Stories matter: what hotels can learn from content marketers at large

Forrester defines content marketing as:

“A marketing strategy where brands create interest, relevance and relationships with customers by producing, curating and sharing content that addresses specific customer needs and delivers visible value.”

Notice that it’s more than just creating content to put in front of your guests. It’s creating effective content with a purpose—to educate and inspire.

And when it comes to this strategy, in particular, hoteliers can take cues from brands across every industry. From the most extreme examples like Red Bull TV to the more subtle like Leadpages, they all have one thing is common: incredible content marketing and storytelling.

The case for better content

There’s no shortage of content out there on the internet. Just about everyone is creating it. But is it effective? It’s critical to measure if your content marketing is working. To do this, you need to define what success is from the start. What metrics are important to your hotel? What are the wins (both large and small) to get you there?

Without a clear plan in place, it’s easy to fall into a trap of creating more content rather than creating content that’s actually effective at meeting your goals. Remember the endgame here—create interest, relevance and relationships with your guests.

According to Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, there’s no one way to do just that. But she does offer a few suggestions to consider for your next piece:

  • Focus on empathy and experiences
  • Focus on relevant and inspiring stories
  • Focus on making it useful

Great content = Useful x Empathic x Inspirational

It’s important to note that all three factors are needed. Without one, the system (and it’s effectiveness) fails.

The case for storytelling

The medium you use to distribute your work and even what you define as useful or relevant is completely dependent on your brand, guests and business goals. For hoteliers, in particular, stories have an important role to play.

Stories help build powerful connections with guests, creating loyalty and trust that can make a hotel stand out from the competition. Let’s dig into why.

Stories are useful

For centuries, humans have told stories to share information and teach important lessons. Over time they shape our perceptions and beliefs, whether that’s about individuals, food, political views, or even your hotel.

As your story is cultivated, it develops into a powerful means for future travelers to learn about your hotel and the experiences your property has to offer in an authentic way. When all of these things come together, that’s when your guest is ready to book.

Stories are empathetic

Your guests are the core characters of your hotel’s story and they have relevance to the people they know—future travelers perfect for your hotel. It’s hard for these prospective guests to identify with a building. But your guests’ perspectives offer an authentic connection that resonates. They’ll breathe life into your hotel with messages that traditional advertising can’t touch.

Don’t just take my word for it. Robert McKee, regarded as one of the best brand storytellers, said in this interview, “When a story stars a consumer, there’s a kind of natural empathy. That character is a human being, just like me.”

Stories are inspirational

Stories engage consumers, pulling them in to participate in the conversation, rather than telling them what to think. Plus, stories evoke emotions, and emotions inspire us to take action.

Just remember that authenticity matters here. Travelers see right through content that’s not authentic and you’re running the risk of losing valuable credibility with your audience.

Brands across every industry recognize that storytelling is an effective avenue for marketing. It captures what today’s consumers want: useful, empathetic and inspirational content. For the hospitality industry, adapting this mindset while enlisting the help of your guests will be a win-win for your hotel.

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Watch now: Introducing Photo River

Right now your site is designed to capture the 1% of travelers who are ready to book immediately. But what about the other 99%? They’re still in decision making mode.

That’s why we’ve introduced Photo River—a new experience designed to bring to light the stories your guests are sharing, right on your site. Infuse more personality, offer up new ways to start a conversation, and bring back some real hospitality into your marketing with


Sound interesting? Take a tour, or adventure on to see how easy it is to share guest stories with

Unlock our new e-course: Reignite your loyal base

Together, loyalty and advocacy spark huge return for repeat business. Enroll in our e-course to learn how to harness recognition and extend personal interactions with your guests.


Turn loyal followers from simply point-redeemers into a marketing powerhouse.

With a new lesson sent to your inbox each week for 5 weeks, we’ll cover the industry shift towards aspirational marketing and what it means for hoteliers, plus how to attract, inspire and keep loyal guests.

As you’ll soon see, loyalty done right fosters advocacy, and the two are a more powerful than the sum of their parts. Each read takes only 5–8 minutes, so, you’ll be able to apply these lessons and lift your loyalty program to new heights in no time.

Join us as we explore more in-depth lessons with every installment.

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Meet the instructor

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Richard Dunbar

Director of Partnerships

Hi there—Richard here at I’ve been in the hospitality space for over 15 years, including several at one of the largest providers of independent loyalty reward programs worldwide. After picking up my fair share on loyalty, I’ve been able to put it all together with revenue management, e-commerce, and now advocacy. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you as you come aboard.

