The Top Ten Questions to Ask Your Digital Marketing Partner.
By Max Starkov & Mariana Mechoso Safer
Wednesday, 16th July 2014
Any hotel that has a high revenue-generating website and a strong digital marketing strategy that drives direct online bookings needs a great hotel digital marketing agency behind it;

It's challenging to find a good digital marketing partner these days. As more and more companies join the market as ‘experts in hotel website design and digital marketing,' hoteliers are faced with a difficult decision.

With serious revenues at stake, here are some questions to consider when deciding on who to partner with, or whether or not to stay with your current agency:
1. Do you consider yourself my property's digital marketing partner or vendor?

To achieve the highest long-term success rate, the hotelier-agency relationship must be based on trust and the client's best interests must be at the heart of everything the agency does. What does it mean to be a partner vs. a vendor?
  • Your digital marketing agency consistently offers proactive recommendations vs. simply "taking orders." Is your agency just an "order-taking" outfit or do they come up with consistent recommendations on how to tackle your occupancy, seasonal and other business needs? If you find yourself making all the effort to communicate with your agency first, you are working with a vendor.
  • Your digital marketing agency is an extension of your property's sales and marketing team. Are your agency's recommendations based on what's best for your property's business needs and what will generate the highest ROAS (Return-on-ad-spend)? Or are these recommendations based on how high a commission the agency receives? You'll need to do your research to find this out.
  • Your agency's company values are aligned with your values. If your partner has not identified any brand values, it has not clearly positioned itself in the marketplace.  A team that stands behind its values strives to provide excellent customer service and produces better results for its clients. Aligned goals build authenticity and trust between a digital marketing agency and its clients.
2. Are you utilizing any proprietary digital marketing technology?

Digital marketing is becoming increasingly complex, especially compared to what it was just over 3-4 years ago. In this day and age, there is a complete convergence between digital marketing and digital technology. Crucial revenue-generating initiatives such as Meta Search Marketing, Dynamic Rate Marketing, and Content Management Systems equipped with personalized marketing capabilities are an equal part technology and marketing.

Today, you should choose a partner that has both digital technology and digital marketing capabilities under one roof to help you keep up with the rapid development and marketing opportunities available in the industry.

In this multi-device world we live in, hoteliers must meet the needs of their guests on each device. This means investing in technology that allows for the best user experience on the three screens: desktop, mobile and tablet, which many hoteliers find hard to do due to their website's antiquated Content Management System (CMS) technology.

Your digital marketing partner should be able to develop technology in-house that you can benefit from. Examples include a CMS with functionality developed specifically for the hospitality industry, interactive marketing applications, social media applications, dynamic rate marketing technology, and meta search marketing enablement technology.

3. What percentage of your total business is dedicated to providing digital marketing and web services?

A company that has too many ‘core competencies' often finds itself not excelling in any of them.  Giant global companies like Sony claim to have only two core competencies.  Ask your marketing firm what percentage of their business is dedicated to digital marketing and web services.

If you are working with a firm where these services constitute only a small part of their overall service offerings, you are taking a risk that your business will not be as important to them. There is also the chance that the team dedicated to your account, if you do have a dedicated team and not a general ‘client services department contact email/phone number,' also has other responsibilities that can take them away from providing your account the attention it deserves.

4. What percentage of your clients are in the hospitality space?

The answer to this one should be close to 100% because of the uniqueness, complexity, and fast moving dynamics of the industry. Hoteliers need customized, expert advice that is specific to their needs.

This multi-billion hospitality industry is so large and dynamic that specialization in hospitality provides a unique and competitive advantage to mixed-industry and GDS-focused companies that are late and inexperienced to the online hospitality channel.

5. Do you offer full-service digital marketing?

Managing multiple vendor relationships is a job in itself. By partnering with an agency that offers full-service digital marketing, your team can stay efficient and focused. Does you agency offer the full spectrum of digital marketing initiatives such as website design and CMS technology to SEO, SEM, online media and retargeting, dynamic rate marketing, meta search marketing, social media, mobile marketing, and email marketing?

Additionally, the more vendors involved, the higher the chance for mistakes, campaigns that do not produce, and communication struggles.

For digital marketing campaigns to generate the highest ROIs possible, goals and teams need to be fully aligned.  For instance, Paid Search and SEO go hand in hand. Google updates its search algorithm 500 times each year, and the Panda and Hummingbird updates directly affected how Google indexes and values the underlying website landing pages. With Google constantly updating its algorithm, paid search professionals must treat search dynamically.

