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Storytelling in Hospitality: The Why and How of Developing Your Brand’s Story

“Storytelling” has emerged as a marketing buzzword across industries in recent years, including hospitality. It’s crucial that brands craft strong stories in today’s age of authenticity to deepen guest relationships and differentiate market appeal. A recent study conducted in the UK, for example, found that nearly 80% of adults want brands to tell their story as part of their marketing strategy.

Storytelling uses the power of narrative to connect a brand to the outside world (customers, employees, partners, key stakeholders, etc.) It produces what I call a “win-win-win” situation:

  • Brands benefit by uniquely affirming their core values, purpose and mission (stories create experiences which, as I’ve discussed before, are key for unlocking commitment and engagement among today’s customers and employees).
  • Employees (and subsequently, employers) benefit from the direct tie that corporate storytelling has to engagement (research has found storytelling to encourage employees to apply their own experiences to the corporate message and potentially assume new work identities that better align with the brand).
  • Customers benefit by getting the experiences they crave. With a growing desire for hyper-personalization, the ability for a brand to create and disseminate its own story shows intention and commitment to making customers feel as though they are getting that personalized experience they want (and are willing to pay more for).

So, what does good storytelling (specifically, in hospitality) look like? Let’s turn to some industry leaders…

The Ritz-Carlton: The Ritz-Carlton takes a unique approach to storytelling using something it calls “Wow” stories. A “Wow” story is essentially a written note in which an employee documents a special moment with a customer or colleague. Supervisors share these stories during internal daily line-ups to engage and encourage staff, and the brand uses them as part of its larger customer-facing campaigns. In this way employees become part of the larger narrative, the brand shows off its stellar customer engagement approach, and guests sense a deeper purpose that drives loyalty and advocacy.

The Iron Horse Hotel: Research shows that the human brain processes imagery 60,000 times faster than text, presenting a strong case for using video in storytelling. The Iron Horse Hotel, based in Wisconsin, is one of many properties that encapsulates its message through visual storytelling. Whereas the Ritz’s story is written, the video’s evocative imagery and compelling message make viewers feel as though they are intimately experiencing the hotel. It’s this kind of experience that every hospitality leader should strive for.

How to Write Your Story

Assuming a brand has pinpointed its target audience and understands what messaging that audience is receptive to, here are some tips for storytelling success…

Think about the actual story: It’s easy to get sucked into the glitz and glamour of it all (the visuals, special effects, etc.), but at the end of the day what matters is the actual story you’re telling. Ask yourself what matters most to your property. Maybe it’s your rich history of being family owned and operated. Perhaps it’s your sustainability efforts to leave the world a better place than you found it. You might want to integrate a timeline of events over the course of your hotel’s existence (like Hilton Hotels). While it’s important that you consider how your story is told, people are interested in how someone got to where they are. They want to know how a brand evolved into the one they are consuming today. Don’t forget the actual story you’re telling.

Think about your brand’s personality: Brand stories are not marketing materials; they’re driven by a personality that permeates every corner of the organization. A good brand story is told with the brand persona up front and center. Naturally, this requires more brainstorming and thought input than the usual advertising outreach. To ensure alignment and authenticity, ask yourself if you’d want to read the personality-driven material created for your brand’s storytelling initiatives. Do you believe it? Does it sound genuine? Introspection is key here, and it will likely require more time and patience than you thought (or were even willing to put in). Be intentional with your brand’s personality, hiring outside strategists if needed.

Think about the medium. Do you want to go visual like The Iron Horse? Would you prefer written content like The Ritz-Carlton? In today’s digital realm, you have options as to what channels you’ll use to tell your story. The mediums abound, from blogs to podcasts to newsletters. Carefully consider which format(s) would best suit your target audience, particularly if you are targeting a younger crowd. Again, don’t be afraid to bring on an outside expert if needed.

Gather ‘Round the Campfire

I can’t tell you what your brand story is or how you should tell it, but I do know that today’s successful hospitality brands have mastered the ability to reach customers through storytelling. The emotional, genuine, thoughtful touches to content that your brand produces will set the stage for employee engagement and customer retention, cultivating that intimate experience your guests await.