We are all aware of the many articles that stress the importance of storytelling by hotels. Today, we see some hotels and brands being active with blogs, posts on social media, and influencer initiatives.... a myriad of fragmented efforts on isolated islands of content... not connected or integrated into hotel websites or consumer booking journeys. That being said, we all agree that a well-executed storytelling strategy allows consumers to connect with a unique hotel or brand experience. What is it that hotels and brands could undertake to turn their storytelling content into an actionable asset-class in the discovery/search and booking journey?
Nouvelle Vague's director, Jean Luc Godard, once said: "Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form." I couldn't agree more with this statement. But, unfortunately, the painful truth is that few people know how to write a story correctly, especially when it comes to creating content for brands.
A great novelist is not necessarily the person best fit for the job, and neither is a marketing agency.
Brand storytellers should possess a rare combination of:
a) Proper understanding of how a specific industry works;
b) Writing skills (and, to a lesser extent, some talent).
In order to work, a "brand story" has to resonate with your audience, your company's values, and your tone of voice. This means that the writers need to comprehend the dynamics and nuances of the industry deeply, establish a call-to-action, pick the best medium for the story (brand.com? Newsletter? Social media? And, if so, which one(s)? etc.) but they also need to know the fundamentals of the writing process.
When these two worlds do not align, you have poor outcomes, full of clichés that do not generate any revenue and can also backfire. Do you remember the infamous "Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!" Adidas' campaign? Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Brand storytelling should communicate authenticity, relevance, and relatability, and it does not necessarily have to ALWAYS be about your brand. Being subtle in brand storytelling can bring great results. Check out WREN's "First Kiss" commercial, which increased the company's sales by nearly 14,000% by NEVER talking about the brand itself.
Bestselling author Josh Steimle, once wrote that "There are marketers, there are writers, and there are marketer-writers." If you can find these rare persons to work with, you're on the right path to success. It's hard, but it's definitely worth it...
When it comes to storytelling by hotels and travel brands in general, I would say the biggest issue right now is that too many brands are churning content... without a clear focus! A good content strategy should help achieving marketing goals, with specific audiences to reach on their own platform of choice.
For example, you probably have had a Facebook page for a few years now, but do you know why? What purpose does Facebook serve in your digital presence? Is it about customer experience, insping potential travelers, getting candidates for job openings, communicating new packages, or a new product launch?
And what is Instagram's role in that ecosystem? Is it just to replicate the same content but to a different audience or is there a different editorial (and visual) approach here? What synergies are you contemplating, if any, with your Facebook page?
What about TikTok? Are you there just "because it's the new hot trend" or because you actually have a strategy in place and want to reach different audiences with different types of content formats?
Do you have a blog, with fresh and timely content? Are you sharing your blog articles on your various social media accounts? In your newsletter?
Is that newsletter sent out regularly, to segmented audiences (business, leisure, domestic, international, etc.)? Do you cross-promote your Facebook contests or popular Instagram pics in there too?
The danger is indeed to see all these platforms and types of contents as islands of content, not linked to an overarching strategy. Thus, I believe the brands that get their storytelling right are those who simply ask themselves the question: why. You may have started on Facebook a couple of years ago with a given approach, but it's quite likely this isn't working out nowadays.
Ask yourself WHY for all the different digital outposts where your brand has a presence, to see if they have a purpose and help achieve marketing objectives.
It's Spring time, isn't it? And we all know what it means when it comes to Spring cleaning... :-)
Engaging and evocative brand storytelling is an essential component of hospitality marketing, but just like all stories – there are two sides. On the one hand, you have the brand story that is designed to inspire travelers with the hotel's on-site experiences, design aesthetic, and service culture. This story provides a general overview of what guests can expect when visiting your property. The other side of the story is the one created by the reader, and their ability to imagine their own travel journey within that vision.
During the discovery phase, compelling storytelling is the main driver of converting readers into bookers - but when your web content is static, it can only tell one story. However, with the right technology in place, your website and digital marketing content does not have to be a one-size-fits-all endeavor. To drive direct bookings and meet guests' increasing expectations for more personalized travel experiences, hotels can use guest data and their CMS to serve web visitors with personalized content that reflects their unique needs, preferences, and travel style. This content takes the brand story one step further, with copy that speaks directly to families, spa mavens, golfers, and other specific audiences to drive revenue throughout the booking journey.
