When checking out of an InterContinental Hotel in Toronto a few weeks ago, I encountered a new tactic in the sphere of social-media marketing. The woman at reception inquired about my stay, and I replied that it was pleasant (especially after she let me delay my checkout so I could get some work done in the room). Then she handed me the document above and explained that if I left a review on TripAdvisor, the hotel would provide me with a complimentary upgrade the next time I stayed there. I thought it was a very interesting approach to seeding reviews, and something I’m sure we will all see a lot more of in the years ahead.
Obviously, when a hotel rewards a customer just for leaving a review, it’s got to be Marketing with Meaning. The first, obvious benefit is that the customer has a chance to get a free upgrade at the hotel just for leaving a review and printing it out. A nice freebie such as this is always appreciated, and the hotel benefits by potentially locking in future stays by a recurring business traveler. The cost of an upgrade is likely very small as long as there are rooms available.
But the other great thing about asking for customer feedback is that this request itself makes people feel better about how they choose to spend their money at a key moment of truth. When we sign the bill at a restaurant or check out of a hotel, we are making both conscious and unconscious decisions about whether we would come back again. By visibly showing she cared with a physical card and direct offer, the hotel receptionist was planting a positive seed in my mind.
Flash forward to when someone such as me logs on to TripAdvisor to leave a review, and one is predisposed to want to say something positive. After all, the hotel cared so much that it was encouraging me to offer my opinion in a positive place. Even if things were not great, people will be more likely to give a company the benefit of the doubt in such circumstances. This reminds me of a study I read about how doctors who are nicer to their patients are significantly less likely to be sued for malpractice. And if all else fails, the fact that you have to print off your feedback and show it to the receptionist when you return means that you would be embarrassed to be too negative in a review.
I am a firm believer that the act of leaving a review is one of the strongest ways for “marketing” to make an impact on customers’ brand loyalty. Reviews take time, conscious thought, and a realization that what you say will be read by other people—forever. This combination of factors builds strong, positive neural links in the mind. A traditional advertising “impression,” which leaves the short-term memory bank quickly, pales in comparison to this kind of connection.
And, of course, the final and possibly most important marketing benefit of this review program is that the InterContinental Yorkville has a much higher chance of receiving multiple, positive reviews on TripAdvisor, a leading online resource for trip planning. Reviews are rapidly becoming the main way that customers discover and decide on hotel choices. And if you really think about it, maybe the InterContinental should be putting 100% of its marketing budget into seeking more and better reviews. Millions of dollars of print ads in Sky magazine and billboards in airports can’t touch the power of landing “above the fold” on a review website where people are in buying mode. How would you allocate your dollars to ensure better reviews? Easy, you just hire the best people you can find and ensure that guests love their experience. In other words, you put your marketing dollars into the service itself.
I don’t know how long this program has been in use by the hotel, but it has a nice spot on the site as of this blog post. It is rated #6 out of more than 100 hotels in Toronto, and it has 167 total reviews.
If there’s anything negative here, it is that the users of TripAdvisor might not be getting the true, impartial reviews that they are expecting when people are biased by positive seeding such as this example. Interestingly, a growing body of examples shows that the average rating on product- and service-review sites is 4.0 out of 5.0 stars. In other words, everyone is above average when it comes to ratings. (We call this the Lake Wobegon effect.) But at the end of the day people are smart, and we all learn to seek multiple opinions and assume that people are predisposed to be either overly enthusiastic or negative in their reviews.
Kudos to the InterContinental Hotel in Yorkville/Toronto. I plan on staying there the next time I’m in town and encourage you to do the same.
(For more on the power of product reviews, check out this post on an email follow-up we did on a Healthy Choice coupon offer.)