Inside Marriott’s Amazingly Monetized Content Studio


When you step into the ground floor of Marriott’s headquarters, it looks like the lobby of a modern hotel — a chic white lobby, cozy capsule, even a friendly front desk. But then you notice nine flickering screens encased in glass walls, like a TV control room teleported from Hollywood to Bethesda, Maryland.

In a way, it does. Inside the control room — dubbed “M Live” — are three media veterans tasked with seeing how much hotel brands can leverage in the rapidly changing digital landscape.

“We’re a media company now,” said David Beebe, Marriott’s Emmy Award-winning Vice President of Global Innovation.

It’s been two years since Marriott hired Karin Timpone from The Walt Disney Company, where she led the launch of successful digital products like SEE ABC, so she could connect Marriott with the “generation of travelers” next”. In June 2014 Beebe, also working for Disney, followed in Timpone’s footsteps. In September 2014, Marriott announced the launch of a global content studio.

Beebe and Timpone have to work fast. By early 2015, Marriott had created a successful TV show, The Navigator Live ; a hit short film, The Two Bellmen ; personalized online travel magazine; and even exciting forays into virtual reality with the Oculus Rift. The projects have generated instant success, from high engagement to millions in direct revenue and even content licensing deals. Before long, the company was beefing up its internal staff, bringing in Matthew Glick from CBS as senior director of Creative + Content Global Marketing Group and Marc Graser, formerly of the company. Variety as editorial director.

(Full disclosure: Marriott’s travel magazine launched on cooperate with Contently .)


Beebe, Graser and Glick outside M Live Studio

“We hired a lot of media,” Beebe said. “It’s all the same today. You can’t argue with the fact that people don’t interact with tradition and here’s how to do it. You have to try it.”

live studio m

M Live, launching in October, features nine screens, displaying everything from the 19-brand Marriott social media campaigns to real-time booking information to Marriott’s editorial calendar. But what could be even more impressive — and instructive for other brands — are the eight swivel chairs. Each seat in the glass room represents a different department such as PR/Comms, Social Media, Buzz Marketing, Creative + Content, and even a division for MEC, a promotional media buying and selling company. content works fine.

Ultimately, M Live is a reflection of Timpone’s efforts to build a global team and unify Marriott’s marketing teams, allowing them to act and react much more quickly to marketing opportunities. digital and experiential for the company 19 global hotel brands.

“This is a tool for people to use in the building,” explains Beebe. “It is the customer’s mindset above all else. That’s why so many brands can’t achieve what we’re doing. They think, ‘I can’t do that because someone over there won’t like it.’ It’s very political inside. ”

Communication as marketing

While Marriott is building a lot of the media business — with plans to license short films and webisodes to places like Yahoo, AOL, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon — M Live and Marriott Content Studio are still Beebe says: We didn’t get this far by saying “I want to build a media company”. “First and foremost, [the goal] is to attract consumers. Make them associate with our brands, building lasting value with them. Content is a great way to do that. ”

Part of M Live’s goal is to enable employees to capture real-time marketing opportunities. When Glick, senior director of Creative + Content, stood in front of a scrolling screen, he presented Marriott’s recent progress.

“For Renaissance, the last 30 on Instagram alone these past days, there were over a thousand mentions,” he said, pointing to a screen. “How does it compare to last month — a total increase of six hundred and fifty percent. Twitter mentioned, just over thirty-two hundred — a ninety-one percent increase from thirty days ago. There is a lot of different information sent here. ”

Then, tap the screen to track pop culture events across various verticals, where the team tries to identify real-time marketing opportunities. For example, in August, an unnamed donor offered $1 million for a pair of Rudy Red sandals stolen from the Judy Garland Museum. “That board just lit up,” Glick said.

The team quickly decided to create a bounty sweetening promotion, giving away 1 million Marriott Rewards Points for any tips that lead to a safe rehab of the shoes. One of the team’s content creators quickly got to work creating social media posts, as well as GIFs, that will play on Marriott Square in Times Square. In just a few days, it was over.

Because the campaign is technically a promotion, legal approval takes days instead of hours. But before M Live, Glick told me that approval would take two months.

At the same time, Graser wrote an article for Marriott Traveler, a popular digital travel magazine created in partnership with Contently , about where everyone can see the remaining three pairs of sandals. The campaign was a success, attracting 10.5 million viewers in Times Square and driving 4.5 million impressions on Twitter.

