Client: Marriott Hotels & Resorts (MHR)
Objective: Position Marriott as a forward-thinking, technology-savvy brand that understands the needs of its Generation X and Y customers
The Backstory: The gap between brand perception and consumer reality is only as wide as the brand is willing to let it be.
Take Marriott Hotels & Resorts, for example. It’s not that there were too few members of Gen X or Y staying at Marriott hotels—it was how that demographic perceived it that concerned the brand.
“In the space we’re talking about—Marriott, Sheraton, and Hilton, together—Gen X and Y predominantly see us as being in a sea of sameness; that we all, more or less, have the same benefits and convenience, the same standards,” says Michael Dail, VP of global brand marketing for MHR at Marriott International. “It’s a good standard, but you know what you’re going to get, and there’s nothing there that speaks to that group specifically.”
So, how to break Marriott out of the homogenized travel pack and alter the notion among Gen X and Y—dubbed internally by Marriott as “masterblenders” for their ability to mix work and play—that the hotel chain is more than just their parents’ same old brand?
The Strategy: Before making a move, Marriott began its research by creating Impulse, an online user community, much like a digital focus group, through which the brand reached out to entrepreneur-minded masterblender customers all over the world, including travelers based in China, the UK, and the United States, to see what makes them tick.
“What travel trends do they see? What do they love and hate? What brands do they prefer and why? We wanted to know everything,” Dail says. “And not just in travel, but all brands, so we could start to identify their ethnography in terms of what role they think brands play in their life.”
Marriott gleaned three core insights from Impulse. First, that masterblenders expect a hotel to be more than a decent place to stay: They want style and entertainment. Second, that while brand awareness for Marriott is high, even from continent to continent, next-generation travelers didn’t view it as a “stylish” brand. Third, and perhaps most important, that this demographic is apt to choose a hotel based on its perception of how cool or interesting the property appears to be, but be let down upon arrival by the level of service, engagement, and entertainment.
Within those learnings lay Marriott’s new niche as a tech-adept master of social CRM amplified by chic live events.
First, the hotel chain partnered with tech trend juggernaut WIRED magazine to create the “Culturazzi” event series. Hosted by now-former Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson (he resigned his position in November 2012), the event series took place at select MHR properties in key markets around the U.S., including Boston, New York, and San Francisco, and were themed around subject areas designed to be of interest to the masterblender set, such as comedy, technology, and art.
On the invite list was a combination of WIRED editors, bloggers, and socially engaged Marriott guests. Though there were only roughly 220 to 240 people at each event, the social amplification across earned channels was high.
Marriott teamed up with MEC, its lead global media agency, to manage and finesse the “social ecosystem,” says Billy Boulia, partner and social media director at MEC. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were Boulia’s particular focus. Designated hashtags, including #culturazzi and more than 900 others, gained notable traction.
“The reach of our Twitter handle [@marriott] during the events was sometimes an average of five times as much as we’d see on a usual day,” says Boulia. “The sheer volume we were able to achieve in one day was astounding.”
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To keep track of what the real-time social interaction meant in the larger scheme of things, MEC developed tailored dashboards to map the connection between the social metrics and key success markers, such as awareness, intent to recommend, and consideration. All that was in addition to Marriott’s usual measurement arsenal, which includes online surveys, brand trackers, competitive analysis, customer feedback tracking, and diagnostic tools designed to see how key marketing messages influence behavior.
The Creative: Marriott also joined forces with digital, on-demand music website Spotify to create “Moodagent,” an app that allows users to generate personalized playlists—including anything and everything from indie to pop to Top 40 hits—based on a selected mood.
“If you’re talking about the social lives of Gen X and Y, music is such a big part of it, which we also learned from our Impulse user community,” Dail says. “Of course, we could have just updated the music we played in our lobbies and lounges or pushed out standardized playlists, but what we were looking to do was really customize.”
Spotify also makes it easy for users to share their playlists socially, which fits in nicely with Marriott’s new social focus.
“We took the Spotify experience and applied it in an authentic way for people; it’s about a brand adapting the customer experience to meet its guests’ unique goals,” says Dail. “It’s an additional service; we’re rewarding them with something extra that’s fun and that they can share with their social network.”
The Results: The Moodagent app on Spotify, which was shortlisted for an Interactive Advertising Bureau award in 2012, generated eight times more than the contractually guaranteed volume of playlists, resulting in the largest amount of traffic and engagement for any Spotify campaign globally.
The cobranded events with WIRED yielded more than 77 million social mentions and 150 million PR impressions. Marriott says it saw its highest-ever level of social interaction in 2012, surpassing its engagement goals by more than 200%. Marriott also noticed a shift in the tone of chatter around the brand reflective of its new tech-centric positioning.
But Culturazzi was about more than just increasing bookings—it was about “keeping the conversation going,” Dail says.
“We’ve seen a lot more in the way of engagement from these customers,” he says. “If we can get people to come to our hotel for the social environment, we anticipate many will come back to us for an overnight stay. It’s a multiyear journey.”