Internet marketing is the practice of marketing goods and services electronically over the internet (Chaffey, 2003:45-46). As the capabilities of both technology and the internet have expanded it has become easier to market directly and indirectly to a wide market demographic in a cost effective and efficient manner. According to Kasper et al “internet marketing ties together the creative and technical aspects of the Internet, including design, development, advertising, and sales,” (2006:209). Internet marketing also differs from more traditional marketing approaches in that it relies far more heavily on the placement of media throughout the process of engagement with the potential customer, utilising techniques such as banner-ads and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to raise the prominence of the organisation in question.
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This report will focus on the development of an e-marketing strategy for the Pennine Manor Hotel in Outlane, an established country house hotel which would benefit from enhanced e-marketing to attract a wider range and greater number of visitors for both leisure and business purposes. Currently the hotel has no website of its won and relies on meta-crawlers to publicise it such as the AA hotel guide. Therefore this report will analyse the current activities at the hotel in terms of e-marketing and suggest a range of improvements to increase visitor numbers and revenue.
2.0 Background and Scope
The Pennine Manor Hotel in Outlane is an established country house hotel listed in the AA Good Hotel Guide with a modest 3-star rating. Described by the AA as “an attractive stone built hotel which enjoys magnificent views over the valley”, the hotel is popular with tourists and business users alike for its conference facilities in a panoramic location. However, despite advertising that it has the latest conference facilities available the hotel itself does not have its own website or direct e-commerce facilities and instead relies on meta-crawlers and other 3rd party websites with free advertising to market the hotel in a media context.
This presents three significant challenges. Firstly it now makes the hotel appear unprofessional if they cannot market themselves appropriately (Brassington and Pettitt, 2006:78-79) secondly, by relying on third parties to marketing them the hotel has no control of the image which is portrayed (Avlonitis and Indounas, 2005:47-57) and thirdly, it also give the hotel very limited ability to monitor and measure the success of their e-marketing channel (Gummesson, 2008:116-119). In short it makes the e-marketing element of their overall marketing strategy appear as an afterthought and not as an integrated marketing channel or a tactical approach to marketing and improving the perception of the hotel. Thus, the following section of this report will comprise of a situational analysis using suitable marketing frameworks to establish an operating platform for improvement.
3.0 Situation analysis
From a political perspective, there are no direct issues which the hotel must respond to, however in the wider context they must be aware that as the UK economy looks set to fall into a double-dip recession they must consider how they can market their way through such challenging times when businesses and leisure visitors alike cut either their marketing budget or their discretionary spend
Economically as the real value of money in the UK is falling and it would appear as if the economy is at genuine risk of stagflation, then the hotel must consider how to spend their own marketing budget wisely to attract a range of guests to the hotel. This will be necessary if they are to survive the predicted period of austerity in the UK economy.
Socially as UK disposable income falls for most families, the hotel will have to consider how they can market the hotel effectively to a far wider range of potential guests from overseas. It is clear that the UK domestic or “staycation” market is unlikely to be lively in 2011.
With technology becoming increasingly powerful and cost effective there is virtually no excuse for not operating a website, nor even operating a skeleton Customer Relationship Management system to keep track of past customers and to consider how to segment the market to attract new guests to the hotel.
Legally the hotel must apprise themselves of legislation relating to e-commerce and security such as data protection and encryption of sensitive customer details. Any e-commerce facilities they operate must be able to handle credit card transactions in a secure manner.
One of the many benefits of e-marketing is the fact that it is extremely environmentally friendly as it does not require costly or environmentally damaging printing and distribution requirements of more traditional marketing methods.
The hotel has several strengths, such as its excellent location which is both rural yet easily accessible. It also has an excellent reputation which it should use as part of its marketing campaign. It is clear that the hotel has repeat custom and therefore this offers an excellent opportunity for direct and customised e-marketing to encourage regular customers to return.
