Ben Walker of Arise explores how independent hoteliers should be using digital marketing methods to build and communicate the unique character of their hotel to customers.
Conveying character is critical to the marketing success of your hotel. Character is literally defined as “the particular combination of qualities in a person or place that makes them different from others” and “qualities that are interesting and unusual”. Focussing on and communicating these qualities is undoubtedly the key differentiator for independent hotels.
Setting and developing this character is a particular strength that independents and boutiques naturally have and can leverage over the sometimes more generic and characterless branded hotel chains.
Independents come in all shapes and sizes, from small city break locations with modern chic interiors to large country estates with historic architecture. Each comes with a story that needs to be told.
Start with a clear vision
To make the most of the opportunity character represents, you must start with a clear vision. Take some time to consider what your character is before you do anything else. What sets your establishment apart from the rest? What gives your hotel character? You may want to consider everything from your interior style, ethos and values, sustainability, use of technology, your history and backstory – pull out the threads that really make you unique.
Knowing your character is just the first step though – more than 80 per cent of consumers now book their holidays online, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your character is clearly communicated through your digital channels.
Tell your story
When it comes to communicating your character online every bit of marketing output is important. Although the two cornerstones of this storytelling exercise are your website and your social media output, there are opportunities to tell your story in almost everything you do.
Are you using your writing style and tone effectively?
Across all of your marketing channels, the way you write is at the core of sharing your character. It should go without saying that you should follow spelling and grammar conventions, present things professionally, and answer consumer questions, but none of that means you should be boring.
You should consider creating a style guide with some guidelines for your hotel’s written style:
- Consider the brevity of content.
- Think about your audience.
- Do you want to present yourself as a business hotel, with a more corporate, factual tone?
- Do you want to present yourself as an experiential stay, using more flowery romantic terms?
Good text can build desire and make the reader want to book a stay by building character – consider the customer journey and don’t just go in for the kill. The literary technique of “show don’t tell” works well – rather than telling people to stay at your hotel, show them why they should stay at your hotel.
Your hotel is beautiful, are you letting people see it?
The “show don’t tell” mentality means good imagery is key. On the whole, independent hotels thrive on their aesthetic, so photography is a core way of sharing their character. A beautifully framed photo of a small design detail conveys so much more than a short essay ever could and resonates with users more readily.
I recently reviewed the social media presence of a large independent hotel and spa. As I sat and chatted with their director of sales and marketing in their luxurious reception area, beneath crystal chandeliers, I pointed out how their Instagram profile didn’t show any of that but instead consisted almost entirely of graphics and stock photos. Instead of using photography to communicate the luxurious character and unique surroundings at their disposal, they had prioritised the sales message and become ordinary, losing the appeal that sparks desire in aspiring customers.
And while it depends on your chosen character, for the most part, don’t share every photograph at your disposal. Hotel photographer Susannah Fields puts it this way: “So, if you’re a luxury hotel and one of your customers shows their fabulous photo sipping a cocktail on their balcony – definitely share it – that’s exactly how you want your hotel to be portrayed. But a drunken stag-do photo – let that one slope off into cyberspace.”
So consider the photos you share, and how you share them – through your website, Facebook, Instagram and perhaps Instagram Stories.
Is your branding right?
Branding is important too, it sets the tone for your story and underpins every other marketing effort. A good brand should convey your character quickly, and you should have some brand guidelines and assets ready for you to use and keep character consistent.
How you apply branding is critical. Keeping colour schemes, typography, and how you use your logo consistent across digital channels is key.
When it comes to social media we tend to suggest using your logo on a flat brand colour for the profile image, making sure it’s central and works well when cropped into a circle. And choose an inviting seasonal photo of your establishment for the cover photo.
A website that conveys character
Your website should be designed and created thoughtfully so that the aforementioned writing, photography and branding elements work together to communicate your character to visitors.
On the web, you can use longer text content than is recommended for more fast-paced channels such as social media, but still, bear in mind the tone of your written content and keep it consistent. Remember that maintaining consistency across your channels can double the impact of your marketing. If you decided on succinct writing with a romantic tone, make sure your website reflects this just as well your social media posts.
While websites must still answer consumer questions on the basics, such as rooms and amenities, they do offer an opportunity for developing and sharing your identity through longer-form blog posts. These posts can provide your readers with a depth of information, giving you space to further showcase your offering and character on a deeper level. As well as internal happenings you can showcase the local area, menus, activities and events or deeper posts expounding one of your core differentiators.
Remember, “show, don’t tell” – make good use of professional photography to communicate your personality and let people see for themselves why you are so different.
The right way to convey character on social media
Social media is an excellent tool for communicating character. Compared to the more static nature of a website, social media platforms can tell the ongoing story of your hotel, so you need to squeeze the most character possible out of your social media.
The channels you choose to be on can convey your character too – if you want to be a design-led hotel connecting with a younger audience, for example, Instagram is a natural choice. A more tech-led hotel? Go for Twitter. Or if you’re after a more family-friendly feel, Facebook is a decent channel to focus on.
With social media, your text should be relatively short and to the point but still match your chosen tone. Consider the aesthetics of text too. For example, don’t use hashtags mid-sentence, and avoid using hashtags where they aren’t so helpful, such as on Facebook.
When it comes to sharing images on social media, let good photography speak for itself – don’t be tempted to add graphics or logos on top. Over-branding can have the effect of cluttering up your profiles and watering down your brand’s unique character.
Character in the wild
The Peacock at Rowsley firstly shares the beauty of the surrounding Peak District, a clear USP of the small hotel. They communicate and develop their character using poetic language to describe the surroundings, while still connecting it to the hotel itself, with the photography itself is left to shine on its own, with only limited supporting text.
Bespoke Hotels, however, despite having a fantastic range of beautiful locations to build their brand character on, miss a trick.
While the commercial end is always to be considered, their posts miss the chance to describe the experience and build desire within readers. The photography is beautiful, and that’s key for Instagram, but the description is more functional – “stay here at this price, click this link”.
The world is watching, let them see the real you
Digital channels are where the world watches you. It’s likely you already invest significantly into your interiors, staff and food and beverage offering with the aim of building a unique brand that stands out from the rest – but, sharing that brand, and how you share it, makes all that investment worth it.
Take a moment to consider how your hotel looks to outsiders when viewed through the digital lens. Does the vision you have for your establishment play out across those channels, or not? Are you making the most of the opportunity you have to communicate your incredible offering?
Ben Walker is the Director and Founder of Arise – digital specialists in digital marketing and communications for the hospitality, tourism and business.