SEM should align with the site's SEO in order to maintain a high Quality Index.  Managing your SEO strategy should include a business analysis, comp set analysis, keyword analysis, etc., and having another company manage paid search, which includes exactly the same business analysis, comp set analysis, and keyword analysis, translates to double the work and double the cost.

6. Is multi-channel marketing part of the overall strategy for each client?

In today's multi-device, multi-touch world, digital marketing must be handled in a multi-channel campaign fashion to reach consumers at every touch point. All three screens (desktop, mobile and tablet) must be integrated in the hotel's multi-channel marketing strategy.

These campaigns utilize the right combination of online channels effectively (paid search, email marketing, SEO, online media, social media, etc.) to promote one campaign theme. This strategy is the most effective way to increase reach and boost revenues for a need period.

7. Do you offer Dynamic Rate Marketing?

Today's always-connected traveler demands instantaneous hotel information with real-time pricing and resents any type of price promotion that feels like bait and switch.

The latest digital technology and marketing innovation available to hoteliers, Dynamic Rate Marketing, enables marketing campaigns featuring the property's real-time availability and rates. DRM is a next-generation direct-response marketing category, which allows real-time hotel inventory availability and pricing to be inserted in various marketing initiatives: from meta search to banner advertising, paid search to email marketing. 

Does your agency utilize the technology needed to support Dynamic Rate Marketing? Dynamic Rate Marketing offers a multitude of benefits for both the travel consumer and hotelier. By combining online advertising and marketing campaigns with real-time hotel inventory availability and pricing, hoteliers can satisfy travelers' demands for instant and truthful hotel pricing information, as well as respond in real time to changing market conditions and comp set behavior. The main benefit here is that advertised rates in ad campaigns (banners, meta search, email, etc.) change automatically when the hotel changes their rates in the PMS or CRS.

The results? DRM dramatically increases campaign effectiveness, boosts conversion rates, and increases direct online bookings.

8. What percentage of the work on my account is handled in-house?

In-house services translates to total control over the quality of the work as well as the ability to offer services at more competitive prices. If your partner is outsourcing any or most of the business, you may be charged a higher commission than you realize and you will not have direct communication with the people who are handling your account. 

More services done in-house means less room for error, more intelligence surrounding the status of your marketing initiatives, and quicker turnaround times.

9. How many people work at your firm?

A team of 60-70 people is the absolute minimum for a digital technology+marketing firm to be able to handle all of the complexities of today's digital world: from SEO and Paid Search, online media and retargeting, social media and mobile marketing, dynamic rate marketing and meta search, website design and CMS technologies, dynamic content personalization, and more.

Smaller and "one-man-team" agencies simply cannot handle today's complexities and there is a high likelihood of outsourcing or not having the resources you need available to drive the online revenues your property is capable of producing.

10. Are your employees considered industry though leaders and experts?

The management and employees of many digital marketing agencies that offer their services to the industry have no hospitality experience. They don't understand the needs of the hotelier, do not speak their language, and are incapable of providing the consulting and strategy services needed to grow the direct online channel.

Are employees published authors on hot industry topics and best practices related to online distribution and marketing? Also, ask your agency if their principals and experts are frequent guest speakers at major hospitality and digital marketing industry events and conferences. A company that employs team members who are frequently asked to share their expertise at major industry events every year is a company made up of thought leaders.  The wider the variety of subjects they are asked to speak about, the better.

A company that is passionate about what it does also wants to stay ahead of the curve, creating products and services that will benefit the marketplace and its clients. In the highly competitive hospitality industry, this is a must.  Hotels that fail to work with innovative digital marketing partners run the risk of losing market share, operating inefficiently and running campaigns with decreasing ROIs.

When choosing your digital marketing partner, look at the web as the most critical and fastest growing revenue stream for the property. You should not settle for anything less than the best, a firm that will lead your property in achieving maximum revenue from the property website/direct online channel.

About the Authors and HeBS Digital
4Hoteliers Image LibraryMax Starkov is President & CEO and Mariana Mechoso Safer is SVP, Marketing of HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading digital technology+website design, full-service digital marketing and website revenue optimization consulting firm, based in New York City (

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and full-service digital marketing, social and mobile marketing, and direct online channel distribution. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, etc.

A diverse client portfolio of top-tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.
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