Background

As if 2020’s transnational conflicts and general economic slowdown weren’t already bad for business, COVID-19 showed up and ravaged the global economy.

This could be the nail in the coffin for many businesses, both in Thailand and around the world. However, the tourism industry is being hit hardest.

Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, has already announced an unpaid leave policy for tens of thousands of employees globally. Even Hilton Hotels and Resorts closed down 150 of its hotels in China indefinitely last month (Feb).

Yet in the peak of what Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says is worse than “9/11 and the 2009 Financial Crisis combined,” independently-owned hotel group La Flora saw their biggest sales revenue from direct hotel bookings in history. And that’s in mid-March.

In total the company sold 24,000,000 THB within 6 weeks across 3 different hotels, solely from online and direct bookings.

What does this number of sales revenue mean?

To put it into perspective, we reached a new record of selling 11,000,000 THB for one of their hotels last year.

This year’s goal of hitting 20 Mil had us both excited and anxious. We didn’t agree to get paid by performance given the current circumstances. Well, looking back, we should have!

How could it be that La Flora Group can now sit back and plan their next marketing campaigns, while everybody else is cutting costs and worrying about the 50,000,000 travel and tourism jobs that are at risk globally?

In this case study we’re going to explain how we achieved these results, and how other businesses (in all industries) can do this too.

While there is no golden-bullet solution, you’ll find it’s a simple mindset change that will speak volumes.

How Did We Do It?

We’d love to say a bulletproof ad strategy, aesthetic designs and fancy copy. While these are must-haves, the biggest pillar for success is something you can already do on your own.

It all starts with adopting a long-term mindset to make digital marketing work for your business. 

I know it may sound biased coming from the founder of a digital marketing agency. But I speak from the heart when I say we failed way too many hotel clients to learn this painful lesson.

In an otherwise old-fashioned industry, most hotel owners look to digital marketing as a quick solution for a dip in sales. And yes, this approach does work in many cases.

When we first took over the project 2 years ago, we increased one of La Flora Group’s hotel’s sales by 67% in 12 weeks. 

But that was because we already had a healthy foundation for the long haul: a very strong, promotion-driven sales strategy on our end, and a collaborative hotel co-owner who acted as a results-based decision-maker. He also deeply understood the long-term impact of social media on the world.

Most businesses don’t have this level of flexibility for collaboration. The inevitable problem is that this is just going to slow down work.

Companies that struggle with getting marketing results spend 80% of their time focusing on nuances like the details of copywriting or the design.

While it is important to stay on brand, we’ve learned the hard way that this ends up doing more harm than good.

That’s why you should spend that time thinking and asking questions about the strategy. So instead of asking which picture is better, re-frame it into questions like these:

How and when are our customers buying our product/service?

What is holding them back from buying?

Why do they message us, but don’t end up buying?

How can we improve our offer to fit the needs of our digital audience?

These questions are asked far too little between in-house teams and agencies. And they must always be discussed openly, because the answers to these questions will drive more sales.

It took us almost half a year to realize that the majority of hotels are simply not set up to be fast-paced, innovative businesses. Their purpose of being is to be a safe and risk-averse asset for their shareholders, and this trickles down to how marketing decisions are made.

La Flora Groups’ leaders thought differently, and that’s honestly why were able to write this case study.

How Did We Get to 24 Mil?

Their leadership team believed in social media. They understood that there are almost 2.5 billion active users on Facebook every month.

We currently manage marketing campaigns for 3 of La Flora Group’s hotels: La VelaCasa de La Flora and La Flora. All of them prioritize their social media marketing efforts because their core audiences are on Facebook.

The truth of us selling 24 Mil in 6 weeks, however, is in fact almost 2 years in the making. Here are the core pillars of success and how we invested in them:

1. Long-Term Social Media Marketing Strategy

“Strategy” is a broad term in marketing. You may have seen that it’s used by some agencies to hide behind a lack of results.

But put simply, a great strategy is one that does work, and will serve as the backbone of your business’ success.

