
  • Plan ahead of events to lead or join conversations that are popular with your community.
  • Be ready to respond to unexpected events in real time, like Oreo did during the Super Bowl blackout in 2013.

2. Be sociable

88% of people are influenced by reviews and online comments. So having an intentional social media strategy is important to your restaurant, cafe or bar. We will see more of the social aspect returning to social media. In other words, social media will be used as a way of interacting with a network of customers, rather than simply a place to post information.

From a branding perspective using social media provides:

  • Exposure: Allowing your brand to be seen by more new and existing customers.
  • Engagement: Allowing you to develop effective ways of creating and nurturing relationships with customers.
  • Advocacy: Allowing you to empower fans and ambassadors who will share your brand with friends and present you in a positive light.
  • Increased positive sentiment: Allowing you to tap into the buzz about your business. In other words, you get to engage with people talking and sharing about what you do.
80% of people are influenced by reviews & online comments

If at all you are doubtful about the impact social media can have your marketing strategy consider the following:

  • According to research, there are more than 200 million posts tagged #food and 23 million with #drinks, making food and beverage photos one of the most popular types of content on Instagram.
  • Instagram, however, is expected to play a major role in hospitality digital marketing due to its “ability to play videos, present engaging visuals, and reach tons of users (400M+)“.
  • Top brands that use Instagram see engagement rates that are 58 times higher than Facebook and 120 times higher than on Twitter.
  • Temporary social media platforms, like Snapchat, offer much potential by creating a feeling of exclusivity with customers and fans. Brands can leverage ‘now or never’ promotions on this platform compelling users to take action. Also, they can encourage users to share experiences without worrying about leaving a permanent footprint.
  • In 2016, it was observed that 75% customers purchased a product because they saw it on social media.

The above are the reasons why restaurants and cafes are using various techniques to capture a wider market using social media marketing.

For example,  Milwaukee-based Camp Bar has multiple locations that they mention in their Twitter bio, allowing customers to track the nearest bar for them. On the other hand, Buffalo Wild Wings uses an Instagram account to feature their specialty meals prominently in their bio and in photos.

How do you use social media to your advantage?

  • Plan – Decide on the purpose of using social media. Do you want to attract new fans? Do you want to engage existing ones? Expose your brand or drive bookings? Study your competition?
  • Schedule – Create content consistently, so your brand becomes familiar to your audience. Also plan ahead to prepare for seasonal or holiday-related updates.
  • Check review sites – Your establishment may already have a profile on sites like Yelp, Google and other local review sites Zomato. Make sure it contains accurate information as sites like these receive a lot of engagement from customers.

3. Engage those that your audience looks up to

Influencer marketing looks set to grow as it is “a powerful and influential method of connection.” This is where brands employ people with a strong following on social media sites to promote them.

But does it work? Consider the this:

94% of those who used influencer marketing believe the tactic to be effective.

Influencer marketing’s top benefits entail:

  • Creating authentic content about their brand (87%)
  • Driving engagement around their brand (77%)
  • Driving traffic to their websites or landing pages (56%)

Pizza Pilgrims found that they got the most traction via influencer marketing when it involved people local (one mile r
adius) to the Pizza Pilgrims van in London’s Soho. For example look at their Instagram posts of a pizza box art gallery showing.


Life imitating (pizza) art @dom_wilson. #pizzaboxart gallery!

A post shared by pizzapilgrims (@pizzapilgrims) on

So how do you leverage influencer marketing?

  • Identify your influencers. Use tools like Klout, Google, Forbes top influencers list or Buzzsumo.
  • Create influencer lists around their areas of expertise, so your messages and promotion tactics are likely to resonate with them.
  • Share messages that resonate with your common audience like Marriott Hotels did with TED speaker Emilie Wapnick.

