In the era of celebrity endorsements and the Insta-famous, influencer marketing is having a moment.
According to one report, 86% of marketers used influencer marketing in 2017, while half reported it outperformed brand-created content. For the travel and hospitality industry, influencer marketing has become a key tactic for tapping into communities of engaged followers to grow and build lasting relationships with customers.
Hilton Garden Inn and Marriott are two well-known brands that have used influencers as part of their marketing strategies.
How Hilton Garden Inn Taps Celebrity Influencers
The guest experience at Hilton Garden Inn isn’t just about the accommodations; it’s about fine dining, too.
When customer research revealed that the upscale hotel’s food and beverage offering was “a really unexpected and powerful way to raise the perception of the brand as a whole,” said Amy Martin-Ziegenfuss, VP of marketing for Hilton’s focused service brands, the company launched a campaign to revamp its menu through a public voting process in late May.
The brand tapped Dan Churchill, a Food Network television host, to kick off the campaign with a Food Network Facebook Live event, during which he revealed some of the offerings in contention for a spot on the menu. That event received more than 5.6 million views, Martin-Ziegenfuss said.
After the launch, the brand leveraged the Scripps Lifestyle network of influencers to create buzz around voting through Facebook and Twitter posts. The winning menu items were announced toward the end of August by actor Judy Greer, who was signed on in 2017 for a series of ads promoting its accommodations and food.
Collaborating with influencers can be hit or miss unless you have the proper pieces in place, Martin-Ziegenfuss said.
“It’s really important that you find the right partnership—and I say ‘partnership’ because it shouldn’t be transactional in nature,” she said. “Like any good relationship, if you put a lot of work into it from both sides, you yield greater results. If the influencers feel passionate and invested in the cause, they become advocates for the brand.”
Hilton Garden landed on Churchill and Greer because they embody the brand and have a following that reflects its consumer target, she said. It also considered how they paired with brands in the past, their points of view, and the types of content they create.
Also key was the freedom the brand gave Churchill and Greer to tell the story in a way that’s authentic to them, Martin-Ziegenfuss said. While it’s natural for marketers to want to control the message, too much control leads to inauthenticity.
“The power of the word of mouth that the influencer brings is that it can be undermined if you don’t allow them to tell the story organically,” she said. “We made sure they really understood the strategy and approach, that we fully grounded them in the business, and made sure that we were open to new ideas.”
Martin-Ziegenfuss said that this approach—selecting influencers who fit their brand, immersing them in their strategy, and giving them the freedom to be authentic—was crucial.
“We needed a way to break through the clutter in the hospitality industry and get our message out there,” she said. “There’s a lot of noise in this space. Working with influencers was how we were able to do that.”
Marriott’s Ode To Music And The Arts
Travel giant Marriott is known for its commitment to music and the arts. Last year the company’s W Hotels brand launched the Sound Suite. This private music studio, writer’s room, and lounge offers a retreat for musicians and producers to write and record tracks while on the road. Hotel guests are also able to get in on the fun by booking the studio to live out their rockstar dreams.
To create some buzz around the Sound Suite, in July W Hotels teamed with musician St. Vincent for a three-part video series dubbed “Secrets Of The Sound Suite.” The videos were filmed in the Sound Suites in W Hotels in Seattle, Barcelona, and Hollywood. St. Vincent talks about her love for each city, as well as her passion for music as a means of expression. See the Hollywood edition below.
Together, the three videos have upward of 2.5 million views on YouTube.
In addition, earlier this year, Marriott International followed four artists on a journey to create original pieces of work inspired by their travels. The video series, called “Storybooked,” showcased each of the trips, which were powered by the company’s loyalty program. Artists were empowered to embark on, and share, a personal journey to destinations such as Japan, Italy, Spain, and Peru.
“Their stories illustrate a shared human experience and bridge our differences to create a common universal language through art,” according to the company. See one of the videos below.
“Travel is the universal language for our loyalty members seeking deeply meaningful and transformative experiences,” said Karin Timpone, global marketing officer at Marriott International, in a press statement. “StoryBooked brings to life the story of four artists empowered by travel to fulfill their passion for art.”