Last week we heard from JW Marriott’s John Wolf about how they are using brand story-telling to raise their profile through the “Content – Community – Commerce” strategy. This week it’s time to think about how you can make the most of brand story-telling to connect with your customers, with some tips gleaned from Brett Steiger of Travelocity and Frederic Gonzalo of Gonzo Marketing.

You may think this is really a topic for the marketing department – they should be on top of it so it’s not really your concern. On the other hand you might not even have a marketing department, or a budget, so it all seems quite irrelevant. In either case you’d be wrong, because brand story-telling is not simply about marketing – it’s about your whole company, and everyone in it, developing an online presence to project yourselves and who you are with a single voice.

Starting Out

When you’re starting out, the first step is to start generating captivating content related to your business, but without the hard sell, and without simply laying out facts to promote yourself. This content must go beyond mere information, and instead play upon people and emotions, while bearing in mind that destinations are the inspiration for travel – not your hotel. To achieve this, Brett believes you must first “understand why your business came about and what needs you are serving,” adding that “it starts from the inside out; if you and your employees don’t believe, you can’t expect customers to.”

Once you know yourself, it also helps to know your customers. Frederic notes that “everyone enjoys travelling,” but niche and motivation markets are especially important. “You can’t just have generic content that appeals to the masses.”

Two great examples are ‘Walks of Italy’, and ‘Nozawa Holidays’, and a visit to their websites will show why. In Nozawa, the niche is skiing, and the hotels do a great job of promoting the destination across a range of media, with daily updates about snow conditions. Visitors and other businesses in the destination contribute comments, reports, photos and videos. Once you’re inspired to visit Nozawa, it’s a no-brainer to choose where to stay. Walks of Italy take the approach of providing lots of in-depth articles about Italy, so if you’re searching for country-specific information you’ll be likely to find them. They also encourage discussions on the site, where staff and readers answer all kinds of travel questions. The key is to offer informative content, remembering that nobody likes to be interrupted by a sales pitch.

Create Or Curate?

The idea of encouraging contributions from customers is essential. As Frederic advises, “92% of us believe peer reviews, while only 14% believe advertising,” so customer content enhances your credibility. It also saves time, which is the biggest obstacle you’ll face when you need content. Encouraging customers to contribute via your hashtag allows you to curate, rather than create. However, both our experts were wary of offering points or prizes in return for content. If you’re getting it right, “people will just chime in – that’s the essence of social,” said Frederic. Sharing their ideas and photos is the reward in itself.

As for the type of content, and the media channels to use, Frederic stresses that “it’s all about mixing the content,” but adds that “video is becoming the big thing; there are more videos posted on Facebook now than on YouTube.” Brett points out that “consistency is extremely important across all touchpoints,” while a lack of authenticity could easily bring about the downfall of a brand. “If millennials don’t think it’s real, they’ll quickly sniff that out,” he warned.

If you’re convinced, it’s time to talk to your finance manager. Demonstrating ROI from brand story-telling isn’t easy, but Brett suggests the best approach is to set very precise objectives at the start, and explain exactly how they’ll be achieved. Even so, patience will be the order of the day. As Frederic points out, “it takes time to build relationships.”