When the high-end hotel chain Orient-Express Hotels wanted to breathe life into its brand during a down economy, it didn’t double down with a traditional marketing campaign.
It made a bold step to craft experiential storytelling, a content-based approach to evoke expression, emotion, a bit of nostalgia and a yearn to travel, titled “A Journey Like No Other.”
Orient-Express, an international brand touting 49 luxury hotel, river cruise and rail experiences over 24 countries, is just the latest company to turn to a mix of owned and earned media to extend the reach of their brand.
American Express, British Airways, Levi Strauss & Co., Coca-Cola and First Direct have each turned to content that is a mix of owned and earned to drive marketing messages. Why?
While owned media may have slightly greater costs upfront, the advantages of earned media – getting consumers, bloggers and industry professionals to comment on and share the owned work with others across multiple platforms – include the inexpensive nature of getting others to create content to complement your campaign, completely free distribution and peer-to-peer endorsement.
Plus, that content mix will continue to pay off in direct traffic, inbound links and organic search traffic long after a traditional campaign’s life would have ended. It’s a long-tail approach that helps companies go after specific and desirable segments of audience that a broad, mass campaign could never effectively target. And the effect and reach is potentially much greater than traditional paid media, as ad-skipping technology allows the effectiveness of those campaigns to wane.
Orient-Express Hotels has a typical customer age between 40 and 60, but Richard Christiansen, creative director at New York-based Chandelier Creative, told The New York Times that the “Journey,” an eight-week brand recognition campaign, is targeting “the 29-year-old investment banker.”
The rich media campaign introduces the travel of a fictitious family, the Astorbilts — through nine short films by Swedish filmmaker Kalle Gustafsson – to provide the audience brand cues through experiential storytelling.
Each of the four members/characters of the Astorbilt family has a backstory and a unique role to play in the films:
- Duke, the patriarch, is described as “equally at ease in Wall Street and Ouagadougou” who has spent his life travelling.
- Lauren, his wife, is an “elegant aesthete” who does everything with “grace, humor and a finely tuned iPad.”
- Daughter Penelope, or Penny, is the reasoned member of the family and an “enchanting explorer.”
- Son Maximillian, or Max, is a digital strategist who takes after his father in his approach to life.
The set-up pays off as each of the films, Orient-Express destinations and a fictitious travel blog combine to create an experience that evokes the romance and nostalgia of travel, paired with world-famous locales where the lodging chain happens to own properties: Venice; Rio de Janeiro; Cuzco, Peru, and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train.
“We want to raise awareness of the name behind these properties with customers both present and future,” Orient-Express CMO David Williams said in a release. “[Orient-Express properties] inspire creativity and connect our guests with the culture and lifestyle of the destination. These curated films bring that world to life.”
The video-rich media is being placed on lifestyle and travel websites, in addition to its own microsite, ajourneylikenoother.com. Users are being encouraged to share the films through Facebook, Twitter and email channels as well.
Jean Aw, designer and founder of NOTCOT, a network of design sites that showcase smart ideas, wrote, “I didn’t quite grasp how magically inspiring it would all be. . . . There’s something nice about being pulled out of your everyday life, pressing pause for a moment, slipping into as much inspired relaxation as possible before leaping back into the thick of it. The Orient-Express seems to have captured the essence of this other-worldly escapism perfectly.”
The curated content play by Orient-Express gives them greater control over the content generated about their brand, but still allows for user-generated expressions that are less dangerous to the brand and more beneficial as a whole.
A look at some other owned/earned media properties “powered” by name brands:
Metrotwin.com: A social media network launched by British Airways that gives users and tourists an opportunity to read and provide reviews and information on restaurants, pubs, nightspots and attractions in London and New York City, which happens to be one of British Airways’ major routes.
OpenForum.com: Created by American Express, it’s a site dedicated to news, information and tips on starting, growing and boosting businesses through a mix of videos, articles and expert advice.
Little Black Book: UK-based bank First Direct launched this site as a value-add for its customers to provide reviews and tips about people, places and services.
In a Harvard Business Review article this spring, Joe Tripodi, executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer of the Coca-Cola Company, wrote about what they’ve learned from utilizing earned media to extend the reach of Coke’s worldwide brand. This includes real truths that Coke has learned to “accept”:
- The wisdom and the power of the crowds. “Accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. Don’t fight this wave of expression. Feed it with content that touches consumers’ passion points like sports, music and popular culture.”
- Make use of every medium, every platform, and link to it. “Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Liquid content includes emotionally compelling stories that quickly become persuasive. Similarly, ‘linked’ content is content that is linked to our brand strategies and our business objectives.”
- You no longer own your brand. Consumers do, and they can make or break you. “Coca-Cola first learned this lesson in 1985 with the introduction of New Coke, but it’s become even more important with the growth of social media.” Tripodi notes that Coke’s Facebook fan page wasn’t started by the company, but by two consumers in L.A. as an “expression of how they felt about Coca-Cola.” That page has more than 25 million “likes.”
What these examples illustrate is the evolution of marketing strategies that play off of technological advancements and cultural change. No longer are paid media solutions necessarily the best solutions for companies. Getting consumers to interact with your brand, share your content and help you create content is the new word-of-mouth.
It’s a voluntary, participatory act. And as long as companies understand the nature of the cultural engagement – not just with their own product but learn from the experiences of other customers – those companies have a greater chance of attracting the right customers and consumers, serving their needs and filling their passions, and keeping profitable customers for life.