La Quinta Inns: Mobile Branding Still Evolving

La Quinta Inns & Suites is pragmatic about digital media, using it largely as a DR vehicle to drive bookings while spending on broadcast for reach and branding. Mobile is no different. A newish mobile app and website, created by Definition 6, lets guests book a room in four screens on a smartphone. The strategy to drive installs largely reflects that above-the-line / below-the-line thinking.

Ted Schweitzer, SVP marketing and e-commerce, spoke with AdExchanger about mobile and the marketing mix.

How do you drive traffic and installs for the mobile properties?

For the mobile site, search is the strongest performer for us – paid search and organic search. The component for downloads has been more point of sale, more in-room experience and collateral on the properties, as well as the email database — both our loyalty database and our non-loyalty database.

We’ve done some smaller display ad campaigns on that, but only when we could really target travelers who are staying in our segment.

Where does mobile fit into the overall mix?

As we look at all emerging channels, we typically look for a very high return on our ad spend. [Our digital strategy]  is more DR focused than the branding pieces you’ll see in larger segments like broadcast. What we do in TV and radio isn’t meant to be direct response. What we do in the online space is largely meant to be direct response.

We use a small portion of our budget to test and analyze certain activity: what traffic comes in, whether that traffic will convert. We’re very metrics-driven so I need to see results. I can’t go out and spend $1 million on branding activity in the mobile space. And to be honest in the mobile space I haven’t seen anything that does a huge job in terms of branding. It’ll take a while for that to mature and for us to spend money there.

How are your mobile ads performing relative to display?

It’s very low, especially if I’m putting it head-to-head with regular display.

Do you do work on creating location segments?

Hospitality isn’t quite the same as retail, where I want to engage you on the site. Once I have you there, I’ve done my job from a media standpoint. I don’t need to continue to engage with you. To drive them to the hotels is what we need our media to do.

Doing a lot of geo-targeting to people within a mile of La Quinta isn’t the best use of targeting dollars.

What does La Quinta do in audience buying?

We have a fairly extensive online budget, both direct response and some branding dollars. We do see online as a huge reach vehicle – not broadcast levels but fairly substantial.

What I have found in the years we’ve been doing this is that with behavioral targeting, the more I target into specificity the less response I get. The audience tends to get much smaller at that level and the response mechanisms have to get much larger to make it pay off. That’s not to say it doesn’t sometimes work, but we’ve played with it for a number of years and don’t put a huge piece behind it. In our segment we just don’t find it to be overly effective.

How do you rate social media effectiveness?

It depends. From an engagement standpoint, it’s very effective. But from the standpoint of driving sales, we’ve not found it to be that kind of channel at all.

It’s not something we’ve intentionally tried to monetize. It’s trying to find the right tone, right voice, right cadence. In the last year we’ve fine-tuned and gotten to a very good place.

To take that one step further, Twitter doesn’t fit all that great within [our segment] of hotels. There’s just not a lot to tweet about, where I don’t have the visuals to back it up like I do on Facebook. The communication isn’t quite as two-way as it is on Facebook. We do tweet; we have an active Twitter account and a small following. But it’s not one of our channels that we find the strongest engagement from.

What are the right things to measure in Facebook?

A lot of it is how engaged you can get the customer. It may not be the number of “likes,” it might be the number of responses you can get to a communication that the brand starts.

We’ve also seen some interesting results when people use it as a customer service channel. We’ve found other customers coming to the defense of a hotel, often before a customer service rep steps in to try and take that offline. It’s been some interesting learning, but I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong. In some cases people can’t monetize it. In our space, we’ve not found that magic potion — and I’m not sure we’re looking for it.

Is there anything on the horizon that will change the way you plan media?

No, not really. The one thing I would say in terms of online media is you have to stay nimble. We’re going into the planning season for the last part of this year and for 2013. Planning for online versus offline is dramatically different.

In the online space, we scope what we’re going to do but budgets remain fluid. I earmark but I retain the position to move around and modify plans as needed. Someone might come out with something in geocaching that makes sense that we haven’t seen — same thing with audience buying or real-time bidding.

Do you do lookalike modeling? 

We have done some database matching and audience matching with the larger networks out there, and run some of the campaigns.

Lookalike campaigns are typically less promising than if I go more directly into my competitive set’s customer base. We can use partners to help tap into that. If I know you’re staying in my segment but you’re not staying with me, you’re a ripe target. That tends to do better for us than the audience matching.

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