I am pumped to bring you this episode, where we will be talking about making your accommodation stand out in a crowded marketplace. Unfortunately, a lot of companies miss the mark on what it takes to provide their guests a memorable, enjoyable experience. Joining us today, Samantha Hardcastle, the successful owner of “The Storied Experience”, where we will be talking about how to bring your hospitality brand’s story to life with a creative concept that appeals to guests’ desires.
Personalize, personalize, personalize.
How to double your revenue through improving the guest experience/
Adding that “Surprise and Delight” factor What does it really take to stand out as a business today?
Understanding your traveller’s motivation for traveling
Helping your guests find purpose
Fulfilling higher-order needs (what are they)
What are travellers archetypes?
Bart: You’re joined by me, Bart Sobies, and I am very excited to welcome Samantha Hardcastle to the show. Welcome.
Samantha: Thank you Bart, I am so excited to be here and I can’t wait to dive into this topic.
Bart: Me too, I’ve been looking forward to it for the past couple of weeks. We met, we did a bit of a face to face, a bit of a zoom call and chatted about all things hospitality and I thought, “I have to get you on the show.” One of the things that we figured out is that the topic of how to double your revenue through improving the guest experience can be a good topic to share with everybody and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. I’m excited about that. Now Samantha has a company called “The Storied Experience.” She works intimately within the hospitality properties to help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Samantha, tell me a bit about what you do and how you got to where you actually are right now.
Samantha: It’s actually been quite a journey to get here, about 10 years ago I started a social media marketing agency and I was really working with any kind of business that was like drawing me in and that I wanted to learn about and one of my clients was actually a hotel, a historic boutique hotel and I just loved working in that industry. I’ve always been into travel. I’ve always been a foodie, hospitality for me felt like a natural segue and I got to work really intimately with this boutique hotel and for me, it was really interesting to see how all the different parts of the tourism experience kind of connected within this one destination and I saw so many different possibilities for this hotel because they had all this space and they had so many markets. They had the leisure market, they had the entertainment market, the opportunities for them were endless, but they weren’t taking advantage of it. They had a lot of the same entertainment coming in week after week. They didn’t offer any programming, the programming they did offer was extremely basic and a lot of the things that other hotels and their competitors were already doing as well. My role was social media, no one really came to me for ideas when it came to elevating the guest experience and to be honest. I didn’t even really think it was a thing or a job that could be hot. So I spent a lot of my time going through marketing, you know having this communication power to talk to the guests and be there on the front line of what the guess was kind of hearing and what they were learning about the hotel through social media and yet I had no power to influence that and that was really frustrating for me because I saw that there were so many things that they could be doing that would then trickle down into the marketing to give us a reason to draw guests in
Bart: Ultimately you’re looking at not just marketing but massively increasing revenues rather than just getting more with those particular guests or drawing out new markets and that sort of thing and that’s where you’re finding these opportunities but you want to be able to communicate that with the owners or the key stakeholders.
Samantha: Eventually I realized that this is something that I can help people with, I’m just going to do it, I went to school to learn about the guest experience and then I spent two years on my own studying what this looks like and I look at it from different levels with value. What is the value being delivered? What are the emotions that we’re evoking? What is the point of this trip? Why are they even staying in this hotel? That’s where I’m at now, after many years of research and learning. I’ve really put together some programs that helped with my clients and really just trying to get people to think differently about what their guest experience entails and how it should not be a hindrance, it should be seen as a cost. It should really be seen as a way to increase revenues and get more people in the door.
Bart: What you’re saying is, if you’re looking at where your business is going strategically then that’s where you fit in as well rather than just saying. “Hey, I’m going to go and do marketing on social media,” which you’re very good at, I also should look at how your business runs as a whole and kind of tie in what the business is capable of with what the guests may be wanting. And then sort of tying it together and based on all of that saying. “All right, this is the marketing strategy that we’re going to bring to you.” Is that roughly about right?
Samantha: The nail in the coffin for me was when I was in Costa Rica, I saw 2 different hotels and the first hotel had this amazing experience, I was on cloud nine, I was so happy and then I went to this other hotel that based on their marketing looked like the perfect hotel for me.
