Blueliner CEO and Founder Arman Rousta recently hosted a live workshop that introduced and illuminated the 7 Pillars of Digital Marketing methodology. Using Blueliner’s successes as a case study, the discussion focused on the tourism industry, but in a manner applicable across the marketing campaign spectrum. Arman also discussed how to audit current marketing tactics and assets, including website and social media, with an added discussion about the future of AI.
The video in its entirety can be viewed below, or accessed through the following, unabridged transcript.
Welcome to the first of this monthly series of workshops, specifically for tourism and tourism marketing. My name is Arman Rousta. I’m the founder of Blueliner Marketing. We’re a two-decade-old-plus agency: full service consulting and marketing, digital tech, whatever words you wanna put in front of it. We’ve changed it over time, but we’ve been at it for a while and we’re here in our third decade. We’ve been doing tourism, marketing and other forms as well for quite some time. And we’re here today to share some knowledge with you from our experience; from my experience personally in leading the agency and the agency’s clientele; best practices that we’ve drawn out. Best practices are tough because they’re changing all the time.
You have to kind of keep revisiting what was, let’s say, best practice. Best practice for SEO or for web design in 2020 or 2021 isn’t necessarily the same in 2023. And going forward, the trends are definitely following a certain line. So you can kind of follow the pattern. And usually the best practice isn’t trends stacked on top of each other. So it’s not like you lose the one before it that you usually stack and build on top. So there’s definitely a good purpose and a good rationale for continuing to get the education and continue to stack your own experience, as, again, we’ve done now going into our third decade in marketing and technology services. Tourism is always one of my favorite fields to work in. Maybe my favorite, as I’ve talked about in different podcasts and places really just for the joy of it, for the product, for the actual experience, whether you’re there in a destination in a particular new country or new place on an adventure; preferably actually having the experience.
But even when you’re doing marketing for those experiences you kind of have to get into that imaginative mental space and into those emotions that you had when you were walking on that beach or having that experience. So it’s a very visual and kind of visceral industry, and the marketing kind of carries that essence as well. So let me share a deck with you all to walk through what we’re calling the art and science of tourism marketing. I know as we advertised and discussed this monthly workshop series, we talked about how to conduct an audit, a 7 Pillars audit. So we’ll get into a little bit today, what seven Pillars is, how it’s worked for us, how it’s worked for different tourism companies, hotels, airlines, departments of tourism, et cetera.
And the title here– the art and the science–I think is a good balance, because marketing is science, it’s quantitative, it’s measurable. There’s particular steps that if you take them and repeat them, they generally produce very specific results if done well. And that’s the scientific part of it. The art is that more qualitative part. It’s a little less tangible, right? It’s like a brand, it’s a logo, it’s a picture, right? You can do an A/B test and measure which picture elicited a better clickthrough rate, and that’s where you bring the science in. But the art is working with your brand people, working with the creatives, and really just kind of getting into the essence and the real quality of a message and how it makes people feel.
It’s not always easy to measure that, although the tools are getting better and better at measuring people’s reactions and their emotional states, which is very interesting. So we’re going to keep that balance in mind today as we go through this deck and a couple of other pieces of information that I want to share with you; a couple of tools. What I’d really like everyone to leave with today with is some extra tools that you can add to your bag, to your toolkit, whatever level of experience you have, and that you’re coming into this with as a marketer, as a business owner, entrepreneur, or even as a traveler, just as a consumer, I think we can’t keep talking about tourism just from a business point of view without understanding that it’s really all about the customers and the people, at the end of the day, who are having the experiences.
So, while we won’t do this today in this workshop series—and we’re gonna be doing one a month, we’re gonna put different hats on, and I don’t really know what we’ll do in July yet–but potentially in either July or August or over the next two or three years, we’ll put our traveler hats on and just look at the whole industry. Not from an industry point of view, but from . . . you know, a family looking to go on a vacation or a group of friends looking to, you know, take a random experience and adventure somewhere. And what are their considerations? What’s their mentality? What’s their mindset? Of course, as marketers, we’re always trying to build those personas, but we need to go further than that. We need to be those people. All of us love to travel and experience as well.
