Content marketing a tool for all segments
20 NOVEMBER 2015 8:58 AM
Content marketing in the hotel industry isn’t only used by upscale and luxury brands. Several companies in the midscale and economy segments also see the marketing value of storytelling.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Content marketing has been an often-heard buzzword in the hotel industry in recent years. What was once a novelty has become a mainstream marketing strategy for several hotel brand companies, touching nearly every chain-scale segment.
“Call me a contrarian, but I really don’t believe it’s that new,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales for Best Western Hotels & Resorts. “We’ve been involved in it for about eight years in a variety of ways, and we’re continuing to evolve. Content is a very important part of our marketing mix, and we are continuing to hone and focus our application of content.”
The centerpiece of Best Western’s content marketing strategy is its You Must Be Trippin website, a multimedia portal that uses stories, images and videos to provide destination information, travel tips and stories on travel trends. Best Western also partners with AAA on RoadTrippin, a similar site that promotes leisure travel via vehicles.
|Best Western’s You Must be Trippin website features stories, images and videos to provide destination information, travel tips and trends. (Photo: Screenshot)|
According to Dowling, the company promotes all its content through standard social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the brand’s own YouTube channel.
Wyndham Hotel Group is experimenting with a content marketing initiative for economy brands Super 8 and Days Inn. According to Barry Goldstein, chief digital and distribution officer, the company recently launched a pilot program to include images taken by guests on the brands’ websites and other online locations.
Wyndham uses an outside firm to solicit images from guests for use on the sites. They select photos guests send and also reach out to other guests who have posted photos on social media sites.
“Content marketing and user-generated content is not just about luxury travel,” Goldstein said. “Everyone is carrying cameras and mobile devices, and they want to see images of people staying in the hotels they might be considering.”
He said the images show average guests staying in the properties. For example, one shows a guest who brought his motorcycle into the guestroom because it was raining.
“We’re pet-friendly brands, so some of the photos are people and their dogs,” Goldstein said. “It’s stuff people relate to because it’s real people and real photos.”
He said the company is testing the initiative by using two versions of the websites: one in which users see the images and one in which they don’t. So far booking conversions have been higher on the pages with the images, Goldstein said. Future plans include adding user-generated video on the sites.
A new attitude
Today’s focus on content marketing is the result of marketers realizing consumers react to brand messaging in a different way than they once did.
“Consumers, especially millennials, choose when, where and how they interact with brands,” said David Beebe, VP, global creative and content marketing for Marriott International, during a presentation in September at the Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland. “Brands must talk with, not at, consumers in order to be relevant and to get their attention. Brands must provide value first and then the consumer will engage in a two-way reciprocal relationship.”
Marriott International was one of the first companies in the hotel industry to fully embrace content marketing. In July 2014, the company hired Beebe to create a multi-platform array of digital content that spans images, videos, films, stories and more.
|“French Kiss” is an original short film from the Marriott Content Studio, which premiered in May. Its first film, “Two Bellmen,” premiered in March. A second “Two Bellmen” video will arrive to YouTube next year.|
Beebe said Marriott employs what he calls a content marketing pyramid. At the top are short films, TV shows, books and advertising. In the middle is episodic content, such as webisodes, in-room magazines and content for sites like Instagram and Snapchat. The bottom of the pyramid is content that is produced daily.
An example of daily content is Marriott Traveler, a website the company launched in March that provides travel, destination and lifestyle information aimed to inform and entertain guests and potential customers.
Marriott, Best Western and other hotel companies hire what Beebe called social media influencers to generate much of their content.
“Whether they’re influencers on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, these are the content creators who are valuable to us because they’ve got millions of followers and, more importantly, they’re projecting authenticity to their followers,” Beebe said. “And they have huge audiences, in many cases larger than do the traditional media networks. They’re the new ABCs and CBSs of the digital world.”
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is another brand company with a robust commitment to brand marketing. Speaking at the Content Marketing World event, Four Seasons executive Felicia Yukich said the last economic recession sparked the company’s content initiative.
“It was 2008, and the hotel industry was in distress,” said Yukich, who is the company’s director of global brand marketing communications and content. “At that time, we decided to significantly scale back our traditional advertising and marketing and focus on digital channels.”
For nearly 30 years, Four Seasons has published an in-room print magazine that highlights lifestyle topics and destinations in which Four Seasons has properties. Yukich said the print magazine evolved into an online version and opened the door for additional content products. Today, the digital lineup includes special digital versions of the magazine focusing on food and beverage and destination weddings.
|Four Seasons’ in-room print magazine evolved into an online version, which opened the door for additional content products. A “Find a Hotel” button is displayed at the top of the home page. (Photo: Screenshot)|
She said effective marketing must be a two-way conversation with guests providing as much or more content than the company does.
“You must empower your customers to tell your story for you,” she said. “And perhaps they can do it better than you can. Start with images from guests. They add authenticity, relevance and the personal touch. They give people a reason to book with you and, hopefully, add more images of their own.”
For a global brand such as Four Seasons, the content must be geographically and culturally relevant, Yukich said.
“You can’t offer the luxury Chinese customer just a translated experience,” she said. “You must provide an experience that is just for them. That’s why we’ve created completely different websites for our customers in China and other parts of the world.”
Does it work?
While the most-obvious role of content marketing is to entertain and inform guests and potential customers, it also must generate returns, although marketing executives have different ways of defining those returns.
“We look at content marketing from a science perspective, not just the art perspective,” Best Western’s Dowling said. “Part of that science is building a core of relevancy into the content and tagging it appropriately to help achieve the levels of search engine marketing you want to see.”
Beebe said relevance is the key to effective content marketing.
“We create content that entertains, informs and solves problems for consumers across every screen,” he said. “If we do it right, and at scale, we will elicit an emotional response from them, build community around those responses and that will drive commerce.”
Some efforts can be measured in dollars and cents. Beebe said a package promotion built around one of the films his team produced generated more than $600,000 in room sales.
“It’s a balance between entertaining and informing your guests and ultimately driving them to that next step in the booking funnel,” Yukich of Four Seasons said. “Everything we do is done with the goal of getting them deeper and deeper into the funnel.”