Digital marketing in the run up to Christmas: what do hospitality brands need to know?

Roughly a 6 minute read by Dom

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The latest resurgence of COVID-19 has led to the government imposing new restrictions on the UK’s population, including limited mixing between households and encouragement to once again work from home where possible.

While everyone has, in some ways, been affected by these new measures, it’s the hospitality sector that has really felt the impact. 10pm curfews, limited group sizes and mask regulations have all led to many leaders across the sector concerned about their future.

In what is usually the busiest time of year, the run up to Christmas could see many bars, restaurants, and other hospitality and leisure businesses struggling to engage customers and generate the business so desperately needed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, particularly in high and very-high risk areas as outlined in the government’s latest restrictions released earlier this week.

So why should the hospitality sector should be investing in digital marketing and how it can be used to engage customers and generate revenue in the run up to Christmas? There’s plenty of reasons…

A new landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world into rapid digital adoption. Businesses have adapted, sold online, introduced new offerings and successfully delivered these to their customers.

In particular, the landscape of the hospitality sector has changed dramatically. Customers are no longer able to peruse the high street or flow from venue to venue to find their perfect food or drink option. Instead we’ve seen people changing the way they eat and drink out to a more planned and organised approach that embraces limited movement.

With this in mind, and new lockdown restrictions coming into play, digital marketing has had a rapid and increased importance in the customer journey.

Having to book ahead is one of the biggest shifts, meaning that digital and web presence has to be slick and performance based. Venues must convey their offerings successfully online, and inspire enough emotion from potential customers to take action and book.

Lack of movement and a reduction in word of mouth recommendations has also seen a surge in the use of digital, with tactics such as paid social and local SEO contributing to venues remaining visible and searchable in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The importance of data

With the festive period traditionally a time for getting together and gathering in venues, hospitality businesses could expect to generate significant revenue. However, with new lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures in place, large, late night parties are no longer on the agenda. Business leaders must invest in solutions which encourage customer frequency and hinge on small groups of people.

Harnessing data is crucial in enabling this business model, and the large amount of new data being gathered and utilised from various touch-points, including opt-ins, bookings and promotions, gives brands and venues new opportunities to attract customers.

For example, we’ve seen significant adoption by consumers in downloading brand apps. This was historically a barrier to entry and a costly acquisition, however the future of this strand of marketing and the potential ROI is now notable.

With so much data now available, brands should also consider building incentives, such as a digital stamp card or loyalty scheme to encourage consumer loyalty. These can be established with methods such as unique QR codes and a robust CRM.

Tone of voice on social

Despite marketing often being the first investment that gets pulled, it’s not a time for brands to be hiding behind a faceless tone of voice. Being authentic will pay dividends, particularly when trying to encourage bookings and customer loyalty in the run up to Christmas.

Brands should use social to showcase their proposition, the team involved and how food or craft drinks are sourced and prepared. The majority of people today are online and viewing more content than ever, so the more quality content being created, the better.

While authentic tone of voice is important, hospitality brands should also use social media as a platform to discuss relevant issues and concerns, including lockdown restrictions and the COVID-19 safety measures in place. Regular, branded and friendly reminders that a bar or restaurant is ‘COVID secure’ will instil and restore confidence in customers that they’ll be safe when visiting.

Remember your paid channels

Paid channels should be used to drive targeted actions. With multiple channels and networks, paid can be confusing. Brands should keep it simple and use the strongest messaging and most valuable offering available to ensure this resonates with the right audience.

It’s also a good idea to investigate the channels most used by a customer base and build a strategy around these, taking into account interests and behaviours. Adverts should be created that are direct, easy to understand and ultimately drive people to take action.

Gamification

This can be a confusing term for many, but gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

Although it’s not a new concept, gamification has become an extremely effective method of driving brand awareness and keeping customers engaged for longer.

With the global gamification industry currently valued at £7bn - it’s big business. And hospitality brands should consider investing to make the most of this effective marketing tool in the run up to Christmas.

In an increasingly noisy digital world, particularly in the run up to Christmas and during COVID-19, gamification will enable the hospitality industry to create digital activations that are more enjoyable, more memorable and more engaging for customers. By creating a sense of adventure and accomplishment, businesses can harness positive emotions and encourage strong brand association, customer loyalty and greater interest in visiting.

Don’t forget about the New Year

While the focus of the Christmas period is of course November and December, it’s important that brands take the new year into account when planning their digital marketing strategy. With the pressure to drive bookings pre and during Christmas, the traditionally tricky trading period of January isn’t likely to get any easier. In fact, it’s highly likely that the impact of COVID-19 will only be felt even more strongly as we move into the new year.

Make sure January is integrated into Christmas planning, rather than being viewed as a separate month, as overall it can be considered as one trading period. Brands should consider the challenges, strategies and tactics that will work throughout the festive period, and maximise opportunities to increase day-part, up-sell and frequency.


For more information about digital marketing and maximising opportunities in the run up to Christmas, check out our marketing services or simply get in touch!

Dom heads up team marketing, getting through his days at Engage by talking (a lot) about all things digital. From client relations and campaign strategies to leading our team of marketers, he’s the frontman making sure everything stays in order.