And that’s something we would want to explore. Our background as an agency, Blueliner—again, two-plus decades old in this industry, specifically having various case studies and success stories, which I’ll share briefly. Tourism, ROI marketing. We’ll cover different components of the seven pillars, ecosystem and framework and best practices. And then we’ll have some discussions. And this is where I think some questions may come up in the Q & A or during the course of the meeting about, yes, as an agency we can work for you. We’ve worked with a number of different brands, hotels, et cetera. But it’s not always about that. It’s about, also, how well educated are the people in-house? Can we do some education and training so that the people working in a company . . . Maybe you’re founding or starting a tourism venture for the first time, and you don’t have any background in that industry.
Or even if you do, what level of education, what level of all the tasks that need to be done to run a successful operation can you do in-house? So I’m very interested in that question of in-house versus agency. And I think there’s different viable case studies that can go either way. There’s different cases, let’s say, where it can be one way or another, or usually some kind of combination, right? And we’ll talk a little bit about different marketing packages and a certification program that we have also available for people that want to go deeper into this type of marketing education.
All right, that’s a lot to cover. So, let’s dive in a little bit more without going too deep, just as an example and a framework for the background for Blueliner. We’ve worked for different governments and departments of tourism, most notably the Cayman Islands DOT. That’s actually 10 years as an agency of record for SEO (search engine optimization). We’ve also done extensive 7 Pillars of Digital Marketing Training and been a partner to the DOT there for a number of years, over a decade. And also we’re the web development agency of record; not actively, but for a two year period which has been an amazing experience. It’s a wonderful place to visit and to work for those that work in the tourism industry there. Hello to everyone from Cayman Islands!
We also did some extensive projects for various airlines, including Los Tanza. There’s a whole case study here. I won’t bore you with the details, but for anyone who is participating today make sure we have your email. You can either put it in the chat at the QA or in LinkedIn if you’re there in the comments. And we’ll make sure to follow through and share with you our deck that has these case studies and some of these best practices. Again, these are tools for your toolkit to take forward and utilize hopefully for the betterment of your own on marketing.
This was an old one. Looking at this today, I forgot that this was probably one of our first tourism projects that we did for a nice brand that some of you may have heard of called Izod, a clothing fashion brand. But they actually went into the fragrances business for a little bit. I don’t think they’re still in that field. But this was a foray that they made and they wanted to do it around adventures. So there was this brand seek adventure and this was an old flash website, years, years back. So this goes to show, again, I’m dating myself and our agency, but it’s nice to go back and see how things evolved. And this is actually flash! Flash was a great, great web tool.
And on that note not really much today, but I’ll tease it out for one of the next workshops or two . . . Maybe the next one would be trends, top trends in tourism-related web and app design. So that’s just some background.
Again, what is 7 Pillars? It’s a framework. It’s a framework, a map for learning strategy, execution of the entire universe of digital marketing tactics and techniques. It’s funny, that word “digital”. I would even change it right now into “integrated”, right? Because digital marketing is one component, and then there’s “inter” and then there’s “traditional”. And those are working together more and more seamlessly nowadays.
The reason we started with a digital marketing framework and really highlighted that by writing books and doing courses was because as Blueliner, we were one of the first digital agencies, digital centric agencies, back in 2000 through 2005, which was a time when you had to convince people that they even needed digital marketing or what it was, or that they needed to build a website. So we were very strong on digital only as a bridge to try to help all the traditional-minded marketing tactics and practitioners add this skillset, right? But now that we have it in our vernacular and everyone understands how important it is, I think it’s a good time to kind of just talk about marketing in general. We know digital’s gonna be infused in it.
And on that note, when you take the 7 Pillars of Digital, 7 Pillars of Traditional, and then kind of merge them in together, you have, what we’ve landed on is these kind of 12 overall pillars of . . . let’s just call it marketing. Let’s just even strike that word “integrated”. These are 12 Pillars of Marketing. And we could spend a whole workshop on each one. There’s a lot of experts in each particular domain and discipline, but the best advice I can give any young or old marketer is, it’s always easier to give advice to the younger folks because they’re more open to learn. Whereas our whole history is in, let’s say PR, right? Which is one of these pillars here. It’s not always easy to kind of open up to social media and newer forms, but we all have to do that.
