Recent data from the ONS shows that in late December 2020, 59% of all UK hospitality businesses were open and trading, compared to 84% of companies across all industries. Staggeringly, the pandemic has caused 41% of hospitality businesses in the UK to temporarily pause trading completely.
As the owner of a pub, restaurant, hotel, beauty salon or retail business, these statistics may cause feelings of dread and uncertainty. But, the silver lining is that there are plenty of ways to keep your business competitive and build your unique brand even while your doors are temporarily closed.
Use this guide to discover the importance of a digital health check, and learn what actions you and your team can take to prepare your business for a bright future.
What is a Digital Health Check?
Have you ever considered the digital fitness of your own hospitality business? A digital health check covers different aspects of your business’ digital activities.
While some entrepreneurs and industry leaders might consider a digital health check to be a way to measure innovation or technology adoption, for the purpose of this article, we’ll be outlining the ways that SMEs in the hospitality industry can improve their digital presence in the online world.
Why is a Digital Health Check Important?
The purpose of a digital health check is to take a step back and look at your business from your customer’s perspective. Rather than only considering your customer’s impression of the premises, a digital health check helps you consider the way they perceive your company, your brand, and your service offering online.
A strong digital presence gives your brand a powerful platform to communicate your message with consumers. Bringing your A-game online gives you the opportunity to set the narrative about who you are as a brand and set yourself apart from your competitors.
Your digital presence is ever-changing and expands to all the touchpoints a consumer may have with your brand online. While this includes your company website, digital presence can also encompass areas outside of your control, like conversations about your brand on social media and online reviews.
So that you can put your best foot forward when building an online reputation, consider reinforcing your brand from all angles in the digital world.
(Consider all digital touchpoints when it comes to consumers engaging with your brand online.)
Why Now is a Great Time to Conduct a Digital Health Check
The global hospitality sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes, and hotels have stood empty for months as the UK government and public health advisors have worked to curb the spread of the virus.
At the start of the pandemic, plenty of companies acted quickly to negate serious impacts on their businesses by furloughing staff, pivoting online, working remotely, and reducing costs where it was suitable to do so.
The pandemic also dramatically altered consumer behaviour, with new habits and expectations forming in response to lockdowns and restrictions. Understanding and responding to consumers’ changing behaviours will be essential to the recovery of the hospitality sector.
For businesses with lingering doubts about digital transformation to business longevity, COVID-19 has silenced them. In fact, a whopping 88% of customers expect companies across industries to accelerate their digital initiatives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the emergence of digital transformation is hardly sudden or unexpected, hospitality businesses must recognise the value of digital channels to bring their online presence into sharp focus.
When it comes to running a business in the hospitality sector, it can be hard knowing where to begin when managing your digital presence in today’s online world.
To help you out, we’ve outlined 3 essential steps to take to manage your online presence.
Step 1: Your Business' Website
How Important is a Website for Hospitality SMEs?
If your hospitality business doesn’t have a website, you’re missing out on a large audience. Just like other consumer-focused industries, online visibility is essential for SMEs. It can ultimately be the determining factor when customers are deciding whether to come to your business or not.
Your website is the first impression a potential customer has, which is why it’s important to make a good one. Having your own website gives you control over the image of your business.
Better yet, your website can be used to convert customers directly. For example, you could include a booking widget on your website, giving your customers a convenient and easy way to make reservations. When the time comes for you to reopen, a digital booking system will help you manage reservations and avoid overbooking.
What do Customers Look for on a Website?
Prospective customers expect to find information about what your business offers, location details, contact information, and how they can make bookings. Providing your customers with these details is an essential part of building a strong online presence.
Make sure to advertise everything your customers won’t know about unless you tell them, and also be sure to keep your website up-to-date with all the latest deals and promotional offers. After all, who doesn’t love a happy hour?
Digital menus and online ordering are flooding the hospitality sector with opportunities for forward-thinking SMEs to reimagine how menus are presented. Did you know that around 40% of Brits say they’d use technology to optimise their dining experience?
The benefits of digital menus include:
- An opportunity for customers to see your menu ahead of time.
- An easy way to give customers value-added or dietary information.
- Clear pricing.
- Promote special offers, deals or upselling opportunities.
- Streamlined self-service and payment.
- Speedier service without the need for customers to physically stand and wait in queues.
(Having a website boosts brand visibility and gives you control over the image of your business.)
How to Improve Your Business' Website
To get your website into shape is a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. We’d recommend outsourcing a professional to:
- Create value-driven and unique content that boosts the SEO of your website.
- Make sure your site navigation is simple and user-friendly.
- Redesign your brand’s online face to reflect your company and culture.
- Polish the content and make sure all information is up-to-date.
- Add clear call to actions throughout your website to maximise conversions.
Step 2: Invest in Digital Marketing, Email & Social Media
Long-Term Planning: How to Create a Digital Marketing Strategy
While your business’ website plays a large part in your digital marketing strategy, there are other valuable channels you should capitalise on. Think email marketing, creating content, and social media posts. With the number of global social media users expected to reach almost 3.43 billion in 2023, it’s important for today’s businesses to cultivate a strong social media presence.
