Stephanie Sparks Smith is CEO and Digital Matriarch at Cogwheel Marketing™️ and partner and consultant at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. Her agency focuses on helping hotel owners and management companies drive incremental exposure and revenue to their websites and online channels through hotel digital marketing and advertising. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Stephanie about her perspective on the impact of guest reviews on marketing.
Please listen to enjoy all of Stephanie Smith’s expert insights in her own voice; you won't want to miss a single concept. You can also find below Adele's top 10 takeaways from the conversation.
Adele’s Top Ten Takeaways:
#1. Great reviews are the foundation for successful marketing. Stephanie sees that reviews are a core part of the hotel selection process. Enthusiastic reviews and recommendations can support and amplify the ROI on your sales and marketing initiatives because they increase online visibility, provide support and social proof for sales and marketing messaging, and elevate consumer confidence and perceived value for both new and returning guests.
#2. Service is Marketing: Sub-optimal reviews, whether they are bad or simply underwhelming, neutral reviews (aka 4 out of 5) can severely deflate and restrict revenue optimization. It is not efficient to spend more money on beautiful advertising promising a great experience, when potential travelers will then seek to learn more about the property and the hotel's reviews don’t support the marketing messages. Bad reviews undermine marketing by making potential guests feel that their time and money could be better spent at another business with a better reputation.
#3. Going from Good to Great will definitely boost your revenue: Stephanie points out that most hoteliers don’t worry about reviews unless they are bad, but that means that the majority of hoteliers who are getting acceptable 4-star reviews are also missing out on a huge opportunity to bump up their hotel’s visibility and perceived value by inspiring more enthusiasm.
#4. Optimize Earned Online Visibility: You can’t make it to the bottom of the funnel if you can’t be seen on the top or middle funnel. Hotels with the highest percentage of 5-star reviews and a lower percentage of 1-, 2- and 3-star reviews get higher placement and increased visibility in the algorithms of Google, Tripadvisor, and Online Travel Agency websites.
#5. Make sure your product looks great and tastes great. Think about how you would sell your product in a store. You want to merchandise your product well. That means having attractive packaging, great placement, and a product that’s so good, so delicious, and exceeds all the promises made on the tin so that people want to buy it again. You also want to give people something unique to talk about so they can’t wait to share their experience with the world on social media.
#6. Reviews are not for leisure travelers only! Stephanie shared that for meeting planners, reviews/reputation are the #2 factor in selecting a property. And remember, it is easier to rebook an event that delivers smooth consistent service with a little extra wow, so inspire your team to always go the extra mile for each guest and meeting planner. That way your sales team can focus on building new incremental business, not replacing what you lost.
When you work smart, the attendees will also share the positive experience and drive new inquiries to you.
#7. Close that sale! Making a short list of preferred hotels doesn’t always confirm the volume of bookings. Even if you’re invited to be on the preferred list for a conference or corporate rate agreement, often the traveler still has the final choice. That means an excellent online presence, including a wealth of five-star reviews can make a difference that exceeds revenue forecasts.
#8. Get More Bang For Your Bucks! When thinking about ways to optimize the impact of advertising dollars, think about cultivating your guest experience to get consistently high online review scores. It is not efficient to throw money on ads if after travelers see the ad, they find a lack of five-star reviews to support the ads with social proof. It is even more pointless to spend a lot of dollars when numerous negative reviews counter the claims of the advertising. Service is Marketing! Be sure you are delivering on the brand promises consistently for every guest to build your online reputation.
#9. Start with the Low Hanging Fruit. A powerful and relatively easy place to win the hearts, and five-star reviews of your guests is in your bars and restaurants. Food and beverage service offers a wealth of opportunities to wow your guests, delight all their senses, and provide high-touch service that makes memories and traditions. It's also the easiest part of the travel experience to share on social media, including guest reviews.
While you are elevating your guests' joy, you also need to diminish the friction points that annihilate your review scores. Listen to what's bothering your guests and immediately start challenging your team to identify ways to reduce the chance of similar problems arising for other guests. We can change how we do things, and we must learn every day how to be a little better at our profession than the day before if we want to continually grow our revenue.
#10. The Power is in Your Hands: Stephanie and Adele agree that while we can’t control every aspect of the sales funnel, hoteliers have a very high degree of control over the guest experience we deliver and the kind of reviews your team can inspire. Creating a culture of caring, collaboration and continuous improvement is an achievable goal for any business and an important aspect of enhancing your marketing ROI.
You can get immediate access to Adele's Top Ten Tips to Take Your Team to the Top on Tripadvisor (and other review sites as well)! Just click the link and get started on the path to greater profitability.
Thank you Stephanie Smith of Cogwheel Marketing!
Thank you, Stephanie, for being such an inspiring leader in Hospitality Marketing! I invite everyone looking for marketing guidance for branded hotels to connect with Stephanie. The expertise of Cogwheel Marketing is knowing the intricacies of the branded hotel systems and understanding where brand marketing stops and hotel-level marketing begins. Cogwheel Analytics™️ , developed by Cogwheel Marketing, is a hotel digital marketing reporting and BI tool that aggregates data from multiple sources to allow companies to identify trends and opportunities in their online presence.
Thank you so much to our sponsor Guest Chat.
If you still haven’t made the move to provide automated assistance for your team to answer common questions and reservation inquiries, now is the time. Thanks to our new sponsor, Guest Chat, you can easily and affordably bring chat box automation to your hotel now.
My friends at Guest Chat are offering a 90-day free trial with no contract or obligation. Just visit https://www.guestchat.com/adele and you can enjoy that free, no obligation 90-day trial.
I am looking forward to hearing from you about how the service at Guest Chat impacts your staff, your revenue, and your guest review scores.
Thank you to our listeners!
If you are the General Manager or owner of a hotel with a stellar 5-star Review Reputation, I want to interview you! Please feel free to make my day and reach out to me here.
If you are a hospitality leader and would like some help implementing these ideas, it would be my pleasure to make the process easy for you. Please click here to set up a time for us to create a plan for your success!
Thank you all for listening, subscribing, and sharing!
Have a great week, and keep reaching for the stars!