One thing hoteliers all agree on: Consumers’ needs are changing. They want rooms flush with outlets that cater to their tech gadgets they want top-notch in-room entertainment and they want premium creature comforts such as high-end pillows sheets and beds. To meet the needs of a more demanding traveler many hotel brands are revitalizing—rolling out new programs and forging new partnerships to enhance the guest experience. But strangely very few venture outside of their own parking lots to get consumers buzzing. This month we review three recent hotel marketing programs based on their experiential potential—how much live they leveraged and how
much they left lying on the table.
In February Sheraton announced a new official corporate sponsorship of CBS Sports and NCAA a partnership that centered around this year’s March Madness tournaments. In addition to web and TV promotions the brand activated at its hotels with signage door hangers key card notes on-site viewing parties and in-lobby arcade-style hoop shoot games—refereed by the hotel’s concierge.
To spark a fan-driven viral campaign the hotel launched the world’s largest online wave. At sheratonwave.com consumers can upload videos of themselves throwing their arms up in the name of team spirit. Viewers can sort and watch clips by school watch the videos in succession as one giant wave and enter to win tickets to the 2009 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
“Sheraton has huge awareness so doing a marketing program to build awareness is not what our brand needs to focus on ” says Stewart Slocum senior director-brand marketing at Sheraton. “It’s more about creating rich experiences.”
Experiential Potential. The wave campaign begs to be a live experience—not just captured on video in someone’s living room but recorded by Sheraton ambassadors in places where business travelers and sports fans frequent like airports or college campuses. And nothing builds buzz about a hotel’s personality faster than unexpected in-room amenities (W Hotels is known for stocking mini-bars with everything from candy necklaces to sex toys.) So skip the old-school signage and door hangers and give guests something to talk about.
Sheratonplay.com invites web surfers from around the world to grab a virtual pillow and jump into an online hotel room to duke it out with other players in real time. The interactive pillow fight game (or water fight in the pool game you choose) is designed to be an innovative way to enhance the reservation experience and to bring people together while they’re traveling. Similar to virtual communities like Second Life the game allows people to connect and have fun—something Sheraton hopes will be a catalyst for future brand loyalty.
“Online experiences that enable individuals to interact naturally support our brand platform and position us as a leader in leveraging technology to bring what we know is a core value for our guests ” says Slocum.
On the main Sheraton website customers can upload photos and videos of travel experiences and share them with the greater Sheraton community. The brand also uses follow-up email surveys to gauge guests’ interests after booking reservations then sends destination-specific information before their trip.
Experiential Potential. Can’t you just see a swarm of brand ambassadors walking the streets of major metros breaking out in spontaneous pillow fights? Or roving beaches and pools in the summer having splash fights? We can. Sheraton could have turned the online activity into a guerrilla event with big p.r. potential. As a bonus a street campaign would have given consumers a chance to touch and feel the brand’s signature pillows instead of just reading about them.
Question: If you haven’t built it yet will they come? Choice Hotels’ new upscale Cambria Suites hotel chain tackled this ultimate challenge (the chain had no brick and mortar hotels yet) by taking the soon-to-be suite experience into the nearest shopping mall.
The 30-foot-by-13-foot pop-up suite is an exact replica of a Cambria Suites room complete with exterior details on the outside and the full complement of in-room amenities within. The pop-up first appeared in the Boise ID airport as a way to entice business travelers to check out its nearby inaugural hotel. Then it set up shop in the Mall of America in Minneapolis where shoppers could check out the high-quality linens spa-style bathroom and modern conveniences like alarm clocks with MP3 player jacks and flat screen TVs.
“Any time you’re starting something new you want to hit it with a splash and this allowed us to do that ” says William Edmundson brand president at Cambria Suites. “Being able to walk through a suite to see the scale the finish level is something you could only do if you had an actual suite there.”
To tackle business travelers Cambria installed a smaller 10-foot-by-10-foot version of the suite at the Minneapolis airport. Passersby could stop by and try on virtual reality goggles for a 360-degree walk-through of the new hotel.
Experiential Potential. Definitely has the Ex factor. Cambria’s program gets consumers excited about its rooms by taking it where they live. Even without the full-scale pop-up Cambria’s program earns points for leveraging virtual reality to woo both business travelers and potential developers. We don’t know why more hotel brands don’t go off-site to promote their in-room amenities.