Selling Experiences Through Digital Marketing
Introduction to Hospitality Marketing
The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled “Selling Experiences through Digital Marketing.” In it, Jackie Ng, the PR Specialist of Astoria Group, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in digital marketing.
It's an experience not a service
When it comes to the hospitality industry, you don’t sell a certain product―you sell experiences. Hospitality companies sell joy, excitement, comfort, and overall satisfaction in life. But all these things are intangible, which begs the question: how do hospitality companies market experiences?
For the Astoria Group, which includes Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Astoria Vacation & Leisure Club, Inc., and Astoria Culinary & Hospitality Institute, it’s through digital marketing. “For me, digital and online channels are very much like a borderless sandbox on Earth for brands to play in. It makes up the spine of any brand worldwide because you can reach somebody in Africa with your product or service in the Philippines through online mediums and channels,” Jackie Ng, Digital Marketing and Business Development Head at the Astoria Group, shared.
Ng recalled that she established Astoria’s digital marketing department in 2015. What started as a one-man digital marketing team is now made up of more than 20 people segregated into three units under one marketing group: the digital marketing team, the branding and graphics team, and the audiovisual team. Under the tutelage of the Astoria Group’s Director of Marketing, Jay Visco Ng, the three teams worked closely with other departments within the company to put Astoria on the map of the best hotel chains in the Philippines.
One of the digital marketing tools that Astoria largely benefits from is videos.
Ng explained that prior to making a video ad, they would always look at their existing market’s preferred products and services from Astoria and build their marketing campaigns from there. “People are attracted to movement and activity. When it comes to video, you’re able to immerse yourself in the actual experience that you’re going to have. This is especially important for us in the hospitality industry, which is why we try to shoot from the point of view of the guest, so we can demonstrate the elevated service they will receive in Astoria properties. When people see the beauty of Boracay’s white sands, the tranquil nature of Palawan’s green islands, and Bohol’s rich heritage culture, they are drawn in to the moment and are inspired to book a trip and to travel locally,” she said.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Astoria used video marketing to show how their respective hotels are responding to the crisis and adhering to government mandates to protect their guests. These videos featured how Astoria’s housekeeping staff sanitized and disinfected rooms and premises using hospital-grade cleaning solutions, industrial
grade equipment, and ultraviolet (UV) technology. She expounded, “Guests gave us very positive feedback when they saw the safety measures we were taking. We have spared no expense at acquiring disinfection equipment and solutions, some of which are the same ones used in hospitals, to keep our guests safe. Our guests felt much more confident to come and stay in our properties when they saw how we were proactively safeguarding them throughout the pandemic.”
Apart from video marketing, Ng and her team also fully utilized social media and online ads to market the Astoria properties. For every product launch and campaign that they do, they would assign team members to handle a specific account so that they could have a streamlined flow of work. They would coordinate closely with the graphics and audiovisual teams to create branded video and photo content highlighting the unique facets of each property.
“No two Astoria properties are ever the same. This is the most unique selling point that we have in the Astoria Group. This was our COO, Vivian Ng’s, vision―she wanted Astoria’s guests to experience something fresh and new with each visit to our different properties. For example, Astoria Current’s architecture and design are very millennial-driven, white
hot, and ultra-modern. Meanwhile, Astoria Palawan’s design incorporates the natural elements of the mangrove property it sits on, with the villas built around the mango trees to preserve them. Every Astoria experience is unique and memorable,” she explained.
According to Ng, digital marketing strategies proved to be instrumental when they rebranded Astoria in 2019. Their robust digital marketing initiatives turned out to be successful, as the Astoria brand was able to rise in the ranks among the best hotels in the Philippines. Ng recalled that during Astoria’s infancy, the hotel chain’s properties first ranked in the double digits against other local hotel companies. By 2019, Astoria Palawan was named as one of the top 10 resorts for families in the world, while Astoria Current became #1 on TripAdvisor’s list of top 10 resorts in Boracay, with Astoria Boracay ranked at #3.
Aside from boosting their brand identity and awareness, Astoria also used digital marketing strategies to promote their corporate social responsibility initiatives, one of which is the SikapPinoy program. Launched and spearheaded by Astoria’s CEO and COO, Jeffrey and Vivian Ng, in 2018, the SikapPinoy program aims to educate Filipinos on various topics on personal growth such as financial education, family values, and spiritual guidance. The initiative was initially geared towards Astoria employees but was later extended to people living in rural communities near Astoria’s hotels and resorts.
According to Ng, the beauty of the effort is seen in the improved lives of the townsfolk who attended their programs. “When we went back to Port Barton in Palawan, we found people who used to live in nipa huts now having businesses of their own. They were able to save money and build their homes in concrete. They had saved up for motorcycles, refrigerators, microwave ovens, and gas stoves―we were completely astonished!” she recalled.
Ng added that the program was able to help uplift lives and teach people to get out of debt through proper financial management. The initial results of the program were so successful that they were even featured on ABS-CBN and the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other national broadsheets. To maintain this kind of impact and traction, Astoria boosted the SikapPinoy program, an initiative meant to promote financial literacy and life education, through their digital marketing efforts. They used video marketing tactics and posted social media testimonials from the people they’ve worked with on the program.
“We try to trumpet the success of these communities because we want more people to know about them, so that they receive added help and assistance also and they serve as an inspiration to others,” Ng said.
When asked how SikapPinoy and their other CSR initiatives are relevant to Astoria’s core business objectives, Ng said the hotel chain considers the communities as part of the Astoria ecosystem as well. For example, Astoria was able to support the lives of those in the Batak tribe in San Rafael, Palawan through their financial education programs. In return, the tribe would go down from the mountain to entertain and educate Astoria Palawan’s guests with cultural dances, play their Batak musical instruments, and more, giving guests a rich experience in terms of indigenous tribe culture in the Philippines.
“The SikapPinoy program really gives us a very authentic feel that Astoria goes beyond Filipino homegrown hospitality with a world class, elevated level of service. Our Astoria family also very much appreciates the culture of the roots of where we’ve come from,” Ng said.
At the end of the day, Astoria is able to help communities, provide beautiful vacation experiences, and demonstrate what Filipino hospitality is all about. After all, isn’t that what the Philippines is known for?
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