6 ways to improve your hotel’s website experience, right now

Managing your hotel’s website can be a big undertaking. It’s a task often taken on by many team members, and sometimes many departments. There can be a lot of moving parts and pieces, and thankfully there are some great tools out there to help you get the most out of it—analytics, user trend tracking, content management systems, and great hotel booking engines.

But what’s “under the hood” doesn’t account for the compelling visuals and content that makes your site tick, (and grabs a visitor’s attention.) And with a number of people involved, this can mean the ability to make enhancements doesn’t always move as quickly as you’d like.

So what can you do right now that will make a difference?

Here are some things you can do that will improve the experience on your hotel website, and don’t require a website overhaul to get them done.

1. Give your website some personality

Hotels are often beautifully designed. From plush room accents to swanky public spaces, a lot of thought went into crafting an artful experience for your guests—and you want to show that off. But keep in mind your hotel has personality that extends beyond the manufactured décor that lines interior and exterior walls.

Hotels are brought to life by people. The experiences your guests encounter and the stories they share aren’t manufactured. Instead, they’re the authentic, rich memorable moments captured at your hotel. They’re all part of your hotel’s story, and provide the most candid insights into your hotel that resonate with future guests.

Guest moment captured with’s Advocacy Platform for Hotels

The best and easiest way to start adding personality to your website is by including photos of the genuine experiences your guests enjoy while staying at your hotel. Research from Psychology Today reveals that consumers perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. Potential guests will envision themselves sharing in these experiences when they see photos of real people, and not only lifeless spaces. Infusing this distinct, unique, experiential content is the first step in helping convert curious on-lookers into future guests.

You may be asking, “What does this content look like?”—bringing us on to our next topic.

“Storytelling is like a vitamin. When it gets into your readers, it permeates their whole being, and fights every objection that might otherwise stop them from becoming loyal customers.” – Neil Patel, Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, and Analytics Expert

2. Build content that speaks to your guests

Start by defining personas

More than likely, your hotel is made up of a few different types of guests. Developing content with your guests’ personas in mind creates strong initial brand connections from the first time they encounter your hotel—usually online. In the long run, delivering these unique and personal messages on your website will have a measurable impact—more bookings, better performance, and a change in whatever metric you might be testing against.

Since you probably already have a clear idea of who your guests are, start by writing them down. Ask yourself if you have content that attracts and engages these personas. What brand stories still need to be told?

Take for example a hotel in our Orlando neighborhood. Since local attractions for families are a big reason to travel here, most hotels in the area have content to support that. But that message doesn’t resonate with culture seekers or foodie travelers—why not speak to those potential future guests about the brand new performing arts center located right in the city center? Or the rich dining experiences from the number of James Beard featured chefs in town?

This is where user-generated content has extraordinary value. Not only is it the best way to source timely and relevant content that speaks to all the different types of travelers for your hotel, but it does so in a way that is authentic, personable and trustworthy. The travel stories that your guests share enrich your own hotel’s narrative.

Consider Where Your Guest is in the Booking Cycle

In the example above, we defined your guest’s persona by their travel preferences. But that’s not the only thing to consider when evaluating your hotel’s content. Where your website visitors are in the travel-buying cycle is critical to being able to spark the right conversation.

Analyses from Google’s The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision shows that when researching travel in the early stages, destination related terms dominate search. This drives home the fact that hotels need to sell the experience as much as (if not more than) the hotel itself. Reaching and inspiring potential guests during the early stages of travel planning is where hotels can truly win, influencing their decision to stay and book directly when it comes time to buy. Homepage Component’s Homepage Component

Other content that is particularly influential to drawing travel inspiration includes recommendations from friends and family, and online travel videos, so be sure to infuse this content throughout your site.

Also consider that curious on-lookers who visit to your website early in the decision making process may not be ready to ‘book now’. It’s important to engage this type of visitor in a different way than someone who’s ready to purchase.’s Homepage Component is one example of how to do so effectively. By pairing a short, curated quote from a guest with a different call-to-action, the visitor may sign-up to lock in an incentive on a future stay. Later, when the visitor is ready to book travel, they have a placeholder saved in their inbox. For the hotel, an anonymous web visitor has now become a warm lead who they have the opportunity to engage further.

3. Be Local

Why do guests travel to your area? Is it because you’re located in the heart of a tourist epicenter, perched on the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, or have a special event in town? Start digging into what motivates your guests and use that to your hotel’s advantage. Over time, you’ll identify trends, letting you stay ahead of your guests’ activity.

