Interview Spotlight: How to Stay True to Your Luxury Hospitality Brand

Interview with Daisy Bird, Founder of BIRD Travel PR

Panel speaker at TREND on Tuesday 25th July

Daisy has almost 15 years PR experience specialising exclusively in luxury travel, spa and hospitality brands. She has represented some of the most prestigious brands in the industry, most notably as the global agency lead for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, but also with Jumeirah, Raffles, Aman and GHM properties plus independent luxury resort brands and boutique collections.

In 2010, Daisy left the restrictions of corporate agency life to bring her wealth of experience, connections and creativity to a carefully curated collection of like-minded brands and introduce a more personalised, high-impact approach to the typical agency ethos, launching her own luxury travel PR brand, BIRD Travel PR.

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you start in luxury hospitality?

Since I was a child, I’ve always had a curious, adventurous nature, intrigued by far off lands and ancient cultures. After school, I embarked on a 6-month adventure around South America before my Anthropology degree at university. As a student, I packed in as many internships as possible during the holidays — at magazine houses and PR agencies — and waitressed in the evenings to save up for summer-long backpacking adventures across different areas of Europe and Asia.  By the time I’d graduated I’d racked up enough experience in the media and PR industries, alongside a healthy wanderlust, to know that marrying these skills and passions was my route to an exciting career.

I spent my first eight years working my way up the agency ladder, working round the clock but lucky to be working on some very exciting travel and hospitality brands. I am eternally grateful for these early years — to the inspiring employers, mentors and clients I was lucky to learn from — but it felt only natural for me to step out on my own at some stage.

In 2010 I set up BIRD, to apply these years of corporate experience to independent luxury travel and boutique hotel brands. I have since built a portfolio of brands that feel truly aligned with my personal travel tastes and values.  As a team, we have plenty of experience working with corporate players, but also a real passion for off-the-beaten track gems, independent boutique hotels, sustainable tourism and visionary start-ups.  They are all looking to make an impact on a global stage, and our aim is to fast-track them to the biggest consumer influencers, to ensure they are seen and heard in all the right places and to be an integral part of building their businesses.

How do you think digital is transforming luxury hospitality?

I think digital has empowered hotels and destinations to be less reliant on intermediary travel agents and tour operators; to directly target their own customers and manage their own brand messaging to a much wider network.  Equally, it is empowering the traveller to DIY their own trips, access more first-hand reviews of their destinations, canvass their online networks for recommendations, share their own experiences online and even become ‘influencers’ in their own right.  

On the flip side, there is so much unregulated content available online, so it can be overwhelming and hard to know what to trust. I do, therefore, still believe there is a place for expert travel advisors and media written with authority by trustworthy experts in their fields.  

Both marketing, travel and consumer behavioural trends are changing at such a fast pace that it’s proving a tricky time for brands to keep up.  We are seeing that common dilemma of luxury brands who need to sustain their existing loyal customer base (who, let’s face it, won’t be around forever) whilst investing in the future. Many brands are in a panic about these so-called Millennials and how to capture — and retain — their attention.  Yes, Millennials — and Generation X — are the future, however brands need to take a gentle and integrated approach to retargeting, and remain mindful of alienating their existing customers.  Relationships, face-to-face client contact, human connection, traditional media, and beautiful print design are all still relevant in the luxury market.  A successful digital strategy must integrate and align with these methods.

In your opinion, which marketing strategies are key for luxury hotel brands to be able to stand out from the crowd?

I think many brands are getting so swamped by the technicalities of digital marketing that they sometimes overlook the actual content. You could have the slickest looking, most high-tech website and use all the tools and tricks available to optimise it and push it all over the web, but, is the content itself compelling enough to engage with your customers in a meaningful way?  Does it have a voice that people actually want to listen to?  Is it entertaining and informative? Is it truly reflective of your brand values and personality?  Are you using language that will connect with your target audience and resonate with their interests and lifestyle?

