When you think about Marriott, the hotel chain, chances are the first word you associate with the brand is not “publisher.” And yet, the company is attempting to rebrand itself as a media entity, in a move that’s emblematic of a broader trend in content marketing.
Marriott on Monday unveiled “Marriott Traveler,” its new digital publication for travel content. Developed by Marriott’s Creative and Content Studio, the magazine will feature city-specific fare with a focus on regional art, music, fashion, wellness, family, food and drink, all curated weekly by staff, digital influencers as well as local experts.
The first edition was a dive into New Orleans, featuring articles with titles like “Art After Dark in New Orleans” and “5 Places to Take Your Little Theater Geek in New Orleans.” Other recent content produced by the hotel company has included virtual reality gimmickry and even a feature film.
“Marriott.com is essentially our in-built media platform and will be our content hub,” said David Beebe, Marriott’s vp of content and creative marketing. “We want to use it to provide value to our consumers without directly selling something to them; we want to engage with them on their terms.”
And Marriott is hardly alone in its recent publishing posturing. In November, Airbnb launched its own quarterly magazine, Pineapple. Last month, Starbucks announced that it would be brewing long-form documentaries about social issues apart from its coffee. Red Bull, GE, Amex and Dell are all peddling content alongside their main products.
“Now that traditional media are not the gatekeepers and brands have the resources and technology to get in on the action, why wouldn’t they?” asked Jessica Lee, founder of content-services company Bizzbuzzcontent.
“Marriott and Starbucks are just the start,” said Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi. “We are anticipating that in 10 years, the majority of online media (outside of user-generated content) will come from non-media companies.”
The strategy is not without its risks. Verizon folded its Wired-inspired tech lifestyle website SugarString within two months because the company couldn’t articulate where it fit in with the company’s overall marketing goals.
“Most [brands] don’t have the patience to make this happen,” said Pulizzi. “Most brands are seeking immediate rewards — more leads, shorter sales cycles.”
But ask any publisher, and they’ll tell you: Immediate rewards are hard to come by. For a brand to become a legitimate publisher in its own right requires an investment in time, people, workflow, platforms and tools and technology. The content needs to add value to the customers, be pushed out into the correct pipelines consistently and be distributed across the right channels.“Content marketing is a marathon; it’s not a sprint,” said Lisa LaCour, vp of global marketing at content-recommendation platform Outbrain.
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“The biggest mistake is thinking that they can do it without busting their silos,” Tosca Fasso, Huge’s director of content strategy, added. “They need to understand that there has to be a fundamental change in the way they do business.”
Since its content studio’s inception in September last year, Marriott has produced a slate of TV shows, Web series and even a feature film. It plans to publish bylined content from a network of writers on the new digital property weekly and has also roped in former journalists and writers for it, including Marc Graser from Variety and freelance travel journalist Wayne Curtis.
“While content may be cheaper to produce because of the prevalence of social and digital media, the stakes are higher,” said Altimeter analyst Rebecca Lieb. “The travel space is highly commoditized, and differentiating is going to be a challenge.”
Image courtesy of Marriott.