by Peter J. Bates

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Navigating Modern-Day Content & Consumer Engagement

The expression “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is one we might forget in our rapid-speed, tech-driven way of conducting business but I feel compelled to remind luxury marketers about the importance of circling back to a principle that should guide us – at the core, marketers must engage consumers. Regardless of the tools we use to achieve that goal, we need to move the needle forward to create brand loyalty and generate sales.

To help move that needle in today’s 24-hour, tech-savvy world, we need to treat SoMoLo (social, mobile and local) channels differently. They dominate the daily mindset and increasingly draw a larger share of the marketing budget, but it is a huge marketing misstep to lump these platforms into one category and treat its users the same. To secure the coveted customer, we must understand/engage/inspire them – but we should also give that same attention to the individual social networks. While remaining rich, inspiring and interesting, content should be amended to fit the audience and the channel they are using.

Keep in mind that social is akin to “digital word of mouth.” With social media, luxury marketers have the opportunity to tap into these crucial conversations, help change opinions, and embrace the power of brand advocates across large networks.

Twitter – The Power of 140 Characters
Twitter epitomizes the “less is more” approach. Has brevity ever been more powerful? Tweets are effectively today’s sound-bytes – must-have deals that spur clicks and sales, an endorsement, a statement on news, sharing of opinions, etc. Chuck Todd, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, even likens Twitter to a newswire for the digital age (Adweek article – October 29, 2012).

Today, we rely on the consumer to further our messaging more than ever before (consider the analogy of Twitter being like a coffee house where people come together to share ideas and drive conversation). Consumers become our brand advocates, and they emerge as valuable influencers among known, and in some cases unknown, social networks. When a luxury brand’s tweet is re-tweeted, we know we’ve done something right – the message was worthy, relevant and spot-on, and it inspired our followers to share it with their network of followers.

Facebook – Maintaining a Voice
Facebook is a great tool for maintaining a voice among social networks. It allows companies to create content reflecting their personality and character (similar to a company’s website). Encourage a conversation and invite consumers into a place that conveys your brand’s story. Ask questions and welcome their feedback so the narrative continues. Don’t keep your page static – if you end the conversation, someone else (i.e. the competition) will keep talking. A challenge, though, is in avoiding the hard-sell approach – being perceived as too self-promoting can be a turn-off in the digital space. Always keep the idea of a two-way conversation front and center.

Through Facebook, brands should create a “friend” for their customers. Establish a distinctive persona for your brand – harness an ideal and lifestyle that evokes your brand identity so that consumers will welcome your updates and desire for dialogue. Give them a reason to “buy in” and engage in conversation with you.

Pinterest – Harnessing Visual Impact
Pinterest is akin to the “a picture is worth 1,000 words” philosophy. Powerful and expressive imagery captivates consumers and evokes strong emotion, making it a worthwhile platform for the luxury travel sector. Brands can be creative in how they organize their Pinterest boards from diverse themes (such as for niche markets like spa, gastronomy and adventure travel, or seasonality with Christmas getaways immediately coming to mind) to innovative board titles to capture attention.

Pinterest thrives on its simplicity of collecting and organizing exquisite images from across the Internet – and people can follow all of a user’s boards or a single board. Similar to Facebook, it is imperative to create a specific brand identity on Pinterest that encourages consumers to follow your visual journey.

Instagram – Share Photos, Share Dreams
Fun and free, the mobile-only app Instagram harnesses the impact of wonderful pictures and encourages consumer creativity. As its site says, Instagram is “photo-sharing reinvented.” We know about the cool filters and the convenience of sharing images via Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, but, what does Instagram mean for luxury brands? It goes back to dream creation and story-telling – sweeping consumers up into the narrative of “I must be there” and “I deserve this.” Images should reflect a luxury brand’s authenticity – the style and feel of a hotel, or the vibe of a destination – so that a distinct “sense of place” is conveyed to consumers.

I’ve mentioned numerous social networks above but there are still many others that can engage luxury travelers, including Foursquare and Tumblr (which now has more than 168 million monthly worldwide users). So, it’s safe to say that crafting marketing strategy today would be incomplete if it discounted the importance and impact of these channels!

Mobile – Screen Size & Speed Matter
Mobile and tablet marketing should be treated as an extension of a brand’s website but with particular attention paid to the differences of the devices and how consumers use them. Shaping the experience to the medium is essential.

Smartphones are our extra limb. They are ‘on the go’ with us so location-based offers and news resonate highly with those using them. Having been a marketer for four decades when print, TV and radio were the marketing mediums, I am awed by mobile’s ability now, due to location search technology, to point a consumer to where your brand can be purchased! Where to place content on the smaller screen of a smartphone is vital for marketers to consider as is ease of usage – smartphone usage requires speed so it is important to ensure that a consumer’s purchase decisions can be made inherently and effortlessly.

Tablets – A Gateway to Brand Discovery
The depth and richness of the tablet experience, thanks to the incredible interactive capabilities, allows luxury marketers to truly optimize their brand presence. When accessed for leisure, tablets are typically used at night when consumers are relaxing – and possibly more apt to make purchases. Through amazing interactivity, consumers are engaged and swept into a dream. For travel, it can be about hearing the sounds of a destination or becoming mesmerized by the movement (of palm trees, thrilling adventures or local people, to name a few).

The trend of “responsive design” is really big now – where brands build a digital presence for an optimal viewing experience across a variety of devices. If you create for mobile first and then expand the design to tablet and desktop, you help ensure the design looks best on all devices (easy reading and navigation, and nothing too cumbersome) for the finest viewer experience.

In Closing
Luxury brands spanning hospitality and tourism, fashion, automotive, jewelry and other areas are keenly embracing the new marketing world we live in. Consider what Neiman Marcus is doing with its Christmas catalog, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts with its mobile redesign or that Barney’s is heavily invested in using social to drive sales. And, keep in mind that Burberry has the largest following of a luxury brand across social networks including over 14 million Facebook fans, 1.3 million @Burberry followers on Twitter, and a strong brand presence on YouTube, Google+, Instagram, and more.

The new marketing world is about enhanced brand discovery, and what luxury companies are doing here is only the beginning. I’m staying tuned…

Since communication and engagement is at the core of this e-mail, be sure to connect with your travel advisor partners on their views regarding social media and how they communicate with their clients – you might find some of their answers surprising!

As always, I welcome your feedback.

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