Skift Take

Brands aren't only using content to engage with customers. They are using these new conversations as form of content itself to deepen relationships with existing users while broadening their brand awareness to attract new ones.

It’s no longer enough for a travel company to update its social media accounts with announcements of deals or new products.

Brands today need a voice, a personality even, that represents the values of the company as well as the customers and employees around them.

Marriott International, one of the largest global hotel brands, is attempting to do just that with a number of initiatives aimed at changing consumers’ perception of Marriott and engaging customers in building a better hotel product.

Leading these initiatives is Karin Timpone, who earned her marketing chops in the media business before joining the travel industry with the goal of turning a hotel company in a content factory.

Timpone, who is spearheading a marketing revolution at Marriott, will speak October 9 about the rise of content marketing in travel at the Skift Global Forum on The Future of Travel. Skift caught up with Timpone to learn more about how to start a conversation with customers and use them to tell meaningful stories.

The Skift Global Forum is sold out. 

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Skift: How has content marketing changed Marriott’s conversations with guests?

Karin Timpone: We want to be informed by customer insight and have a direct discussion with our customers whether it’s an online chat or another of social media.

There was an initiative we did where we asked our customers to come up with ideas of what they want to see in the travel experience. There were all these incredible ideas submitted. One of the customers wrote about how she really wanted healthier food options on the road and suggested a healthy vending machine.

We thought that was a great idea, but instead of just saying so, we used social media to tell a great story. We engaged our customer, flew her to a property in London, had a co-creation session with her, and we captured it all on video which we then shared on social media. We’re doing a proof of concept of the vending machine now.

All along the way we’ve been having this conversation and developing content with our customer around what ideas they’re looking for. They’ll be part of that conversation; they’ll help bring that story to life. We’ll participate back by inviting them to co-create with us, bring them on a journey, capture that all on film and tell a creative story around that. I think that’s just sort of an example of what we’re doing.

Skift: Can you tell use more about the creative and content marketing group that you’re creating at Marriott?

Timpone: I come from a content and brand background. Back in the early days, before all these great social media tools, you’d create content for a brand and it’d be hard to get that out. Now you have all kinds of channels to share your voice and get people to iterate with you. I’ve only been with the company for nine months, but I’ve outlined a vision of where marketing could go, about really deeply engaging with our customer.

I’ve started a content unit within the global marketing division that is setting up a way to take what I just talked about to the next level in terms of the actual story and the narrative that’s in there. While I can’t announce who’s specifically attached to it, we are really deeply connected with the content creators’ community, which is very digitally savvy.

In addition to our in-house creative agency, we’re bringing in content creators who might not be full-time employees but will be producers that we work with. Some of them will be people with very large social followings that will create content in our direction. It’s more about the people that are the right liaisons to the content creative community to connect the dots to all the brands, the rewards, and all of the community relations work that we’re doing.

Skift: What role does storytelling play in this new marketing reality?

Timpone: Marketing has fundamentally been evolving over the last ten to 20 years. The marketers’ job is to create the right framework, to have that narrative of the brand’s story come out and connect with audiences. I’ve been working in marketing for many years, in many industries, and what I’ve really learned is that a great story is the thing that people repeat. What I find so interesting about connecting this to the world of travel is how storytelling and travel come together.

When I was just a few months into the job, I was at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, at the JW Marriott where I met a really great chef at our lunch. He started telling me about his background while I bit into the wonderful smoked eggplant recipe that he had prepared. I asked him how he got this delicious flavor and he told me about how he was originally from Turkey but has worked in Marriott hotels in other parts of the world.

He picked up some other tips and tricks and brought that back to Turkey and put the right local spices on it. I thought to myself, “If I could listen to every chef that we have, in all of our properties, that’s enough chefs to fill many Food Networks.”

I think it’s an incredible opportunity to get the story out about delicious food, great experiences, fabulous destinations, incredible decor, and all kind of discoveries that people have. When I think about how much marketing has changed and the tools that we have to tell that story and the incredible storytellers that we have all around the world, I think we are perfectly poised to push out more content.

Skift: What role do traditional ad platforms like TV, print and radio play in this world of content marketing and new media solutions? Is there space for them anymore?

Timpone: Yes, it’s really about aligning these channels. A long time ago, people would separate their print, broadcast and online departments. I don’t look at the world that way. I look at the world as a relationship with our customer at the center of it and whatever media we need to communicate with them around that. All platforms are applicable, because people use everything. It all works together.

That being said, there is a different mix depending on your target audience. No matter what medium you’re in, you need to have well-packaged stories. You may have more time online to tell a longer video story, but you’re going to want that message to be reinforced in your ad campaign and more traditional advertising. It all fits together. is a statement and a location where all that can live, but then there’s all this content and iteration that happens around it. I think this is going to continue to evolve significantly.

The more that brands become adept at using content to really tell a story, the more it’s going to have an important seat at the table. I think it’s just emerging right now, but it’s growing very very quickly. That’s why a company like ours is very well position to use these tools to tell our stories.

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Tags: marketing, marriott, sgf2014, skift global forum

Photo credit: A headshot of Karin Timpone. Marriott Hotels and Resorts

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