Luxury hotels need to better adapt online


Why does the digital world create a challenge for luxury brands? Journey’s creative director Mark Reed talks about how luxury hotel brands need to adapt and change to fit in with today’s changing world and advises how to best to do this online.

By its definition, luxury is a state of great comfort or elegance; a pleasure obtained only rarely. Yet the term is becoming increasingly overused, with everything from travel to toilet tissue marketing themselves as ‘luxurious’.

While it is understandable that brands wish to view themselves as the best of the best, the constant overuse of the word ‘luxury’ in marketing materials, juxtaposing it alongside terms like ‘casual’ and ‘accessible’ is having the opposite effect, devaluing its meaning. By its very nature, luxury is none of these things.

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Traditionally, luxury brands have set themselves apart by doing the opposite to everyone else, employing an ‘anti-marketing’ strategy and resisting demand in order to create desire among consumers.

In the book The Luxury Strategy, authors Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien argue that luxury is qualitative not quantitative, warning that selling online can be dangerous for luxury brands as it undermines the feeling of exclusivity.

But with the meteoric rise of digital media and marketing, how do luxury hotel brands retain their edge?

A contradiction of terms

The digital world is everything luxury is not – noisy and crowded, offering consumers the opportunity to get what they want, when they want it. Luxury, meanwhile, is quiet and sleek, a timeless rarity. Digital is designed for the masses, while luxury prides itself on exclusivity; a unique experience, tailored to the individual.

But with the UK’s digital media alone set to experience a four-year boom this year, the luxury hotel market must embrace a digital strategy. With a new generation of digital experts and entrepreneurs, the digital world also opens up the market to a new generation of customers.

Mixing the two can be difficult but looking to luxury brands in other industries for inspiration can influence how hotels tailor their offering.

Like most luxury items, Rolex do not have an online shop. But the “Find My Rolex” tool gives consumers the opportunity to choose from a selection of features including dials, functions, colour and material according to their own requirements. While they may not to be able to buy the finished product with the immediacy that digital so often affords, this personalised experience creates the desire associated with luxury brands.

Similarly, the marketing of the recently launched Apple Watch is a perfect example of how to cross the divide. While offering the opportunity to order the watch online, consumers can also browse their favourite model before scheduling a try-on appointment in-store with a specialist who will be on hand to give advice and answer any questions, offering a much more personalised experience. This technique has repositioned Apple’s standing within the industry as a luxury brand.

To be or not to be

The hospitality industry is a competitive marketplace. Every hotel has a need to fill rooms and with growing competition not just from cheaper, more affordable rivals but also OTAs, can luxury hotel brands really continue to resist demand?

The real question luxury hotel brands must ask themselves is whether or not they are truly luxury or really more of a premium brand? And if they are luxury, are they prepared to adapt a true luxury brand strategy and resist imitating others? If your marketing strategy is based on results, the luxury market is not measureable like its FMCG counterpart.

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Communicating an experience

The internet is all about communication. With a product to sell, the Internet provides luxury hotels with the perfect opportunity to reach out to potential, and existing, customers and talk to them.

For luxury hotel brands, their digital strategy should reflect their brand ethos – just because the first point of contact is via a website rather than with a person, there is no reason that they cannot still offer a tailored user experience.

As demonstrated by Rolex and Apple, far from losing that exclusivity, the Internet provides a fantastic opportunity to tell customers what they want to hear while communicating brand content.

For designers, there are always ways to convey even the most exclusive luxury brands through digital communication.

Content is key

Think about your language. Using terms such as ‘reservation’ rather than ‘booking’ adds to the feeling of luxury and help to create a symbiotic relationship between your website’s content and its design.

It’s important to develop a sound content strategy. People are hungry for information – it’s why the internet is fast becoming people’s first port of call and your website will often be the first contact a person has with your brand, so it’s important to create the best online experience possible using dynamic, enriched content.

But how can a website truly convey the experience of luxury? Luxury is, after all, sensory; it encompasses the touch, feel and smell of your hotel not just the look of it. However, with the growth and popularity of digital, there is now a wealth of tools at your disposal to help recreate those sensations.

Demonstrate what you have on offer using visual storytelling – a video tour of your hotel will pique the interest of potential consumers and invest in quality photography to show off your best assets. But remember, as the definition of luxury suggests, sometimes less is more.

Understanding your customer

Customers of luxury brands are, traditionally, very loyal. The decision to buy, or in the case of hotels book, a luxury purchase is one they have often considered carefully in the run-up to the sale (or reservation) itself. Using digital as a platform to engage with a customer will not only help to inform their decision, but interacting with them on an on-going basis, before, during and after their stay, will build that feeling of loyalty.

Your website also holds the key to understanding your customers. Using analytics to chart audience behaviour will also help to personalise your online service. Reaching out to your customers online, as you would do in person, is key to replicating luxury online.

Integrating digital

The use of digital should enhance a consumer’s experience with a brand. By integrating your digital presence with your offering, you are able to connect all aspects of your brand.

Designers want to create an omni-channel experience, where every touch point is the same, whether people are visiting your website via a mobile phone or a desktop computer. This can be difficult for hotels – the hospitality experience is more than just touch points.

But while your website may just be one touch point, crucially, it’s the beginning of the customer experience. Far from just selling rooms, using digital should be the start of a journey, connecting you with your consumers and drawing them to your offering. A designer can set up the customer experience through your website, but continuing that relationship is up to you.