In early 2020, we shocked the hotel industry by generating 24,000,000 THB in sales revenue in 6 weeks for a hotel group in Phang Nga, in southern Thailand: during COVID-19.
The numbers were so ridiculous that people couldn’t believe them. Here’s a recap back when we published that case study so you know what we mean:
While we did prove the haters wrong by using this same strategy to generate another 21,000,000 THB for the same hotel group later that June, there were still doubts.
Up till then, we only had the opportunity to apply this Performance Marketing strategy to hotels in southern Thailand: More specifically Khao Lak (a developing tourist destination in Phang Nga) and neighboring Phuket.
And with news articles like these being published after our success, it was hard to judge whether these massive changes were the result of our campaigns, or whether it was just a coincidence:
At the time our clients also asked us whether we just got lucky, or if our strategies only worked for hotels by the beach, even though we’d already written about several of our success stories here.
But against all odds set by the COVID-19 pandemic and the suffering economy, we did it again.
This time, for a hotel in Chiang Rai—about 900km away from the nearest beach.
While longstanding household names in the North are closing down, The Riverie by Katathani Chiang Rai just clocked in over 21,000,000 THB in quarterly sales revenue from direct bookings alone.
The best part is they only needed to spend around 350,000 THB to get there in 3 months, and keep operations running normally during the pandemic.
And today we’re going to show you exactly how the Riverie achieved the unthinkable, and how you can apply these repeatable steps to your business too.
Like many hotels and businesses in general, The Riverie’s revenue dropped drastically during the first COVID-19 wave in Thailand. And there was little they could do about it.
50% of their core audience were foreigners. And with international travel banned at the time, they had lost a key source of income.
The Riverie also relied heavily on online travel agencies (OTAs) to get bookings because they lacked expertise in digital marketing.
This didn’t put them in full control of their business because OTAs were also suffering from the pandemic.
They needed a way to generate more revenue fast, or else risk suffering even more like the rest of the hotels in the industry.
To make sure our sales-driven Performance Marketing strategy was working, the primary goal was to make The Riverie enough money to keep operations running during COVID-19.
To get there, we agreed on a quarterly goal: 9,000,000 THB in total booking revenue must be reached by the end of the third month, for our marketing campaigns to be considered successful.
If we didn’t reach 9 million in 3 months, it simply meant our strategy wasn’t working for them.
Their business would either have to go back into safe mode and wait out the virus like most other hotels, or find someone who was better at driving more sales than we were.
They couldn’t afford to waste any more time as a business.
Here’s a step-by-step rundown of what the key changes to The Riverie’s marketing campaigns were and how we applied them:
The Riverie’s prime location right by the Kok River and Chiang Rai’s main city attractions made it popular among foreign tourists. But international travel was almost completely banned at the time.
That’s why the first big change we made to The Riverie’s campaigns wasn’t about the strategy at all: It was a mindset change to primarily target Thai audiences, to increase immediate bookings.
The only choice for hotels during the pandemic was to target people who are already in Thailand. And for The Riverie, our job was to find out what kind of people would want to travel to Chiang Rai: their habits, the trends they follow and what they value.
So to make sure The Riverie could 100% focus on getting as many bookings as possible from local audiences, we applied these 3 key strategic changes:
A. Finding the perfect offer for Thais to buy
B. Finding exactly which segments of Thai audiences to target
C. Partnering with local influencers to promote the hotel
Here’s the breakdown of how we implemented them all:
A. Finding the perfect offer for Thais to buy
At the heart of a successful marketing campaign is an offer your target audience can’t refuse.
And most hotels normally turn to promotions in times of crisis, because they help them drive more bookings.
At the time, the government already had travel campaigns like Thai Tiew Thai and Rao Tiew Duay Kan (We Travel Together), where the government pays part of the booking fees, to help Thais travel for cheap.
And we definitely made use of these campaigns for The Riverie to drive more bookings.
But the problem is you can’t just slap promotions on hotel bookings and expect everything to work, because everyone else is already doing that.
The crucial point in this step was this: We created Facebook ads based on what The Riverie’s audience values overall.
Focusing on what the audience values is the difference between an ad that just gets your point across and an ad that gets someone to buy.
Some people may value the money they save from a deal more than the hotel destination. Others may value the satisfaction of taking their loved ones on the perfect holiday more than the price.
In the end, they decide which ads work, not you. That’s why testing different value-based approaches in your ads and showing them to your audience will tell you which ads get you the most purchases.
