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eMarketing Muse By Scott  van Hartesvelt
Scott van Hartesvelt, president, GCommerce Solutions

Dinosaurs, hotels and oatmeal

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Bold marketing occurs at the intersection of passion and strategy. Content marketing is no different. The best content strategies involve something personal, something passionate and a commitment to a larger idea. After all, hotels don’t just need to offer a bed where weary travelers can lay their heads. There can be a greater narrative to appeal to consumers. This is the story of one of those hotels.

Enter Greg and Meredith Tally, the owners of the Best Western Denver Southwest. Last year, they began a multimillion-dollar renovation to their resort-style property. Leading up to the renovation, they became inspired by the rich dinosaur history of their local area, including humanity’s first look at the giant dinosaurs of the late Jurassic world. Seeing a unique marketing angle and an opportunity to marry their love of science with their love of the hotel, they created a natural history-themed renovation and natural history museum on the premises. “We will be a storied institution of exploration and learning,” proclaimed Greg Tally, adding, “the whole hotel will have a feel that will appeal to anyone with a love of science and natural history.” While the renovation itself is substantial, including an early and heavy commitment to improving the room product, some other fun aspects include:

  • Dinosaur fossils and casts in the lobby 
  • Dinosaur-themed heated pool
  • Fossil exhibits
  • Dinosaur-themed statues and artwork
  • Dig panel sand boxes and interactive, family-friendly science seminars

As you can tell, this property will be like no other in the Best Western portfolio. Its renovation has created the foundation of a unique and powerful narrative. 

Speaking with the husband and wife owners, I found them to be refreshingly self-reflective about their process and their hotel. “This hotel is about storytelling,” they told me. “It’s not about us — it’s about what’s around us. At our very best, we put ourselves second and everyone else first, because we realize our glory is reflected glory.”

Their passion — including passion for their team members — is obvious, though their marketing process is a little more subtle. They are hugely committed to telling the story of their area, Dinosaur Ridge, and the transformation of their hotel. However, they are taking a less traditional and, frankly, more effective route to tell that story.

Fast-forward to January 28, 2013. With the renovation still a few months away from completion, their content marketing program got a tremendous boost from an unusual source. For years now, a brilliant man named Matthew Inman has developed a huge online following for his website, theoatmeal.com. You may have seen his funny and insightful comics on subjects ranging from “Why working from home is both awesome and horrible” to “How a web design goes straight to hell.” His website now ranks on Alexa as the 1,684th most popular site in the United States. For comparison purposes, bestwestern.com is ranked 2,895th

Matthew has supported fundraising for the Tesla Museum, and last year offered to write and publish a custom comic for any business that donated US$33,000 or more to the museum. When presented with the opportunity, the Greg and Meredith Tally “hesitated for about 30 seconds, then pulled out the American Express Gold Card.” Ultimately they made a US$35,000 donation to further show their support of the program. The Oatmeal, true to its word, collaborated with the Tallys to build a story/comic about the rich history of the area and the rebirth of the hotel and natural history museum. The website waited for the perfect timing, and on January 28 The Oatmeal published a funny and fascinating piece. At the end of the piece, Matthew asked that people follow the property on Facebook. In 48 hours, more than 35,000 new people became fans. 35,000 in 48 hours!

The Tally’s made the donation both because they felt strongly about the Tesla Museum and because they felt they would get exposure for their area, and their project. But the satisfaction of making the donation was enough. “We wanted to prove to people that we are worthy of this attention,” Meredith Tally said. “We love this project and know others will too. If we had given the donation to Tesla and gotten zero return, it would still have been a great thing to do that we would have been very proud of.” 

Greg added, “But let’s be honest. Without Matt Inman offering up his powerful brand and being able to realize that potential, we would have given far less. We knew we would benefit greatly from this donation. The important thing in this is to be absolutely transparent about our motives.”

Growing its audience was just one aspect of the content strategy for the hotel. It is prolific in its use of Twitter, it interacts seemingly hourly with its Facebook community, it is going to publish a blog and it just held a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Not every hotel can duplicate the strategy and effort of the Best Western Denver Southwest, but this story encourages us to step outside the standard marketing playbook. 

Bold marketing occurs at the intersection of passion and strategy. The strategy was clear. Build a hotel so unique, so tied to the rich history of the area that the marketing will rise above the noise and place the hotel in a segment of one.

Greg and Meredith Tally were asked the following in their Reddit chat:

Do you expect to get your money back with the publicity generated, or is it truly an act of kindness (and Tesla!)? Because that’s a lot of money to say goodbye to. P.S. If I ever go to Denver I am definitely staying at your hotel!

Their answer:

“All of the above. We were able to give greatly, and we will be rewarded tenfold. It was a pure win, all around. Philanthropy can still do great good, even when it’s driven by enlightened self-interest. And yay! We look forward to your stay.”

Bravo, Greg and Meredith!

2/4/2013

 
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