The Expert Guide to Content
What kind of content marketing is best for your hotel? We ask two of its most successful exponents.
Hotel marketing is evolving at breakneck speed, and the vehicle many of us are using is content.
In the past, brands hooked up with glossy magazines to produce editorial and events. But now companies create and distribute their own stories. Standard Hotels' Standard Culture is a digital lifestyle magazine. The Lucky Onion's Chef Series brings international-level cuisine to The Cotswolds. And Marriott's The Two Bellmen is a series of pastiche martial arts movies, filmed in its hotels.
“Content is about creating experiences, moments, narratives and conversations that live beyond an advert or a newspaper article,” says Dan Flower, partner at content marketing agency the projects* and former creative director of the Soho House Group.
“Let's take The Times book critic, and best-selling author, Damien Barr's literary salon at the St Pancras Hotel in London as an example,” Dan continues, “it became part of the make-up of the hotel, so much so that when switched-on Londoners heard the St Pancras hotel mentioned, they thought, ‘That's the place with the famous literary salon'.” St Pancras acquired the kind of literary association that's usually the preserve of heritage hotels like Café Royal, famous for being the preferred drinking den of Oscar Wilde.
Dan, who oversaw the rebranding of Soho House's print magazine and the development of its House Seven website and app, has some clear pointers for marketeers embarking on a content-driven strategy.
“Make things relative to your geography and your demographic” he says, “a single malt whisky evening is going to go down better at a traditional luxury hotel than at a hip one in east London. Balance is absolutely key: some events will be better for driving revenue immediately, and others are suited to establishing a brand over time. An evening with a sought-after DJ is going to be popular with operations as it fills the bar with lively people spending money."
"Conversely, at a literary salon you're going to have a lot of guests standing around nursing a glass of tap water. But you need the more thoughtful activities to drive the more profitable ones.” The latter can pay impressive dividends over time, says Dan. “Thinking outside of hotels, Red Bull got behind rap star A$AP Rocky when nobody had heard of him and now they have a close connection to one of the biggest stars in the world. Adidas overlooked more obvious pop stars in the 90s to cultivate a long term relationship with Stone Roses' singer Ian Brown.”
Hoxton Hotels is an industry success story from the past decade, with the cool metropolitan chain's owner Ennismore acquiring one of the biggest hotel brands in Britain – Scotland's Gleneagles – from Diageo in summer 2015. Hoxton Hotel's Hoxtown web magazine – a kind-of local guide on steroids – is but one of its content marketing hits.
“We don't advertise, or pay for any marketing,” says Julia Pearson, the group's director of PR and communications, “instead we have Hoxtown, which is like a sub-brand. We talk about the neighbourhood, engage with businesses and provide information for both our guests and locals. It builds our brand awareness and people trust us a bit more as we appear knowledgeable and honest. For example, we'll run a ‘Best Avocados in London' article and list nearby venues, not just our own restaurants – it's really important not to ‘sell' too hard. We can engage with customers on social media and reach audiences that may not be our key customers, like the tech industry with an item that appeals to them.” Julia echoes Dan on the importance of ‘knowing your audience' – “an advert in The Sunday Times might well suit Glenneagles better,” she says.
Hoxtown enables the Hoxton hotels in Shoreditch, Holborn and Amsterdam to associate themselves with a curated mix of events, local businesses and topics that the physical spaces themselves don't have the scope to accommodate. It also leads to relationships with creatives such as illustrator John Julian, who created a number of ‘either/or' themed illustrations called ‘You and Me at The Hox' that Hoxtown readers love to share on social media. “People share the illustration and declare if they are, for instance, ‘pilates or pie and lattés'. We're not selling rooms alongside them, but we are posting something people relate to that contains hotel aspects,” she explains.
Dan adds, “Social media posts from guests along the lines of ‘Look at these pictures of our wonderful room or view' will always be better than ‘look at us in the official selfie area.' Everywhere should have a ‘money shot' location, like Edition's mirror artwork or Shoreditch House's corner table on the roof. But not every venue is suited to some guests waving their phones around – your other visitors may hate it.”
He continues, “We are actually seeing a reaction to ‘Insta-Moments' and a return to more ‘long form' initiatives – for instance, the new iPhone 8 will actually turn its own camera off in some music venues so everyone can enjoy the concert as it is. There's a reason why ideas like having an artist in residence have worked over centuries – the Colombe d'Or will always be associated with Picasso, and it now it boasts a huge collection of his paintings.”
It's this sort of intelligent activity that is shared by guests and prompts ‘user generated' content, which is the most powerful form of all – 92% of consumers trust these ‘earned' social media recommendations from their peers, and 52% of Facebook users say their friends' photos influence their own travel plans.
Julia and Dan both urge caution when considering projects like Sydney's 1888 Hotel's ‘designated selfie area'.
“My little sister on her first holiday abroad would be all over that,” laughs Julia, “but I'd recommend finding your own hero images and embracing them. We have our fireplace, and our signature avocado on toast. Even a fun and original ‘do not disturb' sign will get shared, so add these little touches. Regram and respond to your guests when they post.”