Keep a pulse on the local heartbeat. Ask guests and locals, or use online sources for inspiration. Event hubs such as Eventful or Eventbrite house a ton of local activity, as well as resources including local newspapers or state tourism websites. Plus, being involved in your local community lets you be involved in making memorable experiences for guests. Again, weave this content into your site to make sure your potential future guests know and are excited about it during their stay.

ACME Hotel in downtown Chicago is an incredible example of how to tap into the local scene. They’re located right in the middle of River North—home to hundreds of Chicago’s hippest eateries and nightlife.

Creativity, innovation, and self-expression are key to their guest experience. They continually work with local artists to bring personality and richness to their hotel. One of their latest initiatives is the ACME Intsa Gallery—a pop-Up art display featuring photos from some of the most admired local photographers on Instagram. Meant to inspire guests, it also brings a real sense of authenticity to the property.

ACME Insta Gallery
ACME Insta Gallery

This is just one piece of their larger effort to work with local and aspiring artists every day, all of which is infused throughout their website and serves as a key attraction for travelers to the hotel.

4. Check your rates and offers

competing-offers-v2Sometimes there are so many things to juggle that you might miss this obvious but crucial mistake—ensure you’re not presenting multiple offers that compete with each other on yours site. If offers are posted in different pages, try to tie them together so there is consistency and flow, and also to prevent confusion on the part of the guest.

When visitors are on your website and see a different offer (either better or worse) on different pages of the site, they may start to wonder if they’re really getting the best deal. By the time they’ve decided, the guest may not even be able to find the offer they really wanted.

Keep them limited, relevant (personas!), and consistent.

5. Don’t erode your brand

To build on the above, be wary about the offers you extend on your site, as well as how they are presented to potential guests to avoid brand erosion.

Future guests exchange their info to receive a hotel’s offer via’s platform

Consider having visitors sign up for an offer instead of having them live permanently for any visitor to use. Your hotel will begin to build a database of warm leads, and can follow by nurturing them down the path to becoming a future guest—all while maintaining the integrity of your brand.

Again,’s Homepage Component helps our clients protect against brand erosion in this way by offering discounts only to guests who sign-up. This creates exclusivity for guests who unlock the offer, and provides the hotel with the right information to spark real conversation and influence them to book directly in the future.

Another way hotels can maintain brand integrity is by offering value-adds instead of discounts on room prices. With a value-add, you’re not just giving something away. Instead, you may build it into the cost of the room. If you’ve defined your guest persona(s), you’ll know what appeals to your guests and why they love your property. Consider creating value-added packages that incorporate elements of their persona into the room rate.

Let’s say you have a hotel in Wine Country. Many guests selected your hotel in part because of its incredible location. Since you’re “being local,” include tickets for an excursion in the room rate to one or two of wineries your staff personally recommends. Or, offer a couple’s getaway for a weekend and include a bottle of wine with the room. This is a great opportunity to get creative and get your guests talking. By using a value-add in this way, you’re building brand affinity and staying consistent with your guests’ perception of your brand.

6. Get social

Alright—we know this isn’t your website, but it’s often the next biggest digital channel where you speak to your guests, and we know that your guests are on social media. Hotels often use social media as an advertising channel instead of an outlet to build their brand, reach users and engage audiences—there’s nothing really social about it.

Content Distribution on Social MediaWhen it comes to content distribution on social media, use 80% of your content to nurture, educate, and entertain guests. The other 20% should be devoted as an avenue for direct revenue generation. You know that really great, user-generated content we talked about infusing onto your site? Well guess what—this is the perfect content to repurpose for your social media. It’s timely, and most of all it’s relevant to the audience of followers and fans who’ve opted in to hear more about your hotel.

6 ½ Tech matters

This last (half of) one is something that’s easy to take for granted, but is important.

Do a “sanity-check” on a regular basis to make sure everything’s working how it’s supposed to—links aren’t broken, your booking engine is running smoothly, dates and room criteria carry through searches, images are displaying properly, and more. There’s no greater reason to abandon and use a third-party than when it’s difficult to walk through the booking process. When glitches happen, be the first one to expose them and get them fixed. It’ll save time (and headaches) when you manage the process regularly.

A strong digital strategy has countless moving parts. With a small amount of effort, you can make a difference on the performance of your hotel’s website right now. Be strategic with your changes to see even more impact, and start with these takeaways to put your hotel down the road to success.

