I was invited to speak at the Content to Conversion (C2C) Conference in New York City. The conference organizer arranged for me to stay at Yotel between W. 42nd and 10th Ave.  I had never heard of Yotel before and didn’t know what to expect. For a first timer, this hotel certainly provided a totally different experience.  First of all, there is a self check-in. I confirmed my dates and rates, swiped my credit card, the hotel key cards were automatically issued. Secondly, a Yobot automatically stores your bags, if your room is not ready or you need to check out earlier than your flight departure time.  You got to love Yobot! Check out the 30-second video about Yobot.

The room, which the staff calls cabin, is functional with necessary amenities that business travelers need. The bed is adjustable to serve as a bed and a sitting area. Since I am a light sleeper, I very much appreciate a thick window that blocks street noise. The 4th Floor is an open-space lounge and restaurant, which allows guests to enjoy meals and mingle. The long picnic tables allow guests to sit together and get to know each other. Since I was not aware of Yotel, I was curious if they do any marketing to build awareness of their brand. I love their hotel concept so much that I sent e-mail to their PR manager the day I checked into the hotel.  Malisa Meresman, the PR manager, promptly connected me with their marketing director, Jo Berrington. I had a great conversation with Jo. Jo made it very clear to me that they have a small marketing budget. The best marketing is to let your customers’ talk and share about their experience. In other words, their content marketing is user-generated content marketing.  Jo and her team focus on delivering a great on-site experience to their guests and create opportunities to let them talk about Yotel on behalf of Yotel. Here is the perfect example: Yotel1 Due to renovations on ‘FOUR’ (their artful, expansive fourth-floor space that includes four bars, a new restaurant ‘East & West’ plus lounge areas), a temporary 30-foot wall was installed across from their front desk (“Mission Control”, I love the name!) to block out construction noise and prevent guest dissatisfaction.

Here is a creative idea: To transform the wall from a potential annoyance to something fun, they turned the wall into a wall built of LEGO® bricks, allowing their guests to let out their inner child during their stay.

Between January and March 2014, guests were encouraged to “play for a future stay” (the campaign tagline) at YOTEL New York by entering their LEGO® wall creations into a social media photo contest. Photos tagged with #MyLegoMasterpiece on Twitter & Instagram would be entered to win free stays, including a three-night stay in their First King Cabin (which comes with an outdoor terrace and hot tub). The winners were determined after the deconstruction of the wall, and opening of their new restaurant, East & West, mid-March. Going into this campaign, their goals were simple: They wanted guests to interact with the wall, and submit photos of what they designed into their contest. Because they had never previously launched an on-property social media campaign, projections were kept realistic:

  • Press coverage across 5-10 online publications
  • 1,000 new fans/followers across major social media channels (primarily Instagram & Twitter)

To give the campaign a push, they made some additional efforts. For instance, they utilized their relationship with Offerpop to create a “hashtag gallery” website which pulled in images and videos using their hashtag, and had built-in social media sharing capabilities. This link was used in all of their cross-channel integrated marketing efforts (social media, PR, etc.), to show fans the designs that have already been created, and encourage them to stay or stop by to create something themselves. One example of how their overall social media strategy was revitalized throughout the campaign was to accommodate cross-channel “Masterpiece Monday” posts – highlighting their favorite creation from the previous week, with an additional strategy of reminding their followers the wall was still there and the campaign was still happening. Guest participation was exceptionally strong. The wall served as on-property entertainment, and generated campaign media coverage in more than 25 online publications that collectively receive 26.8 million unique monthly visitors. Online publications included The New York Times, CNN, Condé Nast Traveler, HotelsMag.com, Art Nerd New York, Examiner.com, NewYork.com, News.com.au, and more. The social media campaign generated:

  • Instagram: 103% follower growth
  • Facebook: 4.5% fan growth
  • Twitter: 4.5% follower growth
  • Pinterest: 13.5% follower growth

Overall, they reached 1000 fans and followers across social channels.  The duration of the campaign generated over 550 Twitter mentions (a 7.5% increase in overall mentions from Q4 2013) and received positive sentiment across Twitter (50% Enjoyment/Elation, 29% Affection/Friendliness, and 21% Amusement/Excitement). The Hashtag Gallery received 8.5k unique visitors. Overall, the hashtag generated 266 submissions (52% through Instagram, 48% through Twitter).

Jo also made it very clear that not every idea works.  The Lego Wall idea worked beautifully, yet the video they created for April Fool’s day didn’t generate much viral traction. She also holds weekly meeting with her team to brainstorm ideas. She emphasizes the need to fail quickly and keep testing your ideas.

That’s what marketing is all about.  Fail quickly and keep trying. There is no short cut.  Jo, thank you for sharing your story. Here is the 2-minute video about Yotel.  If you are traveling to NYC, you should give this hotel a try!

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