If there's a new buzz word on the scene, it's "storytelling", Alexander Schuster says. As Head of Digital at 25hours Hotel Company and chairman of the HSMA expert panel for online marketing, he takes a critical view of the hype, but nevertheless argues the case for using authentic stories to entice hotel guests.
text: Alexander Schuster
Hotel operators, architects and designers, general managers and marketing employees can all become storytellers if they have to or – even worse – perhaps they actually consider themselves good storytellers. All too often, however, this isn't really for the sake of an exciting story, but simply because the "in" thing at the moment is to tell a story about one's product and "because everybody's doing it".
But why is it so important to tell not just a story, but a special story? To understand this, we need to go back a bit in time to when bookings were not yet digital. Potential guests used travel and hotel guides and, of course, the good old travel agent on the corner to help them decide where to stay. Hoteliers could not really influence the way in which they booked.
Today, a traveller's choice of hotel in the classic individual segment depends on many factors. Even in terms of booking channels there are countless options. How can guests really be sure that they have chosen the right hotel for them? Particularly if they only have a few seconds available to decide on a booking and this is so severely reduced by all kinds of conversion optimisations that there is no time left to compare quotes. How can a hotelier convince potential guests that his hotel is exactly the right one? At the same time, customers are increasingly booking hotels based on gut feeling. They want to be seen as individuals rather than as paying booking references. They can sense when the vibe is right. In addition, they are placing more and more importance on being seen in the right light by friends and social contacts. That's precisely where storytelling comes in. If you can tell a good story and tell it well, you'll be accompanying your future guest throughout their entire customer journey; you'll influence their booking choice, maintain contact and ensure a lasting impression. You'll be showing the guest concerned that your hotel is a perfect fit with their personal attitude to life. In the best-case scenario, you'll even gain a new "multiplier".
But how does this storytelling actually work? And how can it be integrated into the marketing mix? The answer is as simple as it is complex. Storytelling is everything! A good story will be reflected throughout the hotel: in the rooms, in the restaurant and naturally also in the staff and the hotel director or owner. But watch out: the story must be authentic! Only then will the guest become part of it, and only then will a dull overnight stay be transformed into an experience that cries out to be shared and/or repeated. Anyone thinking they can freshen up their hotel's image with an invented story will quickly realise that guests see through it. Not only is that embarrassing, it may also come back to haunt them.
Although there is essentially no preferred medium for storytelling, it fits perfectly into the world of social media, which is growing rapidly and has an enormous reach, and is also being further boosted by the permanent availability of smartphones.
If you make yourself instagrammable, you'll therefore increase your reach – without even having to do very much. Multiplication happens quickly and automatically in these channels through guests who like to present themselves in the best possible light.
A cycle is thus set in motion, whereby a potential guest sees an experience on a friend's Instagram account or a hotel's Facebook page and immediately thinks: I want to do that too. The more often an experience or brand appears on their customer journey, the stronger this urge becomes – and the user makes a booking. If the offline experience then fulfils their expectations, they'll very quickly share it on their network, to show that they're now part of it too, or are even slightly ahead of their community.
However, if it becomes apparent that the story is not authentic or if it is conveyed in a half-hearted way, the whole thing can backfire. Instead of posting something positive, a disappointed guest may get their own back with a negative review.
Storytelling is therefore much more than a ploy for luring in customers, and more than a fad. Instead, good storytelling will convey a brand's identity and values and will build on them, ensuring a stronger emotional connection. And don't forget: storytelling also forms the basis for visibility in search engines.