I’m not a young guy anymore either. It’s like I have to keep reinventing myself in order to make sure our message and our skillsets—my skill sets are–are relevant. So, the main point I want to make here is the holistic approach. And regardless of which area, or two or three, you might have more of an interest in, or you might be more of an expert in, have a background in, you have to respect the whole framework and always try to take a holistic approach. Take your pillar or pillars and put them in the middle of a circle. And, literally, you can do this with graphics, like the ones we’re sharing here. Put all the pillars around and ask yourself, okay, how does the things I’m working on, how does this SEO strategy—for example, search, you know, pillar three there on the digital side—how does it relate to all the others? And those are very good exercises to do, and it could open up marketing opportunities.
What is the Matrix, right? It’s like one of my favorite movies, obviously a great movie, but in this case it’s the Marketing Matrix, right? The marketing matrix! It’s a visual, and a visualization of your overall map and framework. I like to call it a chessboard because it’s just that. It’s, “What pieces do you have, and how are you moving the pieces you have?” You can’t see it here, but in our headquarters in Jersey City, we have big writeable walls that are pretty much big matrix maps. That’s what those maps on the wall are for some of the guys sitting in the office. And it’s a great way to visualize not just a marketing strategy; it’s really a business strategy; a vision for your venture or whatever it is you’re working on.
You can really even take this model into your life, in a way, on a personal level. But that’s for a different workshop. Probably something with another brand. We’re involved in one of our clients and partners: Timebug, which is more about how you map and frame your life. But in this case, how do you map and apply a framework for these five items we see here? Who’s the team? Who’s involved? And what are their profiles? What are their backgrounds, right? If we’re working on, let’s say, a launch of a new hotel, who’s in the team? Is it just the founders? Is it bed and breakfast? Do we have a staff yet? And what are their capabilities, right? It’s a very important question, right? For both in-house, and if you get agencies involved as well, you could hire a great agency, but if they don’t, again, have the tourism background and you’re launching a hotel, that might not be the best fit because very special principles apply across any industry, but there are very particular language and nuances to each industry, right?
So, A: who’s involved? B: who’s the leadership? Who’s in charge? Key stakeholders or their investors? What are they interested in? Are they interested in a certain kind of clientele coming to their resort? Or do they just wanna fill the rooms as we say in tourism, put, put heads in beds, right? It’s the big tourism marketing phrase, which it’s kind of catchy, but it’s like, okay, do you just want heads and beds or is it a certain type of clientele, right? And so that’s why it’s important to know who’s the leadership? Who are the key stakeholders, and what is it they want? Three, what are we doing in this area? Meaning, if projects are ongoing and campaigns are ongoing, we have to be able to evaluate what the key tasks are that are happening. Do we have a social media strategy?
Is there a content strategy? Are there tasks happening daily for content development, for social listening, et cetera? And then, Point 4, goals. What are we trying to achieve specifically each quarter, each month, each year? And then, obviously, having a proper audit, right? How are we doing in each area? I think this fifth point is a very challenging one, right? Because people in marketing like ourselves, agencies and people working in-house in VP roles, different marketing roles, everyone’s always trying to prove themselves and kind of measure themselves. And usually there’s accountability to the leadership team, to the stakeholders. The challenge is to be able to be very objective and evaluate campaigns and everyone’s performance as honestly as possible, which is hard to do. It’s hard to do a self-evaluation, which is usually why agencies are third-party.
Having some kind of third party tool or best practices tool, like this Marketing Matrix and 7 Pillars, is helpful to be able to understand some good benchmarks and standards. Let’s say, if we put in 10 hours a week in SEO as a kind of a beginner person who doesn’t have much history, what’s a good expectation to determine if I’m wasting my 10 hours a week, or if that’s actually fruitful? So that’s a very particular measurement question, right? We can say the same about social media we’re posting every day. What does that really mean? Okay, how much time are we spending to do that? And what outcome, what goal is it influencing bookings? Is it helping us get better reviews? That kind of thing. So all these things, again, this is part of the science part of this Matrix, part of this framework to be able to measure that.
I know there’s a lot of marketers and just people in general working in these fields that are less quantitative-oriented, that more just want to go by feel and just kind of get done what’s on their plate with a simple task list every day. And that’s great. The most important thing is to know what the priorities are and to work on them and just get stuff done. But to close the loop on that, there ought to be some periodic measurement, even if it’s not daily. It’s like, once a month, “Hey, we’ve been doing all this stuff–how’s it going? Do we need to pivot, change directions, et cetera? So that’s what the Matrix helps us do. And I’m going to demonstrate here a little bit about how that works.
