In November, Contently unveiled Marriott’s internal media machine, located in the hotel company's Bethesda, Md. office.
Over the last two years, Marriott has diligently hired away Disney executives, journalists and other storytellers to transform the hotel chain into a playground of TV shows, YouTube shorts and niche-focused blogs. At the outset of the article, David Beebe (formerly of Walt Disney), declares: “We’re a media company now.”
That’s right, a hotel chain has declared itself a media company, attempting to bring people together around stories — and it’s working. A YouTube video drove over $500,000 in revenue in one go and a travel tips blog focused on serving specific locations led to 7,200 bookings in 90 days.
Marriott, as illustrated in the piece, has officially, fully invested in what they call the 3 C's: content, community and commerce. For a company that brought in $13 billion in revenue in 2013 and $14 billion in 2014, this huge investment signals a much larger shift brewing in how brands reach their customers. They’re finally seeing the inextricable link between content messages, community loyalty and, yes, bottom-line revenue.
If you’re scratching your head, wondering why you don’t get it, you’re not alone. But if you refuse to get it, you’re leaving money on the table.
Here are the three content and community lessons businesses can take from Marriott’s work today:
1. Content Builds Trust. Trust Builds Community
This isn’t the first time I’ve stressed the importance of this principle. It is the key to the community castle.
Marriott believes — and sees the resulting increase in revenue — in this same idea: “We did not get this far by saying, ‘I want to build a media company,'” said David Beebe, the company’s vice president of global creative.
At least not at first. “First and foremost, [the goal] is to engage consumers. Get them to associate with our brands, build lifetime value with them. Content’s a great way to do that.”
From there, you have fertile ground to connect people around that content, which is how you build community.
Marriott gets it. As David Beebe explains, “We created content, we created community around it, and then we’re actually driving commerce against it.” This is the only way to reach millennials, who, by and large, expect more intimate connections and experiences than any generation before them.
2. Don’t Grow a Huge Internal Content Engine
At Marriott, they outsource most of the content production, editing, filming and other tasks to vendors, partners and community members.
“Each seat in the glass room represents a different department such as PR/Comms, Social Media, Buzz Marketing, Creative + Content, and even one for MEC, a media-buying agency that amplifies well-performing content at a moment’s notice,” explains Beebe in the piece.
Marriott isn’t the first company to do this with great success. This is something that brands like Betabrand have done too. They’ve turned their customers into marketers and kept their overhead costs low as a result.
“A lot of brands will get into content marketing and want to produce the content themselves,” Beebe said in the Contently piece. “They’ll spend millions of dollars building a studio … What happens? You get in your own way. Then it becomes an ad. You start inserting your product. It’s a turn-off.”
It’s this kind of trust-based thinking that sets Marriott’s team apart. They’re not thinking about how they can have control over all the pieces of content creation and production and branding. They’re just creating great stories for their customers.
3. Content and Community aren't the Domain of a Select Few. Get Internal Teams Involved
Give your teams tools to collaborate on content and community. This is a distributed effort, and when you distribute it, the whole organization becomes more responsive and buys into the power of content.
“This is a tool for everybody to use in the building,” Beebe explained in the Contently piece. “It’s customer-first thinking. That’s why a lot of brands can’t achieve what we’re doing. They think, ‘I can’t do that because someone over there is not going to like it.’ It gets very internal-political.”
Marriott’s Matthew Glick, senior director of the Creative + Content Global Marketing Group, created a huge binder to explain the group’s aims and objectives and how other employees could get involved.
Contently explains that he “spent three months leading a project to create a binder that explains M Live, and how anyone in the company can help if they have an idea or see a trending story. They’ve connected the M Live team to customer care to handle any complaints or problems, and each Marriott brand is getting deeply involved with the content creation process.”
“People are getting it,” Beebe said. “Now that we’ve done a lot, they’re starting to see the impact.”
This is precisely why Bill Marriott himself and the company’s CEO, Arne Sorensen, have bought into the work that is happening in the content and creative team at Marriott. It’s a bottom-up effort that has top-down big business ripple effects.