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Amid increased competition and more sophisticated marketing tools, a lifestyle brand that connects to travelers’ ideals of themselves and the world has become the one vehicle left for building a long-term meaningful relationship with customers. It will be the key differentiator for future generations and a staple of product development moving forward.

Earlier this month we launched our first ever magazine, “Megatrends Defining Travel in 2015“, where we identify the global trends in travel in 2015 and beyond, and focus on three emerging key themes: Mobile. Seamless. Experiential. Below is an extract from the fourth trend.

The days of travel brands surviving as stark service providers is over. Clean sheets and safe

flights are considered standard among customers, especially millennials, who seek deeper connections to brands’ values and the lifestyles that they represent.

No sector is better positioned for this than travel but only recently have companies come into their power. As lifestyle connoisseurs, brands are wielding creative content and seductive images to sell a lifestyle and drive customer engagement, loyalty and sales far outside the traditional travel cycle.

The “how” of building a lifestyle brand comes down to marketing. Positioning yourself a purveyor of underground jam sessions for young entrepreneurs or chic cabana getaways for sophisticated urbanites has never been easier. Social media, content marketing, influencer relationships, and creative events have proven their influence and 2015 will be the year that companies across the travel spectrum commit to a specific lifestyle message with the digital and real-life assets to back it.

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“The best brands all command premium pricing. Commodity thinking results in commodity pricing. Every other category in the world gets this. Look at Apple, look at Starbucks. They command premium prices because they create brands that consumers resonate with on an ethos level,” Devin Liddell, Principle Brand Strategist at Teague, Seattle, explains.

“People will pay more for a brand that believes in something.”

Luxury brands were the first to understand the business benefits of selling an image as hard as Land Rover sells adventure or Kate Spade sells casual class. Four Seasons publishes a gorgeous quarterly magazine, delving into travel inspiration and stories of intimate travel experiences. The Conrad invited international influencers, who excel at fashion and digital media, to visit five properties and share their experiences. And Switzerland Tourism aligned itself with Monocle’s global cultured lifestyle with a miniature magazine describing winter holidays.

Today even travel brands that pride themselves on a no-frills experience have started to understand that standing for something, even if it’s fees and cramped seats, can shift customers’ perceptions. Spirit Airlines rebranded in September to a bold yellow and black color scheme and friendly lowercase font in its effort to appear frugal in a young backpacker, not sketchy businessman, way.

Less mercurial, but still budget- minded brands, are also settling into a lifestyle. For example, Generator Hostels shares more photos of young travelers at late-night parties or exploring a city than it does of beds. And Starwood’s boutique Aloft brand engaged guests in their hometowns with 100 intimate concerts performed in honor of its 100th hotel.

Taking a position as a lifestyle brand often requires changing the core of a product. This can be seen broadly across travel sectors with the increased emphasis on design, wholesome food offerings, and local cultural integrations. For businesses with means, it can lead to the launch of a completely new category of products.

Global hotel corporations simultaneously realized the need to build lifestyle brands. Unable to shift branding on their familiar business or leisure brands, they invested millions in starting brands from scratch. What resulted was a flood of press releases in which Hilton launched Canopy, Best Western unveils Vb, and InterContinental Hotels Group opened EVEN in celebration of a wellness lifestyle. Marriott International went so far as to drill down into specific lifestyles with Moxy, an urban boutique brand, and Renaissance, a brand built around art and discovery.

Few of these hotels have yet to open their doors, but an outpouring of digital media campaigns, innovative events with local cuisine and musicians, and branded products from shoes to bags – all claiming a particular lifestyle – are no doubt in development for when they do.

As companies tap into their underlying story and create long- lasting connections with customers, they’ll be able to better communicate via mobile apps and social feeds to become a part of aspirational travel from the start.

There are virtually no barriers left to developing a lifestyle brand. Creating a beautiful Instagram account costs nothing but a good eye, there are plentiful influencers with enormous followings happy to post and hashtag in exchange for a unique experience, and creative events are being produced more than ever.

This is why no matter the company, no matter the message, travel companies can’t afford to establish and align themselves with a lifestyle.

We want to thanks our magazine sponsors Virgin Atlantic, Amadeus and Egencia for making this possible.

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Tags: hotels, lifestyle, megatrends 2015

Photo credit: Canopy hotel brand by Hilton going in for lifestyle look, and its website imagery speaks to it. Photo courtesy Canopy by Hilton / Hilton Hotels

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