There are several opportunities available to the hotel, not least of which is that in a challenging market those businesses which market themselves strongly are far more likely to attract custom in difficult times. By operating ahead of their competition in the immediate locality and contacting other businesses who may require their facilities directly this could be an ideal way to attract more commercial guests.
The hotel has left itself exposed in marketing terms by failing to act proactively with regard to its own website or e-commerce facilities. This makes the hotel seem “behind the times” and less attractive to commercial customers, thus they are missing an ideal opportunity to market effectively and directly to many potential customers.
The hotel faces direct competition from other similar hotels within a 30 mile radius, although none have the AA recognition or star rating of the Pennine Hotel. Moreover, with the UK economy in its current challenge conditions they must look to market more creatively both domestically and in foreign markets if they are to widen their potential market.
Having established that the Pennine Hotel is well positioned within the market, but failing to market itself effectively against its competitors it is necessary to set out a series of e-marketing objectives using the SMART principle (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based). These objectives are set out below and encompass strategic, tactical and operational objectives.
Conduct an in-depth competitor analysis to establish the strengths and weaknesses of competitors within a 30 mile radius. Use this information to develop and implement an immediate to medium term strategic direction for the Pennine Hotel which targets the gaps in the market. The plan is to be designed within 3 months and the objectives to be implemented in full within 6 months. The plan should be designed to increase guest occupancy by 20% within 6 months.
In line with the strategic objectives conduct a full market analysis which focuses on market segmentation and customer needs. Create a targeted marketing plan which utilises e-marketing channels to directly address the needs of commercial, domestic and foreign visitors, further segmented by repeat and new custom. Establish a range of packages or options which meet the needs of the customers and establish advertising within 2 months to be implemented in full within 4 months. Use metrics to track the effectiveness of the advertising campaigns (Zeithaml et al, 2009:136-141).
Design and launch a website which meets the generic needs of all current and potential guests. This should be themed to showcase the best attributes of the hotel and also designed so as to appeal to both domestic and commercial visitors (eg highlighting contemporary bedrooms and exceptional conference facilities). Website prototype to be created within one month and launched within two months, and the website is to support full e-commerce facilities and have tracking capability to monitor hits to the website and length of browse time on each page (McDonald and Payne, 2006:321-333).
According to Grunroos brand awareness “is a marketing concept that measures consumers’ knowledge of a brand’s existence. At the aggregate (brand) level, it refers to the proportion of consumers who know of the brand,” (2007:118). For the Pennine Hotel it is clear that there is limited brand awareness outside of their immediate geography due to their limited marketing tactics. Thus, the following strategy is proposed to raise immediate market and brand awareness via e-marketing channels.
Given that the Pennine Hotel is not part of an existing hotel chain which can leverage core brand equity, it is recommended that the hotel seek to dramatically increase awareness through their own website which pushes them to the top of search engine rankings in their own right, and simultaneously seek reciprocal partnership arrangements with links from mutually beneficial sites which will also raise brand awareness and appeal to a wider market.
Although it is acknowledged that this may create some initial resource challenges in terms of building the links to partner businesses and also building the website, research by academics such as Chaffey (2006) has demonstrated that effective websites generate their own return on investment extremely quickly. As it is also clear that currently the hotel has no means to generate a website without expert assistance (otherwise it would already be in existence), then they should look to obtain the services of web-design expert who has previously built sites for other hotels. This knowledge will enable the Pennine hotel to benefit from the designers’ previous experience whilst adding their own touches to the website (Chaffey, 2006).
With regard to the actual design of the website which is estimated to take one moth under the plans outlined above, a paper prototyping approach has been adopted with sample images as guidelines from other competitor websites included in appendix 1 (Snyder, 2003). Given that resources in terms of marketing budget are likely to be constrained for the Pennine Hotel, then paper prototyping is a quick and easy method of sketching out what would be appropriate as a website. Moreover, once the site has been built and is fully operational the use of metrics to track customer browsing experiences will offer guides as to how to shape the website to appeal to a wide range of potential guests. As observed by Snyder, (2003) website design is not an exact science and it will require tweaks and adjustment until it fully reflects the needs of the hotel. Moreover, the website design must reflect the hotel brand and must also be easy to navigate and browse. The wireframe sketch is demonstrated below.
