Marketing on a shoe string budget

CITA members learn tips at special workshops

One of the most crucial things when trying to do any type of marketing is to know your customer.

This was the key message from one speaker at the free tourism marketing workshops for Cayman Islands Tourism Association members held at the Westin Casuarina Resort last week.

Director at The Reef Resort and CITA board member Tom McCallum spoke about ‘Online Marketing on a Shoe String Budget’.

He pointed out that business owners and managers need to put themselves in the shoes of their customers, such as the US customer, which makes up the majority of visitors to these islands, to get a feel for who they are, how they access information

The Cayman Islands’ Department of Tourism can help, he said, having a range of statistics on who exactly these customers are and what they want.

‘Play at being those customers on the internet,’ said Mr. McCallum.

There are two ways to do this, he said because those planning a vacation either know where they want to go and zero in on that or else they zone in on a particular experience they want to have.

For a certain type of experience, a customer should be able to go to a good travel agent or refer to a good travel guide or watch Travel TV. A good travel agent knows their customer and can provide something unique, he said.

Of course, many people also look online on websites or do searches on search engines using key words.

Pointing to the changing landscape in the sourcing of travel, he said a survey done for the Department of Tourism looked at high end travellers and how many of them used travel agents. The number of people in that group that regularly use travel agents was just 30 per cent.

‘It’s a completely different world,’ he said.

He urged attendees to punch in keywords to a search engine to find what the customer will find when searching for a particular choice.

‘Know who your customer is and continually know it because the environment is changing all the time,’ he said. ‘Grab a laptop, put it on your lap, pretend to be a customer and look at what your competitors are doing.’

He noted that a business’s website is at its core.

‘At some point in the process they [the customer] are going to see your website.’

Search Engine Marketing

A related presentation was given by Fevi Yu of iPortal on search engine marketing and the two main branches of that – ‘search engine optimisation’ and ‘pay per click’.

She told attendees that 93 per cent of internet users use search engines to find things online.

‘Because there are billions of websites, through search engine marketing users can find you and your services,’ she explained.

‘Pay per click’ is when advertisers pay for every click the search engine sends them and those who pay the most generally get listed higher.

‘Search engine optimisation’ is the process of improving aspects of your website to increase traffic to it from search engines. The idea behind it is that you get top placement in search engines because your site is relevant to a particular search term and not because you pay.

Ms Yu said that this is important for tourism-based businesses in the Cayman Islands because: the target market searches for you before they come here;

It’s cheaper than advertising and is probably more effective if your website caters to its users.

Key words

For instance, if your website shows up on the first page of a Google search for ‘Cayman Diving’, your business showed up on over 12,000 searches under those keywords in June 2009, she said.

She advised writing up website content around two major and four minor keywords, but she warned not to overuse the key words on a website and to still write for the readers.

Other important aspects of a website include having a menu, sitemap and good layout, Ms Yu said.

‘Creating search engine friendly websites requires a basic to advanced understanding of how search engines work. It is not enough to have a pretty website if you want to compete in the online market,’ she said.

One of the main things that a website is there for is to make the business money, stressed Mr. McCallum.

For instance, if you are a hotel or condo and if the customer can’t request to make a booking with you within 30 seconds of accessing your homepage, you are losing customers. ‘You need to give them the option to buy your product.’

The website needs to sell the product, brand the product and give the business credibility, he said.

Get some great visuals on the website. This builds credibility, he added.

He urged attendees to build up an email list from people such as past guests, but not to bug people who don’t want to be contacted.

Do competitions, surveys and give them reasons to come back to the site. Having a blog or a newsletter is also a good idea.

Social Networking Sites

Make sure to have a presence online to represent your brand such as through Facebook or Twitter, Mr. McCallum advised.

On forums such as Twitter remember to be relevant, interesting and don’t plug your business. ‘It turns people off in the worst, worst way,’ he said.

He also advised people to sign up for Google Analytics. ‘It tells you who is visiting your website and if there’s one thing you want to find out from that – you want to find out where they are coming from.’

Amongst other tips given by Mr. McCallum for keeping customers happy is for properties to have wireless high-speed internet available. ‘The customer wants to know what to do once they get here and they’ll go online to find it,’ he said.

‘Know who your customer is and continually know it because the environment is changing all the time.’ – CITA Director Tom McCallum