Soon, Marriott plans to scale M Live globally, with the sequel, in Hong Kong, slated to open on November 18. “We’ll be building in London, Dubai, and then Miami for Spanish speakers. All of these rooms, within six months, will open,” Beebe said. “All of them will be interconnected. They will all talk. They will be staffed around the clock. You cannot run a global company from Bethesda, Maryland. ”

Three Cs — emphasis on commerce

Beebe wanted to explain Marriott’s approach to the three Cs: “Expand the content, then build a community around that content and drive commerce.”

The hotel giant believes that combination is the key to reaching millennials, who are increasingly looking for more intimate connections and experiences as they travel.

“We’ve said it before — we have a very strong relationship with our customers,” says Beebe. “After all, they slept with us. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true. ”

That philosophy prompted Marriott to launch Marriott Traveler this past spring, offering travel tips for exploring New Orleans, Chicago, and Orlando, with more cities to visit. The company saw a huge opportunity to use content to build stronger relationships with its built-in audience of 40 million people who visit each month.

“In the first ninety days, [Marriott Traveller] drove more than seventy-two hundred bookings.”

“[We want to] bring them into our world, help them find a place to go,” says Beebe. And once they find a place to go, the company is confident that bookings will follow. So far, it has. “In the first ninety days, [Marriott Traveller] drove more than seventy-two hundred bookings.”

Marriott movies are also driving the commercial. The company shot the second short, French kiss , in Paris. The film was shot at a Marriott hotel, but did not have a high turnover. Since its release in May, French kiss has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube. Perhaps more impressively, a movie-related pre-booking promotion also raked in $500,000 in sales for the hotel.

“The reason we do it is to tell a great story, but also to inspire people to travel,” says Beebe. “Hopefully, if we do that again and again, they will think of Marriott when they come to book a room in Paris. We’ve created the content, we’ve created the community around it, and then we’re actually driving the commerce against it. ”

Hollywood’s approach

When it comes to content creation, Beebe and his team operate almost like Hollywood producers, choosing to partner with content creators rather than doing everything in-house.

“A lot of brands are going to get into content marketing and want to produce content themselves,” says Beebe. “They will spend millions of dollars building a studio. They’ll be filming, all of this. What happens? You get your own way. Then it becomes an advertisement. You start inserting your product. It was a turning point. ”

Marriott has partnered with many creators, from renowned producers Ian Sanders and Kim Moses on French kiss for YouTube celebrity Taryn Southern, who will star in the upcoming TV series for Moxy Hotels, where she interviews celebrities in their hotel rooms.

Beebe also rejected the temptation to insert any public Marriott branding. For example, when he received his first cut from The Two Bellmen his first note is to unplug most of the brand plugs.

“We don’t want to see any ‘Welcome to JW Marriott, here’s your keycard,’ and then a close-up of the logo,” he said. “There is no such thing.”

This approach makes it easier for brands to build trust with customers while also making content appealing to other stores. In the end, it means that Beebe’s move from Los Angeles to Bethesda isn’t as drastic as you might expect. “I’m doing exactly what I was doing before,” says Beebe. “Storytelling, content creation, development and production strategy — just one brand involved.”

A culture of content

M Live group, left to right: Max Lang, Matthew Glick, Caroline Godden, Carey Ward, Becca Payne , Kaitlyn Bigica

While M Live and Marriott Content Studio are making great strides in reaching people from the outside, they are also impacting lives inside the company. The content team worked hard to spread the gospel and explain what they were doing and part of the reason they built the M Live smack in the middle of the hallway for all to see.

For example, Glick spent three months leading a project to create a binder that explains about M Live and how people in the company can help if they have an idea or see a trending story. They’ve connected the M Live team with customer care to handle any complaints or issues, and each Marriott brand is deeply involved in the content creation process. “People are getting it,” Beebe said. “Now that we’ve done a lot of things, they’re starting to see the impact.”

Even Bill Marriott came down to see what was going on.

“He loved it, liked the idea of ​​what we were doing,” Beebe said. “He would just sit down and chat and pick up the phone. He actually went into Matthew’s computer and showed his wife his stuff. ”

“That was amazing,” Glick joked.

But it was support from Mr. Marriott and CEO Arne Sorenson that pushed the ambitious content operation forward so it could continue to transform the company.

“That’s really what our goal is,” Beebe said. “To engage all brand marketers, all brand heads and teams, and make them great storytellers. ”

By Nguyen Manh Cuong

Nguyen Manh Cuong is the author and founder of the nguyendiep blog. With over 14 years of experience in Online Marketing, he now runs a number of successful websites, and occasionally shares his experience & knowledge on this blog.

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