  • Your hotel’s personality is a built from your guests’ experiences—show them off!
  • Understand the booking cycle and have content that speaks to each stage
  • Build relationships in your local community to help craft your guests’ experiences (and enrich your hotel)
  • Be aware and steer clear of competing offers that cause brand erosion
  • Focus the majority of your social efforts on building relationships with potential guests instead of selling to them
  • Do regular “sanity checks” on your website’s technology and performance

What changes have you implemented that have helped move the needle for your hotel? Let us know! Your insights guide us to continue to create great content that makes a difference in your day-to-day. Reach out, or discover more.

There’s a social status for every status

“Social media is just a fad,” raved early critics. Looking back, it’s almost ridiculous to think, as it’s quickly become an indispensable part of a hotel’s digital strategy. In 2015, 65% of all internet-using adults use social media, compared to just 11% in 2006—and that number is still on the rise. Facebook has over 1.55 billion users, and other social networks are growing at an outstanding rate. Simply put, social media doesn’t plan on moving out anytime soon.

Hoteliers can benefit from engaging potential future guests with social media to help foster loyal brand communities, and even reach new audiences. In fact, hotels have some of the most to gain from this channel since users already love to share their travel experiences with friends and family, and their social networks are the vehicle to do so.

Below you’ll find some key elements that will bolster your digital strategy across all of your guests, and why social use is an important channel when it comes to influencing travel decisions early on in the travel planning process, regardless of age or demographic.

Social media–spanning the ages

Social media usage from 2005 to 2015
Social Media Usage, Pew Research Center

In the dawn of modern social media, (circa 2006) users between the ages of 18-29 dominated social media adoption. Even though they still lead the pack, the age gap is quickly closing for other groups. In fact, the largest growth in the past 5 years is a tie between users 30-49 and 65+ years old. Today, 75% of adults between the ages of 30 and 49 use social media sites, and 50% between the ages of 50 and 64.

When it comes to booking travel, 83% of those surveyed in Google’s 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision cited social networking, video, or photo sites as their top online sources of inspiration. This key indication shows that the research phase is a clear branding opportunity for hotel marketers. Plus, keep in mind that when potential future guests are considering a travel destination, 92% say they trust “earned” media—the recommendations from friends and family—above all other forms of advertising.

This points to social media as a top channel hotels should be using to reach potential guests. A single person is connected to hundreds of friends & family across the world, and one person’s story travels further to that audience than ever before. Use this to your advantage to introduce your hotel to an audience of like-minded travelers who are the perfect guest for your hotel.

Affluent travelers and social media

The best luxury brands tell the best brand stories. They’ve established their guests’ personas—understanding who they are, what they care about, and how to reach them with the right message.

Affluent travelers equally value the internet and word of mouth as the most important sources for inspiring personal travel. With this information, social media is a compelling, targeted and cost effective avenue for brands to tell stories and inspire potential future guests.

Jade Mountain guest photo by @angiesilverspoon
Jade Mountain guest photo by @angiesilverspoon

Karolin Troubetzkoy, executive director/owner of The Jade Mountain, a AAA 5-diamond resort featuring expansive, luxurious suites and private infinity pools in St. Lucia with rates starting on average of $1575 per night, said guests take it upon themselves to generate a strong social media experience. As she puts it, “When you have a property that is so photogenic, almost everyone is posting immediately on arrival. As a result, social media is the No. 1 driver of our business.”

Social media is also a key influencer of organic search engine results. Since 59% of those who start their research online state that search engines are their go-to source for travel ideas and information, using quality content on social to help boost these rankings is a given. The people from Moz—an industry-leading tool for measuring, monitoring and evaluating a website’s level of search engine optimization—conducts a Search Engine Rankings Factors survey every two years. In their 2015 survey, social media was the 9th most influential factor on search engine rankings.

Hoteliers cannot ignore social media for any age group or demographic, especially when considering the impact it has on potential future guests’ travel decisions, and the fact that nearly 70% of the population uses social media.

The friends, relatives & colleagues of your guests are the perfect demographic for your hotel to reach. Whether your hotel fits in business, leisure, resort, limited service or luxury, start making trusted introductions to entirely new audiences of future guests. Hotels worldwide use to do just that.

If you want to learn more about how advocacy is a game changer for your hotel’s social media strategy, check out the perspective from our president, Edward St. Onge, in Making sense of social for hotel managers and owners.

