Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travelhospitality, and destinations, Skift has launched a new series, this time focused on Chief Marketing Officers.

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To better understand the big marketing challenges facing travel brands in an age when consumers are in control, Skift’s What Keeps CMOs Up at Night will talk with the leading voices in global marketing from across all the industry’s sectors.

These interviews with leaders of hotels, airlines, tourism boards, digital players, agents, tour operators and more will explore both shared and unique challenges they are facing, where they get insights, and how they best leverage digital insights to make smarter decisions.

This is the latest interview in the series.

With nearly half of its portfolio located in China, Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts feels the pressure to satisfy content cravings of Chinese consumers perhaps more so than hotel chains anchored elsewhere in the world.

Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, sees a convergence of customer experience and marketing and views the CMO role as a “guardian of the customer” that’s concerned with more than launching campaigns. He views guests themselves as a form of media, one they enjoy consuming for their selfies or other inspiring images, and regularly meets guests to listen to them to gauge content interests.

Shangri-La is a case of one hotel needing two feet in two very different worlds: China, where WeChat dominates content marketing, and the rest of the world where a mix of platforms are important. The brand’s heavy presence in China has forced it to produce content for Chinese consumers more rapidly as demand is fierce and technology advances faster than in other regions, according to Taylor.

Taylor feels brands should talk less about themselves and more about their customers in campaigns and points to Shangri-La’s Loyalty Is campaign as an example. The video campaign aims to foster a global conversation on what loyalty means to Shangri-La’s guests and staff and the videos have four million total views since its launch two months ago.

In the past six months Shangri-La has dived into technology many brands are testing such as virtual reality videos (which Taylor said have a combined 200 hours of viewing) and also explored channels with less travel brand participation such as Snapchat. Its Snapchat campaign with Beautiful Destinations garnered 1.4 million views and the hotel sees potential with the platform.

Skift talked to Taylor to hear which platforms are most important to him from an Asian hospitality brand’s perspective and how Shangri-La has adapted its content marketing to keep up with demand in Asia.

Skift: You’re based in Hong Kong and I’m interested to hear your thoughts on content marketing from an Asian hotel perspective and what marketing channels matter to you the most?

Steven Taylor: I think in channels like Instagram and WeChat you’re still able to reach a large volume of customers organically, unlike others, like Facebook. Again, great content is really imperative to drive organic reach on these channels.

For Facebook, I think the challenge is that the competition for the newsfeed has intensified so organic reach of brand posts has gone down. I think it’s at less than two percent for pages with more than 500,000 likes. The kind of organic coverage that we receive from Facebook is now very limited but paid social presents a massive opportunity, so that’s really where we’re very focused.

With increasingly sophisticated ad technology, social platforms enable companies to reach and target messaging like never before. We’ve run Facebook ads for some of our recent brand campaigns, as well as some of our hotel and resort rich-media campaigns, and the results have been incredibly positive. We’re focused on creating content that does drive organic reach and interest, but, certainly Facebook as a paid channel in particular for video is I think where the big opportunity is at.

We’ve also been trialing Snapchat as well. We have a recent collaboration with a major influencer on Instagram and Snapchat that’s seen great results. We created about a four-minute video with Snapchat footage which featured our new resorts and that generated 1.4 million views. The Snapchat and Instagram content generated a total of two million social impressions for the resorts in just two weeks.

Skift: How do influencers fit into your content strategy?

Taylor: It’s not just about creating great content as a brand. You have to be collaborating with influencers to not only create content, but then also distribute that content to your audience in a much more authentic manner than you could achieve on your own. User-generated content is, as you know, the new word of mouth in social space. We found influencer engagement is a really powerful way to create that compelling content.

As a travel brand, we basically identify two main kinds of influencers on WeChat and Instagram. There are “content creators” who are talented photographers, and ultimately who help create interesting content around their destinations and their hotels. Then there are media owners which are basically what we would classify as accounts with more than a million followers. This is a strategy that’s really worked on WeChat and Instagram, in particular. Influencer content has an average of about 30 percent more interactions than the standard brand post.

Skift: Can you pinpoint which channel has yielded the highest return for you?

Taylor: Well, if you’re targeting a Chinese leisure consumer, then you are not using Facebook, you use WeChat. But, generally speaking, if you’re looking globally we’re thinking Facebook. Certainly when it comes to rich media advertising, the kind of paid social placements that [Facebook has] are very, very specific and targeted. And the measurement capability is very strong.

