Ms. Gaulin

Social Media & Relationship Marketing

Bringing Your Brand to Life Through Compelling Content Marketing

By Sorya Gaulin, Director, Corporate Public Relations, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Social media has completely transformed the way that consumers engage with brands, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the luxury travel sector. Early on we recognized the connection between a traveler's desire to share their experiences with the world and the broad, immediate communication facilitated by social media channels. All of a sudden travelers could share, congregate, converse and covet in ways that were unimaginable only a few short years ago. It is no surprise that emerging social platforms with strong visual capabilities like Pinterest and Instagram are experiencing considerable growth, and existing social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are continually improving their ability to showcase images more beautifully.

With such a flurry of digital activity every day, taking the time to pause and really listen to the types of conversations that were happening in the social media space helped us evolve our strategy and better understand how we could engage our guests and brand enthusiasts in meaningful ways. There is inherent value in really knowing your audience, and developing customized content that mirrors the way that they are consuming information today. At Four Seasons, we quickly understood that the importance was not in merely joining the conversation, but in providing content to inspire and enrich the conversation, both in our social communities and our owned channels.

Today, content marketing is one of the most powerful tools in reaching and retaining new and existing audiences. We dedicate more than half of our marketing budget to digital and focus on building our content hub, with our website serving as the centre of it all. The process by which we create and syndicate information across various owned, paid and earned channels requires nimbleness to adapt quickly. This, coupled with the fact that we are committed to continually creating fresh content, provides guests with a reason to visit us regularly to take part in the evolving conversation.

Content Forward Marketing Approach

The travel experience, particularly the luxury hotel brand experience, inherently fills the aspirational desires of consumers because of the visually appealing product and the level of service and attention to detail that exists on property. Extending a hotel experience and the culture of excellence from a brick and mortar environment into a virtual environment through a content-forward marketing approach is how hotel brands will excel in the digital marketing arena. We know that our single greatest asset is our brand and the Four Seasons promise of excellence, and as we create content we leverage our stunning visuals and stories to bring the world of Four Seasons to life digitally.

To accentuate the brand experience, we leverage owned, earned and paid content outlets within our digital ecosystem. Owned media platforms, such as Fourseasons.com and Four Seasons Magazine are at the core. Guests and future guests navigate to these primary outlets to experience the brand first hand, and therefore, these platforms are a critical piece in bringing the world of Four Seasons to life. Owned media channels reflect the brand's tenants and are optimized with content from our more than 90 properties around the world. What is so important to our guests is the fact that Fourseasons.com and Four Seasons Magazine are both globally relevant with a localized voice. Guests are able to connect with a specific Four Seasons property by viewing beautiful imagery and reading detailed destination descriptions, or they can opt to interact with the Four Seasons lifestyle on the Magazine. The same tone and approach is applied to all of our social media content as well.

Personalizing the Digital Experience

Hotel brands that can strategically segment their audiences and develop original content for niche communities and disseminate by unique platform, will have greater success at speaking authentically to each audience. This will drive deeper engagement, create a more meaningful relationship between the brand and these segments and heighten trust.

To capture the full breadth of our brand's culture, specialized content is developed for niche audiences. These auxiliary digital assets, such as our family travel blog, Have Family Will Travel, new weddings magazine and weddings flip-book, as well as campaign based micro-sites built for various initiatives, deliver specific content to affluent consumers who are seeking interest-based lifestyle content. Our owned assets are comprised of Four Seasons expert segments, commissioned articles and editorials, and contributions curated from bloggers and influencers. These topically niche sites dive deep into the topic at hand and often the content is unbranded. For our current guests and future guests, they provide value by offering expert advice or information that is relevant to their lives or their travel plans. To consumers who have yet to experience Four Seasons first hand, it is a window into what can be expected at any of our 90 Hotels or Resorts.

For example, through our interactions with consumers both online and at properties, we learned that there was an enormous appetite for a dedicated food and beverage site, hence, our food blog TASTE was born. In early December 2012, we launched TASTE, which was designed as a gathering place for fellow lovers of food and drink. The site is our virtual kitchen table - an extension of the lively conversations that happen in our restaurant kitchens and bars around the world. It's a place where everyone is invited to pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine and join us. With TASTE we continue to provide a global perspective on food and beverage, coupled with local sensibilities and insights.

Content Amplification

After dedicating resources to the creation of a brand campaign, it is essential to consider new and effective ways of spreading the word digitally - reaching consumers where they are already spending so much of their time. In a fully integrated digital campaign, the pillars of our content messaging live within our owned digital assets, and our earned and paid content supports, or amplifies, our core messaging.

Depending on the program, content strategies will also incorporate various avenues of support behind greater initiatives. These tactics are some of the many we use to inspire our influencers, guests and future guests to engage with and share our content. Contesting is one method of amplification, but more often we showcase original and authentic content, engage regularly with our fans, and create an interactive experience that is entertaining and easily shared. For example, we actively seek opportunities to insert ourselves in vibrant Twitter communities and conversations such as #FriFotos for the traveling photographer to leverage the popularity of these established online communities.

