For the purpose of this ongoing eMarketing technique ranking exercise, reservation services are those that can be booked at a given time and place.
So this means any service that can be scheduled such as transport bookings, accommodation, health and professional services, cleaning services and so on. It also includes entertainment, sport and education events.
In many ways the internet has revolutionised these businesses by streamlining bookings from a time consuming and often inconvenient manual process to a ‘help yourself’ booking and payment procedure.
Probably the biggest beneficiary of the technology is airlines who reward internet users handsomely by drastically reducing the cost of reservations made online.
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But now this once cost prohibitive reservation technology is available to the smallest operator for a matter of a few dollars a week or as a percentage of the ticket price.
Listed below are the key eMarketing techniques with a rating of how effective the technique is likely to be to operators of reservation services. High = High effectiveness, Low = Low effectiveness and so on.
Selling/booking online: HIGH
If you operate a reservation-oriented business, online booking and payment is simply going to revolutionise your business. Not only will it eliminate the need for you or your staff to spend valuable time taking the call and making the booking, it will eliminate costly phone/email ‘tag’ (which can be instrumental in losing the sale altogether) and improve cashflow by requiring full or part payment upfront.
Sure, not everyone likes to book in this way but the airlines have drastically slashed the resistance to this wonderful capability. Better still, it’s now affordable for the smallest of operators.
Search engine optimisation: HIGH
Reservation services are major beneficiaries of search engine referrals when it comes to new business. The vast majority of the population now Google searches for any service they require and if your business isn’t prominent, you lose the business to a competitor.
Remember too that mobile phone owners are now using the web interface on their to find a supplier when they are away from their desks, multiplying the numbers of those who will search in this way.
Vouchers for your service are another way of securing otherwise missed sales opportunities.
Search engine advertising: HIGH
A very cost-effective means of either substituting or supplementing your ‘natural’ search results. If your website is failing to compete with better optimised websites on Google et al, a ‘pay per click’ online advertising campaign is a fantastic way of achieving a prominent presence or at least having some control over it.
If you’re in a highly competitive space, look for keywords and phrases which distinguish you from your competition, such as specialities, locations and price points.
Email marketing: HIGH
This technique is one of the most underutilised by the reservation services sector. Because any unbooked inventory is simply lost revenue, you need ways of filling reservations at every opportunity – even at reduced rates. Email provides a brilliant low cost means of doing this.
It can also be used to promote new deals and specials and is otherwise a great way just to keep your name in front of previously satisfied customers as well as gain the viral affects of ‘forwards’ to others in their circle.
Online directories and portals: MEDIUM-HIGH
Reservation services are well serviced by a range of both general and specialist online directories and portals. While it’s always better to have customers book direct with your website, some portals may dominate so comprehensively that you have no option but to have a presence with them.
Specialist directories and portals (like Lastminute.com, Home Improvement Pages or Natural Therapy Pages) are usually a very affordable way to promote your business while improving your ranking with Google et al. General directories like Yellow Pages Online can also be very effective – particularly if yours is in more of a traditional category like accommodation or veterinary services.
Banner advertising: LOW-MEDIUM
While any advertising on relevant websites can only help promote your brand, reservation services probably stand to gain less out of techniques like banner advertising because they tend to be more ‘on demand’ or directional in their nature. In other words, customers tend to search for them when they are needed rather than recalling a brand they have come across.
Of course, a banner ad placed on a portal or directory pertinent to the search term is a great way of being seen ahead of the pack.
Social networking: MEDIUM-HIGH
Social networking sites are relatively well-suited to reservation services because of their timeliness and high viral factor. For example, they can be used to promote a last minute vacancy or special offer and stand a good chance of being forwarded or ‘retweeted’.
Because they are also ‘intangible’ in nature, they rely heavily on the opinions that social networks are famous for. Conversely, a bad review will need to be responded to or made good as quickly as possible.
Affiliate marketing: LOW
Like banner advertising above, affiliate ‘commission’ marketing is better suited to longer term products than shorter term reservation style services. However, larger businesses could well benefit from releasing affiliate campaigns to take advantage of a medium-term opportunity such as a seasonal special offer or similar.
All in all, providers of reservation services are one of the biggest beneficiaries of eMarketing due to its timesaving, convenience, cashflow and just-in-time capabilities. If you work in this space, it should now dominate your overall marketing and operational mix.
Do you agree or disagree with these ratings? Either way, tell us why below. We’d especially love to hear from reservation services who have tried the techniques described.
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Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.