These days, content marketing strategies are comprised of more than just backlinks and blogger outreach, particularly when it comes to the travel industry. Not just another digital marketing buzzword bandied around between eager marketers, influencer marketing holds real value for brands looking to gain exposure. Why, you ask? Simply because, as travel becomes more accessible to the masses and the industry becomes more saturated, the influencer is able to provide a highly-targeted platform for brands to get in front of their audience and connect. Being paid to travel is the dream, and of the millions of bloggers out there, many influencers have been fortunate enough to make this a reality through careful collaborations and gaining a strong following, but how have some of the big luxury travel brands taken to influencer marketing of late and is it something that should be reserved for those smaller brands in need of exposure?
Mandarin Oriental’s Celebrity Endorsement Campaign
Set for completion in 2018, the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is currently undergoing extensive renovation, ready to kick start a new era – a restoration that’s racking up a hefty bill reaching well into the millions. And whilst it’s not uncommon for construction work to be surrounded by beautifully-designed hoarding that claims to be ‘changing the face of construction’, this is something the luxury hotel giant has taken quite literally.
As creator of the Beatles’ iconic 1967 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover amongst others, Peter Blake’s reputation alone is enough to make people sit up and take notice. Couple this with an extravagant piece of artwork measuring 64 metres long and 25 metres high that features around 100 of London’s most recognisable faces, and its influencer marketing at its most palpable. From Morgan Freeman to Kevin Spacey and Dame Helen Mirren, Mandarin Oriental ‘fans’ featured on the artwork include some of the most recognisable names and more importantly, faces, on the planet. The piece is being boldly displayed on the facade of the building for nine months and is part of a wider online marketing campaign known as ‘Our Fans’ which features endorsements from the brand’s celebrity fans all over the world.
Image source: Flickr
At a time where influencers play such a significant role in reaching consumers, is celebrity endorsement really the way forward or has it had its day? Personally, I’d much prefer the seal of approval from a travel influencer with whom I’ve built up an emotional connection over time having followed them on their journey from day one. But then, is this the way to reach a truly luxury audience? Possibly not. But then, do people feel safe in the hands of the likes of Brian Ferry as an endorser? I’m inclined to say no. The luxury market has seen a shift in attitude in recent years, moving away from luxury in the form of opulence and consumerism and instead towards the want for more authentic, experiential travel – indicative of consumers’ desire for something ‘real’ – therefore logically, recommending hotels and destinations to me based on a relationship with an inaccessible and exclusive human seems odd.
The Alila Moments Campaign
A more refreshing approach to influencer market comes from Alila Hotels, who are making the most of the internet’s open source nature as part of the Alila Moments campaign. Rather than approaching individual travel influencers in search of exposure through a blog post or shout out, each of the Alila hotels has a role to play in a wider campaign, as through crowdsourcing directly from Instagram, the brand is able to collate the best snaps from those travel influencers around the world who have passed through an Alila hotel and captured the moment. Although influencers’ time is something that is ordinarily bought, it seems as though the majority of contributions are achieved organically, purely through travellers’ desire to share an experience or a moment – the very foundations on which the campaign was built. What better endorsement than that of somebody who is at the thick of it all – no gloss, no thrills – just a lens and the odd filter?
The approach a brand takes to influencer marketing will of course vary depending on exactly who is being targeted, but perhaps more importantly, how a brand sees itself. This is key to the entire process, as collaborating with the wrong influencer could spell disaster should brand values not align and dots in roadmaps not connect. Case in point; whilst both luxury hotel offerings, Alila hails itself as ‘surprisingly different’ and the Mandarin Oriental introduces itself as an ‘acclaimed collection of luxurious hotels’, clearly separating the two in terms of tone and giving an instant indication to potential influencers as to their target market and whether they would be a good fit.
Although influencer marketing is the golden child of digital marketing right now, it isn’t without its dangers. Imagine your brand is tied to a celebrity who at the time is at the peak of their fame. Two months later, they’re spotted cruising down Route 66 in nothing but their underwear with a shaved head and a pack of 20 cigarettes in hand to the sounds of Carly Rae Jepson. A brand’s image can be ruined in an instant and do irreversible long-term damage to a brand. Microcelebrities with a lesser following tend to be less of a risk and often result in higher levels of engagement than big time celebrities despite their larger followings, as people tend to respond more positively to the fact their words are personalised and their personalities more ‘real’. One thing that should never be forgotten is that we are well and truly in the midst of the igeneration, and as fully-fledged members of the igeneration, we all have the power to make it online. Does having 10,000 Instagram followers make you an influencer? Where do you draw the distinction between an amateur blogger and a pro? Does the influencer truly share your values? Vetting influencers and their affiliations will likely save you time, money and could potentially keep you from receiving a massive helping of egg to the face further down the line.
Advice: approach with caution. On the surface, influencer marketing may seem like the golden ticket to success, as the role of the travel influencer will continue to exist just as long as powerful platforms like Instagram and Twitter continue to thrive. Yet, the way brands approach influencer marketing is something that needs to evolve and roll with the times accordingly, as the values and interests of their target markets shift, and the real value of the influencer begins to change as it becomes easier and easier to become an internet personality.