How to provide consumers with relevant, top-quality content without making it feel like just another ad they will block on their devices?
That's the conundrum marketers face. For Irene Lin, Starwood Hotels & Resorts' APAC vice president of distribution, loyalty and partnerships, the key to resolving it is ensuring your brand is present from the beginning of the consumer journey.
“We’ve been looking at ways to engage with our guests/target audience,” she told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "Today's digital savvy consumers are not as receptive to ads and are constantly bombarded with generic marketing messages from other travel brands.”
Hence Starwood is putting its money where its mouth is by creating Momentum, a complete online travel news portal that reads just as an independent publication would, according to the company. Launched with iProspect and John Brown, the travel group's website contains very little overt Starwood branding, usually just a small logo at the foot of an article.
Covering all aspects of a potential traveller’s interests and written by Momentum staff together with external submissions, Momentum's central tenet is that it does not feel like just another piece of branded content, Lin said.
“We strongly feel that unbranded content allows us to maintain an authentic and unbiased point of view," she added. "Many travel brands are creating content but as soon as you see that it has come from a brand you begin to question the motives behind the content, rather than appreciate the content and the message.”
So rather than having a piece dedicated to the St Regis hotel’s Bloody Mary, it is featured as part of a wider piece on cocktails, with a link to the drink. Instead of an article on the opening of a new hotel in the Maldives, it is incorporated in a story on the destination itself and what to do once you’re there.
Lin said the Starwood brands are already strong enough on their own and produce quality content for their fans. Momentum is about introducing new people to Starwood and reaching more consumers.
“Momentum incorporates all of our owned, paid and earned digital marketing channels in Asia-Pacific,” she said. “It also taps into the digital marketing strategy for our brands, allowing us to introduce users to them without having to speak in a brand voice and without having to have the content be created by the brand.”
Starwood brand associates are encouraged to contribute content to Momentum, but not by slapping their branding all over it. Content must add value to the consumer’s journey, Lin explained, by featuring interests and activities that potential travellers are drawn to.
“Momentum presents the opportunity for our associates to show their expertise in their fields or their knowledge about the destination they are based in. Ultimately this adds authentic value to the content and helps our audience make a more informed decision,” she said.
“We see the content as a way to generate new audiences for brands and properties by using destinations and interests as the ‘hook’.”
Momentum fits into Starwood’s wider APAC marketing strategy of creating a relationship with its consumers, by producing content that is local, relevant, and engaging.
“Marketing is a long-term investment and needs to be authentic to truly appeal to the customer," Lin said. "Both the channel and the platform has to be able to effectively convey a message that fulfills a gap or an aspiration, but ultimately connects emotionally with the customer.”