Their marketing team had it all figured out. They made it look really great. They marketed the experience so well, but, the in-person experience didn’t match the marketing experience and that’s what I see a lot. I call it the experience gap and when you don’t have that alignment, that’s where we get bad reviews, that’s where we get just a lot of customers upset. So yeah, that’s really it was like that was the last straw. I was by the pool at this hotel in Costa Rica as like, “I need to figure out a way to help these clients.”
Bart: It’s becoming a bit personal.
Samantha: Absolutely 100% because I’ve actually cried before when I traveled five hours away from my home, only to find out that the hotel was not exactly as it was portrayed and you know for someone who used to take only one vacation a year. We have to have a lot more empathy for people who are traveling and especially if they’re traveling from far away, and a lot of people, they save up so much money to get to this point. What can we do to really make sure that they leave happy?
Bart: Absolutely and like you said you are only going to make so many trips in a particular year. You want to make sure that you’re going to get what you want. I think the other important point, you’re saying that you had a bad experience because it was kind of miss advertised or misconstrued or maybe your perception of their marketing wasn’t what it should be or what it was. I think that the one thing I’ve heard from what you’ve said in the past is that you don’t have to do that. There are ways that you can actually market yourself to deliver a great and the correct experience that people are going to get but without overselling it and then they will still book. What I’m saying is that these companies do it because they think they’re going to make more money out of it, but ultimately the costs to the guests and cost of potential future revenues because they burnt those particular people but then in that particular case, they can do some other things and that’s the kind of stuff we’re going to talk about today.
Samantha: Yes, correct.
Bart: When talking about how to double your nightly rate through an enhanced guest experience. There’s a few different things that we’ve talked about that we wanted to go through today with everybody. One of those ones is, what does it really take to stand out as a business today? What does it take to stand out?
Samantha: There’s a great book if you ever want to check it out. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s called “The Blue Ocean Shift” or “The Blue Ocean Strategy.” And they call the hotel and accommodation industry one of the bloodiest red oceans of competition and that always stood out to me because I get it. You go to a market and your customers have sometimes hundreds of options within just a mile radius, depending on where you’re at, you could be in a really commoditized market and when you’re in a commoditized market you’re competing on price and we’ve obviously seen this. There are entire rolls dedicated to playing this up and down game of pricing and you know, my whole thing is let’s just get out of that game, let’s get out of the commoditization trap. Let’s remove ourselves from the competition and create something that is different. Sometimes it’s a matter of positioning, where It could literally be just your branding and how you’re communicating your experience online. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking that, but a lot of times it’s actually shifting some aspect of your guest experience to say where are the places that we can add more value? Where are the places that we can really bring in more personality? And I think personality is one of the greatest tools for kind of standing out because you have to put yourself again in the shoes of your guests. They’re literally scrolling through TripAdvisor. They’re scrolling through Google all the listings start to look the same, it’s about asking yourself, “how can we tweak something in our experience that we can really hit on,” like right at the at the forefront in our in our messaging and our marketing that we can use, that no one else is doing no one else is talking about and how can we make it more of an emotional appeal right?
Bart: Of course with that sort of stuff, you’re looking to understand your guest well and understand, we call it the Avatar or I call it the Avatar and so for an emotional connection, you need to know who you’re actually talking to as well and take it?
Samantha: Yes, and when we look at that the different kind of guest and a lot of times guests get put into like these very archetypical or Avatar where it’s like this is the foodie traveler or this is the outdoor adventure traveler or this is the you know, the historian who really likes going to museums and everything and that’s a good way to look at like the guests on a surface level but often times if you want to know what’s someone values you have to look deeper and it’s like, okay, well why does the historian like going to museums? What is it about them? And what do they value that drives this desire to go to museums and this desire to learn about the history of a place and its really deep asking the deeper questions like that. Keep drilling down into what it is that makes them a foodie traveler. Sometimes it’s more about that really sensorial and sensual experience to them that often gets overlooked in other aspects just because they … usually if someone likes good food, they like a lot of other sensorial things as well. Okay sure you could design your entire experience around the foodie traveler, but there are so many other opportunities that are often overlooked because you’re kind of Pigeon-holing yourself too much, it’s really like one of the exercises I love doing with my clients is to break that down. You could do this yourself. What does it mean to be you know insert traveler type here, what does this group of people share in terms of values and then from there you can create a very valuable experience based on those values and often times when you look at it that way, you just see so many different opportunities that are opening up in front of you.