And here’s how to start testing different approaches in your ads right away:
1. Create 3-5 ads based on your understanding of what your target audience values most (cheap room rates, the travel experience, etc). You can create them on your online platform of choice; The Riverie’s was Facebook. The key here is to ensure each ad has a distinctly different core message from the other, so it is easier to identify what worked and what didn’t
2. Set them all up with the same audience, under the same budget. It has to be the same audience for all ads because you want to limit as many variables as you can.
3. After around 3-5 days (depending on your budget), you should see clear differences between ads that don’t show any signs of promise, and those that really got more people to buy.
After that, you can stop using the low-performing ads and allocate the budget to the best-performing ones, and improve on them even more.
Here are examples of winning ads that The Riverie’s target audience responded the most to, so you can get a better picture of what we mean:
This was an ad that focused on the government’s Rao Tiew Duay Kan (We Travel Together) promotion.
Here we used an approach focused on the promo’s name itself, including everything the audience needed to know about the offer before making a booking.
Anyone who received the ad could simply share it to a loved one and they would be able to read about all room rates, privileges and conditions.
But just because this ad performed well doesn’t mean other angles didn’t. Here’s another winner too, talking about a trip to Chiang Rai as an experience, as opposed to only talking about the hotel:
The ad focused on an annual light festival in Chiang Rai and used pictures of the hotel’s very own light garden to draw the audience in.
While the two events (the light festival and the hotel’s light garden) are separate, the ad treated the situation as a unique “light experience,” where people could come and see an exclusive side of Chiang Rai during only one time of the year.
Selling an entire experience generally is more powerful than just selling hotel rooms, because it forces you to think about what the audience really values.
Instead of thinking about what they’re going to get out of staying at the hotel, this ad talks about what they’re going to get from a visit to Chiang Rai.
And the approach did prove to get more bookings from The Riverie’s audiences.
So that’s the basics of ad testing done. Next up is how to find better and more accurate audiences to target.
B. Finding exactly which segments of Thai audiences to target
One of the biggest challenges in any online marketing campaign is actually finding the right people to target your advertisements to.
It doesn’t only mean identifying them as “people in Thailand who are interested in traveling.”
It means knowing exactly what demographics, interests and behaviors to select when you want to target them in online platforms, like Facebook.
The best way to make sure you’re targeting the right people online, like with your ads, is to create several audiences, and test them against each other.
Use the exact testing process above, only switch out the ads for audiences instead (create 3-5 audiences and test them with the same ad).
It may sound redundant, but it was the only way we made sure none of The Riverie’s money was wasted on just any Thai audience.
We made sure to combine all our learnings from Khao Lak with The Riverie’s existing audiences that were already doing well before they started working with us.
And one important tool that helped The Riverie get more bookings is the use of Lookalike audiences.
These audiences are basically people who share the most common interests, educational backgrounds, hobbies, behaviors, ages & more with your existing customer list.
Facebook allows you to target these people in percentages of likeness to your customer list, from 1% to 10%.
1% means people who are most similar to your source, where 10% is as generic and broad as you can get.
You can switch up the desired percentage to your liking, like this:
We’ve found that the sweet spot for Lookalike audiences is normally between 1% to 3% for you to reach the right people.
However, we also recommend that your existing customer database should be at least 500-1,000 names in size, but ideally 2,000 names or more.
Any less than 500 names is not enough to develop a good Lookalike audience.
After testing audiences for The Riverie, their Guest Database Lookalike audience became one of their best audiences, along with Lookalikes of people who engaged with their Facebook page.
Audiences that didn’t work out so well after testing included people who were interested in travel OTAs like Expedia or Agoda, and general people living in neighboring Chiang Mai.
This is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t act based on assumptions, as many would assume people who engage with travel OTAs would be more likely to make a booking.
Again, it all comes down to audience testing and industry expertise to find out which audiences work best for your business. Keep testing and invest more into audiences that get more purchases at a cheaper cost than the others.
These ads and audiences were the result of aggressive testing before we invested more of The Riverie’s budget.
Now it’s time for the last part of the strategy that is equally as important when it comes to targeting Thais: working with influencers.
C. Partnering with local influencers to promote the hotel
Even if you’ve nailed audience and creative testing and you’re creating better versions of both of them as you go, things can always be better.
Partnering with local influencers is another effective way to increase your sales revenue, for one main reason: you’ll gain authentic content where others are talking about your brand.
This means instead of you being the source of all your own advertisements, your audiences will see other people posting about your business as well.
Think travel bloggers who post about hotels, foodies about restaurants, beauty bloggers about beauty clinics, and so on. If you’re the brand they’re talking about, everyone who sees their posts will know about you.
And when you advertise your own promos while influencers also make posts about your brand with the promos, the results can be exponential.