  • Create a memorable profile. Influencers tend to be busy people, so be sure to create social media profiles that are unique, loaded with value and memorable.
  • Be real. Want to develop real relationships with influencers? Then be a real person. Be sociable, friendly, honest and relatable.
  • Help your influencers. The more you do to help out your influencers, the better the chances of them noticing you. They are also more likely to be inclined to help you out at some point.
  • Give them a shout out. Who doesn’t like a bit of flattery, especially when done in public? So give them a shout out now and then on your social media profiles.
  • Ask them questions. Then share their input or perspective.
  • Make it easy for them to share. There is nothing like free promotion. Make it easy for influencers to share with a click or 2. Chances are they are more likely to follow through when you ask them.
  • Share influencer wisdom. Share quotes from the influencers in your industry where appropriate to get their attention and that of their followers.

4. Discover possibilities with virtual reality

Virtual Reality is a trend that could offer huge opportunities when marketing the hospitality sector.

Consider this:

  • Sight and smell have been found to dramatically alter a dining experience according to a study that showed that visual displays could impact the taste of whiskey.
  • Jamie Jones, group bar executive at Jason Atherton’s The Social Company says it may not be very long before customers could be transported via a VR headset to an all encompassing environment with all the associated smells and aromas.
  • McDonald’s in Sweden offered Happy meal boxes that could be turned into virtual reality goggles.

    • Use events to immerse users in an entertainment experience that adds excitement like Lûmé’s chef-owner Shaun Quade did during the Taste of Melbourne Festival. Using Samsung’s virtual reality headsets and matching headphones customers were able to watch 360 degree immersive video. Quade transported them to a private farm that grows unique hand picked produce, all without ever leaving the festival site.
    • Make use of commercial opportunities. It can help consumers make informed choices so they’ll be happier with their purchases, like Lowes does with their Holorooms in certain stores.

    • To make your story immersive and to add an exhilarating dimension to traditional print and video storytelling like The New York Times did.

    • Show people how a product can fit into an aspirational lifestyle.

    5. Be an early adopter of wearables

    Wearable technology has just begun scratching the surface with the enormous opportunities it can offer, by presenting a powerful  marketing platform in the hospitality sector.

    For example, Disney World allows guests to use the Disney MagicBand to replace papers tickets, gain access to their hotel rooms and plan their holidays.

    For cafe’s, pubs and restaurants, the use of tablets for wait staff isn’t very practical especially in high-profile or high-volume outlets, where their role is centered on receiving and delivering orders. The smart watch instead could provide a distinct advantage; easily displaying orders and notifications that busy wait staff and bartenders would notice and respond to, without having to handle a tablet or mobile phone. This trend is already being implemented by Resy and is certain to become mainstream.

    These developments are relevant for digital marketing as it is noted that currently 9.5% of internet users own a smart watch. While the number may be relatively small, Business Insider predicts the smart watch category will grow at a compound annual rate of 41% over the next five years, which could bring that figure up to almost 27% in just three years.

    How can you prepare to harness wearable technology?

    • Help reduce waiting times. Technology such as smart watches or smart phones can allow guests to bypass the front desk and go directly to their reserved tables all with a simple swipe.
    • Replace payment processors. Hospitality industries’ payment processors are often vulnerable to being hacked and can result in customer data or customer bank accounts being made vulnerable. You can minimize the risk here by allowing payment via a customer’s wearable technology (smartwatches or smartphones).
    • Leverage big data. Pubs, restaurants and cafes could benefit greatly by using wearable technology on their site. You could record guest data to see which demographics gravitate towards your property and which parts of your property guests tend to use during different times of the day. Website metrics and campaign effectiveness can also be measured.
      For example, Disney Theme Parks already makes use of this technology at both their parks and hotels. They can, therefore, track guests purchase of food and gifts. With that kind of data, Disney can help keep the theme park stocked with preferred food and gifts, reduce waste and overstocking.

    6. You are missing out if you are not doing this

    According to Skift’s 2016 megatrends report, big budget, showy video productions are being replaced by more immersive storytelling-type productions. Marriott Hotel’s “French Kiss” film with over 6 million YouTube hits is a good example of this.

    The trend has already started in the hospitality industry, with cafes like The Association Coffee Shop in London. They created a soft, clean promotional video which features the coffee shop along with different coffee and pastry choices.

    Video marketing has been around for a while but looks likely to increase. Consider the following trends in this space.

