Comment: Email marketing revisited

Ways to reach your target audience

Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.
Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.

The last time I wrote about email marketing was in February 2014. Guess what happened since then? That’s right, the number of worldwide email accounts has grown from 4.1 billion to 4.9 billion and the number of email users increased by 3% from 2.5 billion to 2.7 billion.

Like in 2014, the majority of email traffic in 2017 comes from businesses. Businesses worldwide send and receive approximately 132.1 billion emails. On average, a business email user in 2014 sent and received approximately 121 emails per day. Next year, that figure is set to rise to 140 emails per day, per user.

So, what else has changed? For starters, many hotels have become better at collecting email addresses from guests, both in terms of quantity, but also (and more importantly!) quality. More and more properties are using tablets on check-in, which makes capturing email addresses correctly much faster. Restaurants, too, have caught up and are using either social WiFi, which can capture a diner’s email address at log-in, or review and guest survey solutions like Localyser, which ask guests for their email IDs as part of the feedback process.

Email marketing has also become cheaper as new providers have entered the field, forcing old stalwarts to adjust their prices or increase functions. MailChimp now offers a number of marketing automation tools free on all its plans — even the “Free for Life” plan. Amazon introduced “Amazon SES”, which stands for “Simple Email Service” and lets you send up 62,000 emails for free per month with additional emails charged at the ridiculously low rate of US $0.10 per 1,000 emails.

Integrations have become much better. Some email marketing providers now allow you to link lists and campaigns to your company Facebook pages or Instagram accounts, which means it’s much easier to target your social media followers and get them onto your email lists. Remember, email marketing, provided it’s done right, is still nearly 40% more effective in terms of ROI than social media marketing. What hasn’t really changed is that many hotels and restaurants are still struggling with segmenting their email lists and coming up with appealing enough email campaigns.

“Segment or die” isn’t just an email marketer’s battle cry, it’s the truth. You either give your subscribers emails they like to read or they’ll unsubscribe or bin your emails. At the very least, you should have segments for people who have signed up to your newsletters via your website or social media pages, guests who booked a room, guests who used your F&B outlets, and guests who booked meeting rooms — that’s in addition to obvious segments like point of origin, date of stay, and gender. The more you segment, the better your email campaigns are going to be.

Content-wise, too many hotels & restaurants still rely on a hero picture (or a couple of pictures) and a few lines of text (sometimes even embedded in the image, argh!). You know, “Here’s our latest F&B promotion! It’s great!” or “Here, have a random 25% advance booking discount for no reason whatsoever”. We’re living in exciting times and your emails are competing with a lot of other online content ranging from local offers to the Donald’s latest escapades. In other words, they need to stick out.

Creative imagery and subject lines, plus a good balance between text and images, will get more of your emails into your recipients’ inboxes and will yield higher opening and click rates. So you’ve got a benchmark: If your opening rates are lower than 20%, please go back to the drawing board. If you’re getting between 20%-35%, you’re on the right track. If you’re exceeding 35%, you’re clearly a pro. You should be aiming for a 20% click-through rate, but 10% is an acceptable starting point.

Stuck for ideas? Here are a few: If a guest has booked a few weeks in advance, send him or her a weekly countdown email each showcasing different aspects of your property and destination. This also makes for great upselling opportunities. Alternatively, share inspiration. Check your social media platforms and find out what your guests share and click on, then build an email around the most popular content and theme. Aaccording to recent reports, abandonment rates in our industry can be as high as 80%. That’s a lot of potential revenue lost. Research also tells us that effective abandonment emails should be sent within 20 minutes after an online booking has not been completed. That’s clearly a case for marketing automation if you’re looking to do it consistently and for your direct online bookings, but why not adopt the principle for non-online bookings, too? If you get a booking enquiry by phone and send out an offer, but don’t hear back, do you send out a reminder? Many hotels don’t. You don’t even need a fancy system for this. An Excel sheet and a little organisation are all that’s required.

Whatever you do: Keep it social!

Email marketing in 2017 — Five things to keep in mind…

1. Creative use of data: Check your databases. How many people called ‘Dave’ do you have in your system? A few hundred? Why not declare next Wednesday ‘Dave Day’ and send all Daves an email with a special deal? It’s segmented and targeted. Don’t like Daves? Pick something else that gives you a defined target audience, which shares common criteria.

2. Unique tone of voice: You might not think so, but every email is a one-to-one conversation with your guests, so spend some time to craft a unique tone of voice, which should also take into account the different customer segments / types.

3. Call to action: Don’t just send out emails for the sake of sending out emails! The point is that you want your recipients to do something! Unless you include a clear call to action in every email, that’s not going to happen.

4. Mobile: In our industry, over 50% of all emails are now read first on mobile devices and mobile-friendly emails achieve 15% higher click-through rates than emails, which aren’t optimised for mobile.

5. Time zones: Right people, right message, right time zone! If you have a large and geographically diverse database, it pays to invest in an email marketing provider, which allows you to send out emails based on the recipients’ time zones.

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email:

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