Skift Take

By creating and branding highly shareable on/off-property events and developing a new concierge platform, Renaissance Hotels is gambling it can be one of the first legacy hotel brands to do experiential marketing on a global scale.

Renaissance Hotels announced three new partnerships with entertainment and media industry heavy hitters last week, expanding on its innovative RLifeLIVE programming.

First unveiled in 2010, RLifeLIVE was designed to activate the hotel lobbies and other public spaces with live bands and interactive dining, drinking and cultural events.

In concert with that, Renaissance created its RNavigator collection of employees to supplant the traditional concierge. They’re people knowledgeable about different lifestyle trends in their local communities, who’ve demonstrated a desire to share their favorite insider experiences on-property and online.

At the time, the end goal of those two core platforms was primarily to propel the market positioning themed around “Discovery” for Renaissance Hotels—Marriott’s designated lifestyle brand for business travelers.

Renaissance then created a visually-driven website to promote the live events and local destination info at the 155 hotels, expected to grow to 170 by the end of the year. New hotels opening in 2014 include Denver, Edmonton, Santiago, Aix-en-Provence and a fifth property in Paris.

Recently, the RLifeLIVE branding was retired in consumer-facing communications. That verbiage at the top of the website has been replaced with the word “Events,” which makes more sense than the over-capitalized branding that preceded it.

All of this is driven by the hospitality industry push to be more experiential. Except there is some confusion in the industry at large these days about the difference between Experiential Marketing and marketing experiences.

Like marketers across many industries, hotel representatives consistently claim that their product is an “experience.” When asked for examples to support that, marketers detail their properties’ amenities, onsite programming and staff culture that together combine to create an overall hotel experience greater than the sum of its parts. They are, in effect, marketing experiences.

Experiential Marketing, meanwhile, is relationship marketing. It’s about building an emotional connection between the brand and consumer that compels those consumers to become brand advocates by sharing their experiences with others.

The nuance behind that differentiation has been fully embraced by younger hotel chains emerging over the last 10 to 15 years—the W’s, Andaz’s, Aces and Alofts. For many other hoteliers at established brands, however, it’s something they’re wrestling with worldwide across all different market segments.

The challenge for legacy brands has been overcoming the stigma of their corporate sameness to attract a new generation of travelers hungry for specificity, spontaneity and sharing.

In response, Renaissance Hotels’ RLifeLIVE and RNavigator platforms, specifically designed to be shareable on social media as much as they are engaging to guests, illuminates the mainstream hospitality industry’s gradual evolution from marketing experiences to Experiential Marketing.

AEG, CAA & Universal Hook Ups

The most significant new Renaissance partnership is with AEG, one of the world’s largest entertainment and sports promoters. AEG is supplying the hotel brand with emerging music acts to showcase, starting with GROUPLOVE this month.

Plans are in the works for the band to share their favorite hangouts in the cities they’re touring on the Renaissance website. And there’s a Facebook competition asking the public for their favorite discovery in any city for someone who only has 30 minutes to visit. GROUPLOVE is choosing the winner.

Renaissance is also collaborating with Universal Music Group and Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to work with and promote their talent. And it’s sponsoring local entertainment events. For example, at South by Southwest in Austin this week, the hotel group is co-branding Universal Music’s emerging talent showcase.

We spoke with Dan Vinh, vice president of global marketing for Renaissance Hotels, about the new partnerships and marketing philosophy behind them.

Skift: Dan, how does Renaissance Hotels’ brand vision align with music and entertainment?

Dan Vinh: Renaissance is really our flagship lifestyle brand designed for the business traveler. And really, we are going after that next generation business traveler. They’re not the traditional road warriors where it’s all about work. They really see travel as an opportunity for them to explore the world and experience something new, and especially with this generation, being able to share those experiences on social.

As a brand we really understand what motivates these business travelers. Their measure of success is less about the traditional career markers, but more about how interesting they are as people and what experiences they can share. The insight for us is recognizing that they are busy, busier than ever, and they’re always multitasking and pressed for time. So as a brand we really saw an opportunity for us to help them, to make it as easy as possible to introduce new experiences and perspectives to them.

Skift: What are the guest benefits of working with a group like AEG?

Vinh: By partnering with AEG, we’re able to access top tier talent that we can bring into the hotels and create intimate performances to showcase to our guests. AEG also allows us to amplify our message through AXS TV. They’re going to be recording the events and doing behind-the-scenes documentaries on the bands themselves. Additionally, it also gives us access to, which is AEG’s ticketing platform, which gives our guests exclusive access to AEG’s events happening around the world.

Skift: Why did you select GROUPLOVE as the first band to showcase?

Vinh: GROUPLOVE is still on the rise, although they’ve clearly broken through, and they really have an interesting backstory in terms of how the band members came together from different parts of the world. So that allows us to present GROUPLOVE through not only their music, but also all the other facets of the band that you might not know about. We try to show that more well-rounded story because it’s all part of the discovery process innate to Renaissance Hotels, which our guests want, and want to share.

Skift: What do the partnerships with Universal and CAA entail?

Vinh: Universal is one of the premier music labels, and they have an emerging talent showcase. We’re partnering with them for example at South by Southwest at the Universal Music Group Experience taking over the Palm Door on Sixth. That concert venue will be presented by Renaissance Hotels, and it gives our guests an opportunity to experience a cultural event off hotel property.

CAA also has a roster of artists that they manage and promote and are putting on tours. So we’re working with them and our local hotels to showcase their emerging artists. These will be smaller, even more intimate shows. As we proceed with all of these partnerships, we’ll have rolling announcements on the website and social media as we firm up the artists’ schedules, which are always in flux.

Skift: What differentiates your Navigators from what we consider concierges?

Vinh: This is really to help our guests and make it easy to discover the cities that they’re traveling to, whether they have half an hour or a full day to spare. These are city natives or locals that really know the city like the back of their hand, and then they can recommend you to the local dive bar or that restaurant only locals know about. They want to make sure you get that local flavor.

We like to call it a “modern concierge.” They’re recommending things that traditional concierges wouldn’t recommend, right? They have personally experienced these places, they’re not being incentivized by these establishments. Basically, they feel passionate about their suggestions, which they know will give our guests a sense of the city they’re visiting.

Every hotel has a lead Navigator that is featured on every individual hotel website, but there are multiple Navigators at the hotels. What we’re trying to show here is that they’re real people who are on the ground and really know what they’re talking about. And every week they’re curating different experiences, so those will change around.

Skift: What’s your favorite thing about all of these new developments?

Vinh: I see myself as the Renaissance guest. My favorite part of all these initiatives is I’m learning a ton about new music, food, art, films, etc., and I’m able to share those experiences with my friends and family. So I know exactly what our guests go through and how they would feel experiencing this.

And then down the line when they hear a song on the radio, they remember a certain event at Renaissance and they start to feel in-the-know. For me that’s the most fun part and also the most gratifying part, because I know that we’re helping our guests to come away with new perspectives that they didn’t expect.

Greg Oates covers hotel/tourism development and travel brand media. He has toured over 1,000 hotels in 50+ countries. email / twitter

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Tags: events, marriott, renaissance hotels

Photo credit: GROUPLOVE is the first band to be showcased under the new Renaissance Hotels/AEG partnership beginning this month. AEG

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