In an increasingly competitive market, having a strong value proposition is not enough. Hotels and restaurants need to be increasingly innovative to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Those that are keeping up with what is happening in the digital space have been instinctively riding the wave of influencer marketing, carving a niche for themselves, boosting brand awareness and, ultimately, revenue.
What is influencer marketing? Essentially, it’s an evolution of what we have always known to be the best form of marketing: word of mouth. If you think about it, many of us have discovered an amazing restaurant, hotel or destination through social media. It’s increasingly common for a tantalising food image or scenic beach shot to inspire us to dine, stay or travel somewhere we would otherwise not have thought to visit. That is the undeniable power of influencer marketing.
Social influencers are people who have a passion for being in the know and discovering new places. They are committed to sharing their experiences through social media and building a tribe of followers along the way who share their passion, connect with them and trust them. These are people who are adept at telling a story through blogs, vlogs, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and – particularly in this region – Snapchat, and have the power to influence audiences that brands are clamouring to reach.
In just a few years, influencer marketing has become an integral part of marketing plans of the world’s leading brands, and numerous F&B concepts in the region have launched successfully on the back of influencer marketing.On Instagram alone, influencer marketing is already a $1 billion+ industry, with both independents and big brands buying into it as an effective (and relatively low-cost) way to build loyalty and engage new customers, especially among millennials. But only if it is done properly.
The key to success is creating symbiotic relationships. Hotels and restaurants need to be proactive and realistic in understanding where the opportunities lie and carefully work out who to collaborate with to achieve their objectives.
Firstly, it’s critical to be clear about what you’re looking to accomplish. Do you want awareness, to create a shift in perception, or are you looking to drive bookings or traffic to your own platforms?
Secondly, who are you trying to reach? If you’re promoting a local restaurant and you know the majority of your guests are local residents, then there’s no value is partnering with a regional influencer – regardless of the volume of their following. Instead, it would be far more beneficial to collaborate with a number of local influencers, who may have a lower following, but can collectively achieve the right ROI because they have better levels of reach and engagement with your core target audience.
Thirdly, consider where influencer marketing sits in relation to your wider marketing mix – if you appreciate the value influencers can bring to your business, then be prepared to put marketing budget behind it. Gone are the days when successful influencers posted for free, most collaborations now have a commercial element.
Something that has worked well for hotels and restaurants in the region is to identify influencers who do not yet have a huge following, but have the potential to, and start working with them early. In this instance, you are looking to build a long-term relationship over a one-off engagement. Remember, the dynamic nature of social media means that it is continually shifting so someone who has a few thousand followers today could become tomorrow’s Huda Kattan or Taim Al Falasi.
The next step is to do your research and identify the right influencers. There needs to be a good fit for both parties so only work with influencers that fit your brand image and appeal to your target demographics. Hotels and restaurants receive countless requests for complimentary stays, meals and spa treatments, so don’t automatically say yes to them all. Take the time to look at their profile, their following, and make sure their content and tone of voice fits your brand.
When you have found influencers you want to work with, it’s important to build a connection with them and be transparent. A good start is to follow them on social media, comment on their posts and repost or share their content. Avoid the mistake of treating all influencers the same, there’s no one size fits all so personalise your approach so it’s reflective of their individual style.
Lastly, once you have engaged with them and they have expressed an interest in collaborating, identify a way to work together that, all going well, offers a win-win for both parties. You need to be clear on what success looks like and how you intend to measure the end result. Use this to create tangiable deliverables that are stretching, yet realistic within the agreed timeframe. Whether it’s tracking the level of engagement, an increase in web visits or direct bookings, demonstrating a clear ROI is the only way to know if the approach has been effective and, ultimately, secure long-term buy-in from key stakeholders.
This article was published in the Feb-Mar issue of Hospitality News Middle East