To get started, you'll need a CRM that offers a unified view of every guest across revenue, eCommerce, distribution, marketing, and sales. This allows you to discover who your audience segments are, so you can begin creating exciting, branded content geared towards each one. Once you know your segments and have your content ready, you'll need a robust CMS and website design that enables you to control your messaging and deliver that personalized content to each visitor. This level of unified, actionable data puts hoteliers in control, whether it's reacting in real-time to market changes, or using that data to create more relevant and engaging offers by segment.
It's also important to remember that personalization doesn't begin or end at your website. If a web visitor doesn't book immediately, a real-time link to a master guest profile can begin serving digital marketing campaigns that re-target them with personalized offers on their preferred channels. Once they make the booking, that guest can be served with even more personalized content and targeted offers within your transactional emails for room upgrades and the add-on activities/events they've expressed interest in via the guest profile.
When all the pieces come together, everyone wins. The guest enjoys a more personalized and meaningful interaction with your brand before they even step foot on property, while the hotel benefits from more direct bookings, increased ancillary spend, and the guest satisfaction that leads to long-term brand advocacy. Now that's a story worth telling.
It starts with consistency. Many hotel want to jump into content marketing before they have established the basics. Who is their target market? What is their brand message? What are their differentiators against the comp set? The second step, once the above is defined, is audit the content across ALL online channels.
This includes your website, OTA channels, local listings like Google My Business and TripAdvisor and social media. And when we say content, that includes imagery as it is one of the most inconsistent and should hold the greatest importance in your storytelling.
Only then can you start to leverage content marketing via blogs, social media, influencers, etc.
I think part of the challenge is that the concept of storytelling is vague. To me storytelling is an advanced form of marketing that brings a hotel's features and benefits to life. It does this clearly, concisely and consistently, in both words and imagery, and is designed to capture attention, evoke emotion, and inspire action.
All storytelling starts with the brand story, or positioning statement, which answers fundamental traveler questions like, “What kind of property are you?”, “Where are you?” and “Why should I choose you?” All other messaging should support this core story.
The brand story should appear in descriptions on OTA & third-party listings, social media profiles, marketing collateral, etc. On the website, features and benefits can be communicated using short vignettes and visuals that help visitors imagine themselves as part of the story — as guests of the hotel. In social media, storytelling can be more creative and whimsical, whereas on a hotel blog they should bring the property and destination to life.
Of equal importance are the stories others tell about the hotel: the media, guests in online reviews and social media, and, to a lesser degree, influencers. If the hotel does a good job setting expectations through storytelling and delivering on these expectations, user-generated stories will strengthen and amplify the hotel's own stories in more personal and passionate ways.
Storytelling is an important component of Content Marketing for any hotel property, brand, company, or chain. Storytelling should permeate across all Content Marketing formats like website content, social media, PR, blogs, etc. and should tell a consistent "story" about your hotel company's value proposition and inspire travelers to consider and eventually book your property.
Storytelling and Content Marketing are an integral and increasingly important part of the hotel digital marketer's toolbox. It engages and entices the travel consumer in the Dreaming and Planning Phases and creates ready-to-book customers for the Booking Phase of the digital customer journey. There are two Content Marketing categories:
- B2C Content Marketing and all of its formats: website content, SEO, social media, hotel and travel blogs, PR, influencer marketing, etc. - allows smart hotel marketers to engage travelers, family travelers, seniors, couples, LGTB, unmanaged business travelers, leisure group organizers, social event and wedding planners, etc.
- B2B Content Marketing allow hotels to reach corporate travel managers, corporate group planners, conference and convention organizers, company decision makers, etc.
Naturally, Content Marketing and Storytelling are not free - contrary to popular belief - since someone has to create the unique, editorial-level content and creative, ensure that consistent messaging permeates across all content marketing formats, set up and manage the B2C and B2B content marketing campaigns, monitor analytics, perform SEO, do the actual social media posts, launch B2B marketing initiatives via LinkedIn to reach corporate travel directors and meeting planners, PR, blog articles and posts, white papers, B2C podcasts, webinars and podcasts , case studies, influencer marketing, new/renovated amenity announcements, etc.