Again, this would be a full day workshop with the whole marketing department to actually take us through a very specific case. And this is something we actually do as an agency for companies that need and would like that kind of feedback. We used to actually call this the 49er Matrix, because it’s a seven-by-seven grid. But we’ve kind of changed the language, evolved into just generally calling it the Marketing Matrix. And what you would see here without diving into all the details, is seven pillars you see here, P one through P seven across the top. And what you see here in these different faces is just, you know, who’s in charge, right? So these could just be little avatars or thumbnails of the people in your company and in different roles.
And who’s in charge of, let’s say:
Pillar 1: Content;
Pillar 2: Design/Branding;
Pillar 3: SEO;
Pillar 4: media; paid, online, media, PPC, all of that;
Pillar 5: CRM, customer relationship management;
Pillar 6: social media
Pillar 7: mobile, right?
So who’s in charge and how are we doing in each area? So imagine just once a month you sat down as a team and just came up with a simple . . . You know, the person in charge could give their own evaluation. CEO or whoever’s in charge of the company could do so. Or if you’re working with an agency, they can also help you do that and say things like, “Hey, you got a red dot there. Hey, we haven’t done any contact, we haven’t done any blogs. What happened to our editorial calendar? Maybe we don’t even have one. Right?
And that’s where you can start putting different color codes or different ratings, either one to five, or, in this case, we use green for “We’re on point meeting or exceeding our goals.” Yellow means, “Kind of in the middle.” Red means, “Kind of not going too well.” And sometimes we use gray as well for, “Basically, we haven’t even thought about that . . . A negative grade is just, “Hasn’t been in our awareness.” Right? So it shows the value of having some of these different visual matrix views to even know where you have awareness, where you’re putting effort in. And then you can determine if that effort is fruitful or not based on some predetermined or ongoing refined metrics, or KPIs.”
And this is what we call a canvas. So what do we have here? Again, it’s along similar lines. It’s a similar matrix. You have the pillars across the top, but here we’re focused on what we’re calling the modes. These could just be modes of marketing or modes of business. And here’s what those modes are, right? Brainstorming or ideation strategy tools, people, ROI, which involves budgeting end goals. So our budget could be for the whole campaign, for the whole business, or for a particular pillar. So imagine you had P3 clicked on here, that would be, okay, search marketing. Let’s look at all these seven modes just for that particular area, right? But staying within the tourism framework, right?
And now let’s think about a hotel in, let’s say the Caribbean, right? I like to always refer to different Caribbean experiences because we have so much experience there. Let’s call it the Caribbean Dream Hotel in wherever it may be . . . Bahamas! I don’t think there’s one of that name there. But in any case, we’re doing a quarterly meeting that they’re doing and we’re coming in; someone new’s coming in to lead the meeting, let’s say myself. And I’m coming in and, you know, I’d put this board up and I’d wanna know who’s in charge, who’s in charge of each area. Obviously the first question is, well, what’s the budget? What are our goals? You can’t have goals without a budget. You can’t have a budget without goals. These things are all part of this grid.
This, I believe, would be the third. Second or third, the first mode would be ideation. Second and third would be ROI and then strategy, right? So we need to kind of start putting numbers on the board, and I’d like to see the previous quarter. I’d like to see the previous 12 months; month by month or quarterly. We know in the tourism business, in most cases and most places, especially in sunny destinations, there’s a seasonality, right? Summer is here now, right? It’s June 27th. So people are planning their summer vacations, family trips. It’s usually a peak season of travel. So we’d wanna see some seasonal historical budgets and past performance. And then, based on that, we can have a really good conversation about what our forward- looking 12 month goals are in relation to the previous months. I know we just came out of COVID and lockdowns, and a lot of tourism destinations in the Caribbean and worldwide were literally shut down for a year or two.
So a lot of those businesses haven’t been able to come back online. But for those that have, the history in 2021/22 is a little sketchy because a lot of things are still closed off. So 2023 really looks to be the first year where things are almost fully back open everywhere. So you might want to do some comparables and look back at 2019—the year before COVID—as maybe the last year to compare on ROI. I would want to ask questions right away about the people involved in the in-house agencies–consultants and people in different roles–and ask what tools they’re using. Again, not just from a digital marketing standpoint; this could be digital, traditional, all around. What tools are we using for analytics? You know, on the website, Google Analytics is a typical one . . . any SEO special tools we’re using to measure keywords and performance . . . tools like Bright Edge or Conductor, or . . . There’s so many, there’s so many.
