As brands increasingly operate like media companies, what does the future of hotel marketing hold in store?
By Daniel Grossberg, Brand Strategist
Content marketing is nothing new – think of the Michelin Guide or John Deere’s magazine The Furrow, two corporate-produced publications that have worked to guide and influence potential consumers for well over a century. Brands have always leveraged their unique stories and histories to gain new customers and retain old ones. What has changed significantly though, thanks to the technological and digital revolutions of the past decade, is the elimination of traditional barriers to entry that brands once faced when it came to publishing, marketing and content creation. In today’s content-driven world, powerful and compelling stories have never been more important in building a quality brand.
When done well, content marketing increases profitable customer actions. That’s the end goal, naturally, but it’s not the only purpose or even the only measurement brands should be looking at.
Unlike traditional marketing campaigns, content marketing requires a sustained commitment to producing quality content and pushing it out through an integrated publishing network. Without a solid long-term engagement strategy in place, many brands fail to actually capitalise on such initiatives.
Today’s savviest brands have essentially become media companies in their own right, creating high-quality content that they release across a variety of digital and traditional platforms – Red Bull Media House is widely seen as the gold standard in this arena.
The Brand Becomes a Media Company
Treating a brand as a media company is increasingly becoming the model for a wide variety of companies around the globe. Take Net-a-Porter and Casper, for example, two companies in widely different sectors using innovative techniques to not just take part in, but actually create the culture and lifestyle that will drive their overall brand in the future.
In 2014, Net-a-Porter, by then a leading high-end fashion retail site, started publishing a bi-monthly print magazine. While this might sound like a step into the past, Porter, their GBP5, 250+ page publication, is anything but antiquated. The magazine is uniquely designed to complement their online retail selection and work with their app, allowing readers to scan a page and purchase the items immediately.
Even though improved shopability is the essence behind Porter, don’t confuse it with a simple catalogue. What truly sets the magazine apart is the level of editorial talent and fashion experience that they’ve been able to bring to the table. With Lucy Yeomans, former editor of Harper’s Bazaar UK, serving as editor-in-chief, and fashion icons ranging from Gisele Bundchen to Jessica Chastain gracing the cover, Porter now has a serious voice in the fashion world and a distribution that rivals British Vogue. Most importantly for Net-a-Porter, the magazine helps the brand actively imagine, define and create the ideal Net-a-Porter customer, while at the same time driving new sales.
Similarly, Casper, a New York-based mattress startup, launched a major online publication in 2015 centred on the topic of sleep. Named Van Winkle’s, the publication is much more than your typical brand blog. Presented through a unique domain name, minimally branded – with only “Published by Casper” appearing on the footer – and boasting editorial independence, Van Winkle’s is a freestanding media outlet that aims to publish roughly 10 original pieces daily and even plans to run outside advertisements. Like Net-a-Porter, Casper has also attracted an impressive editorial team to run Van Winkle’s and produce consistent and impressive content. Their first headline article, for instance, was a detailed investigative piece that looked into America’s dependency on prescription sleep medications.
This competitive landscape is an excuse to shoot for great instead of settling for good, to publish original research, commission longform essays, create compelling podcasts and videos, and challenge yourself to tell stories in interesting ways. It’s the only way to stand out and convince your audience to stick with you when there are so many other options.
Joe lazauskas, editor-in-chief, Contently
For smaller brands with minimal marketing budgets, the potential rewards from successful content marketing are huge, but it can require more creative thinking to get off the ground. Good! Greens, a US-based maker of nutrition bars, is a great example of how a small company can leverage nearby connections to produce low-cost and highly effective content. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, Good! Greens was in its infancy when the CEO approached local bloggers to ask if they would be interested in reviewing and writing about Good! Greens’ bars. By developing relationships with over 30 independent bloggers, Good! Greens massively expanded their overall online presence, boosted their credibility and gained enough local traffic that they were able to stock their bars in Cleveland stores. The key to this success, of course, was a great product, which ensured that bloggers would actually want to produce high-quality content.
