Industry Update
Opinion Article27 June 2016

The Best of Times for Independents Who Know Storytelling

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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A recent report called "The New Rules of Luxury Living" - created by Luxury Portfolio International with YouGov - is filled with exciting news for independents. The basic message: this is the best of times for independents that are masters of storytelling.

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For instance, the report said: "More and more, high-net-worth people prefer brands that work independently from the mainstream. The trend is popular because of a commonly held belief that independent companies rely on their ability to provide better service, better training for staff and deeper local connections that big-market, big-brand companies don't always provide."

The report continued: "Brands are losing their power to influence purchases on name alone. Affluent buyers are increasingly comfortable participating in nontraditional markets such as consignment stores, ridesharing services and hotel alternatives. For example, 62% like to stay at new or independent hotels."

So, how do these affluent consumers decide where to spend their money and what offerings to ignore? Stephanie Pfeffer Anton, an executive vice president at Luxury Portfolio International, wrote this in Luxury Daily: "Story, it turns out, is essential to courting today's affluent consumer."

I couldn't agree more. Consumers know how to tune out the avalanche of hard sell words favored by some last century marketers: world class, five star, breathtaking, unforgettable, luxury, spectacular, you know the empty words that are hurled at us by marketers impatient for the sale.

Here's what today's consumers really want, per Anton: "Luxury is also increasingly experiential, so the creation of a compelling brand story gives the consumer something to share with their audience of friends and family and makes them feel more confident in their purchases whether they are goods or experiences."

Think about that. As we shift to a world where effective marketing increasingly is driven by word of mouth - that is, consumers telling consumers - how better to fuel powerful word of mouth than with a snappy, to the point story that helps distinguishe this hotel from the many others competing for the business.

It is not easy to tell a brand story succinctly and well and in a way where consumers will embrace it and share it with their friends - by word of mouth and also via social media such as Facebook. But the how to is known by those who have worked in these trenches long enough.

A word of advice: think visual story. Stories don't have to be all about words - think about ballet where there are no words but stories get told, visually and with vividly costumed bodies in motion.

Make it easy for guests to see your property's story. A hotel ideally perched high in the foothills surrounding Maricopa County in Arizona need only point guests to that vista, for instance.

A hotel on the waterfront in Jersey City need only point at the Manhattan skyline at night.

Guests will see the story with their own eyes.

Then look hard at the words themselves.

Go through the resort website with a verbal weed whacker and hack out the superfluous and the old-style marketing speak.

Focus on language real people will want to use in telling their friends about the cool, great independent hotel they discovered.

Do the same on the restaurant menu - so many are pointlessly wordy and they also use hollow phrases such as "an ingredient-driven menu." Strip away the superfluous and use language real people will want to use.

In a recent SKIFT article, Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare talked about the growing importance in travel of what be called culinary storytelling. That is so right.

How can we help? Follow my tips and essentially we are creating materials that will serve as cheat sheets for our guests. Highlight the top line features and benefits of the property and its amenities, point arrows at the top visual opportunities, and watch the stories get told and re-told.

That's the secret for helping an independent stand out in a crowded field and the secret to getting guests to become ambassadors touting the benefits of the property.

There really is no magic here. Connect the dots. A growing number of consumers are drawn to independents, they want stories to tell about their experiences, and so a big part of our job becomes enabling better storytelling by our guests.

Do that and you are way ahead of most of your competitive set.

Way ahead.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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