And are we getting the most juice out of those tools? What’s our CRM? Is it HubSpot? Is it Salesforce? Is it something else? And even website, right? What’s the content management system? A lot of those conversations we’re having in-house nowadays. Is it Wix? Is it WordPress? Some of our technical-side team members are doing a lot more in React and proposing much more highly functional types of websites there; like React Native as a technology platform. What are the pros and cons of that? So we can have literally either a one, two-hour meeting or a whole day workshop just on laying out on the board and literally writing into these different boxes or in some side notes who’s in charge of different areas and how are we doing in the different areas and are there some new strategic ideas? We can start jotting those down.
And then also evaluating analytics, and how are we doing on the execution side, right? So that’s one slide. And another one here would be taking a pillars view. That was more of a modes view, right down the vertical axis. Now we’re going across horizontally, we look at the seven pillars. And again, who’s in charge of each area? How are we doing in each area? What are our goals in each area? So for example, for search, and this would be a little bit more organic search, which is changing vastly and we’ll talk about that a little bit today on things like AI and automation and how that’s changing the world of content and search. I do think that welcomes or invites us to a full scale workshop just on that topic.
But for now, what I would ask quickly, if I was coming into a new situation, would be, okay, well how are we performing? What percentage of our website traffic and bookings and actual booking revenue from the past 12 months has actually come from organic search? These three pillars across the top, search paid media and social, are pretty much the three revenue generators. These are the three that are really at the top of the funnel. I think that’s probably why we put them in this visual top. And yeah, I would want to know the percentage of traffic and revenue coming from these three areas. But particularly in search, I’d want to know which keywords are really the drivers . . . which geographies. Usually, the Caribbean gets a lot from the Northeast and the East coast; more so than West coast travelers cause it’s a longer trip.
But I want to see that. I want to see how that manifests in the data, in the actual analytics and report here. And then I want to see what our keyword positions are for some of the top keywords that we might want to be found or that maybe are not doing as well. If we’re a couples resort, for example–okay, how are we doing for “couples resorts”, for “honeymoon travel” . . . keyword sets like that? We group that keyword set related to couples, and we’ll see how we’re doing there. How much of those keywords have driven us traffic and actual revenue? Then, of course, we would want to look at competitors. We know who our competitors are. Most of these islands, most tourism venues and businesses know who their top people are in their field. And as an agency, we hear this all the time, it’s like the things that keep them up at night and then they’re almost obsessive sometimes over how their competitors are doing.
Understandable. So how do we help you compete and win, or at least have your fair share, in your respective market? In order to do that, we’ve gotta analyze, we’ve gotta see who’s doing well. It’s, say, in this case, in search, who’s showing up at the top of the search results and why? And then we go in and analyze their content, their webpages, their social media to see what’s really driving. Because a lot of times social actually will drive success. All three of these work together; these three pillars are really in lockstep. I’d say all seven. It’s the holistic model, right? You can’t have good search without good content, right? That’s why it’s kind of like building blocks here. The way these designs work, these aren’t perfect designs. These are really like my sketches. We have Edward and a team of designers that create more professional icons and graphics.
And all of those are in our book: 7 Pillars of Digital Marketing. And you could find those on the website there, on both Blueliner.io and 7pillarsdigital.com. But I’d like to get my chicken scratch going and create these visuals as well because, again, it’s part of the map, right? And all these seven have to work very closely together. Now let’s move over to pillar two. And I won’t go through all seven because, again, we’re not gonna have time to dig in that deep to each one today. But in some follow-up workshops, I promise we’ll open up Google AdWords, the search engine tool, marketing optimization tools and analytics, and we’ll drill in. And if anyone is willing to share their own analytics or their own websites and have us go through, we’ll actually do some audits; live audits on websites and on campaigns themselves.
But on the media side, it’s really some simple questions. It goes back to that budgeting slide we looked at. What’s the budget? How’s it being spent, and how well is that being received across say Facebook and Google and Instagram and TripAdvisor? We can spend money to get attention and draw revenue and evaluate each one of those. And sometimes I find clients would generally throw out the baby with the bathwater in a sense of saying, “Oh, well, Facebook doesn’t work for us,” or, “No, AdWords doesn’t work. We tried that last year.” Well, did you try it? I mean, maybe you put some budget in, but how long did you try it for? A month? Two months? Three months? Is that a long enough period of time to really measure results?
