As technology continues to raise the bar on consumer expectations and experiences in every category, brands that survive and thrive in the future will need to be more agile than ever. The digital revolution has resulted in an explosion of choice for guests who are better informed and more discerning than ever before. By 2025, digital travel sales are forecasted to exceed one trillion dollars worldwide.
Every touch point in the hospitality customer journey is under attack. New players are disrupting the industry by choosing to specialize in distinct parts of the value chain to create disproportionate value for consumers. For example, Instagram is creating outstanding value for guests at the “Dream” stage of the customer journey while TripAdvisor is an excellent sharing platform in the “Advocacy” stage.
It is very clear to us that future winners and losers in hospitality will be determined based on how much they embrace digital to transform every aspect of their brand to create new, personalized, carefully curated and meaningfully differentiated emotional experiences for guests.
When it comes to marketing and branding, going digital is not just about countering the influence of OTAs and investing in performance marketing. It’s time to play offense not just defense; elevating the power of the brand by investing in digital to positively and profitably impact brand success. No doubt you have heard of the 4Ps of marketing. Well, here we present our 4Es of digital branding: excite, engage, empower, and embrace. Four best practice champions from the hospitality industry that are on the cutting edge of digital branding, organized by the 4Es, are summarized below.
EXCITE: Marriott’s content strategy across multiple platforms pays off
Our excite best practice champion is Marriott. Imagine if you could generate $600,000 in room revenue in just 60 days. Well, the Marriott just did that through one short film, French Kiss, on YouTube. With almost 500 million PR impressions, the film earned an ad value of more than $7M. Marriott brand interest, as measured through a Google Search lift study, saw a 63.2% lift after the film’s release, illustrating that the film achieved its objectives to drive brand awareness and consideration for Marriott brands. To promote the Paris premiere and elevate the film, they engaged with influencer Be Frassy. She shared the event with her more than 550K blog readers. Her posts covering the event garnered more than 6K engagements on Instagram. Imagine what their overall video and broader content strategy across brands is doing for their business.
What impressed us about Marriott’s approach to content is that it is not only strategically sound, but the execution is of the highest standard. They have taken the power of storytelling – both verbal and visual – to another level. This includes the quality of their content, its relevance, the emotional connect to the desired audiences and the production values of their videos. Their belief is that great content delivers tremendous value to their consumers which helps to build a community. This community then becomes a captive audience to drive commerce for Marriott.
The results of these investments have been impressive. Twitter grew 65%, LinkedIn grew 20%, Facebook grew to 1.2 million – and the brand’s CRM ‘Stay in Touch’ database has received over 1.6 million job applicants, with over 25% open rates.
ENGAGE: Virgin Hotels’ smartphone app sets a new standard
Our engage best practice champion is Virgin. Recent Research by mobile advertising network BuzzCity finds a 50% increase in mobile use across business and leisure travelers since 2013. 30% rely purely on their mobiles to make last minute bookings, making it the most preferred device for ticket or room bookings. Mobile is also a key tool for research and getting around, with 1 in 5 (24%) using their phones to find out about local tourist information, restaurants and attractions.
Virgin Hotels’ Lucy smartphone app is totally different. Ask for anything – extra pillows, laundry pick-ups, turndown service, valet – she’ll make it happen without you having to talk to anyone. She can help you book your stay. This includes reserving your room, adjusting bookings, check-in and check-out.
She can offer you suggestions of what to do in the city. She can connect you via a chat board to other guests to get suggestions or to meet someone new. She can connect you to the hotel staff. And you can even order room service and control the thermostat with Lucy.
EMPOWER: Wynn bets big on voice commands via Alexa
Our empower best practice champion is Wynn. Google says that one in five searches made on its platform is on voice— that’s 20 percent of all searches on the world’s most popular search platform! This is set to grow to 50 percent in just a few short years. Globally, Alexa is now available on 20,000 devices, from microwaves to cars.
As voice search becomes increasingly mainstream, we expect to see hospitality brands leveraging its power to enhance the customer experience. Wynn Las Vegas is already leading the way. They have recently made an announcement saying that they will integrate Amazon Echo to digitalize their 4,748 hotel rooms in order to offer their guests tremendous control over multiple facilities using their mere voice. It will start with controlling room lighting, temperature, TV, draperies, and they are likely to leverage Echo’s personal assistant services as well.
EMBRACE: Airbnb leads the pack in offering a one-stop travel solution
Our embrace best practice champion is Airbnb. On a recent family vacation to Los Angeles, we were amazed to discover that Airbnb totally embraced our trip offering us carefully curated options for everything we needed: lodging, transportation, restaurants, and excursions. Airbnb totally got our need for a total travel experience. We know they working on air travel so that will make the picture complete: in the future, Airbnb will be the only travel app we’ll ever need!
As for the next practices which will shape the next 12-18 months, we are keeping our eye 3 things: augmented reality, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. Augmented reality is making the Dream stage of travel more engaging and inviting. Routinized tasks are being delegated to machines freeing up precious human talent for more complex and value-added tasks. With tons of data, loads of cheap computing power on the cloud, and advanced analytical techniques, divining the right value proposition for the right customer at the right time via the right channel of distribution communicated via the right message is coming out of the lab and into the marketplace. Recently, Expedia reported using AI to understand how travelers plan travel.
There exists a tremendous opportunity for hotel brands to harness the power of digital branding to excite, engage, empower and embrace their customers.