A lifetime of travelling has taught Brendan Inns a thing or two about what customers expect from their hotels. The Adelaide native - who worked closely with Ogilvy & Mather on Shangri-La’s bold new branding initiative - has lived away from Australia for the past 17 years and claims his interest in the hospitality industry was spurred by frequent stays in hotels with his family as a child.
Having majored in marketing at university, Inns joined Oberoi as a trainee and has not looked outside the sector since.
“There are not a lot of industries that rely so heavily on interacting with other people and making a difference to their lives,” he says earnestly.
Aside from people and hospitality, Inns is also passionate about the Shangri-La brand, having joined the company a decade ago after 14 years with Hyatt.
While Shangri-La, which was founded in Singapore in 1971, is not alone as an Asian luxury hotel chain that has enjoyed international success, Inns says its emphasis on family values is something that sets it apart from the likes of the Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental. “It’s a family-owned company and it’s the values of the family that have shaped its culture since day one.”
Fittingly, Inns points out that those values are at the core of the hotel’s recently launched branding campaign. Shot on the snowy slopes of Annecy in France by acclaimed director Bruno Aveillan (of Louis Vuitton fame), the short film features a lost, weary adventurer, who is kept warm by a pack of wolves when he is on the verge of freezing to death.
The work is a departure from the norm in a sector where it is notoriously difficult to stand out. It is also a change from Shangri-La’s past efforts and Inns explains it is the first time the company has explicitly communicated its values in its advertising. “Every five-star hotel has a marble lobby, chandeliers and impeccable service,” he says. “Our difference lies in really seeing the person and receiving them with sincere hospitality in a way that you would welcome someone into your own home. It doesn’t come from the rule book; it comes from the heart and that comes across in the communications.”
Indeed, the rule book appears to hold little sway for Inns. The absence of product shots from the film has been criticised by competitors, as has the inclusion of wolves, which Inns says were initially seen as sinister by the hotel’s management. Inns says the fears were dispelled when the storyboard received a positive reception from his five-year-old son when presented as a bedtime story. “I thought, if he gets it, we’re really onto something,” he jokes.
And while it may have been tempting to draw on the brand’s heritage by shooting the film in an Asian setting, Inns resisted, preferring to position the Shangri-La as a universal concept. “I’m not sure it would be right to make an ad that showed Asia,” he says. “Our values can be upheld in any part of the world. For this campaign I wanted the location to be non-identifiable.”
The unconventional approach appears to be working. The campaign has clocked more than one million views on Youtube and Youku. Comments posted on the sites, as well as correspondence sent to the company’s website, indicate that some viewers have been moved to tears by the film - an effect unlikely to be achieved with images of the hotel’s facilities, however grand they may be.
Inns doesn’t have results beyond viewing figures, although he anticipates a review in mid-September, and says immediate impact in the form of sales is secondary to long-term brand building.
A follow-up campaign is slated to roll out later in the year, building on the current work and showing the hotel’s presence around the world. The planned campaign will coincide with the opening of hotels in London and Paris, both of which remain popular destinations among Asian tourists.
As prominent as the brand is in Asia, there remain challenges. The chain has doubled in size since Inns came on board, but it remains smaller in scale than most of its close competitors. For the future Inns has set his sights on developing “a leading luxury hotel brand that operates throughout the world and maintains its roots in Asia.”
Brendan Inns CV
2000 VP, brand communications, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
1997 Director of sales and marketing, Grand Hyatt Shanghai
1996 Director of marketing, Hyatt Aryaduta Hotel and Grand Hyatt Hotel, Jakarta
1987 Director of marketing, Hyatt Regency Adelaide