Bart: Am I allowed to be cheeky and ask for maybe an example of one traveller and those sorts of values because, for me I’m a little bit lost when I think of like the traveling historian or if it’s a foodie traveling you said, you want to break down and go into a deeper dive into what they’re thinking and what their motivations are and how to create the better emotional connection to really understanding why they are an actual foodie, traveller not that they are a foodie traveler for example, but then for me the risks really feels like you’re going to pigeonhole yourself to that one particular, you know that person like that and what about the other food travels and now you’ve got all these different shades of grey just to put them in the different boxes. Can you give us a bit of a rundown and a bit of an example as to what you would look at as a hotel or an airbnb owner?
Samantha: If we take the example of the historian traveler, for example, it’s someone who again likes going to museums, they like learning about the history of a destination their values might be something like they value nostalgia, they actually like being able to put themselves into another person’s experience throughout history and learn that way. For example, if you know that your traveler is that kind of guest, then you’d really want to for example if you’re an airbnb stock your home with books that tell stories about history but do not just stock them full of factual books, you’d want to make sure that they are entertaining as well because of course they’re on vacation. Another thing for example would be, people who really like history they like learning about the destinations and the historic elements of it and my whole thing is always how can you bring the history of a destination to life? Like the culture of a destination to life in a more sensorial and in multi engaging way. That might look like learning about history through something tangible or learning about history through music. I think when it comes down to actually figuring out what they value, [inaudible 00:16:06] run the gamut. Any type of traveler can share the same values. A person who is a historian traveler, they could share the same values as a foodie traveler, right? It’s really more about asking ourselves. What does this say about the person? What does this say about their goals in life? It’s often not a straight trajectory. It’s often a curvy and tumultuous road to get there but it’s good because it really draws out the important aspects of what a person is, instead of just labeling them “historian traveler,” and then just leaving it at that. It’s really more about forcing yourself to look at these people as more than just certain labels to look at them as people and you know, I think that’s probably where I want to end there.
Bart: That’s okay. I’m running my business, I’ve already done my advertising, listening to the podcast and thinking, “that’s a great idea, maybe I should review what I already have.I’m going to look back and I’m going to go. All right. I’ve got my professional traveler, my mom and dad traveler, hiking traveler alright, people who like to hike around the local area and I’m going to look at their advertising. What we’re basically saying is we’re asking a few more questions as to the person’s psyche, why they like what they like, what might really form a much better and a stronger connection for them, rather than just just to sort of sell them the room especially actually, how can you get a bit deeper as to what they’re actually looking for. Basically, what I’m out of this is the “Surprise and Delight” factor, that you’re trying to introduce into the experience for them.
