When content reigns supreme, what tactics and strategies are some of the largest hotel brands using to entertain, inform and educate their guests?
By Heather Carnes
I’m sure some of you have heard of this dominating phrase in current-day marketing: “Content is King.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard this sentiment in the past two years, I’d probably have enough to buy my own hotel at this point. Maybe two.
It’s 2016, and brands are now realizing the importance in entertaining and informing, and giving something away in the form of helpful, relevant and even inspiring content. This is why content reigns supreme. We now have to engage with next-generation travelers vs. interrupting them with banner ads, pop-ups or unhelpful commercials. We’re in the Golden Age of ‘let’s talk with them vs. at them,’ and customers are now listening, engaging and asking for more.
As the travel industry caught on, it’s moved away from relying solely on pretty pictures and guest reviews to market products and services. The days of waiting for a magazine or website to tell our stories and promote our brands are long gone. We now have the power to tell these stories ourselves.
The beauty of content marketing in the travel industry is that travel already lends itself to storytelling (content), compelling visuals and inspiring experiences. In our hotels every day, we have stories to tell – whether it be about a guest, an employee or our brand. So finding the most effective way of telling them, and connecting with customers, should be a compelling and strategic part of your marketing strategy and brand identity.
So what does effective content marketing look like? It can and should serve many different purposes, such as driving website traffic, direct bookings, brand engagement, shifting perception or even brand-building. Giving customers high-quality and helpful content only solidifies the trust they’re creating in your brand and gives them a reason to come back for more.
There are endless amounts of hotel brands doing this in the market today, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll take a look at some of the larger players in our space to see what they’re doing.
Best Western’s You Must be Trippin’
Even though it was launched in 2008, Best Western’s travel blog, You Must Be Trippin’, is still used by the company today to connect with customers.
The informative site includes quizzes, travel tips, information on popular designations, travel news and recognizable contributors, including Cesar Millan, pet-travel expert. Some of the latest articles include “10 healthiest cities to visit,” “how to use a DSLR for better travel photos,” and “how to transform your business trip into the perfect vacation.”
You’ll notice a theme here with most of their articles: They’re informative, written for their target market, helpful and not selling a single Best Western product. That’s the key with effective content provided by brands: Customers want to be helped and given the feeling that you actually care about them, not about whether you can sell them something.
If you’re a smaller property, you can draw inspiration from what Best Western has done here. Since we’re betting that you don’t have a full-time writer on staff, find inspiration on sites such as You Must Be Trippin’ where you share content that would be applicable for your audience. There are many tools out there to do this effectively, but my favorite is Flipboard, an app that curates content from all over the web based on your “interests,” or in this case, your industry. You can then take what you find from the app and share on your own social networks, blog, newsletter or website. Just be sure to credit the original source and point back to their site so you don’t get into any trouble.
Comfort Inn as a publisher
In June, Choice’s Comfort Inn brand contributed content as a ‘brand publisher,’ which is essentially a fancy way of saying sponsored content on the popular BuzzFeed.com. The article, “13 ways to transform your travel from stressful to restful,” features helpful advice covering everything from budget planning to a packing list and was intended to promote the transformation that Comfort Inn is currently undergoing. Dual-purpose content? Well done, Choice!
The article features GIFs (short animated videos) that are humorous and appeal to the next-gen traveler, which is the predominant audience on BuzzFeed. GIFs are an underutilized media form that travel companies – and your hotel – should be taking better advantage of. Twitter has an integrated GIF player that allows you to choose your GIF based on category or keyword, and there are a number of other sites that make searching and finding GIFs easy. One of my favorites is GIPHY, which allows you to both search and create your own animated GIFs.
Don’t be afraid of letting personalities shine through. Using humor to connect with your audience is a powerful way to make an authentic connection, thus further humanizing your brand and property.
Motel 6’s use of video
G6 Hospitality’s Motel 6 brand is undergoing extensive renovations in 2016 and 2017, and a part of its brand-wide initiative is to promote it and get the message out. With 100 million internet users who watch online video each day, there’s hardly a better way to get the message out there.
G6 created videos to promote the new face of Motel 6, embedding them both on its website and in its social media streams. A renovation-focused video garnered 1.1K views from one Facebook post alone, and over 11K views on YouTube.
