It is a common hot topic nowadays in luxury across all different kinds of industries. How can we attract and connect with younger, affluent generations that are slowly taking over the marketplace? Currently, most luxury hospitality brands feel comfortable focusing on baby boomers and generation X, but how long will this status quo persist? Inheritance, self-made millennials, technology, and other generational factors will surely change the hospitality business for good in due time. What can luxury brands do now to prepare for this shift in how demand is expressed in the marketplace?
A lot of luxury hospitality brands today are owned, consolidated and managed by large multinational, publicly traded companies like Marriott, Accor, Hilton, Wyndham and so on. With this amount of structure and control comes a large degree of financial and organizational support, but also severe restrictions when it comes to branding, public relations, marketing and other aspects of growth strategy. At Marriott for example, how can a luxury sub-brand or property start a new initiative targeted particularly at millennials or gen Z guests if all marketing has to be done centrally at the regional or national Marriott office? Large scale b2b approval and procurement processes and internal stakeholder buy-ins can slow down any kind of innovation in this case to a halt.
For small or independently owned luxury hotels, resorts or rental companies it is easier to change direction or start new interesting projects that target new demographics. In this case, the problem often entails more things like financial feasibility, risk aversion and the lack of creative or technical resources.
Now that we looked at the challenge in terms of two different situations (the multinational & the independent luxury brand), how can we address the upcoming generational change through our hotel marketing efforts with the resources we already have?
Since Jadewolf is not a brand marketing agency, I’m only going to cover the basics here. Brand marketing usually has to take the long term view, and changes in perception and awareness take time and significant investment in the luxury space, so I would only recommend major initiatives here to the large multinational hotel brands who can afford it and are in dire need of a refresher for one of their assets.
The most important questions owners and marketers of luxury hospitality brands need to ask themselves when it comes to their brand, in my opinion, are: “Is my brand still relevant enough to connect with the sensibilities of young and affluent travelers?” And if the answer is no, do I need to take a long hard look at my logo, my color scheme or pattern, my videos, my website, and my social media channels? Do I need to provide more branded online experiences through apps, new media, and influencers that resonate with things like pop-culture, music, art, and entertainment? And most importantly, how do I reconcile my heritage and the traditional luxury values with this new sensibility without losing my unique identity? A difficult situation indeed, large brands should work with specialized consultants or agencies in this case who are very much in tune with the modern world if they want to work on aspects of their brand to stay relevant for upcoming generations.
Bridging The Gap With Direct Marketing
Instead of re-branding completely there is another approach which I would like to propose, namely direct marketing. This is what we specialize and this approach can be particularly useful in attracting and connecting with millennials and gen Z guests in luxury hospitality. Why? Well, instead of focusing on general luxury brand appeal and desirability it can make more sense in the short and mid-term to simply offer better ways of connecting and engaging with a luxury brand online than just slapping a new logo on everything and calling it a re-brand.
Online direct marketing or data-driven marketing offers a perfect method to execute on a premise like that. By mapping out online browsing behavior through personas and by creating specialized funnels and lifecycles that focus on connecting all the analytics data and digital touch points that a millennial or gen Z consumer might have when researching luxury hospitality options online, we can demonstrate that our hospitality brand is not only modern, but also obviously invested in communicating and welcoming younger guests by offering convenience, personalization, and unique digital experiences. All things especially younger generations of affluent travelers highly appreciate in our modern, connected world.
In terms of execution let’s quickly look again at the two basic premises: the multinational and the independent property. The executive in charge of the multinational marketing plan with a large amount of sub-brands and properties could, for example, pick a particular geographical market, then pick a particular luxury sub-brand that needs modernization and deploy a test project to build for example one specialized funnel for millennial guests that drives direct bookings for a particular season or upcoming event. If this project is successful it could be used as a business case to obtain internal stakeholder buy-in for larger initiatives, all the way up to getting C-level approval for national or global roll-outs of new direct marketing or millennial or gen Z focused projects.
The independent owner or luxury hospitality marketer has it much easier. Here the best way to approach the generational challenge is to simply divert a certain amount of annual revenue towards “trying out new things” in terms of direct marketing projects. Companies that are mature enough to spend 8-15% of their annual revenue on marketing and promotion are usually best suited towards investing into these kinds of new markets or demographics without risking too much operational capital or overall profitability. Smaller organizations usually also have it easier as well when it comes to buy-ins and joint team effort in growing and developing the company in a new direction. Agility is key here.
To sum it up, the generational shift is happening as we speak, hiding from it is useless. Smart marketers will be prepared when the next major shift happens while traditionally-minded business people will slowly be pushed out of the market by their more agile competitors.