Millennial’s may look to OTAs and Airbnb when they just want to book a room, but they’re flocking to social media to build robust itineraries that will be the envy of all their friends. Savvy marketers know that winning over this generation is about immersive experiences that sell the property and destination vs. a package or special room rate. Now is the time to pay attention to emerging platforms on the rise like Snapchat, Periscope and Facebook Live Stream, which can take audiences on a visual journey from the lobby to the bar and behind-the-scenes in 60 seconds or less.

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Welcome to the age of “missing out.” The driving motivation of purchasing decisions for millennials, and the common theme of luxury hospitality brands’ marketing strategies. To captivate this elusive, mobile-totting demographic, you have to appeal to who they aspire to be; a tastemaker. What has become the standard marketing definition of a social media influencer now extends to the entire Millennial set – they are a group of people that look to one another for what to do, see, eat and experience all with the click of a refresh.

While Baby Boomers are still flocking to TripAdvisor to weigh their options, Millennials are heading to Instagram’s geo-location search tab and identifying which photo speaks “I have to go here.” They’re refreshing Snapchat to see what city their friends’ filter features and ultimately planning what photos they’re going to capture and post so they can be the envy of their peers. This shift in mentality that puts experience above price provides infinite opportunities for brands to permeate this demographic and gives a reason to keep your property top-of-mind. What is most exciting for brands is that, the more unfiltered, authentic and raw your marketing strategies are, the more inclined Millennials will be to engage with you since in their eyes you’ll be approachable. The takeaway? Emerging platforms and video are the new equivalent of “put your money where your mouth is.”

The Battle Against Algorithms

While speaking of the shift in purchasing ethos within this younger generation you can’t ignore the undeniable shift in the digital marketing landscape. Now that most brands are active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and have figured out the user-generated content puzzle, a photo simply doesn’t say 1,000 words anymore. According to Domo.com, there are 2.4 million Facebook posts, 277,000 tweets and 216,000 Instagram posts shared every minute. These major platforms are giving priority to new content mediums like video and livestream (in the case of Facebook and Twitter), and with so many algorithm changes affecting the distribution of content, playing with new storytelling vehicles and implementing a social media advertising budget are paramount to creating an effective content marketing strategy.

A 2015 study stated that Business2Community.com “organic reach is now less than 2%.” To this end, there is a reason that major brands like Marriott and LVMH are building out their own in-house “content studios” – robust teams that exist to find compelling narratives and innovative ways to tell them.

Enter the luxury fashion industry’s proliferation on Snapchat. We’re already aware that the fashion industry has made huge strides in influencer marketing over the years – ousting notable editors from their front row Fashion Week seats to accommodate Instagram heavyweights, but what’s been most exciting to watch is the launch of their own branded Snapchat accounts. Burberry is one such brand who livestreamed their Spring 2016 Fashion Week collection, providing tuned-in viewers with a front row seat. This fearlessness to not worry if appealing to a younger demographic will dilute the brand is why their strategy has been covered on Luxury Daily, Mashable and The Globe and Mail winning them even more organic word-of-mouth credibility.

So, how can this strategy be adapted to the hospitality industry? Identifying your brand ambassadors is step one. The second is finding your story. Is there a passionate, tech-savvy barman or an incredibly charming and insightful concierge at your property? Then you can go ahead check brand ambassador search off your list. These are the questions you should be asking since your employees are the front lines of your brand and it’s now imperative to leverage them on social media. Their perspective of the hotel or resort is invaluable and their manner of interacting offline with guests should be extended online to capture new, potential guests.

Imagine a cocktail series filmed in your property’s restaurant streamed every #TravelTuesday on Periscope with the head mixologist. This not only provides insight on your culinary offerings, but puts forth an enigmatic personality that viewers will resonate with and want to tune in to week after week. These types of free marketing opportunities contribute a unique dimension to your brand that a mention in a roundup just can’t do.

While incentivizing your team to participate in your storytelling and launching your brand’s presence on these emerging platforms is pivotal, it’s equally important to think outside the box when strategizing PR coverage since outlets and publications are also adopting these new content mediums. For example, when our client Solage Calistoga in Napa Valley let us know that their Michelin-starred Chef Brandon Sharp and head Sommelier Scott Turnbull were coming to New York – our first thought wasn’t the traditional media appointment tour around town. Instead, we got in touch with Condé Nast Traveler who let us know that they were experimenting with Facebook’s new livestream capabilities.