How to boost your hotel loyalty program with advocacy

Loyalty programs have become a necessity to compete for the fleeting interest of the frequent traveler. Hotels are increasingly using loyalty to attract the “right” guest, rather than just trying to fill rooms. Advocacy, on the other hand, can be as simple as a word of mouth referral or a powerful testimonial. Like loyalty, it can be used to attract the right customer—only this time, it does so by reaching like-minded customers through their social networks. But, in the end, not all loyal customers are advocates, and not all advocates are loyal customers. So how do loyalty and advocacy work together?

The time-tested approach of creating programs and incentives that reward loyal customers, though struggling, can still be effective. Re-thinking this model to combine advocacy with loyalty creates an environment in which there’s no incentive to book anywhere other than directly. is doing just that. By turning guests into engaged advocates, trusted brand connections are built, and frequent travelers become key promoters for your hotel.  Here are some of our key findings to successfully bridge the gap between loyalty and advocacy:

  • Membership: For loyalty programs to flourish it’s crucial there be network growth over time.  Members tend to stay longer, spend more, and return more frequently. Additionally, loyalty programs cost real dollars to implement, and hotels understandably wish to drive enrollments wherever possible. By integrating loyalty into a guest engagement or advocacy strategy, not only will network membership grow, but it will do so in a way that is largely automated and, therefore, far more scalable.
  • Engagement: Combined, a hotel’s guests have far greater reach than any marketing effort it could ever undertake on its own. Hotels that focus on driving engagement are able to put this massive reach to proper use. By putting loyalty points on the table as the incentive, a hotel can boost or maintain already high engagement while also directly linking loyalty and advocacy in the guest’s mind. It demonstrates that loyalty can be an engaging pathway for turning hotel guests into advocates and reinforces the value of the loyalty program for the guest.
  • Member Value: Measuring and understanding the value that loyalty program members bring back to the hotel is clearly important, and it can help define which enrollment initiatives should be pursued more aggressively. Guests who enroll in loyalty programs through advocacy initiatives, on average, return equal value to the hotel as those enrolled elsewhere. Considering the ease of implementation and the time-saving automation available through this approach, the integrated method can deliver real value to the hotel’s bottom line.
  • Automation: Behind the attractive veneer of any loyalty program there are real costs, both in hard dollars and human capital. Besides facilitating scale, automation can reduce these costs and free up the hotel’s associates for valuable guest interaction. An integrated approach to loyalty and advocacy means the member enrolls prior to arriving. The hotel is now capturing meaningful data about the guest before they even arrive, creating opportunities to enhance the guest experience and a compelling path to up-selling.

Both loyalty and advocacy have their place in a hotel’s toolkit. Combined, they represent something greater than the sum of their parts. By implementing a guest advocacy strategy that incorporates loyalty, hotels are able to engage with their guests in a natural and meaningful way that drives results. And the best part is that everyone walks away a winner! is “secret sauce” for The Oliver Hotel’s off the charts guest engagement & room sales boost

The Oliver Hotel joined forces in 2012 with to help spread the word about its updated Southern charm, sophistication and amenities


ORLANDO, FL – DECEMBER 2014 – The Oliver Hotel, a historic, boutique hotel in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, underwent renovation and renaming in 2011. The hotel joined forces in 2012 with, the brand advocate platform, to help spread the word about its updated Southern charm, sophistication and amenities.

The Oliver Hotel
The Oliver Hotel

The partnership has been so successful that the 28-room hotel booked an astounding 430 room nights through’s guest advocacy in the past year.

“ is The Oliver Hotel’s secret sauce. We hate to give away the recipe but is the future of hotel social media,” said Mike Riley, GM of The Oliver Hotel. “Our engagement rate is off the charts, and has lead to at least a direct 5% increase in total annual room sales, not to mention the word of mouth it creates down the line.

“Furthermore, gives us an easy way to immediately gauge guest feedback the moment they step out the front door. If you don’t believe me, check out the front page of our website – it’s like our very own TripAdvisor,” added Riley.

Right at the time of booking, encourages guests to share their upcoming trip to The Oliver Hotel with their social connections around the world. This drives friends and relatives to a uniquely personalized hotel website experience and leads them down the path of becoming future guests.

The Oliver Hotel
Oliver Royale

“When guests love a hotel, they want to let everyone know,” said Debi Moses, Senior Director of Sales for “And The Oliver Hotel is a hotel guests love. offers a way to share that excitement in a way where everybody wins – guests, friends, and the hotel’s bottom line.”

To find out more about how can help create a significant, measurable impact for your hotel, please get in touch with Debi Moses at or visit