Usually not. I’d say it could be if it’s done really well, really professionally, but it could have been done by someone who wasn’t committed, or maybe didn’t have the background in tourism marketing or specifically on-the-ground knowledge in The Bahamas of the competitors and how the Dream Hotel differentiates itself. Is it because it has an indoor/outdoor pool, or an infinity pool, or, you know, a 24-hour gym, right? The kind of things people might look for when they’re traveling? And that person was hired as a consultant to come in and they never even visited the hotel. It’s a mistake I’ve made, and I’m ashamed to say some of the best destinations we represented were hard to get to, and I didn’t make the time to travel there. And I regret it for not having had the travel experience, but also, it really takes away from your ability to effectively market and represent that product.
So yeah, we’d want to look at the media and look at the channels and maybe look at them with a fresh lens and say, well, could we revisit this if there’s a budget? And do a more thorough or maybe a more effective creative campaign to see if we could revive a channel that we might have dismissed in the past? Same goes for social media. Again, social has both an organic and a paid component. And they’re both important. They’re both extremely important. So I’ll leave it at that for now. Again, these are Word documents that can be shared along with the deck for those that are interested. And let’s go back to the deck and try to round things out over the next 10 minutes here.
I just wanna throw these out there. These are some, you know, big ideas. I don’t think they’re really big ideas anymore. When I initially did this presentation, it was probably in 2016/17, and I was talking about blockchain. Blockchain is a big idea for tourism changing the way people both plan and pay for tourism. It’s still not happening really on any kind of mass scale. So I believe there’s a huge opportunity in this kind of web three space for when you go to, let’s say, Cayman Islands to stick in that example. The Caymans have their own currency, right? They’re not going to accept dollars. Some places will, some won’t. So you need your Cayman dollars, right? So you’ve got to make sure that when you get to the airport and you’re trying to get your bags and get to your hotel, you’ve also got to change money.
And that’s kind of annoying, right? A lot of places accept credit cards. Not all do: a small tour boat operator that’s going to take you to Stingray City would possibly like to get paid in cash. So do you have the local currency or not? So that’s where I think that currency opportunity comes in for blockchain and cryptocurrency. So far, I haven’t seen anyone solve it too effectively. We may be working on some ideas, but again, that’s a topic for another day. And then the second part, dynamic content. I’ve been talking about this for a long time. Some people are doing it better than others.
Obviously drones and drone cameras are getting higher quality, easier to operate. You don’t need to hire a big company to do this. You could make your own investment if you have someone kind of techy and effective in-house at editing videos and things like that, which is not an easy skillset, but it’s more accessible nowadays. It’s always amazing to me how little GoPro is, and GoPro’s just one brand. I know there are others that are doing it, but I think waterproof cameras could record amazing footage of sharks and eels and other various underwater and overwater scenery. And I know this will really appeal to our VP of Marketing, Steve. He dives with sharks, Steve, God bless you. And maybe you could share with us some of your footage in a future workshop. But yeah, I remember just first starting to see that underwater footage.
And it’s just incredible. So imagine having that in your social media and in your website versus just static but beautiful pictures of underwater. So I think livestreaming coming into that is another idea that I don’t quite see enough of. And I think virtual experiential is another whole area. We know Apple just announced its VR experience. And imagine you’re considering going to, let’s say, either Bahamas, Aruba or Cayman Islands, and you’re doing this research and they’re all in your, as we would call it, consideration set. And then one of them says, Hey, download our app and put on your VR headset and we’ll give you the virtual tour of what it’s like to go to Stingray City overwater/underwater. That’s a pretty interesting idea. Not that the virtual experience is gonna replace my actual travel and vacation experience, but as someone that hasn’t left my living room yet, considering this, I might be very interested in having that virtual experience, right?
They’ve got a livestream coming up today and it’s being on that tour boat, you know, with the tour guide for 30 minutes. Again, that’s never gonna replace the live experience, but as I’m considering where I might want to travel or trying to remember a great experience I had, these are things that are effective and work. They’re just not really being used as widely as I think they could be. So with the right kind of strategy, the right kind of budgeting and expertise, these are things that we’ve made happen for clients and that we’d like to see more people in the field doing so as well.