    • At present around 87% of online marketing campaigns are using videos.
    • There were over 4.4 million videos uploaded directly to Facebook in February 2016, generating over 199 billion views.
    • YouTube reports that mobile video consumption increases by 100% year-on-year
    • Invodo found that 92% of consumers share video content with others.
    • Facebook users watch 8 billion videos per day.
    • Snapchat users watch 10 billion videos per day.
    • The equivalent of 110 years of live video is watched on Periscope every day.
    • In 2017, video content will represent 74% of all internet traffic.

    According to Debbie Miller, President of Social Hospitality:

    Social video will continue to be a key trend in 2017. Between Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Video, the options are becoming more vast and are constantly evolving.

    Having said that, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is in creating videos.

    So how do you create engaging video content? Here are a few ideas that require only your computer or smartphone and some imagination.

    • Show customer stories and testimonials
    • Bring offline experiences online like Mercedes Benz does in this video of a technician servicing a car.

    • Broadcast live video of events.
    • Share user generated videos like this Go Pro video.

    • Create short “Thank you” videos from your team to new customers or customers that you upsell.
    • Show a demo of your product or a behind the scenes look of your business.

    • Create longer product demonstrations and whiteboard-style videos for more complex products or with experts in the industry
    • Create an explainer video to give users an overview of your solution, like Spotify did when they launched in the US.

    • Create how-to videos or animated GIFs.

    • Tell a story. In other words, follow a narrative.
    • Interview knowledgeable and key members of your business or other influencers in your industry.

    7. Be responsive

    Given trends over the past few years it is no longer a debatable as to whether you should have a responsive site. Consider the following:

    • 95% of smartphone users conducting restaurant searches.
    • 48% of restaurant website traffic happens on smartphones and they have as much as a 64% conversion rate.
    • Google views mobile-friendly websites as being in line with one of its search friendly requirements for higher search rankings.

    Apart from responsive sites, mobile payment platforms like PayPal and Apple Pay are also set to be used more frequently, which only highlights the need for a mobile-first strategy with regards to your web presence.

    How do you leverage the rising trend of mobile friendly sites?

    • Use a mobile first design approach to modifications to your site. The premise made is your site should operate best on a mobile device. When viewed on a desktop computer, the site can have more features and space to utilize.
    • Make it easy to update. You will need to add to the menu, have specials added or removed in which case you need to do so quickly without much effort.
    • Ensure your page loading speed is optimal. People often access their mobile devices on slower connections than laptops or desktops, so your site’s loading speed is critical. According to Google research, more than half of all users will move on to another site if yours does not load fast enough.
    • Ensure that the person(s) in charge of your website constantly has their finger on the pulse of ever-changing trends. A dated website implies a dated venue.
    • Make it easy to accept orders or reservations.
    • Ensure you can use email marketing which can also synch with an app (if you have one) or sms marketing.
    • Make booking and navigation on your site easy and user-friendly.
    • Ensure it is SEO’ed. The search engines including Google are constantly evolving so have someone ensure your site meets current requirements so you can focus on your business.

    48% of Restaurant website traffic happens on smartphoones

    8. Use deeper analytics

    A recent survey conducted by CMO indicated that the hospitality industry will increase its collective marketing analytics spending by 60% for the year 2017. The main reason for such a massive growth in this trend is the presence of a large amount of easily accessible consumer data which can effectively used by restaurants to optimize their efficiency and increase profits.

    One of the prime examples of using such techniques is the Avero slingshot, a web based software service that allows restaurants track complex metrics like sales trends, employee overtime, and food orders from suppliers in real time. The software is currently being used by 40,000 restaurants in over 70 countries.

    Over to you

    As we have seen, content remains king, but customers prefer content that is meaningful and adds value to their experience. That is why visual content will continue to play such a pivotal role. Take the following for example:

    • Instagram looks to be increasingly important in hospitality marketing thanks to its ability to play videos, present engaging visuals and reach tons of users.
    • Temporary social media sites, like Snapchat, appeal to consumers who can share experiences without worrying about leaving a permanent ‘footprint.’
    • Virtual Reality offers huge potential as customers no longer want to just be sold on food or drinks, they want to be sold an experience. A virtual tour showing where produce is sourced from or what happens behind the scenes is the perfect way to market to this desire.

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