Bingo. Let’s take that idea of an informational media appointment and turn it on its head by inviting all of Condé Nast Traveler’s 713,502 Facebook fans to meet the Chef and Sommelier too. Armed with just an iPhone, the Condé Nast Traveler crew of two introduced 7,900 live viewers to Brandon Sharp and Scott Turnbull while they demonstrated how to make an amazing grilled cheese sandwich and which wine would pair perfectly with it. In the 27-minute stream, viewers chimed in with questions on the Chef’s favorite summer cocktail, fitness diet tips and more. The result? Marketing collateral that speaks volumes.

Breaking Away from the Pack

Thus far, we’ve covered where your brand should be right now and how to implement cost effective ways to get there. But, as we all know, the digital tides change quickly and staying relevant and innovative requires a long term strategy and investment – otherwise known as immersive video. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360 video might sound like buzz words, but they’re the new mediums that have incredible staying power. It’s not enough to simply market messages to your consumers – the future of social media and communications in general is marketing experiences.

Having the ability to transport potential consumers will not only keep you top-of-mind during the purchase decision-making process, but will also captivate a completely new audience. According to FastCompany.com “investors include heavyweights like Disney investing $65 million” in the technology. VR is a big investment with an even bigger return because it is your brand – come to life in the most literal way.

Remember that trend towards in-house content studios we spoke about? Marriott’s been putting their team to good use. Marriott Hotels is launching an experiment with virtual reality headsets in two of its premium properties: the New York Marriott Marquis and the London Marriott Park Lane. The program, called “VRoom Service,” allows guests at the two hotels to order a Samsung Gear VR headset to their room for 24 hours. The devices, which run on Samsung’s Milk VR platform, come pre-loaded with three videos that Marriott is calling “VR postcards.” Each of the three videos shows a different traveler on a trip, narrating their feelings to an unseen camera. The three travelers include a woman in Chile, a woman in Rwanda, and a man in Beijing. The videos are in full 360 3D, and are meant to be “holistic and experiential” says Michael Dail, Marriott’s VP of global brand marketing.

As quoted on Fortune.com, “A lot of people have never thought of virtual reality outside of gaming, so to put it inside a trip, what does it feel like to take a virtual trip?” says Dail. “That starts a conversation. Are you really traveling if you just have the virtual sensation? And a lot of people who tried it said, ‘Yes, this reminds me of what travel is, it makes me feel like I’m there.”

And Marriott isn’t the only big brand that’s staying innovative in the space. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced the first-ever integration of virtual reality (VR) experiences into worldwide hotel sales efforts. The group has rolled out Samsung Gear VR headsets across all Global Sales Offices and produced immersive 360-degree videos for over a quarter of its 94 hotels and resorts. Nearly half of the hotel portfolio will have VR videos with full roll out to be completed in 2016. Powered by Oculus, the Gear VR headsets enable travel advisors, meeting planners and potential corporate clients to virtually experience Shangri-La hotels and destinations around the world. They will be used as promotional and educational tools at tradeshows, industry events and sales meetings, instantly “transporting” advisors to places such as the rooftop of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa or the Grand Ballroom in Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong. Travel advisors will also be able to share the 360-degree videos with their customers via www.shangri-la.com/VR.

The videos can be watched online on a 360-degree video player or, for a fully immersive experience, freely downloaded and viewed on a VR headset that uses the Oculus platform. As quoted in Luxury Daily, “Shangri-La is investing significantly in technology and the future of travel content, which is why we are embracing virtual reality on this scale,” said Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer of Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd. “VR is a revolutionary new sales tool. The technology has evolved so that it is now affordable, light and portable; virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming more mainstream.”

We’re standing at a monumental time in marketing, where being “yourself” as a brand works better than pouring money into perfectly groomed ads, which is both liberating and daunting. The silver lining is – the only real way to go wrong is by not participating in this shift at all. While you might not have the budget for VR in 2017 or even 2018, you probably have your phone in your hand right now. So snap, scope and stream because the time to experiment is now. Maybe there really is something to this whole never-miss-out Millennial mentality?

Original article appeared on HotelExecutive.com

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