Very quick on CRM, which, you know, is Pillar 5, which has always had a lot of marketing automation options and opportunities in terms of how people engage your website. And then sign up for different SMS or email content. Let’s say, again, you love the vacation you had to Barbados and you signed up to get weekly deals or experiences; like I said, snapshots, right? So how do you work that into your CRM strategy to give people the content that they want and using tools like AI to generate either new content or pull from. Most tourism businesses have huge pools of existing content. I mean, again, working with Cayman Islands’ Department of Tourism, almost every two or three years, they would bring in amazing photographers to do all kinds of aerial and underground footage; the kind of stuff we were just talking about.
And then three years later, they’ll do a whole other shoot, right? So you’re always getting new stuff, but all that old stuff was great too. So what happens with all those archives? These are some of the ways that we can use AI on websites, in different CRM strategies to pull and find relevant content. Again,” sharks underwater”: you just use different keywords, and the AI finds it because it knows that Steve is a shark diver and actually wants to see sharks when he goes diving in the Caribbean; not trying to avoid them. So, as an example, versus “stingrays”, versus a different kind of experience in the rainforest. So based on different tags and personas and keywords, AI and marketing automation are some of the tools that we can really use effectively. And to be effective, you need people that have expertise in the tools that can map into your CRM and your marketing to be relevant; to make sure people are seeing the relevant messaging at the right times.
While they’re right in the middle of that consideration set between three destinations and three hotels, that’s when you’d like for them to make sure your marketing and message is in front of them. And that’s where AI and marketing automation can be helpful, if it’s architected the right way. Someone’s gotta script it the right way, or it’s not gonna solve the problem by itself. There’s still gotta be a human being that understands marketing, that understands the customer base, that can produce the right messaging and program for AI and on automation. So it could have these kinds of flow charts where it’s messaging people in the right way at the right time. I’ll just quickly, quickly work through an example of how, when you’re considering adding different budgets to different pillars, different areas of your marketing, these are the kinds of conversations you want to have.
You know, if you’re adding a $3,000 budget for content marketing, what would we get for that, right? A couple of new original articles, how and where that content is published and that’s integrated with your search marketing, creating content that can really address the kind of content your customers want to see and hear. Remember, content isn’t just written content, it’s visual. And it’s even auditory audio content. Look how popular podcasts are nowadays. And you wanna be able to have a good idea of what kind of benchmark you’re seeking, right? That you’d get a 30% increase in revenue within six months. So you put something like that out there in advance, and then you measure it as you go through to see if that budget, you know, can justify itself to continue after that three-to-six-month period.
So that’s on content. There’s a few other examples here. This one on web design and what kind of potential boost you can get by improving your website, especially your mobile design, online media, increasing a budget potentially, and what kind of ROI that would have. And again, CRM, similar to what we just discussed, creating different personas, different segments, and really targeting people with the kind of messaging and offers that they would be interested in hearing.
So I’m gonna wrap up the main body of the presentation here. Again, feel free to follow up with me. You have my email there as well as Steve, who’s been doing a lot of posting out on social media at Steve, at b.absventures.com. Follow through, whatever you take forward from this.
Great ideas and tools. Hopefully you find some of them to be useful, but use them in your daily execution and bottom line, keep growing, keep getting educated. You can do it. Anyone can do this on their own, can do it in-house. It’s good to bring in the help of experts where you feel you’re just overwhelmed or need some directions strategically. But whatever you do, keep growing, keep getting educated. That’s what we’re here to provide support for. With 7 Pillars, again, we have education, we have bootcamps. We can come in and do very particular audits, at all levels, for people who are beginners all the way up through what we call blue belt, which in our system is is the highest level and it’s kind of an ode to Blueliner and the agency that’s now in our third decade building and developing these best practices, these ideas.
And just a little teaser again, for what will be the next tourism webinar. We’ll focus on web design trends for the tourism industry. I have 15 trends here. I’ve already got some slides, but I’m not gonna share those at this moment. But if you tune in, in one of the last couple of weeks in July, we’ll be doing that webinar.
I saw a couple of questions kind of coming in. I think we only have time for one here, maybe two. Question is, in addition to SEO and copywriting, where do you see AI having an impact on marketing in tourism in the next few years? That’s a great, great question. We touched on it a little bit briefly here in terms of the CRM and really the relationship management.
