Content studio helps Marriott corner the market on travel entertainment


by Mike O’Brien

Marriott has ramped up its content marketing since becoming the first hotel brand to launch its own content studio. A year later, the chain is filming a sequel to its popular short film.

Brands are increasingly shying away from agencies, taking their programmatic buying in-house. Some brands – like Marriott – have the same mentality when it comes to content creation.

Last year, Marriott developed its own content studio, becoming the first travel brand to take this approach. The company even renovated the lobby of its headquarters, which is now outfitted with massive screens in the doorway so that content is on display for all who enter.

“You can’t argue with the numbers,” says David Beebe, vice president of global creative and content marketing for Marriott. “Consumers are not engaging with traditional marketing anymore. Anything that’s interruptive in nature, we don’t care about, and anything that’s not relevant to us, we ignore, delete, then we move on.”

The studio is a mixed bag of creative, editorial strategy, and real-time marketing teams. Many of the 65 employees come from strong storytelling backgrounds, such as former journalists and agency people.


“One of the biggest mistakes brands make in content marketing is when they build a physical studio and spend $10 million to create it and then go, ‘What the hell are we going to do with this thing?'” says Beebe.

Marriott’s strategy comes down to what the brand calls “The Three C’s”: content, community, and commerce. Two and three refer to building a community around and monetizing the first.

With that in mind, the brand strives to be more informative and entertaining in place of outright advertising. Marriott created travel articles for Medium, a YouTube web series called Do Not Disturb, and even made a short film, Two Bellmen, which is about a pair of Marriott bellmen thwarting art thieves.

It’s ridiculous, funny, and has more than 5 million YouTube views, despite being 17 minutes long. Because of its great reception, a sequel to Two Bellmen just started filming in Dubai.

“You’re seeing people associate [our original creative content] with the brand. We’re not trying to trick anyone; they know it’s from a brand, but we’re also not trying to sell them anything,” says Beebe. “The biggest mistake marketers make is creating content that doesn’t provide value. If it’s all about you, nobody’s going to watch it.”

In addition to creating its own content, Marriott has also mastered a level of influencer marketing that’s quite popular right now. For Beebe, the key to that has been to build long-term relationships, rather than work with an influencer once, and giving them a lot of creative control, which is a surefire way to get an influencer to want to work with your brand again.

“What happens when brands try to create their own content in-house at scale, they often get in their own way and it becomes a commercial and an advertisement,” says Beebe. “You have to partner with the creative community, get out of their way, take some risks, and let them do what they do best, which is tell stories.”

To reach a younger audience, Marriott has handed its account over to popular Snapchatters. The brand has also partnered with Jack Harris, a travel vlogger known as JacksGap, who has more than 4 million YouTube subscribers.

In his three Marriott videos, Harris wears a camera jerry-rigged onto a bike helmet and shares first-person accounts of spending 24 hours in Tokyo, Istanbul, and New Orleans. Obviously Harris is staying at the Marriott in each of these cities, so the hotel logo does make a few appearances, but it’s subtle enough not to come across as branding.

Instead, you see what there is to do in New Orleans or how beautiful Istanbul is. The brand message is passively slipped in at the very end; “Oh – by the way – you can visit these cities and stay at the Marriott.”

“We’re trying to inspire people to travel, to think about traveling. Hopefully they’ll remember our content and think about us, the next time they go to book,” says Beebe.

The aim of the content strategy is ultimately to engender loyalty, something that’s inherent to the brand’s culture.

“We’re in the hospitality business; we take care of people and have a very intimate relationship with our customers,” said Beebe, at the recent Contently Summit in New York City.

“They sleep with us, after all,” he added as the room erupted with giggles (because everyone attending the Contently Summit was 12 years old).

Key takeaways

With its own studio, Marriott is one brand with a great content strategy. Want to imitate it? Here are five dos and don’ts.

1. Do develop relationships with the talent. You can work with an influencer once, but by building and maintaining relationships, you can also work with them in the future.

2. Don’t integrate your content into existing ideas. Come up with new, fresh ideas.

3. Do try new things. You never know what’s going to stick and you’ll never find out if you don’t risk failure and try things. Marriott couldn’t have been sure that its film about crime-fighting bellmen would be so well received, after all.

4. Do silo your budget. That way, you’re better able to dedicate a portion to experiential projects, allowing you to try new things.

5. Don’t be so heavy-handed with your branding. Seriously, nobody likes pushy, overly aggressive branding. Engage now – sell later.