For La Flora, we separated the high-level strategy into 2 main pillars of action:

  1. Performance Marketing – ads with the objective of generating direct bookings, and
  2. Content Marketing – ads created to build and maintain awareness of their brand. These are mostly ads targeted to get high-quality comments and shares, and thus are more tangible than regular old-school metrics like impressions or likes.

And in these pillars, there were different communicative approaches for each audience group.

For instance, you’d communicate differently to someone who’s never heard of your brand, as opposed to someone who has been actively engaging with your page for the last few months.

Here’s an example of an ad from our “Performance Marketing” campaigns, talking directly to people who are ready to buy:

 

And here’s one of the ads from our “Content Marketing” efforts, talking to people who might have never heard of La Flora’s hotels before:

 

 

2. Ongoing Content Marketing Campaigns

In addition to point 1, for the past 2 years, La Flora Group has been investing in content ads on Facebook to increase brand awareness for one simple reason: Most people don’t make hotel bookings right away.

Statistically, at any given time, only 3% of your target audience is ready to buy then and there. The remaining 97% are at different stages of the buyer’s journey, from “kind of interested” to “never heard of you before.”

Being a planned purchase, it takes time to warm up the audience to make a final booking.

Those 2 years were spent aggressively targeting our audiences with content that builds buying intent, from stunning photos of scenery and food to discounts for audiences who already knew who La Flora were.

With these campaigns we’re currently averaging a monthly reach of over 300,000 people, with 500 monthly comments and 1,400 shares.

What do you think a 2-year onslaught of engagement from the audience could do for your business?

3. Applying Performance Marketing to Measure ROAS & Direct Sales Revenue

Most companies and campaigns stop here. I would argue that this is where the marketing really begins.

The ultimate goal for marketing is to generate sales. And the most important part of getting sales… Is to get the sales part right and to assure that our effort converts!

At the core of a hotel booking is an excellent offer. We tested dozens of deals in the first 2 years to see what the audience hated, felt neutral about, and what they went crazy for.

And in our third year, we narrowed it down to 4-5 annual promotions based on our learnings.

Even then, 50% of them normally don’t work. Some do well. And the remaining few turn in bookings like there’s no tomorrow.

These priceless lessons are the foundation of our most recent successes. This data-driven approach is what made collaborating with La Flora Group’s teams so much easier, as we simply killed off any ideas that weren’t selling.

And most importantly, both client and agency learned from the patterns to increase our likelihood of success after 3 years of experience.

Again, adopt an approach guided by results instead of purely gut feeling. Don’t always shoot down ideas just because you ‘think’ they’re not going to work.

Driving Even More Amazing Results for La Flora Group

By now you may be wondering whether all of this will work for you. You may even be doubtful.

I don’t blame you. We’re an agency, and we know the agency world has traditionally been a place of empty promises and fake reports.

When we published this case study in March 2020, people hated it.

Here’s our post:

 

And here’s the highlight reel of said hate in the comments section:

There’s more:

I thought that was it, but . . .

You get the picture.

Most people called it complete bullshit. 

Others called it a fluke because the tourism industry was pretty much doomed at the time.

But I call it science. Why? 

Because we did it again a few months later, with the same proven formula for success. 

With the same summer promotion, same room rates and same unclear lockdown situation in Thailand, we achieved another 21,000,000 THB in sales in 6 weeks for La Flora Group’s hotels.

In 45 days (5th June–19th July 2020), we spent around 3,000,000 THB to market the Summer Calling promo again. That’s already including our fees.

The 21 Mil milestone meant La Flora Group received over 7 times what they invested. For the second time in a row.

To do this, we separated the 45-day period into these 2 phases:

Phase 1: 30 days of educational posts to increase buying intent, shown to both new and on-the-fence audience members, and

Phase 2: 15 final days of aggressive promotional ads, shown to the now-more-likely-to-buy audience.

Here’s so you get a better picture of what I mean. This is one of the ads from Phase 1 of the campaign (We spread out the ads below so you can see the whole thing):

 

 

The angle of the image and the copy both educate the audience that the “Summer Calling” promo has been extended. But that wasn’t enough.

