A stark reminder of digital marketing dependence

April 2014

One of my real personal success stories in recent years has been to help turn around a previously failing holiday property business here in the Highlands of Scotland. Being part of a larger business which owns and runs three Highland estates which the properties are located on, the nine holiday properties were not always the highest priority for the business and occupancy levels had certainly suffered as a result. Then about three and half years ago I was asked to review the marketing of the properties and then, having come up with an apparently convincing strategy and plan (which, though I say so myself, was pretty good) was asked to stay around on a retained basis and manage the implementation of the plan.

Things went well, very well in fact, and last year bookings were 35% up and that was on a previous year when bookings were 38% up. Of more note however was that last year’s results meant that occupancy levels – which is the main measure of success and is applied to self catering accommodation, hotels, and B&Bs etc. and is a percentage figure of the nights booked against those available to book – rose above the Scottish average.

So I was all ready for 2014 and to deliver another resounding success story, when in came a new estate manager and one who, for whatever reason, was less interested in my services and the proven strategy and plan. So basically, very little marketing activity has happened this year – no special offers to drive web traffic, no blog posts, no social media activity, no new customer reviews posted and less PPC campaigns. Actually the very worst thing has been to keep a special offers page live but with no special offers on it – the result being a huge increase in bounce rate, which in turn has made the site far less attractive to search engine algorithms. And the result, surprise, surprise, a near collapse in bookings.

I’m still hoping that there might, in part, be an opportunity to reverse the situation, but it will be ‘in part’ because the important period of the year in terms of bookings has already passed. So bottom line is that most potential new guests have already booked with a competitor.

There’s an obvious lesson here to anyone going into a new role and instinctively wanting to change the plan when they don’t recognise that the existing plan is the reason for success, but no doubt the new guy now recognises that. Though the more important and general piece of learning is of course that this little case study is a stark reminder that the digital world can be a pretty unforgiving one. We’re now almost entirely dependent on digital marketing for commercial success, and take your eye off the road for a minute and you’re into a ditch. Even five years ago the consequences of stalling a digital strategy and plan for a business like the one I described would not have been catastrophic, because chances are you’d also be advertising your wares in the glossy magazines with a suitable readership. But most folk don’t any longer book their next holiday based on a magazine ad, because the ad represents just one business and from a simple online search you can find a thousand and more in a jiffy. And you can do that at the last minute AND look for a great deal at the same time.

What’s also fundamentally changed is that digital requires constant love and attention. You can’t just build a great website and leave it, or set up PPC campaigns and not continually review the metrics coming from it, or put in place a Facebook page and then post the odd irrelevant piece of content. It’s fast moving both because the rules change and the rules demand it.

I’m now on the lookout for a new client in the same sector, and one where I can apply my winning formula and therefore increase their level of income. It isn’t complicated.

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