For all of these companies, the end goal is essentially the same: to sell more of their product. However, their marketing is notable more for its subliminal influence than any overt call to action. Luke Sherwin, one of the co-founders and the chief creative officer at Casper, frames the company’s philosophy this way, “Great brands don’t just ride shifts in culture, they contribute to them. Smarter brands in general realise that their products are just enablers to a lifestyle – changing the lifestyle itself can be more profitable than any change to your product.”
Engaging Today’s Hospitality Consumer
Nowhere is this truer than in the hospitality sector. And indeed, many hotel and travel companies have been quick to embrace similarly strategic content marketing plans. Over the past two years, however, no one
has done more than Marriott to adjust to the new digital landscape. “We’re a media company now,” says David Beebe, Marriott’s vice president of global creative and content marketing, and he means it. With the launch of a global content studio in 2014 and two marketing and brand command centres, in Bethesda, Maryland and Hong Kong, Marriott is working to engage consumers both in real-time and through longer format storytelling.
Marriott has also moved aggressively to hire the sort of media experts who can produce high-quality content, bringing in talent from CBS, Variety, and the Walt Disney Company. In two short years, they’ve developed a successful TV show, three hit short films, a personalised online travel magazine, and even virtual reality travel experiences for Oculus Rift.
Central to their success is the way Marriott strategically focuses each production on a specific brand. Their short films Two Bellmen and its sequel Two Bellmen Two, for example, were made exclusively for JW Marriott. Another key has been their subtle approach to branding such content, “If brands want to be relevant,” Beebe explains, “they need to stop interrupting what consumers are interested in and become what they are interested in.”
See Also: Branding by Experience
Other hospitality companies have also joined the trend in recent years. In 2008, Best Western launched a travel blog called You Must Be Trippin’ filled with travel tips, destination advice and real-time news. Hilton’s Conrad brand recently started an online luxury content campaign that publishes local travel itineraries in destinations where Conrad operates. Holiday Inn Express has partnered with BuzzFeed over the past two years to produce entertaining travel-related videos. Starwood’s W Hotel has even developed its own Snapchat filter.
Clearly, the hospitality industry is learning how to stay relevant in the age of content marketing, but, as always, quality remains essential. Driven by continual technological advances and even fewer barriers to entry, demand and supply of online content will continue to boom. In this world, the challenge is not just to develop content, but to create high quality, engaging material that truly interests a potential consumer in the face of almost limitless alternatives. Telling engaging stories, forging emotional connections and developing a bold cultural voice: this is the future of hotel marketing.
What’s The Impact?
- Marriott on their short film French Kiss: “If you book through the French Kiss [sales] package, you got a special rate, Champagne and chocolate, and a Paris tour in one of our cars. That package drove over USD500,000 in revenue for that single hotel.” – David Beebe, Marriott’s vice president of global creative and content marketing.
- Marriott on their online publication Marriott Traveller: In its first 90 days, Marriott Traveller drove over 7,200 room bookings.
- Net-a-Porter on the influence of Porter: Once a Net-a-Porter customer subscribes to Porter, the average spend per customer increases by 24% and the average amount of orders increases by 86%.
- Liz Bedor, senior content marketing manager at Bluecore, talking about Casper’s publication Van Winkle’s: “Any business that is built on benefiting the end consumer has a leg up on an honest and trustworthy brand perception. Launching an unbranded editorial site, filled with amazing content, with no direct strategy to drive e-commerce enhances that positive perception even more.”
- Good! Greens on the success of working with local bloggers: “We watched our sales average jump over 50% over the last four months from the previous four-month period!”
What Sets Great Content Marketing Apart?
- Upping the entertainment factor: it’s all about creating a valuable emotional connection, whether that’s laughter or love.
- Credibility: consumers want to hear from independent experts who are free to speak their minds, not just listen to company messaging.
- Self-multiplying content: take advantage of social media trends, like unboxing videos and customer testimonials.
vs. Falling Flat
- Put simply, bad content: if it doesn’t inspire you to keep reading after the first sentence, it won’t work on anyone else either.
- Going for the hard sell: too much content and too little time – when’s the last time you actually read a pop-up ad?
• Missing your cue: trying to jump too quickly or too late into the conversation on trending topics generally doesn’t work out too well for companies.