Samantha: One of the tools that I really like to use our, it’s something called archetypes and oftentimes your brand takes on an archetype or multiple archetypes and the archetypes are really driven by this deeper innate need or innate vision or whatever it is. At the end of the day, there are only so many things that motivate people and so you really want to speak to their motivations when they’re booking. Sometimes the motivations can seem really service level in this industry. “Ooh just you know, they’re just getting away to relax. Oh, they’re just getting away to unplug or whatever it is.” but there’s usually a deeper need, those are the surface level. How do you dig deeper and that’s what the archetypes help us with. I typically look at nine different motivations for traveling and those are what the archetype shows us. It doesn’t matter what their interests are. When you create an experience, there is usually that underlying motivation. Going back to the historian, oftentimes, the historian resonates with the sage archetype and the sage archetype is driven by this desire to learn, all like that’s all they care about is really to get down to the bottom of things. They love learning like these are your people who their nose is in a book always, they love talking to people like really having in-depth conversations with people. Once you know that about someone, it’s really easy for you to say, okay, “how can we create an experience that creates more connection, where people can come together and talk about things that really matter or how can we create an experience where we give people learning opportunities to really get deep dive down into the truth and figure something out.” You get to work backwards from the archetypes in that sense. Once you know your archetype then you know that like attracts like and people are drawn to experiences that share their personality. For example, if I’m someone who loves to learn or pick another archetype so i’m not using the same ones too frequently. Say, it’s the explorer archetype, if I’m someone who loves to go on adventures and push boundaries and discover the unknown, I’m not going to be drawn to an experience that doesn’t give me that, right? That’s why the archetypes are powerful because they’re like magnets. I was actually speaking to a woman the other day who gives this great example. She said she wants to…like birds when they have to…birds use their feathers to attract other birds to them and it’s like that’s what you are essentially doing with archetypes you’re saying we’re not trying to attract everyone because we know we can’t possibly please everyone, so we’re going to tailor our experience for these few archetype and these few avatars and we’re going to make sure that we do what we need to do to create an experience that is shaped perfectly for this archetype.
Bart: From a marketing perspective and sort of pulling that back in. It’s almost like we’re almost going for more of a virals of style of marketing. You can tie all of these things together, but it’s all about that guest experience in the word of mouth and people driving that message almost for you because you’ll be pushing it out , but then also they will bring it back in and you’re creating sort of a closed mash up, close Network and community of people going. “Hey, you’ve got to go here, you’re my kind of person. I’m your kind of person.” This is exactly the place where you’re going to just absolutely find it. That’s how you differentiate yourself because the other places aren’t doing that. They’re not actually sitting there. They’re just doing what everyone else is doing. What we are saying is actually I’m going to find these groups of people and really create something a little bit more special, a better connection and readjust my marketing to cater to those demographics. Is that about right?
Samantha: Exactly, One of the examples I spoke to you about earlier was this popsicle hotline, this hotel in Los Angeles, what I love about this is its personality, its value, it’s different. Here’s what they did. They were just like your average run-of-the-mill motel in Los Angeles and they put in a popsicle hotline, which is just a telephone by the pole that you could pick up and call anytime and someone would come out and deliver a popsicle stick like a silver platter and doesn’t cost you anything and the kids of course absolutely love it. You know, they could have tried to appeal to the same market like the very LA market that everyone else wants to get into but they saw an opportunity. Probably not many hotels in that area are family-friendly, it was like the perfect opportunity for them to say,, “What can we do a little differently? How can we add value? What’s a unique way a personality packed way that we can add value? and thus the popsicle hotline was born.
They have consistently been the number one hotel in TripAdvisor in that area for years because of it, which I think is amazing because Los Angeles is a pretty competitive market, you’ve got four seasons, you’ve got a lot of really high end hotels there and they’re constantly coming up as number one. That I think is a great example that portrays value and personality at the same time.
Bart: It’s so striking especially in covid times. Things can be incredibly difficult for a lot of businesses to find something to create that connection. The other thing that I can guarantee is the “Popsicle Hotline”, is probably the hundredth idea that they came up with that rather than the first one that just worked for them. I think that’s another thing that I really find is important is that people persevere and try different things but have a little bit of a strategy around it that I see works, that you don’t alienate your customers by mismatching what they think they’re going to get and what you’re actually delivering but yeah, I love that Popsicle Hotline.
Samantha: You’re so right about it being the 100th idea because what we learn about creative brainstorming is that usually it’s not your first idea that’s the most brilliant, usually the best ideas come from divergent brainstorming and if you look it up like there’s so many different ways that you can do it, essentially if you can narrow in on your market and what they need. Speaking of covid, what are people going to be needing right now after spending almost a year cooped up? Do they need more bonding with their loved one? Maybe not more, maybe better, maybe more strategic. Looking at where they’re at in their lives and saying, okay, like maybe their health took a hit, you know, maybe they’re being cooped up in the house really did something to their health and to their well-being or maybe, they lost their job and they’re trying to figure out what their purpose in this life is. I mean travel gets to go that deep because we know, anyone that’s been
really amazing trip knows how transformational a trip can be it, can change you and what why I’m challenging everyone in the industry to do is say, “how can we play a role in transforming your guest lives’, even if it’s small because here’s what we have realized, people are willing to pay for transformation, the whole premise of this podcast episode is how can you double your nightly rates? How can you double what you get by the lifetime value of a guest. Well, it’s not by giving them more amenities, right? It’s not by giving them better wi-fi because they can get that pretty much anywhere, usually. The challenge now is how can you go deeper? And how can you help them with their purpose? How can you help them with their bonding and really reconnecting with her loved ones? These are just a few examples if you can crack the code on how to do that, then you can double or even triple your nightly rates.
