These Digital Marketing Mega-Trends Are About To Turn Your Business On Its Head


Marketers are furious competitors; at least the good ones are.  Think Michael Jordan looking for every advantage in order to beat the competition.  Like Jordan, we’re in a continuous state of reinvention and improvement, developing new ways to put the ball in the basket or, in the case of marketers, looking for novel ways to connect consumer and business.  

Consumers and businesses; the two sides of the fundamental marketing equation.  Equally weighted and equally important.  Because to be truly competitive, we have to understand the best way to present a business, but we also have to understand the nuances and idiosyncrasies of how consumers find and interact with those businesses.  This reality leads us to obsess over consumer trends, to become early adopters of new technologies (have you seen our new TikTok hotel ads service?), and track hotel marketing performance data with an intensity that makes our loved ones jealous.  

In that vein, I’m here to tell you that consumers - one half of the equation we all rely on for business, are in a state of transformation that will turn your business on its head.  Two trends, loosely related but equally dynamic, are driving this change in consumers.  Those who understand these trends will benefit with long term growth and market share.  Those who ignore them will see a decay in their customer base, and be left to wonder what the hell happened. 

At GCommerce, we are organizing our hotel marketing services and our client advocacy around these trends.  We’re creating webinars, giving speeches and writing articles to help educate our family; the hospitality family; about these changes.  We invite you to get involved, to learn the trends and deploy the strategies we believe will be most effective in a new world.  But first, what the heck am I talking about.  Here’s a primer.

Leading Indicators

*A leading indicator is a measurable set of data that may help to forecast future economic activity. Leading economic indicators can be used to predict changes in the economy before the economy begins to shift in a particular direction.”

Nothing gets a marketer more juiced than a quality leading indicator (I know…we’re super fun and interesting people).  When the indicator is predictable and repeatable enough, it allows us to see the future.  In my estimation, there is no greater consumer leading indicator than a new generation coming of age and entering a workforce.  Time and again, when the oldest members of a new generation enter the workforce, our culture, our businesses and our way of life changes.  And it’s not a strange coincidence; the dynamism of a new generation growing up and becoming consumers is the exact thing that changes society.  These new cohorts invent ideas and businesses that become ubiquitous successes we all come to know and integrate into our own lives.

Each generation is a product of two primary influences - their parents and the state of the society in which they were raised.  Millennials inherited their Baby Boomer parents’ optimism and need for inclusion (participation trophies anyone?).  GenZ inherited their GenX parents’ skepticism and hard-work ethic.  At the same time, the dominant trends of society during their youth play a huge role in a generation’s prevailing world view.  While Baby Boomers were relentlessly optimistic and ambitious thanks to the post-war expansion of the middle class, GenX were troubled by exploding divorce rates and serious financial insecurity.  These realities can be traced to the businesses they formed, the media they consumed and their relationships with their preferred businesses.  Every fifteen years or so, members of the emerging generation start businesses that are quickly adopted by the masses; thereby placing their indelible mark on the world and transforming society to better reflect their own worldviews.  

Don’t make the mistake of thinking “these young people aren’t my customers.”  Millennials weren’t your customers when Zuck was founding Facebook, or Chesky was sleeping on couches while inventing AirBnB, but their work and their generation changed your reality.  

Here we are, standing on the precipice.  GenZ is entering the workforce as we speak; their leading edge is about 26 years old.  It’s not a matter of if, but when and how they will change the way you operate and market your business.  The obvious question is “what impact will GenZ have, and how can we prepare or take advantage?”  To answer that, we need to understand them a little better.

Who are GenZ

GenZ are generally characterized as those who do not remember life before 9/11.  A couple years ago I wrote an article about how Alexa was raising my GenZ daughter.  While millennials may have been digitally fluent, this generation is digitally native.  They are children of the great recession that touched their neighborhoods, their neighbors and, in many cases, their own family.  This was also the first generation to grow up with what we know now was an overconsumption of information.  TV sets went from carrying dozens of channels to hundreds of channels, only to be dwarfed by the amount of content, opinions, and even truths available online.  They watched their older millennial cohort incur mountains of student and credit card debt.  They were also the first generation to become acutely aware that their data was for sale to the highest bidder.  

As this generation comes of age, they are far more fiscally responsible than their older peers.  Instead of being enamored with the ever expanding reach of technology and media, they are more focused on things that they can see, touch and smell.  They are focused on their own communities, however they come to define those.  Ultimately, they are gravitating towards media, technology and community that bring more creativity, relevance and meaning to their lives.  

How are these desires manifesting in this generation:

  • Unlike millennials, GenZ’s social media participation is more about voyeurship and less about self expression.  They want to stay connected with their social circles, but they aren't interested in having their future job prospects impacted by things they post online in their teens.  They have a voracious appetite for TikTok, but are rarely found posting on any channels about the intimate details of their lives.  
  • With the world at the tip of their mouse, the novelty of digital transformation has worn off.  Whereas previous generations were enamored with pushing the boundaries of innovation, GenZ is more interested in technology that fits into, and improves, their immediate circumstances.
  • They are exhausted with information overload in a post-truth world.  Instead of a blistering onslaught of opinions, they are seeking out creativity, relevance and meaning.  They want to relate to their own small community and their own interests in a relevant way. 
  • They are activists, but not just on weekends.  They want to do business with companies that support their vision for a kinder and more connected world.

