Hot off the heels of iProspect’s ‘Best Content Strategy’ win at this year’s International Content Marketing Awards, we thought what better way to celebrate than to share some insights and background on the work that got us there.
Read on as we take you through a case study for Starwood Hotels (now Marriott) that put audiences at the heart of the program and delivered an unparalleled consumer experience, and created new revenue streams.
Moving with the times
Global hotel brands are complex. By virtue of their footprint, governance and varying localised objectives, they are often cumbersome – especially in the context of responding to the changing needs and desires of their audiences.
Today, consumers rule the roost. It’s no longer relevant to talk about consumer engagement in terms of simply ‘being online’.
We must think instead of ‘my time’. Consumers use their chosen devices whenever and wherever they want; they are constantly connected, and there’s seldom a moment where they don’t have access to what they want.
Just like you and me, consumers – not advertisers,- choose when engagement happens. And they will only engage with something if it genuinely wins their attention.
This couldn’t be truer than in the travel and leisure space, where netizens have changed the way they look at holidays entirely. This is a good thing, it it’s all thanks to innovative, demand-based service facilitators who have had the foresight, vision – and frankly, the kahunas – to shake up the world around us.
Change is exciting, and while it fragments established paths to conversion, it also opens up new ones.
With Starwood, this was the environment into which we needed to propose an idea.
Looking at the brief
Although Starwood’s worldwide customers are diverse and globally distributed, they do share some things in common. In particular, they are moving towards a place where unique, uncommon travel experiences are more important than having a planned, run-of-the-mill holiday.
Starwood’s brand is all about connecting travellers with accommodation experiences that enhance their stay and facilitate a more memorable visit. In this space, competitors are notorious for pushing undifferentiated brand messaging, rather than sharing experiences with their audiences… so that was the first thing we had to take on board.
But how, then, do you move from a typical, transactional experience to something more personal?
Knowing that Starwood had a desire to create a content-driven channel to drive experiences (and of course incremental booking revenue), we knew our response would be to:
1. Develop a strategy that put unique content front and centre;
2. Leverage consumer information to create a value-adding, user-centric experience;
3. Create an amplification framework to drive measureable performance that would lead to incremental revenue across specific key properties in priority markets.
Digging for Gold
First out of the gate, we needed to pop open the hood and look at our client’s brand, its customers, and their competitors. Blood, sweat and tears went into understanding the intent of those we wanted to connect with, and this transcended your usual Google Trends and search volume research.
We needed a bigger boat.
Through expansive dives into consumer profiling – and specifically, looking at attitudes around destinations and experiences through social listening, trends and search volume – we identified some recurring patterns.
Within each of our segments (affluent travellers, carefree singles, business travellers, budget conscious families, older travellers) we funnelled these patterns into key filters of interests, and directly mapped into ‘opportunity’ buckets.
Our opportunity buckets then informed the key content pillars and targeting criteria for our editorial and amplification activity. This allowed us to build a content matrix of pre-qualified themes that informed both the paid amplification tactics and content planning.
The stage was set: we had our audiences, we knew their interests and attitudes, and we knew how and where they liked engaging with online experiences.
Bringing the idea to life
Our first objective was to create an unbranded content hub that Starwood’s brands could still leverage (discretely, mind you) as a viable promotional channel.
Thus the MOMENTUM.TRAVEL website was born. Custom designed and created for this project, it provided an experience for aspirational travellers that stood alone as its own brand and media destination. Offering extremely relevant and top-class editorial and video content, MOMENTUM.TRAVEL cut through the noise often associated with content efforts in this category.
The vast majority of the content was in no way shape or form branded, however where relevant, we paired key interest points in the content with correlating brand nods to drive traffic directly to Starwood’s key markets and respective properties.
Time to perform
Great content fuelled by an on-point strategy is still a waste of time and budget unless it can deliver against business outcomes.
No matter how we dressed it up in philanthropic clothes, the project’s end game was to deliver revenue from hotel bookings. But because the online magazine we created was completely new and building a sea of organic traffic was going to be a slow burn, it was important to define the roles each promotional channel played and what they would return.
From a performance perspective, our amplification program achieved a number of key objectives with respect to our initial strategic response:
Being a newly created website, it was vital to grow and maintain a sufficient cookie pool to then remarket off the back of. Facebook (in particular) drove a substantial proportion of traffic to the site, interspersed by GDN activity, mobile-specific display platforms, native discovery, and niche travel vertical-specific referrers.
2. Optimising performance
Using the audience insights from our discovery phase of the project, we were able to quickly target our audience segments with a higher degree of expected engagement. With a mix of reach & frequency and engagement buys, and paired with the continual testing of various ad units and creative formats, we were able to make the media spend go further and minimise wastage.
3. Building brand advocates
Through the use of various ad units such as Facebook Canvas to leverage video and other engaging creative, we were able to rapidly grow the following on MOMENTUM’s owned Facebook page. It needs to be said that Facebook Canvas proved to be a top performer, given its ability to develop strong narratives in an immersive environment.
Working with the client’s partner, Possible, remarketing campaigns were executed off the back of the amplification activity to deliver against the revenue objective of this project. Specific use cases for the remarketing campaigns were established during the initial strategy phase, which helped provide governance across multiple segment- and scenario-based messaging variables.
5. Test and learn
Each amplification tactic had its advantages, and played a specific supportive role in relation to the others. For instance, while native discovery was never going to drive the same quality of traffic to the site as Facebook in terms of conversion propensity, both time on site and pages per session gave us a lot of learnings about content relevancy and desirability at the top of the funnel.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. In keeping with this mantra, we set out to benchmark against a broad series of hard and soft metrics so that we could keep a close eye on progress across the board.
Daily/weekly/monthly reporting was handled via iProspect’s own reporting platform iAnalyse, and whilst this provided snapshot information on revenue and tactical performance, we knew the picture wouldn’t be complete unless we could also benchmark and track the content performance itself.
iProspect’s proprietary Content Scorecard provided us with the ability to look at content through an objective, data-informed lens, rating content by a series of hard metrics. This was a huge achievement, as it effectively removed subjective opinion from the equation and enabled us to measure the performance of our creative output. Combined results fed back into future content development in terms of topics, formats and targeting – all of which helped us to achieve better future results.
In six months from launch we achieved USD 5 million in revenue, 8,500 bookings, 31,000 Facebook fans and 1.8M site visitors. To a brand-new, just-created site.
Our partnership with 9 influencers across 7 markets garnered a reach of 1.5M and the acquisition of 56 high-quality links. The content increased SEO visibility across 7 markets and gained 154,184 social likes, 1,666 comments, and 32,825 YouTube views.
It was this performance, creativity and strategic insight that led this project to win the category for Best Content Strategy at CMI’s 2017 Content Marketing Awards.