The Riverie partnered with several influencers to promote their Chiang Rai experience. Here’s an example of an influencer’s post about the hotel:
The page, TummengTravel, has over 120,000 followers on Facebook so far. But they weren’t chosen only because of their follower count.
The Riverie started partnering with them because the page was followed by people who are part of the hotel’s target audience, which are Thai families and couples.
When looking for influencers to contact and work with, do some extensive research on who your target audience members follow on social media.
And go for the influencers who have followers who share the most similarities with your target audience. That’s your best bet at getting more sales revenue from the partnership.
And the beautiful thing is you can keep working with them and make them part of your marketing strategy, especially if you get more sales from their posts.
Every time you have a new promotion that you want to boost, for instance, you can collaborate with them, and they’ll make the content while you make your own ads too.
Now we’ve covered the 3 keys to success in targeting local audiences. The final step of the strategy we applied for The Riverie, coming up next, is choosing the right campaign setup for all of the efforts above.
Whenever you set up a Facebook ad campaign, the platform will force you to select a Campaign Objective.
The point of having a campaign objective is basically to tell Facebook what you want out of the whole campaign.
It’s pretty straightforward for the most part: If you want brand awareness, traffic or video views, you can select it and Facebook will optimize your budget to target audience members who are most likely to do what the objective measures.
The Riverie’s goal was to drive more sales, and nothing else. That’s why we went with conversions as the campaign objective.
And that meant when someone clicked “Book Now” at the bottom of one of their ads, they’d be redirected to the hotel’s website.
But the decision wasn’t made just because the optimization button said “Conversions.”
Several of our clients actually get more purchases by optimizing their campaigns for direct messages from the audience instead.
Messages work for products where the audience needs clarification before buying, like fashion items, food and beauty products, and businesses without user-friendly websites.
You can read more about our success with messaging campaigns in this case study.
But for The Riverie, we chose the conversions optimization from 2 deciding factors:
1. We optimized our previous Phang Nga hotel efforts for conversions too, until it actually became a best practice in the industry, and
2. We tested both messaging and conversion campaigns against each other for The Riverie, to see which campaign would get more bookings. Conversions ended up winning, verifying our best practices from Phang Nga.
The point here is that the decision was fully data-driven from the start.
Nothing was left to chance or gut feeling.
To know the best optimization strategy for your business, test it out. Pin two campaigns with different objectives against each other, and choose the one that gets you more sales.
Then allocate more of your budget to the winning campaign. That’s how you’ll ensure you’ll be getting the most returns out of your investment.
OK, now that we’ve gone through The Riverie’s complete Performance Marketing strategy, here are the results of all that hard work:
*Note: ROAS refers to Return on Ad Spend.
The Riverie’s goal with us was to reach 9,000,000 THB in sales revenue in 3 months.
At the end of the 3-month period, our Performance Marketing Strategy ended up making them 21,000,000 THB revenue from bookings alone, from 350,000 THB in ad spend: more than twice their aspirational goal.
In addition to those awesome numbers, we also helped the Riverie:
For The Riverie, this means their progressive-minded approach and willingness to try new things by hiring an agency for the first time paid off remarkably well.
And for us, these great achievements show that our Performance Marketing strategy works wherever it is applied flawlessly; that it is both an art and a science, because the successes have proven to be repeatable.
1. Never stop testing for better practices.
The backbone of success for most sales-driven marketing strategies is being data-driven, and that means testing based on comparisons of real numbers.
Find out which of your ads and audiences result in the most sales, and more importantly, which don’t.
If you can crack the code on what ads, audiences and campaign setups work, then you’ll have a marketing strategy that can drive more sales revenue for your business.
And if you keep finding better ways to do all of that, then your business will grow as the strategy does.
2. Don’t be afraid to adapt to changes in the market.
Many businesses tried to save costs during the pandemic by cutting off most, if not, all marketing expenses, where in fact marketing was the key to their business’ survival.
It was just too risky for some businesses to invest into something they couldn’t confirm would work.
Although the decision to do more while you’re earning less is a very brave one to make and requires a lot of stress and sacrifice, it doesn’t always have to be a hit or miss decision.
If you can only target local audiences in times of crisis, then do it. But always have a working strategy to deal with changes.
And if you don’t have the expertise or time to do it yourself, hire professionals with a proven track record to do it for you instead.
Every moment spent being in “safe mode” is a moment that could have been spent on rebuilding and adapting to stay ahead of the competition.
Let the numbers do the talking. If what you’re doing is getting you more sales, keep doing it. If it isn’t, test with other approaches, and fast.