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Skift CMO Interviews: Red Roof Inn CMO on Being Brilliant With the Basics

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Staying at an economy hotel used to mean that every aspect of the stay was “economical.” Red Roof Inn looked at its product and saw that while guests expected rates to be low they still wanted modern rooms with fast Wi-Fi, for example. Recent brand-wide renovations also led to a facelift with its content marketing which it’s seeing successful results from.

— Dan Peltier

Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travelhospitality, and destinations, Skift has launched a new series, this time focused on Chief Marketing Officers.

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To better understand the big marketing challenges facing travel brands in an age when consumers are in control, Skift’s What Keeps CMOs Up at Night will talk with the leading voices in global marketing from across all the industry’s sectors.

These interviews with leaders of hotels, airlines, tourism boards, digital players, agents, tour operators and more will explore both shared and unique challenges they are facing, where they get insights, and how they best leverage digital insights to make smarter decisions.

This is the latest interview in the series.

Travelers often feel they sacrifice comfort for price point when staying at economy brand hotels, a trade-off Red Roof Inn wants to eliminate while still keeping rates low but amenities better than expected.

The hotel knows its guests–those with cars who want to save money on accommodations–and also understands that its guests have standards just like those of mid and upscale hotels. Red Roof ripped up rugs because guests said they didn’t appreciate mildew smells and it redecorated to appeal to millennials, creating the Red Roof Plus designation at some properties.

Marina McDonald, Red Roof Inn‘s chief marketing officer, told Skift how 2016 will be a “scrappy year” for the brand as it hums its “brilliant with the basics” mantra, which McDonald says is pivotal to her team’s philosophy. We talked about how content marketing for economy brands can exceed guest’s expectations and how it parallels what more expensive brands are doing. We also discussed how Red Roof‘s content marketing emphasizes what guests can do because they stayed with the brand, whether it means more money for a great dinner with family or letting their pets tag along for a vacation.

Skift: What does the economy brand perspective bring to Red Roof Inn’s content marketing?

Marina McDonald: For us being an upscale economy brand it’s all about being obsessed with listening, with consumer acumen and really satisfying what our customer is doing and how do we enable them to do it more often. We also look at providing them with content for the different reasons they’re traveling.

We’ve seen the bleisure trend take shape at our properties for many, many years but we didn’t really identify them as bleisure until last year. We’re asking ‘how do we really speak to them, how do we build content for that customer?’ To respond to this and other groups of guests we have, we built a campaign last year that was very successful for us, ‘Go more, go better.’ What does that mean? For us, going more means that our traveler likes to experience multiple different things.

Skift: How do you think content marketing from your brand and other economy brands is different and then similar to more midscale and upscale brands?

McDonald: Upscale brands have done quite a bit of the types of content marketing that we’ve done. We’ve launched Experience pages, for example. One of the things that I would say an upscale luxury hotel can do is have a concierge or local expert.

Well, in economy hotels we don’t have a concierge. We enable that with what we call an Experience page. Every one of our Red Roof Inns has a property Experience page that talks about what a customer can experience as they’re at the hotel or in the local area. These are things that you see at a luxury hotel but not necessarily at economy hotels and that’s what we’re really tapping into.

Skift: Do you think the Experience pages offering has surprised guests since they may not be expecting that?

McDonald: Yes, it’s probably something our guests weren’t expecting. Experience pages are responsive design so if a guest is on their mobile device the content will fit their screen appropriately. On a different note we’re also seeing, and this is really more on the product side but related to our content marketing, that Wi-Fi now for our customers is the second most important amenity besides price and location.

Having a robust Wi-Fi network is more important than breakfast to our customers and I think that’s across the board. So we’re responding with upgrades. We’ve upgraded 60 locations with, as we say, ‘go more, go better, go faster Wi-Fi.’

Skift: Was there anything during your tenure as CMO that went really well that you weren’t necessarily expecting to go well? Then on the flip side of the coin, what was something, such as a marketing campaign, that was anticipated to do well and maybe missed a few marks or fell short somehow?

McDonald: In 2014 we launched a flight cancellation campaign. This campaign was ‘micro moments,’ as we call it, of where can we win in the search, specifically mobile, space with a campaign. We built what we call flight cancellation technology. When we saw bad weather, this was our chance to target road travelers looking for a place to spend the night to escape the nasty weather if their flights were cancelled and this campaign was very successful for us.

Also, we know that a lot of our customers are driving to our hotels in their cars. We took our technology and we transferred it to a traffic campaign, and think about this. We’re monitoring highway traffic across the country, so when there’s certain moments that we know that there’s heavy traffic and there’s a Red Roof close by we are serving ads as the customers are looking for hotels. For them it’s a place to stay because they want to get out of traffic and we saw 180 percent increase in phone calls.

We saw a 400 percent conversion rate and a 225 percent increase in bookings from that campaign. I’m really proud and excited and this campaign is just a cherry on the top as far as CMOs are concerned.

The opposite was our app. You have to invest and you really have to do the right research if you want to launch an app, and it fell short. I would say the app was not my finest moment. This year actually is the year that we are looking at redesigning our platform for desktop and mobile web. The whole of our digital platforms are getting redesigned this year, so more to come on that.

Skift: Why do you feel like the app didn’t work?

McDonald: I would say that we were too quick to launch it. The thing that I learned is that you really have to take your time, and you really have to invest properly. You can’t set a budget and say, ‘this is the budget for the app.’ You really have to understand how your customers are interacting with the app and then decide what the investment should be.

Skift: When thinking about other hotels that are in the same space as Red Roof, and thinking about whether or not they have an app, do you think content from an app is something that economy hotel guests are looking for as part of the guest experience?

McDonald: I would say that it depends on what features and functions the app has. What we noticed is that what our customers really want to know, and that’s why we landed on Experience pages with the website with a responsive design, is they really want to know what’s in the local area.

Our hotels don’t have restaurants. They want to know first and foremost, where can I take my family or where can I go eat? Very simple question. What’s in the local area? Those are the types of things that our customers are asking or seeking and that’s how we answer the questions. We believe that that type of content is what they need today.

Skift: In terms of social media, is Facebook marketing dead? Which social channels have been working for you?

McDonald: Facebook isn’t dead for us and we’ve actually had a lot of success with Facebook through campaigns. We actually have over a million likes on Facebook. We handle all of our social media in-house. It is not done by an agency. We use Twitter more as a service base.

We just started campaigns for Instagram and we are pet friendly so we do have a, “Go more, go pets,” campaign. Instagram is a really big focus for us this year. Guests love to show-off their pets. They’re family and we treat pets like family and that’s always been part of our philosophy.

This series is presented by Boxever. The Skift content team maintains complete editorial control over these interviews and the selection of subjects.

For more insights from Boxever, please see the following reports:

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