Last September, Marriott International announced the launch of its global content marketing studio. In just one year, it has produced a sea of digital content, web episodes, influencer collaborations and original short films.
We spoke with David Beebe, Marriott’s vice president of global creative & content marketing, about the studio’s successes, challenges and goals, as well as his advice for effective content marketing.
Q: Why is content marketing so important to Marriott?
Marriot International’s portfolio of 19 brands consists of more than 4,200 hotels in over 80 countries. As a global marketing organization, we are always looking for the best way to engage with our customers, especially next generation travelers, which is primarily a millennial audience. Although we still invest in television and other types of advertising, we see content as a great way to engage with customers, especially on a digital platform.
This next generation of experience seekers isn’t really interacting with a lot of traditional types of advertising—things that are interruptive in nature, such as banner ads or even 30-second spots. We try to create real value with our content, and to entertain and inform them rather than trying to sell them something. That’s why we launched this content studio—to develop informative, entertaining content. Our strategy has been to stop interrupting what consumers are interested in and to instead become what they are interested in. Creative storytelling allows us to do that.
Tell us about some of your successful content marketing initiatives.
On the informative side of the spectrum, you have Marriott Traveler, our version of Travel and Leisure. It’s a digital magazine with informative-based content, such as tips on what to do and where to go in a city. None of it is branded, meaning it sits on the Marriott.com platform and is presented by Marriott, but the content isn’t about us. We hire local journalists and influencers to create content that has a distinct point of view. Around that content, we promote our relevant hotel rooms.
On the entertainment side of the spectrum, there’s the two scripted short films we produced: “French Kiss” by Marriott Hotels, shot in Paris, with over six million views on YouTube, and “Two Bellmen” by JW Marriott, shot in Los Angeles, with over five million views on YouTube. Both are meant to entertain viewers with original storylines. There’s no disruptive or cheesy brand integration. Renaissance Hotels also produces “Navigator Live,” a half-hour television show about music artists in different cities that airs on AXS TV.
Our brands also partner with influencers to help engage with next generation travelers. This includes takeovers of the Marriott Hotel’s Snapchat channel. Marriott Rewards also partnered with YouTube star Grace Helbig, who also hosts a show on E!, to produce entertaining and comedy-driven spots that help sell the benefits of booking direct.
What tips can you offer marketers looking to launch their own content marketing campaigns?
Provide value first. Today’s consumers are less likely to engage with interruptive marketing or stuff where you’re just talking about yourself. As a marketer, you have to figure out, “what is that space you want to own?” Naturally, we want to own travel, but not just the hospitability portion of it. We take it a step further and think of the entire travel journey, from using content to inspire people to travel, to help them find a destination, and once they’ve booked with us, to help them determine what to do and where to go. We also invite people to co-create content with us. We’re doing a partnership with Marriott Hotels and GoPro in the Caribbean/Latin America region where guests are given a camera when they check in and encouraged to create content themselves.
Millennials certainly understand brands’ need to advertise, but they appreciate when you don’t try to sell them something right way. As a brand, you want to be viewed as enabling an experience, as enabling a story to be told and connecting with consumers versus pitching yourself constantly.
What do you think we'll see more of in terms of content marketing trends and best practices?
The challenge of content is scale. You’ve got to do it over and over again for people to really understand the benefits. I think you’ll see us using more different types of formats at scale, such as video, which is really just starting to take off. There’s people who have been doing it a long time, but there is a lot of room to improve that video experience. I also think people are starting to understand how different types of content can come together—GIFs, infographics, articles, photos, videos, etc. And also, marketers are thinking about how their owned, earned and social channels tie together. It’s not just about keeping customers in your world. You have to be where they are, figure out the right content strategy mix and hopefully bring them back to one of your channels and build that relationship with your brand. I also think there’s a huge opportunity around live programming that is just starting to be figured out. Another trend is influencer marketing. Companies are figuring out how to work with influencers in the right way. The next couple of years will be about figuring out how all of these channels play together.