Skift: You’ve said before that too many brands launch campaigns that add little value to the consumer’s life. Can you expand on that point a bit?

Taylor: A lot of brands are still very much focused on these ad hoc campaigns that really do not consider the customer and where they are in their [travel booking journey]. They’re purely launching promotional and tactical campaigns. These ad hoc campaigns do not represent the future of marketing. Digital marketing and marketing in general has migrated from stand-alone campaigns, or mass marketing, to an always-on mentality, with personalized content delivered to consumers based on what we would call a segment of tactical marketing message applying to one person, one at a time.

This is probably the greatest challenge that organizations are dealing with at the moment–moving away from this kind of mass marketing interruption that used to be the norm to this kind of always-on mentality whereby brands have to harness data from multiple sources.

Skift: With that challenge in mind, how does luxury content marketing differ around the world?

Taylor: The channels you use are one clear distinction and I think probably the larger distinction is influence of influencers and that is a growing aspect internationally. It is not as industrialized as China, where it is an absolute necessity. The engagement of influencers has gone to a far greater extent in China. It’s all about creating content not as a brand but collaborating with influencers to tell your story. It’s an absolute necessity in China, versus internationally where there is still a great appetite for branded storytelling.

We know that guests can at any moment amplify the experience of any of our hotels in a negative or a positive manner. We have a number of initiatives that we are working on to make sure that hotel teams really do integrate social media into their operations. We’re rolling out listening software to take it easier for them to see what’s happening on social. We’re integrating reviews on all of our brand websites and integrating user-generated content and coming up with a very structured way of engaging influencers and bloggers. What happens is hotels quite often will reach out to influencers and bloggers on an ad hoc basis so we’ve tried to structure that as a group to really maximize the benefit that we get from key opinion leaders across Shangri-La.

Skift: What are some worries you have about China or challenges that Shangri-La is facing there since about half of your hotels are in China?

Taylor: China is such a dynamic fast-moving environment, I think China is absolutely where the excitement, where the energy, where the innovation is happening. There are huge technology platforms and players in China who are innovating at such a pace. [Hospitality brands] have to essentially evolve at that same pace or risk becoming irrelevant or left behind, because the consumers in China have great appetite for these technological advances. We have established very close relationships with the likes of Alibaba and others to help us with that.

But then we need to create content and campaigns at a much faster pace in China than we do elsewhere. That’s one of the more significant challenges that we’re grappling with at the moment. When we looked at our social media engagement on certain channels late last year it was generally on average with our industry competitors, but that was really mainly focused on our branded content.

But, then what we did is we kind of pivoted off and then focused much more heavily on collaborations, and that actually increased our engagement on social channels globally, but especially in China, by more than 10 percent. Gone are the days when you can spend three months creating a perfect film or a perfect movie. Consumers have an absolute thirst for content.

As an Asian lifestyle brand, we have to adapt to give them that content to ensure that we build a meaningful relationship with them. We’re looking at establishing digital and content hubs in China so that we can actually create and collaborate with influencers on a more dynamic basis.

I think there’s almost a maturity curve that brands need to go on in terms of how they adapt and develop a robust content strategy and migrate from launching promotions at people to a always-on campaign mentality where they’re creating content which is personalized to segment of one.

Skift: What are your thoughts on recent mega-hotel mergers and acquisitions in terms of how you see that impacting your own marketing?

Taylor: I think Shangri-La’s smaller size enables us to be nimbler in responding to changing market conditions and customer needs. Certainly, when I speak to customers, they tell me that they’re looking for these personal moments and experiences, the unknown and the unexpected. I think Shangri-La is well positioned in this new world order. We’re large enough to have global scale — we will have our 100th hotel in Hong Kong later this year.

But we’re of a size that we can still deliver personalized experiences and build meaningful relationships with our guests. That’s not to say that we are looking at [hotel consolidation] and not developing a plan. Clearly, we are looking at this massive consolidation and we do have a plan in place to respond and that’s looking at our customer relationship management strategies, our digital ecosystem. It’s looking at our distribution strategies, partnerships, as well as, of course, our loyalty programs. We have a multi-layered strategy in place to respond to these kind of tectonic shifts.

This series is presented by Boxever. The Skift content team maintains complete editorial control over these interviews and the selection of subjects.

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