In an era where the “it” place can be replaced overnight and cool factor is a transient currency, the need to stay on the pulse of the conversation has become more important than ever in the hospitality and retail industries. After all, street credibility — no matter how subjective — can be the determining factor between a hot spot and a “not” spot.
Today’s guests are looking for more than a memorable hotel stay or night out: they want experiences, they want to be part of a movement (by association), and they want digital proof that they’ve been to said location via their social media. The ultimate KPI of cool? Social media metrics such as how many times a brand or place is shared or tagged on Instagram.
Enter: the importance of strong branding. One hotel chain that’s garnering press accolades and Insta cred is the Moxy, whose two most recent New York City locations have been getting all the right buzz. Of course criteria like design, customer service and district or area are critical when it comes to a hotel’s success, but if you’re also leveraging of-the-moment trends, partnering with key influencers and being ultra strategic in your marketing, then your establishment’s cool factor can reach next-level heights.
The Moxy locations have already received praise in publications like The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Architectural Digest, and Forbes, which featured Moxy Chelsea in this article,“Behind The Blooms: Inside The New Moxy Chelsea.”
In addition to the press accolades, Instagram users likely caught images of celebrities like Harry Styles, Kendall Jenner, Taylor Swift, and Gigi and Bella Hadid at the Moxy Chelsea’s rooftop bar, the aptly named Fleur Room, as the Met Gala and MTV VMA afterparties were both held at the venue. Essentially, if Sex and the City were on the air today, the ladies would have had blossom-infused cosmos in the Fleur Room’s opulent space.
I spoke to Lauren Levin, Chief Marketing Officer at Lightstone / Moxy Hotels, about the branding strategy that helped the Moxy create marketing magic. As an executive who has specialized in marketing and communications, specifically in the realm of hospitality for over a decade, Levin’s passion for branding and hotel management have helped hotel names like the Moxy stay on the pulse of the conversation.
Levin explains: “To position your hotel as an ‘It’ hotel, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. I’d posit most, if not all the tactics you use, should boil down to a simple formula.” (Of course, these tactics and formula can also apply to a retailer or any brand looking to create buzz and then amplifying its messaging.)
This is the formula she shares:
First: Create noteworthy content. “This can be anything from an innovative guest experience that responds to a market trend or need, to simply creating an Instagrammable moment on site.”
Second: Amplify that content by targeting the right amplifiers. “This includes bloggers, celebrities, influencers, and journalists.”
Lastly: Lather, rinse & repeat. “Keep this cycle going. To gain relevancy, you need to keep doing things and getting them out there — otherwise you risk no longer being top of mind.”
It’s one thing to create buzz, but in a time when trends are fleeting and we’re distracted by new content daily, maintaining momentum is critical. Here are some ways to maintain a hotel’s cool factor, according to Levin:
1- Constantly innovate: “To maintain relevancy, you need to continue to innovate the guest experience. For example, at Moxy Times Square, which we opened with a couple of celeb-studded parties in 2017, it was important to maintain PR and social media momentum in year two – often by participating in cultural events, but in our own Moxy way. So to celebrate New York Fashion Week in fall 2018, we created Moxy’s Fashion Fun House, an immersive two-day experience where the meeting studios located in Bar Moxy — Moxy Times Square’s second floor lobby — were transformed into a fashion playground. We know our audience craves novelty brand experiences and social moments, and the Funhouse pop-up was the perfect way to bring this to life.”
2- Create and do it for the ‘gram: “We invited editors from Refinery29 to attend the Moxy Fashion Fun House, and they brought along some top influencers. We ended up on @FoMoFeed — NYC’s “Culture Curator” — which brought even more locals looking for fun at a Fashion Week event they could attend, as opposed to an exclusive event, and of course shoot for their IG content. Those two days were our best days on social, in terms of engagement with the hotel and the amount of followers gained!”
3- Choose the right partners: “This year, at Spring Fashion Week, we tapped famed celebrity tattoo artist JonBoy to take up residency in the lobby of Bar Moxy at our Times Square location, providing an unexpected, slightly voyeuristic guest experience. In familiar JonBoy fashion, an Instagrammable curtain backdrop provides an epic photo moment for clients to show off their new ink.”
The point about choosing the right partners goes even further.
For each Moxy hotel, the marketing team was intentional about the partners it chose to work with. In the case of Moxy Chelsea, the hotel partnered with trendy floral design company Putnam & Putnam, to transform Moxy’s entrance into a flower boutique — also an ode to the hotel’s floral-centric, “Secret Garden” theme. Putnam & Putnam’s couture approach to floral arrangements has made them a staple at celebrity weddings, including the nuptials of Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk, and also makes for a highly Instagrammable, impactful moment whether you’re walking into the hotel or simply passing by the city’s flower district. The Putman & Putnam kiosk in the Moxy Chelsea lobby also sells Lord Jones, the CBD-infused brand of candies, lotions and tinctures getting buzz thanks in part to its elevated branding.
The Moxy also found the right partners in the TAO Group (whose high-profile portfolio includes LAVO, Beauty & Essex and Marquee) to helm the food and beverage component in its hotels, such as Egghead and Bar Moxy at Moxy Times Square, and Feroce Restaurant at Moxy Chelsea.
4- Be dialed into the trends of the moment: “For the grand opening of Moxy Chelsea, we threw an ‘Avant Garden’ themed party and leveraged the grand opening to activate a one-night A.S.M.R. (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) pop-up experience. The event also integrated one of our defining amenities, Bedtime Stories, which guests of Moxy properties can access through their hotel room phone. ASMR was a trend we’d been following, and as the video content helps people fall asleep — it seemed like a no-brainer to extend our Bedtime Story series onto our TVs and be the first hotel to offer ASMR videos in its rooms.”
Levin and her team took the ASMR trend further, by creating original content and amplifying it via key influencers.
“With participation from influencers who also attended the event, Dani and Bella Thorne and Caroline Vreeland, we developed limited-edition Bedtime Story ASMR Videos, which the influencers starred in and all Moxy guests can now watch during their stay. Here we applied the formula of identifying a guest need — the need to fall asleep while on the road — adding an on-trend or innovative solution with ASMR videos, and amplifying the content, via Bella and Dani Thorne and Carolyn Vreeland).”
As a final note, bookmark the below cheat sheet that Levin shared, as a reference when evaluating a marketing initiative — if at least one of them is a “yes,” then it might be an idea worth pursuing:
“I like to ask myself the following three questions, that serve as an internal cheat sheet, I learned from my mentor when working at Kimpton Hotels:
1) Will it make money? Will it push a higher room rate or drive more revenue to the retail or Food & Beverage outlets in the hotel?
2) Does it strengthen a guest’s connection to the brand? In terms of Moxy, this may mean creating loyalty or instilling a sense of play for our guests.
3) If it doesn’t make money or strengthen brand connection, does it at least drive brand cachet? Aka the ‘cool’ factor.”
Lightstone is certainly extending the cool factor with its next Moxy opening, Moxy East Village, which is set to open in mid-September. As well, Lightstone is currently developing Moxy hotels in New York City’s Lower East Side and Williamsburg neighborhoods, South Beach, Miami, and Downtown Los Angeles, so we’ll surely be treated to more boundary-pushing content as more locations open.