However, brand safety and reputation can be challenging to maintain in the ever-changing digital landscape and is of paramount concern for hoteliers. With all of the competition, one cannot afford to have their well-earned reputation sullied by easy-to-avoid mistakes like poor ad placement.

Particularly today, where advanced algorithms more often than not determine where ads run and who potentially sees them, marketers are understandably concerned and confused about digital advertising and how to best protect their hotel’s brand and reputation as “human touch” and oversight become further removed from the process. With widely publicized mishaps like an advertisement for beer placed next to a story on an 11-year-old charged with drunk driving or a tourism advertisement for Greece set next to a story on local riots, marketers are becoming increasingly skittish about digital advertising.

However, consumers are using their mobile devices more than ever to research business and travel options, and digital is a realm that can’t be ignored if you want to succeed. In today’s landscape, you are expected to deliver 24/7, convenient experiences wherever the consumer is – whether that be online or in person. Additionally, consumers are becoming savvier and are visiting numerous sites to gather information and comparison shop to find the best deal.

It’s undeniable that in this environment, brands cannot afford not to be advertising online and therefore must take proactive measures to protect their brand and ensure that consumers get the best possible experience every time they encounter that brand online. As the well-known saying goes, “you are the company you keep,” and because of this one of the most important factors to consider is ad placement. All it takes is one consumer sharing a screenshot on social media of your ad for a family-friendly hotel on an unsavory, adult-content site to cause tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Not to mention the extra time and effort it will take to get your brand back on track and in the public’s good graces again.

This is why hotel brands should begin to shift budget away from traditional display media and move it towards comparison offers that drive greater value and more revenue.

Hotel marketers leverage many data points before placing ads on brand-safe sites to effectively target multiple consumer segments. These segments range from vacationers to business travelers – across thousands of dates and destination pairings, class of ticket and number of travelers. This is impossible to do effectively through a manual placement process. Brands must shift to a real-time, programmatic, platform-based approach, to operate at scale and drive greater efficiencies.

A programmatic approach also provides transparency, which is critical for brand safety. Programmatic can offer hotel brands detailed data on where their advertisements appear.

After viewing an ad, a consumer must draw a favorable conclusion about the brand, but the exact opposite can happen when that ad placement is next to content that damages said reputation, a risk that heightens when advertisers are forced to remain in the dark about where their advertisement runs. A brand’s reputation takes a lot of time, talent and money to build. One poorly placed ad can damage all of that consumer goodwill.

While the placement of ads on “safe” publisher destinations has driven conversations around brand safety, there is another significant risk that many overlook, which is a competitor purchasing brand terms that match your product offering, cannibalizing a portion of your revenue. When consumers search for your specific brand, instead of finding your hotel, they are directed to a competitor.

“Brand squatting” – a term that is sometimes used to describe this practice – is a risk for major hotel chains, as well as small- and mid-sized operators. Regional hotels have smaller marketing budgets and cheaper keywords, allowing third parties to compete on their branded search terms.

In fact, boutique hotels, which have spent a significant amount of resource on creating a unique value proposition, have an extra incentive to protect their brand name and identity from third parties who could confuse and befuddle potential customers. It is also very important to protect your brand through the purchase of similar or alternative spellings.

Ad networks, aggregators and competitors exploit brand awareness and limited search engine protections to drive their profits. Brand keywords are often hugely profitable as they have a comparatively lower cost per click (CPC) than generic terms, with the same revenue per click. This is a serious issue for hotel brands, as well as brands across multiple other industries.

The damage can be significant. Not only is there a risk for a loss of revenue, but a brand without trust, authenticity and reputation, is merely a product, indistinguishable from competitors. Failing to protect your brand keywords from competitors or third-party aggregators allows that brand, which you have put significant effort in creating, to become at risk to competitors and imitators.

In addition, brand squatters often use misleading ad copy and similar domain names as the hotel to confuse your brand shoppers, leading them to have an awful experience and one that is wholly inconsistent with your hotel’s otherwise luxury experience. At this stage, consumers are high intent and ready to purchase.

Protecting brand safety from competitors needs to be a priority. Allowing competitors or arbitrators to squat on your branded keywords damages the value of your brand and destroys your customers’ first experience. This practice misinforms the consumer as to your hotel’s hospitality offerings. Today the customer journey does not start when the customer walks onto the hotel property’s grounds, but it begins when they first search for your brand or experience it online.

The last thing your hotel needs is for another business to come in, buy your keywords and take advantage of all the hard work and money spent to build that brand reputation. Don’t let them take advantage of the brand marketing campaign you have deployed, over multiple years, to drive these search queries in the first place.

While owning your brand keywords may not seem logical or may feel duplicative over organic search; it is not. Instead, it is an excellent way to protect your brand name and ensure that you do not lose clicks to a competitor or arbitrator squatting on your space. This squatting is more likely to happen to brands that do not protect their space because that keyword search volume has no bidders, a competitor or squatter can move in at a lower CPC and siphon away valuable leads from your business.

Hotel brands that operate in an incredibly crowded environment for organic search results have even more of a reason to purchase their brand names to ensure that consumers have the option of going to your website. If a hotel is having trouble with organic search engine optimization, buying branded keywords is a way to ensure that their property remains competitive in consumer searches.

Hotels can protect themselves from brand squatters through the use of coordinated brand bidding that ensures that squatters – whether third-party aggregators or competitors – are not able to capitalize on the hard work that you have done to build your company’s identity and recognition. In addition, this helps to grow your click share with limited cannibalization of existing organic traffic.

It is clear that brand safety needs to be of paramount concern to hoteliers. Protecting one’s brand from competitors and intermediaries buying branded keywords is a key strategic priority. Digital and online advertising are crucial spaces for hotels to gain customers and extend their hospitality-focused customer journey. By not protecting your brand keywords online, you allow others to jump into your space and grab what should be your leads, while also opening up the potential of damaging your company’s reputation.

Digital marketing is only growing in impact and visibility. While hotel brands need to be competitive within this space, they must take steps to protect brand safety online – from ensuring that advertisements don’t run next to damaging content to preventing competitors and other nefarious actors from taking advantage of branded-keyword searches.