Content distribution aims to build relationships and increase loyalty

By Fran Worrall, Hospitality Upgrade Editor

Building a unique identity is no easy task In today’s highly competitive market. In fact, effective differentiation is one of the main challenges facing hospitality providers — hotels and vendors alike.

“It’s hard to stand out from the crowd in a fast-paced and constantly changing landscape,” says Lyn Graft, founder of Storytelling for Entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas, and author of the bestselling book Start with Story. “Consumers are inundated with so much information that they actively seek to ignore marketing messages.”

What’s more, the tried-and-true marketing techniques of the past simply aren’t as effective as they used to be. “People can see a sales pitch coming from a mile away, and they automatically put up their guard.”

As a result, hospitality providers are constantly seeking new and creative ways to reach their target audiences and distinguish their products and services. According to Graft, one of the best ways to do that is through ‘storytelling.’

Organizations can use the technique to establish credibility and connect with customers and prospects in an appealing and personal manner. “When we share compelling stories, it evokes emotions in a way that’s not possible with other forms of marketing,” he says. “Your audience is intrigued and wants to hear more. You’re able to get past their barriers and reach them on an emotional level.”

The result is a new kind of customer engagement. “When a story resonates with someone, it triggers more areas of the brain,” he explains, noting that specific chemicals are released that tend to make people take action, whether it’s booking a room, calling a vendor for a product demo or finding out more about a property. The bottom line: sharing stories is good for business.

Building rapport rather than selling

According to the Content Marketing Institute, a global education and training organization, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience; and, ultimately to drive profitable customer action.

“Instead of pitching your products or services, you’re providing useful information to your prospects and customers,” says Robert Rose, a marketing consultant in Calabasas, Calif., and the founder of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting arm of the Content Marketing Institute. “The main difference between content marketing and other forms of marketing, such as press releases and advertising, is that the content is valuable in and of itself. It educates, entertains or inspires.”

Rose, who has written three bestselling books on marketing and co-produces the weekly podcast ‘This Old Marketing,’ says content marketing is about building a rapport with an intended audience rather than selling directly to them. “Customer relationships are the foundation of content marketing. When you provide useful and relevant content to your customers and prospects, they know you’re committed to their success, which improves loyalty and retention.”

For organizations that aren’t sure where to begin, Rose advises asking the most basic of questions: Who are our customers? Consider demographics (such as age and gender), psychographics (such as lifestyle and personality) and geographics (such as city and country).

Also important is knowing where those customers routinely seek information. “Find out where your audience goes to learn about your product or property and focus your efforts accordingly,” Graft says.

Next, emphasize quality over quantity. For example, instead of producing a certain number of blog posts each month, concentrate on providing fewer but more substantive posts. “Many organizations make the mistake of thinking more is better when, in reality, that’s not always the case,” says Rose.

Finally, be consistent. “Write in a recognizable voice, and make sure your content always reflects your values and key messages,” Rose advises. It’s also important to post regularly, so that customers and prospects view the organization as a source of information and insights.

Payoff can be tremendous

Rose warns that content marketing is neither cheap nor easy. “Although many people will tell you that content marketing is less expensive and easier than traditional marketing, it’s not. It’s more expensive, it’s more difficult, and it takes longer if you do it correctly. It’s inherently harder to create high-impact valuable content than it is to create an ad or a brochure.”

Yet, both Rose and Graft agree that the payoff is tremendous. Content marketing not only can be presented in a variety of formats, such as articles, blogs, case studies, newsletters, podcasts and white papers, but also can be leveraged in numerous ways. For example, a spa resort might write a blog post about wellness, which then can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, posted to the hotel website and emailed to guests. In addition, digital content that includes important keywords and links to and from other sites is likely to be seen as relevant by search engines, which extends marketing reach even further.

“Content marketing pulls everything together, enabling you to deliver a consistent message across multiple channels,” Rose says. And, while it will never replace traditional marketing or advertising, content marketing should be an integral part of an overarching strategic marketing program that supports and enhances all of the other components — from direct marketing and lead generation to advertising and public relations.

Although there are algorithms and formulas for measuring content marketing’s ROI, getting an accurate analysis can be challenging, not only because selling isn’t the direct goal but also because measuring multiple touches and influencers is difficult. Although Rose doesn’t dismiss the importance of determining ROI, he advises organizations to view content marketing as a long-term business strategy. “It’s a program, not a project,” he says. “Its real value comes from helping differentiate your product or property in a busy hospitality space.”

Graft agrees. “It’s not about selling, but about sharing compelling content,” he concludes. “You’re creating trust with your audience. And at the same time, you’re moving people toward a course of action that ultimately helps you achieve your sales and revenue goals.”

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