To develop a comprehensive digital marketing plan you should choose the most lucrative digital channels for your business. For example, if your customers look for Facebook reviews of restaurants, having an active and customer-facing presence on the platform is a great move.
Email & Digital Marketing Ideas for Restaurants and Hospitality Businesses
Email marketing is a valuable way to gain attention from new and old customers. While no customer wants to be bombarded with emails, regular updates with useful information or promotional discounts are a great incentive for customers to purchase your products or services, or book a table online.
If you run a hair or beauty salon, before and after photos of glamourous hair styles is a great way to highlight your services. As is using photos of food and drinks to catch a hungry customer's eye if you run a restaurant or pub. With that in mind, you should also carefully consider the time of day and week you send your emails.
Your email can include new content from your company blog, customer reviews, promotional coupons, as well as reminders of your business’ contact information or how to book a reservation.
(Creating a social media strategy for your business is a great way to encourage customer engagement online and increase brand presence.)
Social Media Tips and Tricks for Hospitality SMEs
According to Statista, improved traffic, lead generation, and growing fan loyalty are the top reasons marketers see growing value when using social networks to market their campaigns.
But often, there can be a temptation to try and have a presence across all social media platforms. In most instances, rather than building relationships with more prospects your businesses efforts are instead diluted.
Suppose you’re a bar that specialises in promotional cocktails. In that case, Instagram is a great visual tool where you can post pictures, captions, or even have a team member do a demonstration on Instagram Live. Better yet, features like this can be a gateway for you to interact directly with new and existing customers throughout lockdown.
Use Google My Business
Google My Business is a great way to advertise your business and engage with customers on Google for free.
With a Google My Business account, you’ll have access to a business profile that allows you to connect easily with customers across Google Search and Maps.
Step 3: Gather Positive Customer Reviews
How Important are Online Reviews to Hospitality Businesses?
Did you know that about 91% of customers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations, while 93% of customers will read reviews of local businesses to determine its quality?
Positive online reviews are critical to the success of SMEs. Consumers value reviews because they’re user-generated content, which is considered more reliable and trustworthy than adverts from retailers.
The Benefits of Positive Customer Reviews for SMEs
Online customer reviews create both opportunities and risks. The downside for businesses is that negative reviews can be damaging to brand perception and reputation.
As the owner, it’s vital you engage with and respond to both positive and negative online customer reviews diplomatically. Not only can this make your customers feel more connected to your business, but it also shows a human side of your business too.
A good way to encourage customers to leave positive reviews is by offering an incentive and personalising your request. Discounts, cash credits or even charitable donations are proven ways to get customers to leave good reviews.
(Online customer reviews that are positive helps increase brand trust and attracts new customers.)
How to Collect Customer Reviews Online
Encourage all customers to leave reviews. In-store you should place signs, table toppers, and stickers that prompt customers to leave reviews on the platforms you use. If your business meets and exceeds customer expectations, the additional positive reviews will continue to boost your brand.
But, in-store isn’t the only opportunity to collect positive reviews. There are options in the online world that include:
- Your Company Website: As the owner, you can put the most positive reviews front and centre. For customers to see the reviews, they already have to be on your website. Make sure you have a strong social media and SEO strategy in place to encourage website visitors.
- Google Reviews: Google Reviews are popular, easy for customers to find, increase online exposure, and boost click-through rates to your website. One negative review can skew a potential customer’s view of your business. That’s why it’s critical that you respond to negative reviews with compassion and empathy.
- Facebook: Positive reviews on your Facebook page builds brand credibility and consumer confidence that can be shared across the platform with other customers. As the owner, you need to keep your page and reviews current and up-to-date, otherwise they’ll seem dated and irrelevant.
Turn Today’s Uncertainty into Tomorrow’s Opportunity
As we’ve discussed in this guide, now is a great time for SME owners to look for golden opportunities to invest in their digital presence to benefit in the long-term.
The online world is going to make or break how competitive businesses are once doors are officially reopened. Building a stronger brand and reaching more customers today is an investment in your business’ future.
As an SME owner in the hospitality sector, you might want to secure funding to help finance digital transformation, like rebuilding or redesigning your website or hiring a digital marketing manager to flesh out your long-term digital strategy.
How We Can Help You
To implement our marketing ideas into your business, it takes time, money and resources. We are a direct financial provider offering £5,000 to £200,000 in unsecured business funding for UK businesses with no APRs, hidden costs or fixed monthly payments.
Our funding is a quick way for any business that accepts credit and/or debit cards to raise capital without the need for a bank loan or hefty overdraft.
Get a free quote today - we approve 90% of businesses that apply, and funds can be with you in as little as 48 hours. In no time, you will be able to adopt the markeing ideas outlined throughtout this guide and build a strong digital presence to promote your brand.