In today’s challenging economic climate it’s sometimes hard to find good news on the marketing front, but I have some.
After years as a hotel general manager, I am all too familiar with the onslaught of requests from the dozens of worthy charities and schools in our communities. The process includes sifting through the requests, processing them, responding to the approved and disappointed contacts and then supervising the on site presentations. This can become a tremendously time consuming community service that often times delivers little measurable marketing value. So, when I learned about an online charity auction marketing program I was impressed (and relieved!).
One company called BiddingForGood hosts thousands of online charity auctions and has determined that it is the commercial item donors (us) who are not getting much of a win/win. The company has set out to fix that. Their approach to charity auctions is multi pronged…they not only provide a turn-key marketing program that delivers advertising value, leads, and paying customers, they also provide an online item request tool that allows properties to streamline requests. Their marketing program enables consolidation of these events into a performance based opportunity that delivers measureable ROI. They then track the respondents and even provide follow-up outreach to auction participants…it’s a total marketing package to a targeted demographic which has been previously been relatively untapped in the hospitality industry.
What’s so special about Charity Auctions? The charity donor base is highly attractive with hundreds/thousands of influential members of the community. The power of the charity auction is that the marketer reaches these donors through their trusted causes. This is important because the decline of traditional advertising has ultimately offered us alternative marketing opportunities, such as these charity auctions. These auctions reach people just as they are making purchasing decisions which are many times in the travel category.
Who are these charity auction bidders? In general, they are influential, affluent baby boomers – typically, an upscale demographic with a high demand for travel experiences and traditionally, a very expensive market to reach. A recent study completed by BiddingForGood shows that 36% of bidders in online charity auctions have a household income of $150,000 or more (47% for private schools) and 31% have a net worth in excess of $1 million. They travel extensively with 51% planning to travel internationally in the next year and 91% planning domestic travel. These are consumers of travel experiences with travel being the largest item category in the $16 billion charity auction market. Since 40% of online charity auctions are schools (most of them private schools) many of the bidders are parents who are booking travel for 4, 5 and 6 individuals. While females comprise the majority of bidders (68%) males typically have bids that are on average 60% higher. These are socially minded consumers who are looking to support a trusted cause such as their child’s school fundraiser and they spend money against this goal because it also meets their travel, dining, entertainment needs.
How It Works; When hotels are contacted by local charities, the charities are directed to the hotel website where they are asked to fill out a request form. This administrative online tool (Automated Item Request System- AIRS) enables the hotel to accept or decline requests with the simple click of a mouse thereby sending an email response while tracking everything.
BiddingForGood works with the brand to develop an appropriate offer that enables upsell and cross sell to the winning bidder (their research suggests that properties are giving away too much). The auction network also works with the brand on an item page which tells the hotel story and thereby controls the brand presentation. The specially built item page enforces brand integrity and locks in the minimum bid to properly represent the brand in this marketing-rich auction environment. The page also allows for deep engagement awareness, often up to 50 seconds per consumer (essentially virtual trial). And, this item page typically includes rich media (imbedded video) and numerous photos (which can’t be done when an item is displayed on a clipboard). Lastly, the links from dozens/hundreds of these auctions to the property’s website improves the hotel’s all-important Google natural search rankings (i.e. where you come up when a consumer does a travel search). Charities promote the auction to their donors via email with the item page and donors bid on line for the items.
On the back end is the product placement advertising program. BiddingForGood runs thousands of online auctions every year in every part of the country allowing geo-targeting. So for example a hotel in New York may want to target their product placement program into the Boston market for a get-away package. BiddingForGood’s marketing program works to place an agreed upon “offer” into a designated number of these auctions.
An online auction marketing program drives winning and losing bidders to participating properties. After an auction ends, properties can have an outreach opportunity to winning bidders by providing their bidder contact information. In addition; losing bidders are contacted on the property’s behalf, as these bidders are excellent qualified leads. Currently, BiddingForGood is reporting that up to 47% of these losing bidders are taking these second chance offers. Lastly, the property is given detailed reporting on awareness metrics, item bidding history, the average time spent viewing the item page content, etc.
All in all, this online charity auction program is a very different experience from the current model where the property can lose control of the brand and receives very little, if any, marketing metrics.
Summary; Being in the hotel business for 35 years, I have worked with different kinds of marketing platforms, some more successful than others. Rarely do opportunities arise through which a hotel can achieve both a dedicated community service and outreach combined with a performance based marketing program that has zero cash cost.
In fact, I believed so strongly in their initiative that I agreed to sit on their Board and help communicate their message. As more and more leading edge hoteliers join on, their experiences and results have reflected this enthusiasm.
By Robin Brown, Nationally Recognized Luxury Hotelier