Bart: At the end of the day is where what you’re doing is you’re standing out from your competitors is the biggest takeaway, right? Is that you’re doubling out by creating these experiences that nobody else hasn’t and that nobody else is offering and that you’ve managed to connect in a much more meaningful way and actually offer something that has some meaning to people in the long run or in the short term or whatever because you’ve really understood who they are, where they coming from and what their their needs are. I imagine that it’s a bit of a longer term investment, you might take three, six months to get these things in place and figure out what it is that you’re doing then the payoff is indefinite, but you always have to be on the front foot with this strategy as well you because people will just catch up and start doing exactly what you’re doing very quickly anyway if you’re doing the right thing, so constantly finding ways to to understand where people are coming from and asking those deeper questions.
Samantha: Higher order needs are essentially needs that address things like helping people find their purpose, helping people bond and connect deeper with their loved ones or their community. Studies have actually found that hotels when they focus on these higher order needs they can see upwards of a 15% price premium and the ones that don’t, see upwards of a 20% price loss. It really does pay to put these, what we call higher order needs at the forefront of the experience, so when someone is comparing you side by side to another hotel, they’re going to be saying, “okay what’s in it for me?” I mean that’s the question in our minds when we are consumers. It’s always at the forefront of our mind. “What’s in it for me?” When you say we can help click, you don’t have to come out and say it, the way you position yourself, the way you market yourself, you hint at this and you make it very clear what they’re going to get out of it. You speak to the transformation in your marketing, when they’re comparing side by side, they’re going to feel like your experience provides more value because the other hotels, the other properties, they don’t speak to this ever like go to. Maybe there are high end ones doing it, high ends ones that nail it, if you go to their websites, you’ll actually see them speaking to the emotional desires of someone for transformation and for change but for the most part, it’s really just like, “we are the number one accommodation and this city and, we have this many beds and, we have a pool,” those are the features, what does that mean for me as a guest and a visitor?
Bart: That’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I love it. It’s kind of within my business and everything that we do and when we work with all these hotel owners giving them those little tidbits is going to be absolutely crucial and very valuable. It’s sometimes hard to get away from talking about your features rather than talking about the benefits and also the other big one is talking about the problems that people potentially have and then talking to those particular problems and on a much deeper level. I’m going to wrap it up. So look Samantha, your knowledge is terrific. I think that everybody took a huge amount away. I think that you’ve definitely sent everybody on the right path to finding ways to increase their revenue and at least start to think differently. I guess the main takeaways is that you need to stand out to double your revenues. If you’ve got the same product then you need to find ways to create a better connection with your customers. How does everybody connect with you? How can we be of service to you?
Samantha: I’m glad that this was valuable. I just want to say it really is about seeing things differently and being different. The best way for people to learn more is go to thesestoriedexperiences.com. I have some great courses that are at every price range, where I can walk you through the archetypes and storytelling and experience design. That’s a great way to start and I also would love to connect with you. If you’re on Instagram, my Instagram is SamanthaHardcastle_ and I’m also on LinkedIn as well.
Bart: We’ll put all of those links in the show notes, so that if anyone’s looking for it then it’s the accommodationshow.com and find those show notes, we’ll have all of that there. Thank you so much for your time. And for your wonderful knowledge that you shared with us. I’m looking forward to catching up with you again at some stage, wishing you the best for this year and we will talk again very soon.
Samantha: Thank you so much Bart