Since the Covid-19 situation was still a major concern, most people were hesitant to plan their next vacation.

Instead of abandoning the promotion entirely, we listened to the audience and found what made them most at ease to book.

The audience didn’t know when to book, because they didn’t know when they could travel safely again.

The Summer Calling promotion had the exact solution to that. 

The main benefitin addition to the low priceswas that the audience could choose a stay period up to 1 year after they’ve made their booking.

We made that point clear in Phase 1’s ads, to put the audience in the right mindset during the first 30 days of the campaign.

In the 15 final days of Phase 2, it was all going to be about aggressively driving bookings. Here’s what a Phase 2 ad looked like:

 

 

While the meat of the copy and booking info was similar, the angle of the hook and main idea was completely different. We focused on driving the point that it was reaching the last 7 days of the promotion.

These were the last 7 days where the audience could get the privilege of choosing a stay period they were comfortable with. At a fraction of the cost.

This simple Phase 2 approach worked so well that we clocked in over 9,000,000 baht in sales in the final 7 days of the campaign.

And after all the chaos subsided and the numbers calculatedthe project owners literally prayed at nightthe figure was finally reached: 21,716,803 baht in total sales revenue.

All in all, the Summer Calling promotion achieved 45,000,000 baht in sales revenue after a combined duration of 12 weeks.

The beautiful thing was how it was truly a team effort. The collaboration between hotel and agency turned all the work into these amazing results.

We didn’t just sit back and wait for results to happen, and the hotel team was willing to adjust their web pages to suit a better user experience.

They even prepared admins to take care of all the bookings that were coming in, so that no booking opportunity was left hanging.

Hundreds of lives work at La Flora Group’s 3 hotels.

And at the end of the day, none of these hardworking people were laid off nor given pay cuts from the crisis, because of this wonderful partnership.

We aren’t playing the agency game here. No account managers, no sales pitches, no aimless people-pleasing.

All we care about is growing businesses through outstanding results.

 

What Can You Take Away from This?

1. The mindset of you and your leadership team is imperative to the success of your business.

Educate yourself about the future and start believing in it. If you play the game just because that’s where everybody is spending their marketing dollars, then don’t do it. The money will most likely show no positive returns.

The same way of doing things with viral one-hit-wonders is over.

Social media already shows you all the numbers. And the people—whether they mean to or not—determine whether an idea does well or doesn’t, with the slide of a thumb on their smartphone.

Test aggressively. Take calculated risks. And remember that a journey never starts with success.

 

2. Partner and innovate with your agency.

Don’t hire an agency as someone to delegate or outsource minor work to. Agencies are far too expensive for that. To be frank you’d be better off getting an in-house team for those tasks.

Hire an agency who will be your strategic partner, and develop clear KPIs that are actually meaningful to your business. These KPIs should either lead to you increasing revenue or reducing costs, or both.

Develop a strategy based on this with them, and stick to it. Don’t get stuck in micromanagement and making changes to every single visual or copy produced.

These extra processes end up doing more harm than good, as they distract everybody from actually driving more sales for your business.

Agencies are supposed to bring you results; If you pay premium, then you need someone who knows digital marketing better than you do.

Don’t pay premium prices for somebody to answer calls on the weekend or give you a dozen “shiny” reports and all the other “white glove service”-gimmicks.

Focus on measurable sales results instead.

 

3. Don’t give up that easily.

In the weeks after COVID-19, we’ll all have to work harder and innovate more to keep our sales revenue up. There’s no way around it.

The good news is that people are still out there, and they’re still buying.

Businesses on the cutting edge will not only survive in these tumultuous times, but will even end up capturing more and more market share from the ones that fail to innovate.

We were not expecting the amount of feedback we received from the promotion. The sales and cash flow from the effort have truly made us feel more stable as a hotel, even more so with the additional revenue from guests when they actually come and stay here.

PORNNIPA KIATNGAMYING - ASSISTANT E-COMMERCE MANAGER - LA FLORA GROUP