It’s vital to invest as much in the words and visuals as in the technology itself. Commission a top-notch writer, ideally a seasoned travel journalist who is well aligned with your brand values, develop a recognisable and consistent voice, and invest in a solid, editorial content plan that considers itself like a magazine.  Bring emotion to your brand: sell experiences not just rooms; be a storyteller; be trend savvy; behave generously; share local travel tips and guides; demonstrate your expertise; talk about your destinations with authority; think of your brand like a human and let its personality shine through!

On the visual side, appoint amazing photography that makes your content look like a beautiful magazine rather than a sales brochure.  Avoid polished fruit trays, champagne flutes and overly made-up models gazing into lovers’ eyes in their spa robes; this level of over-styling immediately out-dates your brand.  Invest in short and snappy videos for social media to draw users in, capture their attention, encourage them to share and push your SEO to rank higher than others when searching for a luxury experience.

Which role does social media play in luxury hospitality?  

Social media has created a powerful opportunity to directly engage with and attract customers in a visual, informal and conversational way: showing off the personality of your brand, flaunting its best assets, championing its values, sharing achievements and — most importantly — building an online community. Visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest allow hotel brands to curate their online image, distill the essence of their brand and thereby offer prospective guests an evocative, immersive sense of who they are.

Some of the most powerful social content is not from your own channels but from your guests, so think of your online community as a team of brand ambassadors. Engage with their content and tap into their networks in order to help spread online awareness, create talk-ability and drive referrals. Remember social media was designed to be social and is a conversation, not a broadcasting device: don’t just push out content and hope for the best. Instead, listen, engage, share others’ content; have charisma, be fun, kind, generous, entertaining and informative.  There are all sorts of technical tricks to increase your followers but don’t be seduced by this numbers game; it’s far more effective to have a highly engaged and active following than millions of ‘fake’ followers sending automated comments. Be authentic. Have integrity. Act like a human, not a robot!

Influencers and bloggers, how relevant are they for luxury hotels?  

It really depends on the brand itself, who their target customers are and who these customers look to for their influence, but used correctly it can be an extremely effective route to growing a brand’s online reputation. We work with a niche collection of luxury hotel and high-end travel brands; their price points are high, their room counts are low and they each have their own distinct style and offerings. These are not mass-market brands and we aren’t targeting volume business, but we are looking for the right customers; those who share their taste and values.

We take an equally selective, ‘matchmaking’ approach to each client’s digital influencer strategy.  Again, it is not necessarily about each influencer’s numbers, but about who their audiences are and how they behave offline, as well as their online activity. Who do they socialise with?  What clothes brands do they wear? Where do they live, eat and travel?  Are they the same demographic as your customers? What values do they stand for?  Ultimately, is this person the right representative for your brand? Are they a style icon that your customers trust and resonate with?  Is their content so beautiful and aligned with your brand that it will draw the right attention and create content that’s appropriate your own channels?  Which other brands are investing in these influencers’ platforms and striking up partnerships — are these aligned with your brand?

Building a community of like-minded online influencers can be a highly effective method to widen your outreach, engage with new customers, create beautiful content and strengthen your online reputation. However, do always stop and ask yourselves these questions when you are researching, vetting or approaching prospective influencers.  Remember, this is an unregulated sector and becoming quite an aspirational career; there are a lot of self-proclaimed ‘influencers’ popping up so don’t be afraid to check the facts and take the time to filter out the blaggers from the bloggers.  Request screen grabs of their analytics and have a really clear agreement on deliverables. Crucially, consider them as your brand ambassadors and make sure they are the ones you want representing your brand and talking to your customers.

Conversely, for some of our brands, the most effective influencers have zero online presence, but offer golden ‘word of mouth PR’. These influencers might be leaders in their fields of business, socialites with a priceless Rolodex, actors, agents or producers who are publicity shy yet regularly mingle amongst those hard-to-reach circles. These can be some of the most powerful influencers, so it’s important to consider both on and offline influencers as part of an integrated strategy.

Don’t miss Daisy Bird speaking at the panel debate at Trend, next Tuesday 25th of July. Anna Nash from AMAN and Holly Tuppen from Bouteco Hotels will also be there. Ana Andjelic will be the keynote speaker.
The last few tickets remain. Reserve your place here.

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