Marriott’s Renaissance Hotels brand is embarking on a broad and innovative storytelling campaign targeted specifically to a very particular segment: business travelers.

Built around the brand’s “It’s Business Unusual” tagline, the campaign has included a variety of projects, including a user-generated contest for musicians that debuted last fall, called The Navigator Live, and a short film, “Business Unusual,” that premiered in January.

Renaissance Hotels’ latest project involves a video series starring chef Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.” In the video series, called “The Navigator’s Table,” Zimmern travels to Chicago, Nashville, and New York, inviting his friends — fellow chefs, entrepreneurs, and artists — to join him for a meal showcasing his own interpretations of regional dishes, and their own views on what the local scene in each city is really like. The series is named after the brand’s designation for its concierges.

“When we looked at who could tell this story in an interesting, engaging, and authentic way, we wanted to find someone who represents that modern business traveler who’s curious and always looking for new experiences, and making sure their business trips are not business as usual,” Dan Vinh, vice president of global marketing for Marriott’s lifestyle brands, said. “That’s Andrew.”

Marriott is going after the business travel segment over leisure travelers for one primary reason: Frequency. Marriott’s global PR director of luxury and lifestyle brands, Victoria Hart said, “From a marketing perspective, we’re targeting business travelers because it’s a more cost-efficient way to reach our target audience of frequent travelers. They have more opportunity to travel for business and to experience our brand so when they are ready to book their vacation they would consider Renaissance because we helped make their business trip not business as usual.”

Not Just “Bizarre Foods” for Business Travelers

The “Navigator’s Table” isn’t your typical “Bizarre Foods” episode, either, although Zimmern employed his production crew to film each of the episodes, of which there are six episodes in total. Each episode, which is only about four to six minutes long, opens with Zimmern, introducing himself to viewers and proclaiming, “Unusual is my business.” From there, he delves right into the meal and the conversation with his guests begins.

Instead, Vinh said, “This isn’t about our point of view on food; it’s about sharing different people’s views on food.” He added, “Different people have different perspectives on what makes it his Chicago versus her Chicago, for example. There’s not one way to see the city.”

To that end, Renaissance Hotels asked Zimmern to invite his friends to join him for a meal so they could essentially film the local story of that destination and what makes a business trip unusual, but from a variety of different angles and perspectives.

This approach to food and beverage was a deliberate play by Renaissance Hotels. “Food seems to be a common theme or way people discover a local city, but we know that for the modern business traveler, and all travelers for that matter, travel isn’t about collecting things anymore,” said Vinh. “When you’re a business traveler traveling around the world, you should be taking advantage of being in new places and discovering new thing. That’s our mission as a brand.”

The video series, which began appearing on YouTube on May 3, recently ended on May 19, with two episodes devoted to each of the three cities Zimmern visited.

 

Is the Strategy Working?

While it’s still a bit early to measure the full marketing impact of “The Navigator’s Table,” this video series is just one part of a larger marketing campaign that Renaissance launched last year. To date, the total number of views for all six episodes in the series is more than one million and counting.

The genesis of Renaissance Hotels’ new marketing campaign began last fall, when it launched its innovative Play to Stay contest. Renaissance teamed up with Bandsintown, a concert discovery app, as well as Billboard Magazine, to host a contest where 12 different bands were invited to participate. In this instance, Renaissance reached out to creative business travelers, musicians.

Each band performed and produced a video at a Renaissance hotel, and those videos were uploaded to YouTube in a collection called “The Navigator Live.” Followers of Renaissance Hotels were given links to the videos and asked to vote on their favorite videos. The 12 videos that came of the contest proved to be a big success for Renaissance. They generated twice the number of average views of all of Renaissance Hotels’ other videos from 2015 and on average, viewers watched more than half of each video. The contest contributed a nearly 14-percent increase in organic brand mentions over the previous month, and the hashtag, #playtostay, was used nearly 2,000 times throughout the contest.

Brand consultancy firm, L2, which puts together an annual “Digital IQ Index” of luxury hotel brands, noted this user-generated-content promotion in its annual 2016 report. “This was the first time we saw a brand solicit user-generated-content from influencers,” said Sam Lee, research lead at L2. “That has a bigger impact, and it’s less commercial, with much more extended reach. The fans of these bands have their own followings on social media, so this allows the brand to amplify things.”

In January, Renaissance Hotels debuted its first short film, “Business Unusual,” which was produced by the Marriott Content Studio. If you’ve ever watched one of Marriott’s “Two Bellmen” films, you’ll recognize some similar production elements and filming techniques: the high-energy dance sequence; slick production value; and a lighthearted, comedic tone, to name a few. The film follows the (mis)adventures of an advertising executive who finds inspiration in seeking out new perspectives during a business trip to Chicago.

Since its debut, the 18.5-minute film has garnered more than 7 million views on YouTube, and has a 63% view rate and a 9% completion rate, which is 161% above the benchmark, noted Hart. It’s also had more than 15 million impressions in social conversation, and has 55 million earned media impressions. According to a Google Brand Lift Study commissioned by Renaissance Hotels, the film also contributed to a nearly 20% increase in purchase intent, too. However, Marriott was unable to disclose exactly how many participants were included in that study.

Additionally, similar to Marriott’s strategy for its “French Kiss” short film, the Renaissance Chicago Downtown where “Business Unusual” was filmed, offered two different hotel packages, one of which included a one-day pass on Chicago’s Mass Transit System and another that featured an in-room bar program that includes a bar kit for making cocktails. Marriott didn’t have any data regarding how many viewers or guests purchased either package after watching the film.

For Renaissance Hotels, ultimately, these storytelling strategies and promotions aren’t being launched to drive direct bookings, but to increase customer engagement and awareness. “We’re getting our guests to see the Renaissance brand in a credible, authentic way, and for us it’s less about driving direct bookings but to get people to engage with the brand,” said Vinh. “We’re seeing double-digit increases in purchase intent as well as perception the brand.”

He added, “Our content strategy is really about telling the story of what happens on property — those experiential activations that happen in the hotels as well as everyday programming at the hotels. We still do traditional ads on top of all of this to tell our controlled brand message, but all of this content helps to sort of build out additional, authentic proof around our branded message.”

Photo Credit: For its latest marketing campaign, Renaissance Hotels turned to chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern to film a series of short videos. Renaissance Hotels