Your customers have always been a key marketing channel. On a basic level, if any of us has a fantastic (or dreadful) experience, we talk about it. We share recommendations of good restaurants, great customer service and must-do activities. But in recent years, this type of conversation has become super-charged.
With so many forms of communication now available – from online reviews and blog posts to social media – opinions have never been so visible, or so important. And fundamentally, people care more about what their peers think than what a company tells them.
Consumer-led marketing essentially does what it says on the tin: letting your consumers guide marketing outputs and feed into what you do. It can take many forms – including online reviews and testimonials, word of mouth, social media posts about your company and even frequently asked questions. In many ways it’s more passive than traditional marketing – it’s less about direct intervention and more about natural conversation. But there are still important things that you can do to create and use it.
Get the most out of reviews
For many hotel or holiday property guests, it’s an accepted part of the travel experience: pack up, move on, post a review. Online travel agents (OTAs), holiday review sites, Facebook and Google all encourage public feedback, and to many in hospitality it’s a mixed blessing. The same often applies to online sales, with purchasers using social media for reviews as well as heading over to platforms like Trustpilot to comment on their experience.
There will always be negative comments, but don’t underestimate the value of the positive. Gen Z (also known as post-millennials; those born after 1995) has grown particularly impatient with brand messaging. This generation knows when it’s being sold to, and prefers to know what its peers think. They actively seek out reviews and listen to what their connections are saying on social media.
So how can you make the most of reviews? If you’re able, add quotes as testimonials on relevant pages of your website – for instance, a review mentioning a specific product or the fantastic view from one hotel bedroom could be placed on the relevant page for maximum impact. If you receive a positive review from a blogger or publication, ask permission to post it (or at least a link to its source) on your own blog and social media. Finally, to facilitate reviews, make sure the reviews tab is enabled on your Facebook page and monitor any submissions to make sure you’re responding to the negative and positive points.
Encourage the conversation
Just as audiences are convinced by reviews, they’re also convinced by any kind of peer opinion, however informal. Research into digital marketing has shown that user content on Instagram has a 10% better conversion rate than branded content. Which means that the artful shot your guest takes of their sunny balcony could well be more effective than your own scheduled imagery.
First off, be sure that your social media handles are properly promoted – feature them in your emails, on your website, and in any brochures or welcome packs you produce. This reminds people that you’re there, and makes it easy for them to talk about you.
But remember that it’s not just up your customers to create conversation – invest time in being active on your social media platforms, responding to comments with care and engaging with key businesses in your local area. A staggering 90% of people would recommend a brand to friends after interacting with it on social media, so don’t just leave people to talk amongst themselves.
To encourage posts, consider creating a branded hashtag and actively invite customers to share their photos and experiences online. To really promote it, be sure to feature this on your profile and on any relevant marketing.
Embracing the potential of customer content, the five-star Conrad Maldives Rangali Island even employs Instagram butlers to show guests how to take the best possible pictures of the resort. The cynical may dismiss this as a marketing gimmick, but if it is, it’s a clever one – the resort’s Instagram location feed is full of truly beautiful images that sell, sell, sell. Now, we know the average marketing budget doesn’t stretch to an in-house social media butler, but this move does prove one thing: peer-to-peer marketing is mighty persuasive.
Stop, look and listen
Let’s say you’re a hotel that’s created the perfect climate for guests to share their experiences – your social media is active, you’re getting reviews and you’ve even persuaded Bob in bookings to act as an Instagram butler. In terms of consumer-led marketing, you’re almost doing a great job. Don’t forget the final and most important element: listen. If people are talking, listen to what they’re saying and act on it.
Set aside time to actively use social media, searching for your name (and any shortened versions or misspellings) in posts. Check review sites to see what’s being said, and judge whether you need to respond. With consumers holding all the cards, every part of what they say and do is valuable feedback. On a basic level, this may mean changing elements of your service that cause complaints (no surprises there). It may also mean recognising elements that you’re underselling – if guests constantly comment on a particular experience or photograph one spot, check that it features prominently in your marketing.
Look out also for areas of uncertainty; if people regularly comment that they didn’t expect something or weren’t sure how to handle it, revisit your website text or sales/booking/conversion process to address these issues before they arise.
With modern consumers preferring to make their own decisions, rather than being influenced by marketing, part of a brand’s job is to make their research process easy. To do this, try pre-empting frequently asked questions in your marketing collateral, from early-stage research (what sort of price point is it?) to later-stage queries (is XYZ included in the sale, or purchased separately?) It also helps to check you have an intuitive website process (can they actually find the information they’re looking for?) and to make yourselves available and approachable if people have questions. Most of these elements can be covered without readers feeling that you’re overtly selling to them – you’ve simply placed your information at their disposal.
With Gen Z increasingly rejecting traditional sales marketing, its consumer-led counterpart is likely to slowly pull ahead. Depending on your industry, this age bracket may not be your primary audience yet, but in ten years it might be – and marketing is likely to look, sound and feel very different. Why not get ahead of the curve?