It’s not easy for a hotel to stay top of mind during a global pandemic.
The marketing team at Kimpton Hotels, part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group, spent most of the spring trying to keep a conversation going with consumers while its properties were closed.
“It took time to understand how our brands can be relevant right now,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, chief commercial officer at Kimpton Hotels.
After pausing media spend, Kimpton leaned into content marketing related to food, cocktails and design as a way to keep customers engaged while stuck at home. Kimpton shared recipes, blog posts and Instagram livestreams featuring its bartenders and chefs.
As lockdowns began to ease and local travel started to pick up, Kimpton slowly ramped its ad spend against promotions, including a third-night-free deal in relevant markets and a road trip package.
But ad spending still isn’t back to pre-COVID-19 levels. Although longer-term strategic planning is always on her mind, it remains difficult to plan more than two months out, Reidenbach said.
“We need to be thoughtful and efficient with our time and resources,” she said. “Simple promotions are really important, because layers of complexity will narrow the audience.”
Reidenbach spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: How has Kimpton's marketing strategy changed since March?
KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: We’ve put tremendous attention on social and content because we know people are bored and looking for entertainment.
Our website and social channels for Kimpton, as well as for our properties, have been the best way to engage with customers. We’ve encouraged [employees at] our properties to take videos and capture what’s happening because people are unsure and curious. It’s a great way to ensure we [are] still part of the conversation.
When did you pause ad spend?
We paused the majority of our ad spend when our properties initially closed [in March].
[As states began to reopen], we recognized that for many people hopping on an airplane was a long way off, and most of the business would be from leisure travel and intimate gatherings. So we built back up our marketing activities in alignment with that.
What did that look like?
We realized that while people were looking to stay close to home, they were probably up for an eight-hour road trip. So we compiled a road trip playlist. Some of our properties have put together road trip packages where gas is paid for. On our blog, we posted about tips and tricks for family road trips to make Kimpton Hotels part of that adventure.
Are you buying media against these programs?
We have been, but it’s been a slower ramp. Seasonal travel demand has gone to the wayside. We’re taking a very short-term perspective. How can we get guests through Labor Day weekend? We take in 30- to 45-day chunks.
Right now, we’re offering a third-night-free campaign and our loyalty program is offering 4X points. We’re keeping it simple and pushing it through email, social and our websites with a little bit of media buying. And we’re pairing that with aspirational content.
How are you managing promotions as states reopen and close across the country?
It’s important to keep our messaging simple and as broadly relevant as possible.
We’re simplifying our rates and offers and allowing promotions to flex up and down based on dynamics of the market. Are restaurants and bars open? Does the property have outdoor space? We empower our properties to update their websites to stay up to date with local regulations.
How much do you dictate centrally vs. letting your properties do their own marketing?
We’ve always struck a balance between the consistency of the Kimpton brand and the unique offering of each of our properties. Our employees are more in tune with what’s happening in the market and have their own media budgets.
We come in with protocols around cleanliness and understanding our guests’ comfort levels. We understand trends in the market and how people are behaving. For example, the booking window has shrunk. People are booking with one to three days’ notice. They’re booking weddings seven days out and asking the hotel to figure out the details.
How do you strike a balance between aspirational content and messaging about hotel sanitation?
We try not to crush the inspiration while making sure guests are confident staying with us.
The cleanliness messaging is consistent. That is enforced at all touchpoints in the buying experience and on property. People may feel comfortable seeing the endorsement of a Kimpton Clean logo on a piece of collateral. Others can click on a link and dig into all the standards and protocols.
How are you thinking long term in this environment?
Long term is always in the back of our heads. We’re working on our holiday promotion in the hopes that people will want to celebrate the end of the year. We don't want to be on our heels as we enter Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
But we also recognize things can change rapidly. We know that leisure travel will continue to be the top demand generator and we recognize the family vacation has flexibility around it. How can we entertain families and kids, for example, that are staying with us in the fall because they’re distance learning? We have a blog post that talks about educational travel in Boston, Washington, DC and New York. They can get their education outside of the classroom.
How are you thinking about the rest of the year as the regular travel schedule gets upended?
Events are still going to happen, whether it’s a Labor Day weekend BBQ or people contemplating how to gather for Thanksgiving.
There is still room for creativity. At one hotel, we held an [outdoor] drag show masquerade ball. We can get people out of their homes with movie nights on pool decks or on our balconies.
Events are not dead. People are looking for any excuse to get out of the house.
This interview has been edited and condensed.