Continuing with our How Did They Do It? series, where we interview and spotlight companies who are successfully marketing their brands online, this post focuses on the successes of Cannes, France-based corporate hospitality company Azure Online Marketing LTD.
We are pleased to share with you our interview with the managing director for Azure Online Marketing, LTD., Lao Watson-Smith. Azure Online Marketing is a corporate hospitality company based in the beautiful South of France with an international clientele of corporate customers as well as private individuals visiting the region on holiday or otherwise for pleasure. Azure Online offers accommodation services in serviced apartments, luxury villas, and charter yachts, and also manages events, PR, logistics, and staffing.
Below is our interview:
1. For the past 6 months, you’ve been leveraging a lot of social media into your websites and marketing efforts. How were you marketing before, and what specifically caused you to integrate social media into your marketing?
Previously we were using a combination of various marketing methods, in order of importance (focuswise):
- Website SEO (natural listings)
- PPC (Google Adwords)
- Email list marketing
We began to integrate social media into our marketing plans mainly (and simply!) because it began to gain traction as a methodology, and the tools and resources to do so become useable and cheap! At the same time, we found our space both on the natural search engine listings (SERPS) and the PPC becoming crowded, and less and less cost effective. We have always wanted to lead and innovate in our field, and we felt that we could drive our traffic, lower our cost, and, at the same time, differentiate ourselves from our competition by being social media early adopters in our business space.
2. You’ve decreased marketing spending by 70% while increasing site performance (enquiries and bookings) by around 40% since you started on your social media push. Is there a specific strategy you implemented to see these results? Please share what you did to see these results.
1. A strategy of openness and of engaging in an open conversation with our stakeholders (Customers / Suppliers and Staff). This has led to a deeper engagement with our brand and has also helped us to improve our service simply by giving our customers and suppliers the tools with which to feed back information to us—something we never received before.
This, we believe, has deepened people’s trust in our brand, and made them more likely to commit to an action (booking / enquiry) than before. We have used services such as Disqus to get comments on our content, Get Satisfaction, and feedback reviews from past customers (positive AND negative) linked to particular properties.
2. Giving our customers and website users the opportunity to share all the content on our websites with their friends and within their social networks. This has not only boosted traffic, but it has also increased the value of that traffic since a lot of the traffic is now coming by friend referral. This means that the person referred is far more likely to take a deep look at our website and service offerings because he has been specifically “recommended to” it.
We gave our users the ability to sign into our site via Twitter and Facebook (both of which post a message to the user’s profile and into their feeds, which has a viral effect since many of their followers and friends will have similar interests).
As a result of this, we have seen the average user’s time on the website and the number of pages they look at increase greatly. We have also seen a significant increase in repeat visits. We believe that all of this points to the fact that users are more prone to be engaged when they are personally referred, rather than stumbling across the site by way of a generic web search—something that holds little emotional weight.
3. All of the above had an initial setup cost in terms of programming, but little or no ongoing cost. The services mentioned have either free subscription models, which are fine for small businesses, or the cost is marginal when compared to even a small Google Adwords campaign, linking campaign, or any other SEO-related task. Not to mention those campaigns must be redone again and again for best effect, whilst the viral aspects of social media integration remain and work untouched and without cost for a long time!
3. What online platform has brought in the greatest results for your business? And why do you think that is?
A combination of LinkedIn Groups and Facebook Groups / pages has probably had the greatest effect. We have set up profiles, pages, groups, and personas on both of these platforms for various events and localities that we are involved in. Luckily, we are involved in an industry that has “sexy” connotations, from our geographic location (South France) to sexy and noteworthy events (Cannes Film Festival), and thus, it is not hard to get people engaged and talking in a group.
We have stewardship of these groups; therefore, with thousands of members and a lot of discussion, networking, and banter, we have the opportunity to insert our messages and themes into them as we wish. We are very careful to do this very subtly, and not to detract from the fun networking side of them. And there is most definitely a very fine balance one has to find between overtly promoting commercial services and offering the group members timeouts and useful information that they can act on. We seem to have managed that fairly well, and thus have built solid user communities who engage with our programmes, messages and groups, and what is more, they evangelize them to their personal networks!
4. How do you locate your target market online / on social media?
Again, we are lucky and blessed to work in a very notable and high profile / high visibility sector, so it is relatively easy to target people who will be attending, or at least talking about, events and the area. We do this by monitoring “chatter” on the networks and monitoring those that are joining groups associated with the events and the region.
5. Have your online marketing efforts had an international impact? If so, what strategies did you use to reach a worldwide market?
We attract visitors and have customers from all around the world. We have not so much used a strategy of “reaching out” worldwide, but rather a strategy of ensuring that we are visible worldwide. People find us. We therefore have a presence on all social media sites (which seem the most segmented by geographic region), and we make sure our content, or at least the major part of it, is available in several languages (but only the languages for which we have a native speaker on staff).
6. How have your online marketing efforts impacted the relationships you have with your current and prospective customers?
The afore described efforts have impacted little on our existing customer base, really, since we have a fairly advanced nurturing and re-sales department that works on building personal relationships with our existing customers—that part has not changed. We are in a “touchy-feely” service-orientated business with large ticket / value items, and as such, we need to build personal, offline relationships with our customers, face-to-face and on a personal level.
With our prospective customers, however, it is a different story. We are feeling that they are far more engaged right from the moment of first sale, are less prone to “buyers’ remorse” following an expensive booking, and, also, critically appear less price sensitive. I believe that they feel that they know us already by the time they come to make a reservation, and this has resulted in our managing to increase our “close rate” substantially, which must be directly related to deeper feelings of trust engendered by our openness and our perceived social presence.
About Azure Online Marketing LTD:
Azure Online is a corporate hospitality company based in Cannes, France, with an international clientèle of corporate customers who attend the various trade-shows, markets and festivals in the South of France, and also with private individuals who visit the region on holiday or otherwise for pleasure. Azure Online offers accommodation services in serviced apartments, luxury villas, and charter yachts, and also manages events, PR, logistics, staffing, and other related needs for our customers.