So what’s the prescription, doctor? How can your hotel adapt to target GenZ?

We’ll answer that in increasingly more detail over time, but in general know this.  You have to change the way you communicate as a brand.  Your customers are going to respond to creativity, not frequency.  Yelling “15 minutes will save you 15% or more on car insurance” 10 times a day simply won’t work any more.  Same with featuring the same bed and breakfast package on every channel all the time.  We have to become storytellers again with our brand as the setting and our customer as the hero.  We have to think hard about relevance; how our brand is uniquely meaningful to our customers.  And we have to do so with authenticity and integrity.  

The good news in all of this is that we are all in the travel industry - for my money the most personal, emotional and meaningful consumer category on the planet.  We have the ability to tell meaningful and transformative stories; we just need to renew our commitment.  Remember, to be appealing in this reimagined world, we also have to be intimate and personal, which is becoming all the more difficult with the emergence of our second mega-trend.

The World of Data For Hotel Marketing

The marketing world is undergoing a sea of change in data and the platforms we use to target and speak to consumers.  You’ve likely seen or experienced the change as you are now asked to accept cookies when you visit a site, or your iPhone gives you the option to block apps from tracking you.  Many of you have heard about the transition to Google Analytics 4 and the death of 3rd party cookies all together.  Like the emergence of GenZ, these changes are not cosmetic.  They are going to change the way you operate moving forward.

Data, and the platforms that leverage them, have been at the heart of hotel digital marketing for over two decades.  When search engines first offered hotels the ability to advertise to people who searched for “Boston Hotel”, the prospect and value of consumer targeting was forever changed.  Over time, as new technology and new platforms emerged, so did the sophistication of our data collection and consumer targeting.  What started as demographic and behavioral targeting matured as platforms like Facebook gave us the option to target people based on their psychographics.  Not only could we target people who made a certain amount of money, or lived in a certain city/region, we could target them based on what they cared most about.  We knew if they were golf enthusiasts, or foodies with a particular appetite for seafood.  Best of all, the targeting was cheap…which led to eye-popping returns.  This data is often referred to or categorized as “third-party data.”  As marketers, we got a little drunk with the power third-party data offered.  It was so darn inexpensive to target small segments of the population that we did so with reckless abandon.  It’s no coincidence, then, that society pushed back.

Our ability as marketers and as businesses to segment and target prospects through third-party data is being systematically eroded.  In some cases, laws like GDPR and CCPA are legally limiting our use of data.  More often ubiquitous platforms like Google, Facebook and Apple are changing their data policies.  If you haven’t read about the death of third party cookies and the emergence of GA4, start here.   

These changes are going to have a profound impact on the way you market your hotel and, if you aren't careful, the returns you can expect from your advertising dollars.  Read any article about the erosion of third-party data, and they all reach the same conclusion; first-party data will become more valuable than gold going forward.  First-party data is the information that a brand collects, with permission, from their own branded outlets.  When a guest stays at your hotel and gives you their information, that's first-party data.  When a guest browses your website - first-party data.  When a prospect joins a loyalty program - first-party data.  Third-party data erosion means that digital channels like paid search and social media advertising are losing their teeth, but also that marketing using first-party data is gaining in effectiveness (and returns).  

Once again, going forward GCommerce is committed to providing innovative strategies and tactics to collect and deploy first-party data to market your hotel.  In all cases though, it starts with the data collection.  Simply put, if you haven’t installed Google Analytics 4, you’re behind.  It's the tip of the spear; the measurement and management tool that will make all first-party data efforts accountable.  

The trick then becomes creating marketing and engagement mechanisms that inspire your customers and prospects to hand over their information.  As GenZ goes, so goes the world.  Remember, GenZ knows their data is for sale, and they are reluctant to turn it over.  Brands will need to create effective (creative, relevant, meaningful) communications in order to connect with their customers.  They’ll need to earn their trust and admiration before they earn their data.  That data will become competitive jet-fuel.  Those with deep, rich first-party data will enjoy lasting success while those competing with an “old school” mentality will be relegated to the bench.

The emergence of GenZ and decline of third-party data are not inextricably related, but they do end up pointing to the same conclusion.  We are in the midst of a disruptive and transformative shift in consumer behavior.  We need to follow an entirely new game plan.  In the very near future, our marketing will be focused on a deeper and more creative relationship with a smaller group of loyal customers.  Small footprint, deep impact.

In my next article, I’ll outline a strategy that incorporates all of these insights into an actionable plan of attack.  We won’t give you all the secrets (we reserve those for our partners and clients), but we’ll give you enough to get you thinking.