7 -min. read

‘About seven years ago, I finally got over the notion of being born in the wrong time. I looked around, engaged with some particularly inspired creative people, and came to see that this time needs me and my particular old-fashioned ways.’

This is very studious hotel marketing. The above quote is from Rainer Judd, the daughter of iconic American artist Donald, as she muses on the concept of timelessness. Not for a niche creative quarterly. For a hotel website: Standard Hotels. The hip chain’s site is far removed from what we had come to expect from a hotel’s online presence — with its hotels relegated to a mere footnote, The Standard present the ultimate embodiment of the blurred lines that make up today’s creative hospitality brands. Artist Jacolby Satterwhite talks gay cruising, BDSM, and Grindr; filmmaker Danny Sangra doodles the answers to an interview; New York nightlife photographer Serichai Traipoom curates his favourite shots of unbridled decadence.

Rainer Judd © The Standard
Rainer Judd © The Standard

The Standard, like every other brand worth their salt, are juggling all that they have at their disposal in an attempt to lure the mystical Millennial: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat (it’s worth noting that they’re also one of the only design-led hotel brands with an App that has a discernible use) … the wide ranging social gamut can sometimes feel like an awful lot of bricks, but without the mortar. How to build a sturdy social house? Content. We social buccaneers are nothing without a sturdy cutlass to cut through the myriad of digital noise, and a good story serves as a mighty fine cutlass.

© Serichai Traipoom for Standard Hotels
© Serichai Traipoom for Standard Hotels

Which is why all your favourite culturally-minded hotel brands are now looking more and more like online magazines. You can find your way to secret beaches or peruse Danish cinema with Generator Hostels’s Parallel platform; learn about artist Nik Shanlin’s latest exhibition on Morgans Hotel Group’s Back of House; get the lowdown on the latest event taking place at a Hoxton hotel near you with Hoxtown; or discover a quirky Glaswegian vintage shop via citizenM’s citizenMag. Content, content, content; the vital ingredient that binds any solid marketing strategy.

© Generator Hostels
© Generator Hostels

It’s a few years now since the roles of the contemporary marketeer shifted irreversibly, but as the online world continues to mutate at alarming rates, the ability to connect with customers existing and potential becomes a more and more difficult task — shifting expectations, new social platforms, a never-ending flux in how and where to interact … there is a sense that we need to be all things to all people just to stay afloat in these choppy waters; can storytelling really be the vessel that rescues us?

Aside from the frightening stench of vodka-Red Bull that my brain has chosen to associate with the brand founded by Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz, there’s little of its true origins that resonate with folk these days. Red Bull are a textbook entry for brand turned media company. From chucking fellas out of planes on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere to devastatingly-good music curation at festivals and events around the world, the energy drink itself can sometimes seem like a distant memory for the company who have pioneered the path all others strive to take. If content is king, being a reputed publisher is to rein over an empire.

A lesser-known case study, but one more relevant to our concerns here, is that of Marriott — who, after hiring Karin Timpone and David Beebe from the Walt Disney Company, established their very own global content studio in fall 2014. Since then, the studio (based in Bethesda, Maryland) has produced a Hollywood-grade multi-award-winning short film, Two Bellmen, co-created content with leading influencers for a hotel-first Snapchat campaign, launched Medium.com collaboration Gone, and embarked on major new online content platform Marriott Traveler. It’s busy work pathfinding on the front line.

The studio’s nine-screen control room, M Live, is a physical manifestation of the digital din we’re all required to cut through on a daily basis — an opportunity for Marriott’s 19 brands and eight marketing departments to unite in tracking their campaigns and prospects through interactions, statistics, and hashtags; to follow stories that can be translated into opportunities. It’s where campaigns born from trending topics can be propelled from social noise to Times Square billboards in a matter of days.

M Live © Marriott
M Live © Marriott

Of course, not every hospitality brand has the budget or the will of a Marriott, so is Virgin Hotels interviewing international disc jokey A-Trak, or Kimpton Hotels spilling the beans on local neighbourhoods, really worth the effort? In short: yes. The contemporary publisher is about more than syndication or media domination; through curation, content, and social interaction, another binding ingredient can be forged. Community.

