“Great companies are built by people who never stop thinking about ways to improve the business.” – J. Willard “Bill” Marriott, Founder of Marriott Corp.
It’s hard to imagine the founder of one of the world’s largest hotel chains as a poor sheepherder. But, it’s true; John Willard Marriott began tending his father’s herds at the age of eight and did so until he turned 19. This was when his faith took him on a mission to the northeastern U.S., where thoughts of a hospitality career began to form. He wanted to sell cold drinks in the humid summers. And finally, at the age of 27, Marriott was able to do so with a root beer stand. But sales dropped in the winter, so he added hot foods to his menu. To draw diners, his hospitality marketing strategy was to hand out coupons for free root beer on corners, and it worked. It wasn’t long before he opened more stands and added curbside service.
It was from his eighth stand near an airport that Marriott began to see the needs of airline travelers. His vision gave “birth to the in-flight catering industry”. Then, as a “logical extension” of his food business, out of “concern for the American family on wheels,” he imagined a motor hotel. His foresight paid off. At his death, his “hotel chain, several restaurant chains and flight kitchens serving 150 airlines” were valued at over $3.5 billion. The business has changed since then, under his son’s leadership, but it has continued to grow – still with people’s needs at the core. This consumer-centric approach has also served their hospitality marketing strategy well.
One article examines Marriott’s hospitality marketing strategy today. “Part of what makes Marriott unique is their true interest in making a guest’s experience – both on and off property – a memorable and fulfilling experience.” This also shows the challenge hospitality brands face now in meeting consumers’ evolving needs. It’s no longer just about a great meal or a comfortable bed. It’s often about an earlier brand experience – one that leads consumers to choose to give you their business.
To align with the experience-first approach that consumers are looking for, Marriott’s President explains their strategy. “If we can continue to hear our customers in all the ways they communicate, we will have many more opportunities to build the type of personal relationships that create two-way loyalties and are at the core of the hospitality industry.” What hotel marketers find is that the “way” isn’t through online advertising.
A 2018 study finds travel and hospitality brands can expect their ads’ conversion rates to fall “slightly lower than the average across industries, at 2.57% (compared to 2.70% CVR in general).” But, marketers in any industry shouldn’t be surprised, since we’ve learned 65 percent of people “skip” online ads. Further, as hospitality brands target younger generations who are beginning to travel for work and with their own families, use of social media has become a required avenue to reach them. And the key to success is in authentic, transparent content. The problem? 51 percent of consumers believe more than half of brands are missing the mark. That’s why leading companies like Marriott are publishing user-generated content, such as that of customers and influencers. But they also know the way to the best content is to set the scene with experiential marketing.
An article examines how the lines between the hospitality industry and other industries, like retail and restaurants, are blurring in the wake of the growth of the experience economy. This means long-standing hotel brands like Marriott may find themselves up against unlikely competitors. Take Taco Bell for instance. The fast food chain made an AirBNB listing for a restaurant a few years back. This year it planned a pop-up hotel in Palm Springs; its rooms sold out in less than two minutes. Its draw goes beyond its concept.
“The Bell” hotel is an immersive experience – at the door (“Bell” hops), in the room (Taco Bell room service), at the pool (inflatable sauce packets), at the bar (the Baja Bar) and beyond. Taco Bell thinks like Marriott’s founder in that its people are always looking for ways to improve the business and keep it relevant. Its activations pull travel and “experience” dollars and push traditional brands to up their hospitality marketing strategy.
Here are ways forward-thinking brands are catching consumers’ attention.
It’s no surprise Marriott knows how to show customers how special they are with experiential marketing. One example surrounds a publicity stunt to celebrate the widespread adoption of Marriott’s mobile check-in feature. It surprised its one millionth user with entry to a Los Angeles hotel, inclusive of a dance party. A DJ booth was wheeled out, and promotional staff formed a flash mob. Everyone danced, including the customer who learned he won one million reward points for his check-in. All the fun was captured on video, which Marriott posted to YouTube to the tune of four million views.
The views alone from an upscale restaurant at a downtown Chicago hotel are said to draw Instagrammers. But, a virtual reality experience gave them another reason to spend their time and money at the luxury hotel. A rare Macallan scotch cocktail valued at $95 provided more than great taste and exclusivity. Partakers also got use of an Oculus headset, which “transported” them to Macallan’s distillery for a tour, while their drink was being made. It was an authentic way for consumers to get to know the alcohol brand. And, the immersive experience got plenty of publicity via social media with features by such publications as Entrepreneur. This exposure is critical since 59 percent of consumers prefer “eatertainment” venues like this.
New Orleans may be known for its big Mardi Gras celebration. But, it’s not where the fun originated. Instead, Mardi Gras got its start in Mobile, Alabama, where it still lives on. And, the Alabama Tourism Board wants people to know it. So, it hauled a parade float all the way to New York City to host a pop-up parade through Times Square. It was accompanied by a brass brand and promotional staff, who tossed Moon Pies and beads to the crowd. A video shared to Facebook received 134,000 views. This exposure is in addition to the eyes of up to 450,000 people who pass through Times Square each day. Together, it makes it no surprise tourism in Mobile County for the following year grew by eight percent.
When U.K. theme park, Thorpe Park, introduced two attractions themed for the hit show “The Walking Dead”, it made sure people knew. Less than a couple hours away in East London, a “live” billboard made its way down the streets. It was said to be “soaked” with “animal organs and entrails to shock passersby.” Also, to their surprise, the promo staff in character as zombies broke free from the billboard at times to walk around the streets. The mobile marketing tour and the launch of the attractions timed with the show’s 100th episode and October’s Fright Nights season. But, the media coverage and user content shared online of the activation likely drew the traffic Thorpe Park needed for success.
Elevate is the promotional staffing agency you need to bring the best hospitality marketing strategy to life. Let our people build the relationships necessary for brand loyalty.