In spite of the cost, rest assured that Content Marketing, when done well, is much cheaper than performance marketing.
An important note about credibility of storytelling.
Storytelling should be credible, in addition to being of editorial-level quality, engaging and unique. Travel consumers always judge the credibility of messaging coming from any hotel through the prism of three criteria: a) User-Generated Content: What did fellow travelers had to say about your hotel via reviews, social media posts, etc.?; b) Professional Content: How does the professional travel media - travel writers, bloggers, TV, etc. - describes your hotel, and finally c) The property “official content” - your own messaging and storytelling.
The bigger the gap between the “official content” and the user-generated content, the less credible is the official content - travelers trust user-generated content more compared to any hotel's official content.
Storytelling always requires a minimum of 3 aspects: The Plot, the characters and then of course the narrators point of view. The major issue with hotels and brands is that in order to tell the story, you need a story. You need to create it and in many cases we just don't. We are a hotel and thats it. Unfortunately that is not good enough as today we require authenticity as well as knowing what we can deliver. So, hotels need to look at themselves and define what they offer to whom. Once you have that, you can then take the next steps and create the plot before moving on to adding "our view of the story". This story can then be embedded across text, images, 3rd party as well as the hotel's own site.
Creating inspiring stories can make your hotel get noticed. A story of how the hotel came to bring life into your brand's history, narratives of your staff add a human face to your business, and customer recommendations create the social proof of your exceptional hospitality.
This is why great storytelling is a crucial ingredient of hotel marketing. It can entice travellers with relevant and valued content through a strategic content marketing plan. However, not many marketers or entrepreneurs can do it correctly.
What works in storytelling
Stories help guests place products and services in the better narrative they're constructed worldwide. It provides guidance to the way they integrate value and meaning. But storytelling also has another benefit in the digital age.
Storytelling can draw out an emotional response. This is because humans are "programmed" to visualise the information a story can provide.
That lets storytelling marketing express an emotional aspect and, in the end, entice the audience by it's experiencing the story.
Speaking more factually, in 2019 Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn conducted an experiment by pairing almost worthless items, bought for around a dollar each, with compelling narratives about where they originated. As a result, the value of these objects increased to almost 30x the price Glenn and Walker paid for them.
A Hotel's storytelling plan should be more than creating a narrative; it should be about developing a complete experience. Reason being,
No hotel is the same as the others. Also, no luxury brand is not the same as its competitors. Finding the story's core will allow you to understand where your hotel brand fits in the marketing world. Furthermore, it will enable you to tell your story in a manner that will entice your audience. This can be done by creating a tagline that resonates with the guests, engage them, and resonate with them, resulting in a strong emotional connection that will increase awareness, then engagement and later on conversion.
What might not work
Too many unrealistic expectations from your guests is an obvious way to fail. Instead, create a storytelling strategy that will match your market without making promises you can't keep.
Remember that when a story resonates, a guest can experience it in their minds. This is how storytelling leads to profits. If you cannot provide what you've promised, refrain from mentioning it.
Web design plays a role in storytelling as well. Story building isn't just about the words on the page. It's about the entire 'packaging' everything from the words you use and choice of colours right through to the services offered and even how your staff communicate with guests. That's why your website plays an essential role in the story you're telling—and why there's no excuse for not modernising it.
Whether it's an extraordinary location, a remarkable history to the property, unique design elements, a one-of-a-kind service philosophy, or how the brand embodies an impressive commitment to the environment or local community – those are all stories worth telling. And yet one of the most common hotels storytelling problems is that of the story that's only partially told (e.g. you've only incorporated storytelling on the home page, other pages are basic) or worse, still unwritten.
How to balance
You need to figure out your hotel's personality and how it is presented through your hotel storytelling plan. In short, your brand relies on its visual identity more than you think, and strong visuals create strong brands.
Ensure that your marketing strategies echo your hotel's personality in all aspects of your marketing efforts, from your landing page to your paid ads. Great storytelling begins where numbers, reports, and corporate talk ends. Refer to your hotel and the experiences you "sell" as a living, breathing character.
