How emotional storytelling can transform your hotel

Alexander Novicov By Alexander Novicov
Uploaded 04 November 2019

Alexander Novicov, public speaker and CEO of IQD Agency, explains how emotional storytelling can transform a hotel's direct bookings and increase brand awareness.

There is a lot of talk going on around storytelling, right? A lot of marketers, hotel owners, business owners, all talk about storytelling; it seems like it's one of those buzzwords. But it's not. Everybody is doing storytelling in marketing; the problem is how effective that story is. I can tell you a story right now: 'I went for a run yesterday at Hampstead Heath'. Is it relevant? No. Is it useful? No. Is it effective? No. But everybody posts on social media and story-tells.

I think different people have different opinions about storytelling. Let me elaborate what I mean by storytelling and what I mean by emotional storytelling. Storytelling is described on Wikipedia as an act which "describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment".

For me, every person has a story. Every person creates and communicates stories consciously and subconsciously to themselves and to people around them. A story can be an event or a feeling that somebody has experienced. We tell stories through films, songs, music videos, websites, Instagram stories, podcasts, public speaking, magazines, messages, and other channels.

Brand storytelling is when a brand, an organisation, is born from one person deciding to start something to solve a problem. The reason why somebody started a company is always personal. The person that started the company has a story; precisely why he/she started the company. As they grow (that is, if the owner grows) then the company evolves - mentality is spread among employees, the character evolves and everything is transferred to the 'brand'.

Brand storytelling is about a narrative. Storytelling has different elements: it includes character, conflicts, climax, rising action, and of course it includes a hero. The hero is always the customer - the guest. It's never the company or the brand. The brand is a bridge to help people solve their problems or cover a need.

I don't want coffee - I want a place to sit and write this article in a nice environment, and to have a coffee while I do this. In this case I will choose Starbucks for different, personal, reasons.

I don't want a hotel in Croatia - I want to go and speak at the HOW festival to share my knowledge and ideas to hoteliers to help them, and hopefully meet a potential client. Then we can go deeper and see why I want to share my insights and ideas, but that's another story. A hotel is a by-product because of the event that is happening. Is it the only hotel in the area? Of course not, but there are different reasons why I chose that hotel specifically.

At the core, brand storytelling is about a company's belief - what are you standing up for? It's not about the product you sell, it never is. It's never about the bricks and mortar. Some call it your why - why you exist. Most hotels and most companies out there are just that: companies and commodities. If we changed their logos, nobody would notice it except their parents and friends.

Why emotional storytelling? Because emotions drive us. To survive, a business needs to connect withtheir audience, they need to dig deeper and connect with each individual on a deeper level. They can't be just a popular pretty high school girl, they need to add substance to their character and engage with clients on a much deeper level.

Many businesses stories tell with logic! Logic is about facts and figures; it usually goes something along the lines: 'The company/hotel started in 1985'. This is not interesting to the consumer, it's boring. Nobody cares anymore what year you started. When hotels communicate on their website, or on social media, newsletters, offline marketing material, that they are the best, or cheapest, or to book direct, they are communicating with logic.

In the ocean of sameness, we need to be unforgettable.

Brands are spending billions of pounds every day to capture some seconds of their audience's attention - the problem is that most marketing messages are the same.

People forget what they hear but they will never forget how somebody made them feel. Maya Angelou said something along those lines. Emotions drive purchase more than logic.

A decade ago, having great customer service and a great product was enough. In today's fast-moving world, it is not enough. Today, guests are exposed to hundreds of marketing messages daily on the internet, offline, on the radio - everywhere. You sit at a tube station, you drive, you open Instagram; everywhere you look, advertising is sending us subliminal messages.

Most hotels rely heavily on OTAs for their hotel bookings, right? When you rely on somebody else it means that you are at their mercy - you don't have control over your own business. Most importantly, you don't have control over your data. Most hotels' social media presence and websites are appalling. The reason why they are appalling is because their content on social media is ego-centric - all they care about is themselves and add absolutely no value to the guest. And most of them shout at every guest 'book direct' despite everybody being ready to book.

Guests have different stages of booking; they don't just wake up and say let me book a hotel and let me book direct. A hotel is a by-product - it's not the reason somebody is going to book a hotel. People search first, they are dreaming, they want to be inspired, they want to learn about a new destination, they want to see what they can explore, they want to see what things they can do locally, they want to meet locals and then, only then, they will start looking for a hotel.

According to Google, the average person encounters over 38,983 digital micro-moments and interactions over a 60-day booking window.

This is where storytelling comes in handy. When users visit your website, or your social media platforms, you have an opportunity to story tell. A strong online and social media presence is important if a hotel wants to attract millennials according to a new report by UK furniture maker, Knightsbridge.

A prospective hotel's social media presence is of interest to millennials, with 73% saying that they check the company's social media feed before booking. In fact, 33% would be put off booking altogether if a hotel had no social media presence.

Social media should be used as a tool to story-tell and to create an emotional connection, because emotional connection matters now more than ever. If we put ourselves in a position as a potential guest that is looking for a hotel, we will gain a different perspective.

Storytelling can help your brand not only differentiate from the rest, but also be up to 22 times more memorable than facts. 

The gap in storytelling is huge right now. Not a lot of hotels are doing a great job of it, which means there is an enormous opportunity. I see a lot of beautiful pictures out there, but I forget them the second I see another beautiful picture. Most hotels' web presence and social media is so negligible that we don't remember.

One great hotel chain that does amazing storytelling is citizenM hotels. They have a story, they have amazing hotels around the world, they do local marketing and their social media is profound. Who do you think I'm going to choose when I need a hotel? CitizenM of course.

Another great brand is The Good Hotel. Their social media is not as good as it can be, but they have a story and they are committed. They say that they are premium hospitality with a cause. They are not a design hotel yet they use great design to create an exceptional experience And at the core, they give back a percentage of their profits. They are a floating hotel in East London and they are growing globally.

A brand that I admire outside the hospitality industry is The Humble Co. They are a brand that believes in leaving this world a better place. On their website they state their cause: no shortcuts when you want to change the world. I truly believe in that and that's why I buy their products. All their products are better for the environment and they are vegan, cruelty free, certified organic, and so much more.

Have a look at brands like Nike. They sell shoes, but their marketing is about becoming a better athlete, and if you have a body you are an athlete. All their marketing is about honouring great athletes. They do that by creating a great app called NRC (Nike Running Club), where they host events for runners. They also publish books and their stores feel different from their competition.

Let's look at Apple. Steve Jobs in his 1988 speech told us that they had a communication problem - people didn't know what the brand stood for. All Apple's communication is about honouring people with passion, because people with passion can change the world. You don't see Apple trying to shove down our neck 'buy direct' messages.

It all comes down to values and then creating a story around your values and your guests, and how you are going to transform people's lives. Emotional storytelling can transform your direct bookings, increase brand awareness, increase brand loyalty, increase visibility and do so much more for your hotel.

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