It is why New York’s MoMA has charmed Instagrammers with its behind-the-scenes photography of exhibition installations in progress, why Airbnb channeled wanderlust to clock over 13 million interactions in 2015 alone, why clothing retailer ASOS have adopted the spirit of fashion influencers to relate to their five million followers. It is why hoteliers who cater to the creative class put on exhibitions or employ art curators to enhance your stay, welcome you and likeminded locals into their laptop-friendly multifunctional spaces, or rewrite the rules of the hotel gift shop. Because harnessing a sense of community is integral to the success of any business, and don’t you forget it.


In some ways, content and community are one and the same. Ace Hotel’s low-fi Tumblr with its odes to obscure performance artists and invites to what they call a ‘five-day music-drag-dance-art-poetry-magic frolic’; Generator with their guides to cheap eats and coffee shops; Morgans with their gloss of sophistication and fashion stories — each of them using content that they know damn well appeals to the mindset of their guests, each of them fostering an inclusive ‘us’ through stories that resonate with people who want to stay in an Ace or a Generator or a Morgans.

Which makes the whole thing sound relatively simple. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve won over your community and that’s that — how do Ace know that ‘music-drag-dance-art-poetry-magic’ will be a thing next week? These are the conundrums for marketeers in our fast-moving times; after all, who could have predicted a tie-dye-clad granny born in 1928 would become an Instagram sensation? Back to Marriott and that hotel-first Snapchat campaign. Putting the hottest social network into action is one thing, but do marketeers in a corporate control centre know what to do with said network? Of course they don’t. Which is why they turned to that most fabled of instruments in the 21st century marketeers orchestra: the influencer.


They know it all don’t they? The kids with more Instagram followers than century-old brands, the kids connecting with the coalface of today’s and tomorrow’s consumers like no other can. The importance of staying one step ahead in this unforgiving social environment can never be underestimated. Marriott roped in four influencers, with millions of followers across several networks between them, and sent them on their travels; each publishing straight to the company’s Snapchat channel, the bods back in Bethesda using Naritiv to harvest that content for use across their other channels.

Elsewhere, influencers might be used as modern day consultants, feeding the latest trends to wide-eyed marketing teams; they might be brought onboard to manage a brand’s online presence; or they might just be given a ruck of cash to go and spend on artisan coffees and copies of Kinfolk magazine, carefully-assembled Instagram posts the fruits of that investment. One thing’s for certain: they’re being used some way, some how. And if they’re not, then you’re missing a trick.

Getttin' through the week. ❤️

A photo posted by JULIE SARIÑANA (@sincerelyjules) on

An important note, though, don’t use influencers for the sake of using influencers — your Aces and your Morgans’s, your ASOS’s and your Airbnbs all know it: stay on brand. It’s why forward-thinking mattress makers Casper have Van Winkle’s, an online magazine dedicated to the ‘science, culture and curiosities of sleep’, and why TOMS’s blog is dedicated to stories of locals giving back; it’s why Ace Hotel aren’t profiling Christian Louboutin, and Generator aren’t publishing guides to fine dining restaurants. Be a publisher, but remember to own that content and community.

Where next? Where not. The explosion of brand to all-encompassing media company is infinite, with only imagination (and budget) its limitations. And while we’re at it, why stop at media and publishing as a way to market your brand post digital revolution? Netflix won plaudits for their smart-sock campaign, cosy knitted footwear that pauses your telly when you drop off, and Airbnb spent big on a bizarro Russian tech company famous for making iPhone-integrated environmental sensors. Everyone knows that VR is the next big thing, and those intent on fostering community would be a fool if they’re not already scribbling reports on how to integrate tools like WhatsApp, Wire, or Slack into their communication strategies.

But don’t run away with tech because you can, don’t embrace the latest trend just because it’s there. Listen to Rainer Judd.

‘About seven years ago, I finally got over the notion of being born in the wrong time. I looked around, engaged with some particularly inspired creative people, and came to see that this time needs me and my particular old-fashioned ways.’

There’s little less old-fashioned than storytelling and community; how about you go find some particularly inspired creative people and just be yourself?


James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.

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