An emotional response to your hotel marketing storytelling is the start of a memorable experience with your hotel. Therefore, communication with your guests is vital for the hotel's marketing strategy. After all, the hospitality industry is one of the few industries that offer experiences that last a lifetime.
Gather data on your prospects, your hotel, your brand, your area and create a narrative that will show exactly what your guests need to see and start storytelling.
Stop narrating and start listening -- We as an industry have not stepped out from the 'Madmen' era of the 60's in thinking if we simply talk loud enough and constantly enough that we will mold you into a purchase. we even have a mantra for it, "Persistence overcomes resistance". We have always saturated the available (and perceived) channels of communication over the years, (radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, yellow pages, etc.,) to today's online options, (way too many to mention) and beyond. We feature what we are, who we are, why you should care, what we have to offer, why you want it, and on and on.
The good news is we are slowly learning that this is not as effective as it once was when we 'controlled' the mediums. The bad news is not enough of us have applied what we have learned to new ways of helping our guests. STOP being a beacon and become a flashlight. I know it sounds weird but hear me out.
As I mentioned we have droned on and on about what we offer with little (if any) attention to what was being looked for by our guests and how we can help. So rather than 'here we are, come to us', like a lighthouse or a beacon does be more like, "what are you looking for, do I have what you need, here are things that you may want to know or see", as a guide or a flashlight to someone on the path of discovery that the guest perceives as their needs. The reality is we only listen long enough to interrupt to offer something, and not listen to help.
We as an individual dialog with people differently due to our relationship with them, what we know about them, and what we think we can offer them based on what they are asking about, ... Why as a business should we act differently?
I think an under-utilized tactic for brand storytelling in the hospitality industry is user generated content (UGC). A study on overall consumer trends and shopping habits earlier this year showed 72% of consumers believe that content submitted by other customers is more credible than brand-created content. And more than 70% of Facebook users are influenced by recommendations from friends and family when deciding which travel options to book.
A major challenge to any brand storytelling approach, or content marketing strategy, is usually a lack of internal resources that can create brand content. By using UGC, hotels can outsource storytelling to their guests and instead spend time on curating that content by making sure it reinforces the hotel brand tenets and highlights the aspects of the property that the marketing team has identified as important to the guest experience. Lowes is a brand who have used this really effectively with their #travelforreal campaign and even went to the extent of having UGC on hotel keycards! Hyatt's Unbound Collection is another example where they place such significance on user generated content it can actually influence the type of buildings they choose to use for their hotels, favoring buildings with a story of their own that is likely to resonate with guests who share their experiences with those unique destinations.
Guests want to form connections with hotels to share experiences and memories. Providing a platform to do that allows hotels to build an audience of loyal fans. A recent study showed that 69% of consumers are likely to post on social media after having a positive experience with a brand and what's even more interesting, consumers that see a brand they like re-sharing content by customers are more likely to then share content with that brand themselves. UGC should be viewed not just as an effective way to utilize guest content for brand storytelling but also as a communication channel for guests to have direct dialogue and build loyalty with hotel brands.
When more people work from home now, they should have more time to browse good stories online. According to a recent study I completed about crisis communication during the pandemic, hotels may consider to:
- Tell stories with visual content, i.e., photos and short video clicks.
- Build a series of stories about a contemporary topic. For example, what does the company do to establish a diverse and inclusive culture? What does the staff do to ensure safe travel? What does the company do to cope with the ever-changing rules and restrictions of the pandemic?
- Highlight the excellent work done by the stakeholders, including customers, employees, managers, suppliers, and more (and tag them).
- Create very concise stories with a few short sentences and an open-ended question. Then, respond to users' comments with more details about the stories.
- Test and measure the effectiveness of every communication strategy to see what does not work and for what reasons.
The above strategies might seem to be more effective in driving engagement than direct sales. Yet, hotels can help travelers plan their vacations as a "friend" in an engaging conversation with them. For instance, when people talk about rising gas prices and inflation, it might be good to share some staycation ideas in a personalized response to those who post comments.