Email marketing is old school as far as digital marketing goes. It’s not as trendy as social media or viral videos, but this old workhorse shouldn’t be abandoned. If you’re after a marketing approach that’s cost-effective and reliable, you should be using email marketing.
Hotels are well-placed to take advantage of email marketing. Regardless, there are plenty of ways email marketing can fall flat - and even damage your business.
Want your marketing emails to be more effective? Here are some tips.
Obtaining email addresses
1. Ask for email addresses during the booking process if you don't already.
2. Ask again on check-in or check-out.
3. Another way to obtain guest email addresses is to ask guests if they'd like a copy of their final bill to be emailed to them.
4. Provide an incentive for signing up, such as a small discount on their next visit.
5. You're legally required to warn guests if you want to send marketing emails to their address, or pass these details onto a third party such as TripAdvisor.
6. Guests are usually reluctant to provide email addresses. Gain trust by only using email marketing for feedback purposes to begin with. You can later ask guests if you can send across marketing emails with offers and discounts in them.
Planning and purpose
7. Don't send a marketing email out unless you can pinpoint its specific purpose.
8. Objectives can include filling empty weekend bookings, boosting bookings for a quiet period (such as winter), improving the percentage of returning guests, and increasing referrals.
9. Segment your marketing emails based on your objective and characteristics of your customers. For example, if you want to turn one-time customers into repeat visitors, filter your database and only send emails to guests who've visited once.
10. Have a single aim per email. Remember that most people will only glance at your message. You only have a few seconds to get your message across and encourage readers to click through or call up, so keep your message clear and simple.
11. Plan automated emails. Think about the situations where you'd like to contact customers automatically, such as a week after their stay or 24 hours before they visit. These emails can serve many purposes such as reducing no-shows and encouraging online reviews.
12. Think about how to provide value to your subscribers. Offer more than just discounts. Exclusive recipes from the chef, supplier information and interviews, and suggestions of what to do and where to visit in the local area can all encourage customers to keep reading and stay subscribed.
Creating your emails
13. Choose your platform. Avoid using Gmail or Outlook for email marketing. Look for specialist services such as MailChimp, Dotmailer or Constant Contact. MailChimp is the most popular platform and has a free tier that should meet most of your needs.
14. If you're after more TripAdvisor reviews, consider TripAdvisor Review Express. This free tool lets you send emails with TripAdvisor review prompts to past guests, with free templates and default text that's translated into more than 20 languages.
15. Take time to learn the ropes of whatever platform you choose. Make use of the preview option, and send test emails to your own address to see how they look.
16. Utilise templates when crafting your emails. Start with a simple, single column template with space for an image and some text. Familiarise yourself with populating templates before you move onto more complex designs.
17. Personalise your emails using merge tags and other features. MailChimp can draw on all fields of data in your email marketing database. Use merge tags to draw on this data and personalise your emails. For example, automatically populate each email with the sender's first name, so you can greet them in a more personal manner than 'dear guest'.
18. Place the most important content above the 'fold'. This old newspaper advertising trick applies in the digital age. When users open emails, on many devices they'll only see the top section of the email - so don't fill this part with fluff.
19. Add a call to action. Invite readers to call the hotel to make a booking, click through to the website to book online, or follow you on your new Twitter or Instagram account. Stick to one call to action per email and make sure it helps to meet your objective.
20. Use high quality images in your emails. Take advantage of the free image hosting that many email marketing services provide and use high quality photos. There's no need to use poor quality JPGs if you're not shouldering the costs of hosting them.
21. Follow design rules. Don't write in capital letters, stick to one colour and several shades of that colour, use only a couple of typefaces, ensure text is legible (in terms of its size and readability on its background), and so on. Your emails must look professional if you want them to be taken seriously.
22. Be concise. As we mentioned above, readers aren't going to spend more than 30 seconds looking at your emails, so don't waste this limited time period with needlessly long text. Get to the point.
23. Learn how to avoid junk filters. Email clients are getting better at filtering spam, but marketing emails can get caught up in these filters if you aren't careful. Avoid using too many words like 'SALE' and 'GUARANTEE'. Don't use video. Avoid buying lists of emails as these recipients are more likely to mark your emails as spam. Balance links and images with plenty of text.
24. Keep your brand in mind. Remember that your brand is more than a logo and colour scheme - it's your values and way of working. If your business prides itself on being a luxury hotel with no expense spared, this professionalism should extend to your emails. Don't start using emojis!
25. Calculate the costs and benefits of automation. If you'd like to send out automated emails before or after a customer's stay, you'll almost certainly have to pay more for an automated email service. Consider the costs and benefits of these emails.
26. Don't go overboard. Automated emails quickly lose their potency if you send out more than a handful. Pinpoint specific circumstances that'll trigger an automated email.
27. Carry out A/B testing. A/B testing is a valuable tool for email marketers. It amounts to changing a variable (or multiple variables) for some email recipients and analysing how the change affected open and click rates. It's particularly useful when you're settling on an effective design for your automated emails.
Feedback and refinement
28. Keep track of unsubscribe rates, and if unsubscribes are triggered by a certain type of email. The percentage of unsubscribes is a key source of feedback about your marketing emails.
29. If you don't already, start asking new guests where they heard about your business. They may have had a marketing email forwarded to them.
30. Use Google Analytics to track the behaviour of email subscribers once they reach your site. You'll be able to find out which content catches their attention, and if it keeps it.
31. Ask a friend or someone with fresh eyes to look over your marketing emails and see what they think. It's easy to become blind to errors or flawed design if you've been working on emails for hours.
However important and enlightening you believe your marketing emails to be, your guests won't place the same value on them. Step into their shoes: they may receive dozens of marketing emails every week, and it takes a special subject line or a strong affinity with a business to tempt them to open any of them.
When drafting marketing emails, consider how to make them something useful, and not an annoyance. If you're lucky (and thorough!) you can gain the trust of your subscribers and turn them into loyal customers who might even look forward to opening your emails!
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