Tim Wade at Best Western Hotels GB talks purpose, ambition and telling good stories as he explains how the brand repositioned itself under the strapline ‘Hotels with Personality’
“I suppose I’m not really a believer in multichannel,” says Tim Wade, Director of Marketing and Ecommerce at Best Western Hotels GB, “because by definition multi-channel means you are working on individual channels. I think the starting point shouldn’t be the channel, it should be the customer”.
The important thing, Wade explains, is how you engage with a customer who uses many channels and various devices to connect with the brand, but who doesn’t think of themself as a multi-channel user. Wade believes the marketing strategy should start with the brand’s purpose.
“That purpose should be bigger than just making profit,” he told delegates at Figaro Digital’s Multi-channel Seminar in May this year. “You have to have a very clear purpose of what you want to do and where you’re going to take it.”
Best Western Hotels GB repositioned the brand under the strapline ‘Hotels with Personality’ three years ago. “Our brand position is about celebrating independence” says Wade. Best Western Hotels GB doesn’t own any of the 280-plus independent hotels which they represent in Great Britain; hotels choose to join the brand and must meet Best Western’s standards.
“From a brand personality and marketing perspective,” says Wade, “that gives you a challenge because we don’t control the end product. Imagine what it’s like not controlling the end product, because delivering a brand is about delivering consistency of experience. Our brand is about a celebration of the opposite. It’s about throwing that rule book about brands away and saying we celebrate independence and the fact that all our hotels are different, but at the same time providing the reassurance that a global brand gives you.”
Going for gold
With purpose taken care of, ambition was the next driving force behind the strategy, says Wade. Best Western Hotels GB’s ambition was to become the number one middle-market brand but it was going to take more than mere rhetoric to get them to the top spot.
“The experience our customers have in our hotels is how we differentiate. Think of this in a multi-channel world, in a socially connected world. The experience you deliver in a hotel is the experience which is then represented on TripAdvisor and through social media. The ambition is about improving the net promoter score, getting people to recommend and to become advocates of our brand through TripAdivsor and social media.”
In order to deliver a leading customer experience, “the key is to start with your most valuable customers,” says Wade. “It’s probably true of most businesses that a small number of people will provide a huge amount of revenue. There’s no point building a strategy based on someone who stays at your hotel once. There’s no point in building a strategy around a customer that buys one product. You want to build a strategy around those repeat customers. The more you can appeal to them, the more – by association – you will bring everybody else in.”
The hotel customer journey involves a number of different stages and interactions through many different channels and touchpoints. “You can’t be amazing at everything because you haven’t got the resources,” acknowledges Wade. “Pick out those moments where you’re really going to be a hero.” Obsessing over data will help you better understand customers and personalise their experience. “We’re not perfect and we haven’t connected all the dots in there but we have an obsession to connect every piece of information together”.
Best Western Hotels GB mapped out every touchpoint in the customer journey and used the data to generate a more personalised experience for the user and to deliver key messages, from triggers to encourage a first booking, to a customer service email two days before a stay with local and weather information. However, Wade warns against forgetting that these ‘pieces of data’ are actually emotionally-driven people. Even when you’re obsessing over data and channels, he says, “You’ve got to get that emotional engagement.”
So how does Wade recommend building up this emotive relationship to draw the customer in? “The absolute key thing is to master the art of storytelling.” By way of example, he cites the Best Western Plus Mossborough Hall Hotel in Sheffield, which contains a secret passage built by Henry VIII to conceal the fact that the king was having an affair with Anne Boleyn’s sister. Visitors to the hotel can explore the passage and get a sense of the building’s history and the stories it contains.
But, stresses, Wade, storytelling is not about pushing your stories onto customers. It’s about engaging with them on an individual level. “I have a team of journalists who are going round every Best Western hotel in Great Britain and writing a story about every hotel. Because the skills you need as a storyteller are not the skills of a marketing department, they are the skills of journalists, who go out there and find those great stories.”
Wade is also keen to point out the difference between storytelling and content writing. “There’s not a single person in this world who wants to come to my website for ‘content’. They want to be engaged and become part of the story. Throw that content strategy away. It’s about engagement. It’s about storytelling. It’s about customers and it’s about people. Content feels so dry and unemotional.”
This is where it becomes multi-channel, says Wade, as every medium should be reinforcing the narrative of the story.
“In the virtual world, instead of delivering a dry, boring website and a dry, boring data-driven activity, ask how is the story coming alive? How is ‘Hotels with Personality’ being delivered through the website, the virtual channels and everything else? Your story has to be authentic. But you have to have something to say.”
Wade says that this is often forgotten within the social realm. “I’d say about 90-plus per cent of social media is just empty content. A brand should have a personality and a point of view. If you haven’t got something to say, question why you are in that media. Get your purpose and your story and you will have something authentic to say. Social media then becomes a much more open and credible channel.”
Having put storytelling at the heart of Best Western’s campaign, Wade feels that their marketing approach has delivered – and is continuing – to deliver great growth for the business. “In a difficult economic situation the hotel market isn’t growing massively, so it’s about delivering that incremental business. And we’ve done that.”
But the journey does not finish there. The next chapter will see Best Western Hotels GB personalising across multichannel, improving the mobile experience, bettering their storytelling and obsessing even further over data. The key in doing all of this, says Wade, is to “always go out there and try to stand out and be different. Differentiate yourself. Don’t do what everybody else does.”
Article by Julia Richardson. This feature appears in Figaro Digital Issue 18: July 2013.