Anand Ramadurai, Vice President – Marketing, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) shares his views on how the brand has been successful in leveraging digital marketing during the crisis. Excerpts from the interview:
The COVID -19 has pushed stakeholders of the tourism industry to go aggressive with their digital marketing strategy. How are you re-strategizing your marketing and promotional plan?
Digital marketing has always been a key area of focus for Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), and a substantial proportion of marketing spends have been allocated to digital marketing. In the current context and immediate period going forward, it is expected that travellers will seek greater comfort in seamless online journeys. In fact, recent studies have shown that there has been an exponential rise in the time people have spent on digital platforms or browsing social media channels over the period of the lockdown. This has led to a boom in digital and social media content consumption. We are optimizing our websites in line with the anticipated consumer trends so that discoverability is made easier. Our customer outreach plans currently centre around the digital space.
What new elements have you incorporated in your current digital marketing strategy and how are you planning to approach the market? Is this going to be a long-term strategy or just a temporary requirement?
Consumption of data and content in the digital space has increased manifold, and we have stepped up our engagement through our social media outreach. We will be soon launching chat-bots to provide increased touchpoints for the consumer and enhance their experience with the brand. Similarly, enhancements in our Mobile App is also underway.
We strongly believe that the trends that have surfaced in this recent period have been under-currents that were bound to see the light of day in the near future. The COVID-19 crisis has largely served to precipitate action and bring digital initiatives to the centre-stage of an organization’s plans.
What appealing offers/incentives you are rolling out in the market to draw travelers?
Our customer propositions are based on a well-founded understanding of the consumer and insights with regards to their requirements. For example, our 4D – Dream, Drive, Discover and Delight travel offer is based on the insight that consumers, having been cooped up within the confines of their homes, will be looking forward to taking a break. However, social distancing and increased awareness about health and hygiene will continue to be priority, and people will be keen to travel to destinations within close vicinity of their homes; thereby leading to an increase in demand for driving holidays. Our 4D offer gives guests the perfect opportunity to drive with families and friends to discover, unwind, and be one with nature once again at our resorts and hotels across the country.
Our Urban Getaways proposition provides consumers who wish to take a break, an opportunity to enjoy a mini vacation within the safety and comfort of their resident city. We have several other such consumer-focused propositions that we will be bringing to the market progressively.
Evaluating the ROI has been one of the major challenges for digital marketing. What mechanism are you putting place to measure the ROI?
Digital marketing is a space where at least indicative ROIs are relatively easier to arrive at than anything done in the off-line space. Using analytical tools and an attribution model, we get an indication of the impact our digital campaigns have on generating revenue.
It is however, important to note that while campaigns may serve to drive traffic to our website, the customer may then decide to book through our Customer Service Centre or directly at the hotel. In order to account for such reservations and bookings, which will not be captured in conversions or ROI calculations, it is critical to look at the trend rather than only focusing on the absolute number. As long as we use like-to-like comparisons, one can assess what’s working.
Furthermore, we do A/B tests on our websites on a regular basis so that we can take informed decisions.
On which social media platforms are you present and how is the response? How are you leveraging social media platforms?
We are present across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Each of these perform different roles and are important in their own right. Instagram has increasingly become the platform that showcases a greater degree of engagement, while Facebook has the largest audience that one can reach out to.
We use social media as a platform for storytelling for our brands and I believe it can be a significant channel to establish our brands. We have started increasingly experimenting with Instagram Live – starting with Yoga Day – and we will continue to use different formats to engage with our audience. With amongst the best collection of Safari Lodges in the country, we have also now started to have live sessions with our naturalists, which allows consumers from across the globe to not only connect with the brand but also experience armchair travel.
Besides content, social media remains an important channel for any campaign. We use different techniques to target relevant audiences for different consumer propositions and offers, and direct them to our website for bookings.
Has Social Media brought in transparency in the travel segment (for example: the reviews and comments) and how is it received by the travel trade?
The digital space in general has been a great leveler as it gives voice to even a single individual. Consistent with its wonderful culture of service, IHCL has recognized the importance of this channel and built an online reputation management platform to listen to and respond to comments in the online space. We call this Taj.Live. This enables us to be closer to customers, resolve concerns quicker, and in general understand what people are talking about and engaging with the brand.
Reviews have become an integral part of many online users’ journeys. As individuals, we tend to rely more on what our peers have experienced, than what a company or brand puts out. We see this as an opportunity, a mirror that reflects what consumers see of us – areas of excellence that we can further strengthen, and things that can be further improved and enhanced.
However, like two sides of a coin, digital and social media platforms come with their own set of challenges and this is something that is something every brand has to manage.
Anything more you would like to add from your side
We believe that for a brand to successfully communicate with its target audiences in relevant and timely manner, it is key that the brand’s digital marketing plan has to be integrated into the overall marketing and communication strategy and approach. Further, each digital channel has to come together seamlessly and evaluating each one – be it search, meta search or social media – independently could lead to incorrect conclusions. Digital marketing is a fine blend of science and art!