So I think I want to stick with that. You talked about copywriting in your question, but I would go beyond that. A lot of AI nowadays is doing imagery and videos, right? Some of the leading AI companies and tools nowadays—and I don’t have the names offhand—they’ll produce your videos, right? They’ll do the editing and the pre-roll and the postal, some of the things we have highly skilled experts doing now. And the AI could give you that professional-grade looking video content, even bringing music in and things like that. As we know, tourism is a very emotional, visceral industry, right? And the product itself. So I think in that area of content development, we’ll see a lot of hopefully higher-quality videos. Sometimes, when AI and computer-generated models get involved, you can almost tell–at least I can–that it’s like, “Hmm, I don’t think someone wrote this. This looks like it might have been AI.” I think those lines will get more and more blurred where you just can’t tell. The quality is just there. That’s TBD, but it looks like these tools for, again, more professional grade video and content production are coming to the fore even now.
And then I think going forward, the next few years, it’s that personalized communication. Because nowadays you know when you’re chatting with a chat bot, right? Instead of chatting with someone, if you’re in a web chat asking questions, “Hey, do you have availability? I’m trying to book dates, I’m trying to take my wife and family on this trip,” and you want to talk to someone before you put your credit card in, right? So instead of calling, you wanna chat with someone on your phone or your computer. So I think the AI’s gonna start getting a lot more intelligent in its chat and interaction to be able to answer questions. Instead of just sending you resource links to pages where you have to read, but to have that real intelligent conversation based on how you’re posing the questions. And that’s gonna be interesting to see, right? And I think that’ll apply not just to tourism, but just all customer service. Imagine you have questions about your cell phone bill and everyone’s got those frustrations calling their cell phone company or their cable company trying to cancel their account or change their plan. Now imagine those are voice-activated or chat bots that are AI. It’ll be very interesting to see. I do believe the intelligence is getting better and better there. But again, it’s TBD.
Okay, last question then we’re gonna jump. What is the cost for an agency handling SEO for a small hotel?
Great question. It really can vary. I’ll speak from experience and what we know for, let’s say, boutique agencies, because you could pay a big hotel if you’re the Sandals and you’ve got, you know, a bigger footprint, if you’ve got 10,000 rooms, right? But your question is about a small hotel, so we’ll keep to that. I’d say a fair price would be anywhere between three and 5K a month. The number could go up depending on the specialty area or whatnot, or the price level. And you really have to look at your cost room per night and how much money you typically make when someone books a trip. It’s five nights on average, so we’re gonna make about $2,000, whatever it may be.
So it’s worth it, you know, for us to spend $500 to acquire that new customer. And so you back all that in, but somewhere between three and 5K would be fair. And I think you gotta give an agency . . . or anyone, you know. It could be an individual you hire, right? Or even a staff person? It’s very hard to do that. I think an agency’s a better bet in all honesty. But I think that’s 3-to-5K. You’re looking at six months, but you wanna start seeing some signs and some results after at least the first, third or fourth month. And yeah, I would challenge that agency or that person or whoever it is. A lot of people say, “Oh no, we can’t guarantee results. We can’t guarantee the first place or first page listings.” And it’s true. And it’s just like someone managing your money, they can’t guarantee you an exact return, but they should, from historical experience, be able to give a good estimate there. And we should be able to look at your portfolio of traffic and your revenue and say, “You know what a good benchmark is? Within six months, we think we could generate an additional 250K worth of revenue through organic—period.” Right?
So come up with some firm numbers. I would challenge the agency to be the one to propose those numbers. And if they backpedal or don’t want to commit to a benchmark, I’d look towards another direction, because marketing’s all about accountability and being in an agency business is absolutely about accountability. And you need to be able to justify the cost of what you’re bringing to the table. And there could be different reasons why you perform or don’t perform.
Sometimes it’s collective because an agency actually has to depend on you, the customer. If you’re the hotel on content, because you told me you’d be providing pictures and copy and testimonials from your customers, because I’m not on island. And if you don’t provide that, then you can’t just point the finger at the agency. It’s really teamwork, it’s a holistic process. But yes, 3-to-5K is a good SEO starting-point budget.
I want to thank everyone for their time. We have recorded this, so if you weren’t able to tune in live or catch the whole workshop here on LinkedIn, on Zoom, or however you tuned in, look out for an email and we’ll follow up. You can have it as reference, share it out with others. And again, if you want access to the PowerPoint deck and those Marketing Matrix maps please let me know and we’ll be happy to share that with you. Take care everyone. Have a great day.