As one of the world’s fastest-growing budget accommodation booking platforms, Hostelworld knows the importance of what the consumer wants. Cathy Thomson, Global Head of CRM and Customer Insight, is responsible for digging into Hostelworld’s consumer database, managing consumer feedback, and ensuring that their diverse and dynamic customer base have the best possible relationship with the brand. “A lot of what we do is making sure that the customer voice is at the table in the business decisions at Hostelworld,” Says Thomson, “and we’re constantly looking at ways to make our relationship with them better, to keep them more informed and engaged.”
Founded as a start-up in Ireland, the brand has seen a huge amount of growth, as it has expanded to dominate the budget travel market. Making sure that the digital marketing infrastructure was solid enough to handle this expansion was a key part of Thomson’s remit. “We made a concerted effort to build up our customer insight to cover a much larger business , with a new ,marketing technology stack to support us. As a result we now have a much broader acquisition team, brand team – with a focus on social media and content, and a much bigger CRM effort.” After bringing their digital media in-house, the company have continued to grow, and have won Best International Campaign of the Year and Best Use of Video at the 2017 Travel Marketing Awards for their digital marketing campaigns. “We’ve gone through different stages of maturity as a company, and have a strong focus on optimising the marketing function and the customer insight function. The next stage is expanding our tech pipeline, so we can continue to grow and innovate even faster.”
Commanding The Digital Space
Hostelworld has an edge over its competitors due to its dedication to its digital presence, and relationship with its consumer base. While the platform is itself digitally native, other brands who are newly entering the digital space have equal opportunity to break out as a leader within the industry. The importance of testing is paramount. “It’s a lot about agility- don’t waste time trying to be 100 per cent. If it’s 80 per cent where you need it to be- get it out and start testing, iterate and improve. Keep up the pace- in digital we have to.” Says Thomson. “The more quickly you can get some early wins, the better off you’ll be.” Of course, any brand marketing to a millennial-majority demographic understands the need to keep up the pace when it comes to digital optimisation, and improving their user experience means consumers are more likely to share their data, leading to a high-quality resource for marketers to draw on. “As KPIs for us, the number of bookings we get every day is an important barometer, but it’s a focus on the customer metrics that really are driving our business forward: bookings per customer, customer liftetime value, and the number of active vs lapsed customers” Says Thomson.
With a broadly youthful customer base, Hostelworld has a key advantage when it comes to engaging their consumers over digital channels. As a pure-play digital company, their whole energy is spent developing and improving their digital offering for their discerning target consumers. Marketing to millennials has its own advantages, however. “The millennial generation is less concerned about privacy issues than baby boomers- they don’t mind sharing info about themselves if they feel that it’s going to be used relevantly, and it’s going to improve their experience.” Continues Thomson. “They’re digital natives, and that does make it very easy for us to communicate across different channels.” With such a digitally open-minded demographic to market to, the opportunities to communicate are numerous, whether through email, social media or live chat.
This consumer base is also instrumental in the production of Hostelworld’s content. With a brand tagline encouraging their travellers to “Meet the World”, Hostelworld is actively engaging their customers to show off the unique opportunities that hostelling affords. “What we know from our customer insight that there are some misconceptions about hostelling that we need to re-educate people about, so from our perspective, being able to showcase in a compelling way what modern hostels are about is really important.” Says Thomson. To this end, the brand has invested heavily in producing high-quality content, playing on the aspirational experience that millennials are looking for. “In most cases we’re able to have our customers participate, either through supplying user generated content, or having their experience featured in our content. That’s what our brand is all about, it’s peer to peer engagement.” Collaborating with celebrities like 50 Cent and Charlie Sheen in their campaigns as “unexpected guests” at hostels has also catapulted the engagement rate of Hostelworld’s content, and helps to enrich the brand persona. “We make sure we direct people back to our blog from these campaigns with a lot of content and examples of where you can find this type of hostel experience and what it’s all about […] a lot of this is building awareness, and we’re able to track through digital channels and post-campaign surveys where we’re getting that reach, and if people are considering using hostels and Hostelworld as a result.”
Hostelworld’s success proves that the relationship with your consumer base is key not only to generating profitable leads, but also helping to curate a brand experience which resonates across the industry. With user-generated content adding value to Hostelworld’s brand voice, the result is a business which is more than just an accommodation booking platform. It’s a community of spokespeople, advocates, and content curators, who bring the same passion to the brand that will cement its success for the future.