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Founded in France in 1964, Sofitel has seen its fair share of brand revamps that have led to a successful repositioning in the luxury segment through centering on its French roots and role as an ambassador of French art de vivre.
Recently, Sofitel has refocused on its four core passions: gastronomy, arts and culture, design, and well-being. It has launched a new brand campaign that showcases all that Sofitel is doing in these areas –– but it goes way beyond advertising and marketing. SkiftX spoke with Rick Harvey Lam, senior vice president of marketing, luxury and premium brands at Accor, about how Sofitel is incorporating the “French way of life” into every aspect of the guest experience, from the scents that guests smell and music they hear, to the beauty products they use and linens they sleep on.
SkiftX: What was the approach behind Sofitel’s “Live the French Way” campaign? What is Accor looking to accomplish from it?
Rick Harvey Lam: Sofitel is a 54-year-old brand. It’s very well-known, showing high awareness levels amongst affluent travelers in the major European markets, as well as in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. However, there has been some inconsistency across our network in the past. The objectives of this campaign are to reinforce Sofitel’s position firmly in the luxury segment, differentiate the brand from its main competitors, and bring consistency to the brand and its properties. The goal is to do this by injecting a sense of modernity into the brand and leveraging our French DNA. We believe the idea of luxury is very credible when you associate it with French culture, and we want to bring that feeling of French chic and joie de vivre to every aspect of the guest journey.
SkiftX: Sofitel is a luxury brand, but there seems to be a shift away from the more conservative side of luxury to a more playful and colorful one in the campaign creative. Can you talk about this?
Lam: When many people think of “French luxury,” they think of classic traditional brands that maintain the quality of craftsmanship they’re known for while modernizing to keep up with the times. Building on this as our inspiration, our campaign celebrates what people love about French culture right now, whether it’s fashion, music, gastronomy, or design. When your brand has been around for more than five decades, you need to constantly be thinking about keeping pace with –– or really, staying ahead of –– the times.
SkiftX: Beyond the media plan, how are you planning to activate the campaign?
Lam: We provided a first glimpse into the Live the French Way campaign with a high-profile La Nuit by Sofitel party during Paris Fashion Week in February. This was an amazing evening, developed in partnership with CR Fashion Book, a fashion and beauty magazine, and was attended by a number of international stars and some of the brand’s most important partners. It was hosted by our chief marketing officer, Steven Taylor, and guests mingled with the likes of Carine Roitfeld, Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Owen Wilson, Pixie Geldof, and many others. The wider campaign is now kicking into high gear.
SkiftX: You’ve attracted some big names to this campaign. What other celebrities can we expect to see involved?
Lam: We’ve invited Clara Luciani, one of France’s most powerful new pop icons, to be the voice of the brand campaign. The song she has composed will become an important piece of Sofitel’s brand identity. We are also fortunate to have world-renowned Chef Yannick Alléno, who has earned three Michelin stars, hosting our Les Dîners Extraordinaires series, which will be held in incredible and unexpected locations later this year and beyond.
SkiftX: How will the campaign translate to the real-life guest journey?
Lam: It’s great to have a strong brand campaign and advertising platform to project an image of the brand to the outside world, but in the end, what’s most important is that the promise is not just delivered, but over delivered in the hotels and throughout the actual guest experience. For Sofitel, we’re focusing on what guests will see, touch, hear, smell, and eat, as well as the service they enjoy.
For example, from the moment that guests arrive, they’re greeted by our staff –– who we call “Heartists,” as well as brand ambassadors –– wearing stylish couture uniforms created by French fashion designer Léa Peckre. A beautiful scent blending rose, lily, and citrus aromas, developed by renowned perfumer Lucien Ferrero, wafts through Sofitel common areas, which also have playlists curated by French artist and producer DJ Mosey streaming throughout to showcase today’s French music scene.
We’ve developed “brand rituals” similar to something you’d find in the luxury retail space, and offer Hermès, Lanvin, and L’Occitane branded amenities. And of course, there’s the cuisine. Beyond offering menus designed by French and French-trained chefs, we will be hosting special events where guests can partake in curated food and wine experiences. We’re also emphasizing our service. We’re working with all of our internal staff, colleagues, and ambassadors to think creatively about how they can bring the “French touch” to our hotels in an impactful and truly meaningful way.
The goal is to create a cohesive experience by focusing on small, yet important, details. We want guests to know they’re staying in a Sofitel hotel when they stay with us. And we want to give them the best of the best when it comes to French culture and style.
SkiftX: Experiential and events make up a large part of the campaign. Tell us more about these.
Lam: We want Sofitel to be not only a place where guests can sleep and eat, but also a place where they can enjoy French arts and culture and have an amazing time. For example, at each of our properties globally, we celebrate Fête De La Musique, an annual event in France held each summer solstice on June 21, and reinterpret Christmas through a competition centered around who can come up with the most creative Buche De Noel (a traditional French holiday cake). We also have La Nuit by Sofitel, our signature party in our flagship hotels in key cities. It was created in collaboration with the Parisian club, Le Silencio, and combines Parisian nightlife with local culture. The party is based on three pillars: music, design, and mixology. Individual hotels can adapt it locally, based on their organization and financial constraints, and then the central marketing team co-leads three or four strategic events a year, including Les Dîners Extraordinaires with Yannick Alléno.
SkiftX: Many parts of the brand campaign seem to skew toward a younger audience. Is there a specific consumer segment, or mindset, you’re hoping to reach?
Lam: When speaking in terms of demographics, our guests span a wide range. But we know that they’re frequent travelers, sophisticated and refined, and value the finer things in life. We also make sure that we cater to our guests that stay with us for business, and at the same time, pay close attention to the next generation of frequent travelers. It’s about finding the right balance and thinking in terms of attitude and mindset versus a specific consumer segment.
SkiftX: The brand campaign also includes a few activations with social media influencers. How did you choose which influencers to work with and what do you expect them to add to the conversation?
Lam: The power of influencers has grown so rapidly, and we wanted to harness that. We chose the influencers we wanted to work with based on a few key criteria. First, we wanted them to have some familiarity with Sofitel. It makes it so much easier when they have an understanding of the brand. Second, we looked at their various strengths and core followings. We wanted to make sure there was the right balance between those in fashion, design, architecture, etc., to create a complementary group of influencers from different parts of the world. We also wanted their passions to align with the four Sofitel brand passions: gastronomy, culture, design and well-being. Having a large following is great, but the authenticity and connection to the brand had to be there as well.
SkiftX: Does Sofitel have any other news coming up this year?
Lam: We have some stunning new properties coming to market in 2019. Stay tuned for Sofitel Beijing Central, Sofitel Mexico City Reforma, Sofitel Istanbul Taksim, Sofitel Dubai Wafi, and Sofitel Legend Panama Casco Viejo, which are all expected to debut this year. Our development teams are also very busy and we will have some news to share over the coming months about new and exciting destinations which will soon fly the Sofitel flag. Sofitel currently has a portfolio of more than 120 hotels, and we’re adding more every year in keeping with our mission to be an ambassador of modern French style, culture, and art de vivre around the world.