Storytelling On Steroids: Marriott Ups The Game

One of my favorite quotes is an old Indian proverb:

Tell me a fact and I’ll listen.

Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.

But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

With Marriott’s recent announcement that they are launching a global creative and content marketing studio, they have taken a very bold step forward in the art of storytelling. 

It’s another sign that content has never been more important and the power of social media and the sharing of stories have never been more vital.

Their initiative is clearly an effort to speak to the emerging Millennial traveler and embraces elements of the growing newsroom mentality of creating content that feels of the moment. However, particularly noteworthy is Marriott’s focus on original, serialized content and building a dialogue with customers that’s designed to add value to the conversation.



More than just a place to stay, Marriott is intent on shaping itself into a true lifestyle brand and there’s no better way to demonstrate that than through original content and great stories.

It’s been over a dozen years since BMW set the bar for branded content with the release of “The Hire.” It was a series of eight short films that starred Clive Owens as the driver, in a variety of incredible and often bizarre stories shot by some of the world’s greatest directors, including John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, John Woo and Tony Scott. The series was viewed by over 11 million people in its first four months, and BMW sales increased by 12% as a result of the attention. It demonstrated that great content could not only generate awareness but also translate into increased sales.

A more current example of content shaping brand is on display at Amazon, where Amazon Prime Instant Video is taking on more traditional networks and distribution channels by creating their own serialized content in the form of boundary-pushing shows like “Transparent” about a transgender father and “Beta” about a group of 20-somethings living in the start-up world of Silicon Valley. While the content of the shows has nothing directly to do with buying products through Amazon, they are about adding value to their Prime Membership by solidifying Amazon as a facilitator and central marketplace in our lives.

Amazon has even taken the content creation idea a step further by inviting its huge user base to submit story ideas to Amazon Studios for possible production; another way content creation in and of itself can be a shared story among the community of users.

Of course, creating a lab is no guarantee you’ll create great stories. Look across Hollywood and the TV landscape and you’ll note even the experts tend to strike out far more than they hit home runs. For every success, there are thousands of failures.

One example is the mashup of talent that Hilton assembled last year to help promote the Waldorf Astoria brand. Using French photographer Bruno Dayan, actress and Bond girl Olga Kurylenko and noted writer Simon Van Booy, they created a serialized story called the “Escape Artist” that seemed rambling and forced, and felt nothing like great storytelling or a great endorsement of the brand.

Of course, the more a brand uses its stories to be self-serving, the less real and interesting the stories become. The recent print campaign by the new Belmondo brand, using long-form copy in an attempt to tell a story from a guest’s perspective, feels affected and stilted. Is that really how guests talk and think? And Marriott’s own animated campaign for the Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties seems particularly off brand.

Despite some of these misses, the timing has never been better for Marriott and other travel brands to amp up their resources and look at ways to be part of a dialogue that entertains, informs and educates. The abundance of low- or no-cost distribution channels now exist to make this focus possible, and the cost to actually create high-quality content has never been lower. Look at how high school and college film programs, or Kickstarter, bring amazing story ideas to life.

There’s definitely an opportunity to make the Marriott brand cool, or family friendly, or thoughtful, or edgy, or whatever values it chooses to evoke through the storytelling themes and programs that they create.

It worked for Disney. It has certainly helped Hallmark Cards. And, P&G has long used soap operas as a device for selling.

There’s no reason why it can’t work for Marriott and other hospitality brands. 

Imagine, if you will, that Marriott or some other travel brand creates the next “Orange Is The New Black,” or “House of Cards,” or “Breaking Bad,” or “Mad Men,” or any of the other handful of shows that has completely dominated our popular culture and made binge watching an acceptable activity. What a powerful force that would be.

While Marriott might be the first to bet big in this area, it’s an enormous playground with plenty of ways for your brand to join in. 

Because in the end, the only thing that really matters is your ability to tell a great story.

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