Visual storytelling – a Core Part of Digital Marketing for Hotels

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One question I am often asked by hotel emarketers: “Do we really need so much visual content to sell our hotel rooms?”

I tell them:    “It’s not about the content, it’s about the story the content tells about the hotel.”
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Simply having visual content available to travelers online is not going to help you differentiate your hotel and compel hotel shoppers to book.

They’re not looking for content – per se; they’re looking for meaningful stories that help them better understand if your hotel will contribute to the success of their trip.

Storytelling is captivating and the most effective form of communication, because “good story telling makes people sit up and listen”, as stated by Correy Torrence from iMedia Connection.

Good stories are “worth remembering and worth retelling”. Storytelling helps create a value proposition and highlight your hotel’s unique features which draw the traveler’s attention away from commoditized attributes like price.

As I shared at an HSMAI Roundtable in early December, the key to successful digital marketing today is visual storytelling.

The digital landscape is changing fast, and the driving catalyst has been visuals. Consider the following:

Pinterest has more than 10 million users and to date is the fastest growing social network of all time
-According to Pew Research, 41% of us find photos and videos online and re-post them on sites designed for sharing -with others
– In early 2012, Facebook members were uploading more than 300 million photos every single day
– Flickr houses more than six billion images
– Roughly one third of pixel real estate on the web is image content

Visual content has to focus on telling each hotel’s unique story, albeit under the umbrella of the brand’s story. To effectively do this, hoteliers should consider the following:
– Compelling stories are not centralized in corporate offices but rather decentralized: known, told and experienced at the hotel property level.
– Stories are not one-way communication; they are told through a many to many approach – hotel to consumer, consumer to hotel and consumer to consumer. This will require building and amplifying stories that include contributions of user-generated content.
– Hotel marketers with tools and processes that help amplify their stories and successfully engage travelers will have the greatest impact in the market.
Knowing this, we can now look at how to integrate visual storytelling into your marketing strategy by following these four success factors.

Be distinguished, direct, interesting and ready to interact with your target audience and you’re on your way to communicating your story in the most appealing manner.

Visual storytelling – success factors:
1. Be unique

All too often the visual stories we are telling for our hotels are practically indistinguishable from each other. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that all too often hotels produce content without spending time articulating their storyline.
This results in content that looks like everyone else’s. It’s not unique or inspiring. The second reason is that hotels invest in rich media production that is standard and templated.
Stories that break this mould and have well thought out and articulated storylines are the ones that are more interesting and have the potential to really set a hotel apart.
2. Be direct
We recently had Sandy Taylor from Best Western on a webinar who shared that visitors on corporate channels prefer guestroom shots over exterior.
They want to see the rooms and are more engaged with interior imagery. Interestingly, this is the area that we have seen hotels are most deficient in when it comes to visual content – both in still images and rich media.
It is very difficult for consumers to discern what their room will look like on most travel listings, yet this is what they overwhelmingly want to see.
Be direct, give consumers what they want to see; don’t make them dig for it.
3. Be interesting
Consumers today don’t divide the world of visual content into “professional” and “amateur” as they did years ago but rather into “interesting” and “not interesting”.
Often times being interesting no longer requires the talents of a professional. I’m not recommending that you replace all your professional content with more interesting amateur content, but rather, consider taking advantage of user-generated content to help tell your hotel’s stories.
If it’s interesting, consumers will help you tell and amplify your story.
4. Be ready
Where consumers interact with your hotel’s visual story is changing and the number of devices and sites they use is growing exponentially.
You need to ensure that your hotel’s visually compelling story is accessible on the devices and channels consumers use to shop for travel, especially on mobile, but mobile is more than just a last minute booking channel.

We are seeing that the average amount of visual content consumers are interacting with is higher in mobile, than standard web browsers per visit. We track over 1 million consumer visits through our media network, and the results show the following:
– Consumers are interacting with 55% more visual content on smartphones and 50% more visual content on tablets than on standard web browsers
– Mobile accounts for over 24% of all visits to our media viewer – of that smartphone and tablets share equal volume of visits
– Smartphones account for 12% of visits and 21% of total media views – indexing much higher than standard web browsers and tablets
– 40% of all virtual tour views across our network are coming from mobile (24% of visits / 40% of views)
– Of the virtual tours viewed on Smartphones, 38% are guest rooms/suites, 13% are lobby and 11% are of the pool
If you follow these guidelines, when consumers start dividing content into “interesting” and “not interesting”, you will stand out from your competition and come out on top as a curator of fresh content.

The ways consumers interact with your hotel’s stories will continuously evolve, so be there and be ready to engage them through visual merchandising and storytelling.

Related posts:

  1. Storytelling and destination marketing – not as easy as it looks
  2. How to pre-open a hotel [Part One of Two – social media and digital marketing]
  3. How hotels can use QR Codes for marketing and customer service

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