Moving into 2017, the predominance of video will only continue to get stronger. Cisco predicts that consumer internet video traffic will go from 64 percent of total internet usage in 2014 to surpass 80 percent by 2019.
Holiday Inn’s hashtag
Holiday Inn uses the #Joyoftravel hashtag on social media to both promote their own content and posts, but, more importantly, it’s used to capture guest content. If you search the hashtag on Twitter, you’ll find a number of Holiday Inn posts as well as those generated by guests, which is then retweeted or pushed out by Holiday Inn.
The beauty of the custom hashtag is that it allows your hotel to curate content all in one space. Encourage and incentivize your guests to use your unique hashtag; this is a free and fantastic way to encourage engagement and create user-generated content (UGC), which is all the rage these days.
UGC is the best type of content to share with potential guests, because, plain and simple: people trust people. Forty-five percent of millennials say they use UGC to inform their purchase decisions about hotels, according to Crowdtap. Your current guests are the best future marketers your hotel can have, so don’t let the opportunity to engage them pass you by.
Red Roof Inn’s pet contest
Red Roof Inn, a company that prides itself on being pet-friendly and a place where pets ‘always stay for free,’ hosted an Instagram contest in which they asked participants to submit a pet-travel related photo.
After following Red Roof Inn on Instagram, participants were asked to upload a photo of their pet and used a specific hashtag to “tag” the photo. The grand prize consisted of a six-night stay at a Red Roof Inn, and second- and third-place prizes were also included.
So how did this help Red Roof’s efforts? Through one contest alone, they increased brand engagement and Instagram followers, promoted the fact that they absolutely love pets, and gave users a reason to share the contest and promote voting online.
Want to up your social media game? A contest is a great way to build followers and keep your already-existing audience engaged. When followers post and tag your hotel, you create widespread distribution of your hotel’s content, and in turn you’re creating content that can be used for a long time to come.
I wonder what Red Roof is planning on doing with all of those great doggie-themed travel photos? Only time will tell.
Hilton’s travel MANager campaign
Recognizing the untapped market of men and fathers as travel planners (and just in time for Father’s day earlier this year), Hilton launched the Travel MANager campaign and a new website, www.mencanplantravel.com, which is geared toward empowering men to plan the perfect trip for their families.
The site contains trip inspiration, quizzes, information on travel destinations, and is designed to appeal to the modern dad (aka, MANager). It’s predicted that an overwhelming 80 percent of travel decisions are made by women, so a site that shifts this fundamental focus is a fresh take and something unique that other brands haven’t yet tried to replicate.
Lesson learned: It’s important to consider everyone in your potential audience. Just because a group doesn’t make up the majority of your audience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create content that speaks specifically to them. Think of an underrepresented market or group you’re trying to appeal to, create a campaign focused on them and see where it can take you. It’s worth a shot.
Marriott and Under Armour team up
Marriott announced this summer that they’ve teamed up with Under Armour to provide running routes for guests who stay at its Residence Inn properties. The routes, available via Under Armour’s MapMyFitness app, will provide each Residence Inn guest with curated running routes that will take them past city landmarks and places of interest.
The relationship is a win-win for both brands, as one helps strengthen the other. Providing this type of content goes way beyond creating videos or sharing the right stuff on social media; it provides guests with something tangible. So how can you make this happen at your hotel?
Think of businesses that you can partner with to offer something tangible to your guests. Beyond 10-percent-off coupons to the local pizza joint, how can you partner with them to give guests something they want? For example, perhaps there’s a local arts studio that likes to work with kids. Consider teaming up to offer children of guests a complimentary painting class on Saturday afternoons. Providing the class increases engagement, offers value to the guests, promotes local businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to connect with your customers and gives you photo-opps to share on social media.
How helpful can your brand be?
One of the problems with content marketing is that it really does encompass so much. As you can see through these examples, each brand is out there trying to leave its stamp and impression on potential guests.
The biggest takeaway here is to be cognizant of how helpful you are to your guests. They don’t want to be a cog in your wheel and they definitely don’t want to be sold anything, so leave that approach behind. Think of innovative ways you can help guests, bring them value and give them opportunities to engage with your property.
Have a content-marketing success story, or have you successfully implemented an idea at your property? Write me; I’d love to hear about what you’re doing. ■
Heather Carnes is the managing editor of Today’s Hotelier and has nearly a decade of experience in marketing, writing and publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.