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Millennials - Coming of Age

Hoteliers Need To Gear Their Marketing Strategies To Changing Mindset, Methodology

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Patrice A Kelly
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At about 80 million, millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and have about $200 billion in annual buying power. They’re also the most likely to refer their friends when they have a great travel experience. But their diversity and lack of buyer loyalty means travel marketers must work differently to identify what drives their purchasing decisions.

“Millennials are a challenge,” said Jason Dorsey (a.k.a. The Gen-Y Guy), a millennials expert, researcher, and co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics. “The way millennials communicate, shop and buy is often different from how many marketers were taught to message and sell.”

Marketers must first recognize that “Millennials” isn’t a one-size-fits-all tag. “You have half of the generation doing everything we were supposed to do, becoming self-reliant and achieving what we call real world traction,” explained Dorsey. “And then there’s another part of this generation that has not created real world traction. Around the age of 30 the generation seems to split, and we select either one part of the generation or the other.

“When speaking to millennials we have to be certain we’re speaking to their life stage,” he continued. “One of our hotel clients got all these reviews that said, ‘don’t go here, the pool is so loud’; ‘everyone’s having a party’; ‘it’s like all the pretty people showed up at once.’ It was a great testimonial from the millennial standpoint, but the clients were upset about it being a loud pool. So it depends on how you look at it. People should apply a generational context with the group they want to travel with them.”

“Most travel planning is about steps to book your hotel room or make your reservation,” said Dorsey. “Millennials don’t think in terms of steps and they don’t think linear, so it’s very important to put the outcome first, if you want them to follow the steps to get there.”

“The one thing that typifies and incentivizes millennials to the hilt is experiences. They don’t care so much about where they are, but they want to do something that is totally unique,” said Derrick Eells, president and owner of TenDot, a full-service meeting management and incentive house.

“We had a client that wanted to incentivize their millennial sector,” he continued. “They also had an older component that wanted a more refined experience. Ultimately, we took them to Jackson Hole and stayed at the Four Seasons. Great property, luxury destination but with somewhat of a casual feel. We brought in a National Geographic photographer and did a photo hunt through Yellowstone. Then we had a competition on who took the best picture.”

“We create a unique sense of place within each hotel through a close connection with the community and by forming partnerships with local resources,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, SVP, Brand and Marketing at Kimpton Hotels. “Austin is a city that lives and breathes music. We incorporated this passion for music into the design and cultural programming of the Hotel Van Zandt. At Geraldine’s restaurant, you can listen to live music from local bands almost every night, while ordering from a Texas-inspired menu.

“Another example is The Kimpton Goodland in Santa Barbara, CA,” she added, “where our Record Concierge creates custom playlists for each guest’s stay, from the hotel’s 1000 vinyl record collection.”

Technology is also critical, millennials live on their smartphones, so online presentations should be seamless for mobile users, with an emphasis on strong visuals. “A lot of online experiences today are still modeled around the desktop experience,” said Dorsey. “That’s just not where the traffic is coming from.”

“You’ll need a cohesive social media campaign to understand and reach millennials when and how they want to be reached,” said Eells, noting the variety of platforms beyond Facebook and Twitter. “And keep it simple, attention spans have shortened dramatically over the last few decades.”

“We love sharing our guests’ photos and videos with their permission. Their memories help tell a more authentic story about what it’s like to stay and dine with us,” said Reidenbach. “We also harness the power of social media to surprise and delight our guests.”

Cultural transparency is another key factor in selling to millennials. “Millennials want to know where the organization is going, what’s the overall goal, and understand the culture of the organization,” said Eells. “How are you going to win the business and differentiate if you have a millennial decision maker? It’s not just going to be on lowest price, it’s going to be on creativity.”

Jeff Fromm, partner at ad agency Barkley and co-author of the book “Marketing to Millennials,” agrees. “Today’s consumer has product choices that are similar, price points that are similar, with access that is similar across any category. Brands that deliver on their beliefs and prove that they’re genuinely adding good are story living brands that typically can create an advantage based on that,” he said.

Fromm advocates using technology to “take friction out of the customer experience. I stay 100 hotel nights a year. I don’t like having to tell the same thing to people in San Francisco yesterday and people in New York tomorrow, even though it’s the same company.”

Fromm envisions a personalized travel experience, driven by technology. The traveler reaches the hotel and enters its geo-fence. She is expected because she gave them her calendar. She is immediately handed her key at the front desk because the forms are already filled out according to her master services agreement in the hotel’s database. When she gets to her room, there’s a waiting message about what’s around the immediate area that she might enjoy.

“Everybody wins,” he said, “they save time, I save time. When you talk about personalization and customization, data science is going to take us further down the road very rapidly. The benefits will go to whoever is willing to take those first big steps.”
Patrice A Kelly
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Patrice A. Kelly has been writing for business trade journals for over twenty years. A business consultant who specializes in niche markets, she has been writing about the business of travel since 1996. Patrice resides with her family in Chicago, IL.
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