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Having established that a website marketing strategy is required will full e-commerce capability the next phase of the process is to design the website in conjunction with market analysis. This will ensure that the website meets not only the needs of the Pennine Hotel in terms of showcasing its capabilities, but also that any gaps in the market are fulfilled in terms of facilities that guests may require. Examples of this include exceptional bedroom facilities, conference locations, spa treatments or convenience to local amenities such as walks or historic attractions. By highlighting the available facilities on the website and also carefully wording the website so that it scores highly on search engine optimisation this will ensure that the website will serve its desired purpose (Lovelock and Wirtz, 2010:214-216).
Within the overall strategic objectives of the Pennine Hotel e-marketing plan it has been determined that the website design and implementation are of immediate priority as the hotel seeks to market through difficult financial times, and also to position itself within the market place as the leading hotel in the area in terms of facilities. Therefore the first action is to seek out a suitably qualified and experienced website designer with experience in the specific area of hotel website design so that the Pennine hotel can benefit from his or her knowledge and experience in this area (Strauss et al, 2008).
The final issue to consider is one of monitoring and control. This has been touched upon previously in section 5 above, however it is of critical importance to establish and implement a tracking plan which will permit the management team at the Pennine Hotel to establish which elements of the website are the most popular or successful in terms of hits and browsing times. If the website has been carefully designed and is easy to navigate it is then a simple matter to add or remove content to ensure that the website remains fresh and at the top of SEO listings. This should also be checked with reference to very short customer service questionnaires which can be raised as pop-ups on the website. This information will be particularly valuable to the Pennine Hotel in establishing the effectiveness of the website.
With regard to metrics these must adopt a two-phase approach; One strand to concentrate on tracking the effectiveness of the website, and the other to match this against any changes to the website and corresponding uplift or downturn in occupancy or revenue. It is important to recognise that there will be seasonality in demand and thus the longer the tracker can run for, the more effective and useful it will be. An outline 6 month tracker plan is laid out below.
- Design and apply index tools which will track and monitor up to 50,000 hits per month.
- Establish visitor tracking and block IP addresses of Pennine Hotel employees,
- Send automatic reports of usage to nominated emails,
- Track SSL,
- Track user-defined actions,
- Perform ration conversion analysis
Avlonitis, G. & Indounas K. (2005) Pricing objectives and pricing methods in the service sector Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 19, No.1, pp.47-57.
Brassington. F., & Pettitt, S., (2006) Principles of Marketing Financial Times/ Prentice Hall; 5th edition
Chaffey, D., (2006) Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice Financial Times/ Prentice Hall; 3 edition
Chaffey, D., (2003) E-Business and E-Commerce Financial Times/ Prentice Hall; 2 edition
Grunroos, C., (2007), Service Management and Marketing, 3 rd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Gummesson, E., (2008) Total Relationship Marketing, 3rd ed, Elsevier.
Kasper, H., van Helsdingen, P. and Gabbott, M. (2006) Services Marketing Management: A strategic perspective, 2nd Edition, John Wiley and Sons
Lovelock, C. and Wirtz, J. (2010) Services Marketing: People, Technology, Strategy, 7th Edition, Pearson.
McDonald, M. and Payne, A. (2006) Marketing Plans for Service Businesses, 2nd Edition, Elsevier.
Snyder, Carolyn (2003). Paper Prototyping: the fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Strauss, J., Frost, R., & El-Ansary, A., (2008) E-Marketing Prentice Hall; 5 edition
Zeithaml, V., Bitner, M.J. and Gremler (2009) Services Marketing: Integrating customer focus across the firm, 5th Edition, McGraw-Hill.
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