Paid media is still considered an effective means to foster greater engagement across social channels, expose campaigns or promotions to new audiences, or simply promote rich content to a niche audience. The evolution of paid media meets today's travel consumer where they are already congregating. Social advertising may be woven into the overall content strategy for a brand's Facebook page and utilized to supplement organic efforts. At Four Seasons, because of our dedication to authenticity and organic engagement, social advertising is never automated. Our social advertising is focused around reaching a particular type of guest or supporting a specific campaign. The goal is to enhance an already positive experience, and not to push unwanted content. The real-time nature of this paid medium, allows careful results monitoring so the approach can evolve along with what's working and what isn't. This ability to be nimble keeps efforts dynamic and makes each dollar spent go further.

Emerging Platforms

Emerging social platforms with strong visual capabilities, like Pinterest and Instagram are experiencing astounding growth. These platforms have two very distinct demographics, and although they are both visual platforms, content is consumed in completely different ways from one another. As it relates to travel, users on both platforms tend to be highly aspirational, Pinterest users are looking for inspiration as they plan to make a purchase decision on where they should travel to next or as they daydream about where they want to go. Instagram is for those who are on a journey and love sharing their experiences and learning from others. Both are core platforms for Four Seasons global brand and properties and have yielded strong results.

Capturing consumers on their journey to a purchase making decision requires multiple touch points. Facebook users like to connect with people and brands they know, users on Twitter are more open to following new people and they tend to look for advice and insights from virtual friends. However, Pinterest and Instagram are designed for exploration and discovery. Liking, pinning, repining, sharing and commenting on strangers' images is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged.

Emerging platforms are a way for us to experiment and develop key takeaways for our global properties; we set realistic expectations as we venture into unchartered territory. In 2012, we conducted several Pinterest and Instagram promotions at the brand and property level. We ran a photo contest on Instagram to assist in the promotion of the opening of our flagship property, Four Seasons Toronto that yielded hundreds of photo submissions to the campaign hashtag. When we launched our Four Seasons Weddings Magazine, we sponsored a giveaway from the brand, Pin Your Dream Wedding, a Pinterest contest designed to drive traffic to our Weddings Magazine, an owned print and digital media asset. That promotion resulted in Pinterest becoming the greatest referral source to the online version of the magazine.

The Changing Global Consumer

According to comScore's State of the Internet, the United States currently makes up only 12% of the world's online population, a significant decrease since 1996 when the US accounted for 66% of the world's online population. The growth of emerging markets has created opportunities to gain new consumer insights and develop innovative approaches to content development and syndication. At Four Seasons, in order to anticipate consumers' questions and provide solutions that exceed their travel and luxury expectations, we must understand the behaviors of future guests from around the world. Key learnings of emerging markets in Russia, China, the Middle East and Latin America have led us to quick and informed marketing adoptions. As a result, Four Seasons has integrated with emerging platforms like Weibo, translated our new Four Seasons website to Russian, Chinese and Portuguese and, and more recently, explored Global Social Pages on Facebook scheduled to launch in early 2013.

In addition to the globalization of the Internet, the consumption of media is continually changing. While time spent on search engines is decreasing, time on social networks continues to increase, and time spent on mobile apps is growing at double-digit rates. The demise of certain traditional media outlets, adoption of tablets at record pace, and the rise mobile social applications, such as Instagram, are clear indicators that the consumption of information has changed and will continue to change in the years to come.

Hotel brands must find ways to naturally insert themselves into the digital habitat of the new luxury consumer. Efforts surrounding social media marketing, social search, social advertising and overall content marketing must be reevaluated. Quick and informed marketing adoptions such as the utilization of emerging platforms like Weibo, and mobile solutions, are required of hotel brands in order to capture the new global luxury consumer on their decision making journey. A global shift in lifestyle trends and online behavior necessitates new solutions to meet the demands of the affluent travel consumers.

As consumers continue to become more digitally savvy and selective about how and where they receive information, travel industry brands must rise to the challenge by providing a virtual brand experience that reflects their products and services while informing and entertaining their consumers. Brands must effectively become media channels to fulfill the needs and exceed the expectations of the new global travel consumer. At Four Seasons , reimaging the way we share travel experiences and engage with consumers around the globe has energized and inspired our team as we look forward to the opportunities new technologies, trends and insights will bring in the year ahead .

Ms.Gaulin became the Director of Corporate PR at Four Seasons in July of 2007. In 2010, she added Social Media to her roster, underscoring her expertise as a highly innovative and integrated marketer. In her role, she oversees all PR and Social Media agencies on a global basis. Having been a journalist once herself, Ms.Gaulin comes to Four Seasons with a keen understanding of what makes a compelling story. As a seasoned traveler, she takes a global outlook and emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural differences and how they impact marketing. Through this lens, she works with her team to develop clever and creative campaigns that truly connect with people, as thatís what Four Seasons is known for. Ms. Gaulin can be contacted at 416-441-4440 or sorya.gaulin@fourseasons.com Extended Bio...

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