Inspired by a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board recently discussed “Branding in the Age of Social Media,” focusing on the lessons and implications for the hospitality industry.
For a number of years, big brands have looked to social media to boost their reputations and refine their customer targeting. Today, they are finding that they are not getting the hoped-for social media attention and results. One reason is that technologies have allowed consumers to opt out of ads, making it much harder for brands to buy fame.
Take a look at YouTube and Instagram for example. Despite spending billions of dollars collectively to create high-quality content, brands barely appear on YouTube and Instagram rankings by number of subscribers. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500.
Who is winning on social? Niche-focused entertainers like PewDiePie and big-name celebrities are chalking up millions of views, which of course makes sense. There are few reasons to think that consumers could possibly want to talk about Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of a Kardashian and Messi.
“Branding in the Age of Social Media” contends that the solution is for brands to shift the focus from the platforms themselves, and from branded content, and instead focus on niche, but powerful and engaged subgroups called “crowd cultures.” This practice is being called “cultural branding.”
In cultural branding, the brand that promotes an innovative ideology that breaks with category conventions will succeed. This separation from the expected, plus messaging that appeals to a group that may feel underserved or unrepresented, is what ignites attention, conversation and social media success.
Impacts/Opportunities for the Hospitality Industry
- Many hospitality brands continue to focus on traditional branding, focusing on comfort/price/locations.
- Many large brands have tried to challenge the orthodoxy or targeted specific subcultures.
- Some are attempting to attract the “traveler” subculture, but no campaigns have taken control of the audiences.
- Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton have gained some success in these culture areas but, beyond these larger brands, most brands and independent hoteliers are still overwhelmingly fighting the same message and standardization of service offerings, destination and local features.
- Current orthodoxies that permeate the industry include standardized rooms, check-ins, location placements, breakfast buffets, room service, entertainment options and wifi. These can be directly related to the food industry that was focused on mass-production and standardization (think McDonald’s).
- The challenge for any brand is to locate specific subcultures to target and then find the messaging to target them.
- Some subcultures include solo travel, WWOOFing (working on organic farms), couch-surfing, last-minute travelers, experience-based travelers, culinary-based travelers and “travel partners” where people meet online to do experiences/travel together.
- Identify and learn from brands, boutiques and independents that are doing this well.
- Gain insights from destinations and CVBs.
- The hospitality and destination brands that successfully find and speak to the underserved/untargeted subcultures will have a greater chance of success in the current social media landscape.