13 Feb 2020

How to be different

Cecylia Grendowucz writes in The Drum on the dangers of generic content for luxury travel brands.

Cecylia Grendowicz

“Show, don’t tell” used to be the guiding principle for storytelling, but in an age where cookie-cutter social media campaigns are reaching an overload, maybe we need to revise that to “show less, and tell me something I don’t already know.”

This particularly applies to the world of luxury. Hotels, resorts, fine dining and premium shopping destinations have fully embraced social media over the past decade to help build brand perception and engage potential guests and shoppers.

This was a smart move. Countless studies illustrate that millennials and Gen Z value experiences over ownership, and this presents a golden opportunity for luxury providers as these demographics accrue wealth.

But brands must understand the shifting trends that can undermine efforts to curate their brand image and marketing on social. It made sense to use social media to promote a lifestyle and heighten the excitement and glamour of luxury experiences.

Encouraging the uploading of content by guests, visitors and shoppers or by ‘professional’ influencers was a no-brainer. Some 60% of Gen Z surveyed by Booking.com said they're interested in travelling to places that will look good in pictures.

Over half (56%) of Gen Z said they always upload pictures from their trips on social media when travelling, with millennials being the demographic most likely to do this (67%).

Some luxury boutique hotels and restaurants have deliberately designed décor, backdrops and features with the social media generation in mind. Articles such as ‘The Top 10 Instagram-Worth Properties In The World’ or ‘2020 Food Trends: The Dishes That Will Be All Over Your Instagram’ abound.

The dangers of generic content

Brands are still pouring dollars into influencer marketing and the sector is predicted to be worth $15bn by 20226. Paid-for influencer marketing is not going away and people will always want their social media moment. User-generated content and influencer marketing is baked into marketing strategy and the ability to book direct or shop via Instagram means it is becoming an important sales channel.

But as social feeds become crammed with countless images of perfectly groomed people against interchangeable locales, be they infinity pools, waterfalls, flower walls in restaurants or contemporary sculptures, perhaps it’s time to press ‘reset’ on the strategy.

The aim of a brand is differentiation, and differentiation is now based firmly on the customer experience. A luxury brand’s Instagram page is fast becoming its home page, but if the target audience sees little difference between one luxury hotel or fine dining experience and another, then the owners can only sell on price.

As a result, loyalty goes out the window - no matter how well you’ve crafted a loyalty programme. The sea of identical imagery is also eroding the sense of discovery and wonder so essential to luxury and travel – sometimes there’s a sense of having seen it all before even arriving.

The new aesthetic

I looked at several premium hotels feeds for this article and I certainly couldn’t tell you if I was looking at a Four Seasons, an InterContinental or Hilton Hotel. Check out @insta_repeat to see how the trendsetters are mocking the prevailing Insta aesthetic. In fact, the trend for a more authentic, grittier aesthetic on social media feeds has already begun. Likewise, there’s a growing level of distrust in paid-for content.

Some luxury players have taken it a step further by deliberately dialling down their focus on insta-worthy aesthetics. For instance, the Lucky Cat by Gordon Ramsay, a restaurant in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighbourhood and Marcus, the “dark and sensual” restaurant and bar at the Montreal's new Four Seasons hotel, have both opted to mute the palette, dim the lights and discourage photography from foodies and others.

Advice for luxury brands

This is not to say that luxury brands should step away from social media. It’s an amazing platform for building loyal communities and generating that all essential ‘buzz’. But a more strategic approach is now needed. Brands should look to reassert ownership of their ‘look’ with greater curation and creativity at the fore.

Brands can offer more interesting ‘behind-the-scenes’ content that delivers the authenticity and less-polished look people are seeking. The feed is the asset that brands own where they can carve out their distinctiveness; attention needs to be paid to creating an ownable style, right down to the choice of typography.

Some luxury brands are already taking this approach. The Marriott Bonvoy Traveler magazine, devised for members of the Marriott Bonvoy rewards programme, is now a cross-media brand with a website, Instagram feed and podcast. It has developed a cohesive visual approach for its Instagram feed that’s distinctive, original and inspiring for the target audience – check out the post “Why Rio’s Port Zone Is the New Beach”, for example. The podcast series Marriott Bonvoy Traveler: Behind the Design, taps into the rising popularity of audio and podcast formats. It provides a ‘behind the scenes’ exclusivity by interviewing the designers behind the construction of Marriott's feature-led hotels.

The key is to strike the right balance between ‘authentic’ user-generated content and more curated, brand-driven content to make the brand relevant, sophisticated and differentiated. Otherwise, the risk of homogeneity will see all those 'likes' fail to convert into business.

First published in The Drum

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash