Weekly #ColorFeels: Winter in Umbria

A few years back I visited Umbria during the winter; I was rewarded with a frigidly colorful landscape.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about whites, grays, and blues in a winter scene. But that doesn’t take away the majesty of the color palette anyway. Some good friends of ours live in the mountains of Umbria with an all white Abruzzese Shepherd Dog called Dora. They don’t advantage for one minute the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds them. They cultivate their own vegetables and small livestock in addition to collecting wild herbs and mushrooms on their walks. The simplicity of their lifestyle makes you question every wanting to live anywhere else.


Weekly #ColorFeels: Taj Mahal

When you think of the Taj Mahal, you probably don’t think, at least initially, of this cuddly terra cotta color.

Less surprising to you might be this stunning enfilade corridor. On a recent trip to India, I took this photo as we were scrambling back to our transport to make it in time for a visit to a temple back in Delhi. I had just enough time to turn back around and snap a quick picture. We’d already spent several hours admiring the absolutely picturesque scenery at the Taj Mahal. It’s really all quite magical: the pristine white marble, the perfectly symmetrical Mughal architecture, the colorful throng of visitors – mostly Indians actually – vying for the perfect selfie. It’s a place that’s surprisingly peaceful. Despite the thousands of other visitors, you actually can feel alone with the monument.

SAYHELLO Creative 7 Tips for Posting to Social Media

7 Tips for Posting to Social Media

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to host members of the Cornell Hotel Society AlpAdria & Eastern Europe Chapter during the welcome cocktail of their annual conference taking place in Rome. The Cornell Hotel Society is the elite alumni association for graduates and affiliates of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Conference participants travelled near and far to reach Rome, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Hosted at the beautiful Fifteen Keys Boutique Hotel in the characteristic Monti neighborhood of Rome, we used the aperitivo as an opportunity to give 7 tips for posting to social media. These tips help marketers for hotels and restaurants ideas and guidelines to improve social engagement by optimizing the photos and content they post. Our 7 tips include: Knolling; Movies & Animations; Selfies; Leading Lines; Tags, Hashtags, & Mentions; Composition; and Contrast & Saturation.

Of course simply posting beautiful pictures won’t guarantee a successful social media marketing campaign; professional and well-composed images as part of a strong campaign strategy with a defined and targeted market will ultimately translate into more conversions.

Take pictures of knolled objects1. Images of knolled objects

Knolling, by definition, is “the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization.” A photo of knolled objects gives the sense of seriousness and professionalism. The technique is often used on Instagram and Pinterest by graphic designers and fashion bloggers, but creative hotels and restaurants can harness the power of obsessive-compulsive photo shoots and posting to social media too. Restaurant ingredients, a place setting, a hotel lobby flower arrangement or guest amenities are just a few quick ideas that come to mind. Check out the Instagram accounts of Bakery House Roma and the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn for some good examples of knolling.


2. Quick videos and animations

It’s no surprise that short video clips and animations yield higher engagement statistics than photos. Professional filmography and animation can be costly, so make sure that the message and strategy behind the video is well-thought out with a strong point. Also keep in mind that some platforms have length and file format limitations. Instagram, when this article was written, only supports videos up to 15 seconds long and crops to fit the standard 1:1 ratio. For sharing videos on Facebook and Twitter, upload the video first to Youtube or Vimeo before sharing and posting to social media. This way the content is optimized automatically for each profile and can be easily shared across various platforms. Head over to see some examples by the Four Seasons New York and Hyatt Regency Austin.

Embrace the power of the selfie

3. Embrace the Selfie

James Franco wrote a great little exposé on “The Meanings of the Selfie” for the New York Times back in 2013 which still poignantly illustrates why they are so powerful. Selfies are simply the personal snapshot taken of a person by the same person, and they’ve taken social media by storm in the last few years. Yes, they are part vanity – but they are mostly communication tools, as Franco explains. Being such an intimate peek into how a person sees him/herself, you can imagine just how powerful they can be if a brand could sneak its way into it.

We present: Selfie SpotsSelfie Spots are designated areas designed specifically for selfie-taking. In the hospitality context, it could be an incredible view from your rooftop restaurant or a fabricated backdrop with your logo at the entrance to an event. An optimized Selfie Spot includes relevant hashtags and accounts written nearby so while posting to social media, guests can reference the property. One example of this is the Marriott Stanton South Beach which setup 5 “Selfie Spots” around it’s beautiful beach property to encourage guests to take pictures of themselves tagging and mentioning the hotel at the same time.


4. Guide your followers’ eyes with leading lines

Leading lines are a constructive tool used by professional photographers (along with tip #6: composition) to drive the viewer’s eye to a particular point in an image. Leading lines are really just the perspective in the shot and often result in a really dramatic shot. The Instagram account for The Dean Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island encourages the community to get out and take pictures of the city of Providence and share shots using the hashtag #ExploreWithTheDean, a stunning archive of dramatic architectural shots, many of them with leading lines to present the city from a new or different perspective. Leading lines can also be used to help orient a property’s location with respect to a well-known monument or building, helping to reinforce the advantage of its location. Check out the shots of Florence’s most famous duomo from the Instagram account of the Grand Hotel Minerva.


5. Know how to use tags, hashtags, and mentions

We’ve been asked many times “how do I make a hashtag?” It’s a logical question if you didn’t already know. You might think there is a huge directory somewhere with all the pre-created hashtags you can use. But there isn’t. Anyone can make a hashtag and it’s completely free. Simply put the # symbol before a word, and you’ve just made a hashtag! Now your post will appear with the post of anyone else in the world who uses the same hashtag. Pretty smart, right?

Mentions are different than hashtags because they allow you to mention or tag another profile in your post. Essentially, hashtags (denoted by #) represent ideas or concepts (e.g. #selfie, #travel, #currentmood) while mentions (denoted by @) link another profile (e.g. @sayhellocreative, @TaylorSwift, @Marriott). When you mention another profile, the other person is notified, whereas hashtags are searchable terms and don’t send notifications.

The best hashtags are short, clever, include your brand or an important phrase that supports your message. #ExploreWithTheDean is clever and catchy and offers the feeling that you’re entering into a community of explorers when you use the hashtag. Another fun, young and innovative brand, Moxy Hotels created #AtTheMoxy to let you join the party that is always inevitably taking place inside their hotels. Finally, the Fifteen Keys Hotel in Rome aims to take over the #FeelsHomey hashtag to describe their adorable 15-room boutique hotel.


6. Composition is everything

A well-composed photo can make all the difference between an amateur account and a professional account when posting to social media. Lighting, saturation, contrast, and cropping can all help take a photo from drab to fab, but if the composition of the subject and its background isn’t balanced, there’s nothing you can do. Fortunately most camera apps also have a grid functionality to help you align your subject with the background. Sometimes putting the subject smack dab in the middle can make an interesting shot – sometimes this can be boring though. In this case, try positioning the subject a bit to the right to play with the balance of the shot a bit. Consider the rule professional photographer’s use, the Rule of Thirds, which your camera’s grid is based on. Positioning the subject at one of the intersections will yield an aesthetically balanced shot every time.

There are so many great accounts out there that highlight the element of composition, but some of our favorites are Scooteroma Tours by the undisputed Scooter Maven of Rome and Valdirose Charming Rooms near Florence. Both accounts are great examples of the power of what simple objects captured with a trained eye can do in a photo.


7. High Contrast and Saturation

There are a lot of studies that aim to define what kind of images get the most likes, and there is probably a lot of truth in whatever formula they claim the elixir to be. Sprout Social, a leading social media management tool for example, claims that a single dominant color generates 17% more likes while higher amounts of texture in photos generate 79% more likes. To us, whether all of this is true or not, isn’t really important;  these statistics can help us define what a striking photo really is, and that is important.

To find the good, natural contrast and saturation, we always suggest looking at floors, ceilings, facades and even water since these areas make some pretty awesome photos. Bakery House Roma does a great job in their feed with super colorful backgrounds to play backdrop to new menu items (even though sometimes the backgrounds are more interesting than the food their shooting!). The Fifteen Keys Hotel fills its feed with brightly colored images celebrating even the littlest pleasures that await their guests each day. It’s a great attention to detail that ultimately makes its way into the satisfaction in your guests’ stay.

Any hospitality company – hotel, B&B, restaurant, caterer, bakery, cafè, tour company – seeking to create it’s own social media marketing strategy needs to understand the best practices for posting to social media – and of course this goes far beyond just posting beautiful pictures. To see real conversions happen, your strategy needs to include valuable, engaging content that draws potential guests in. Striking photos are just the beginning.

If you’re looking for any startup or general management services for your social media marketing campaign, contact us and let’s start a conversation. Happy posting!

A MOXY Welcome

This week we welcomed a new brand of hotels for the millenial market: Moxy Hotels.

Believe it or not Swedish furniture maker Ikea teamed up with hotel management titan Marriott to develop a new chain of budget-luxury hotels for the tech-savvy, socially driven Millenial market. That’s right. Ikea is now developing hotels. But don’t expect your bed to be made of fiberboard and interiors for college dorm rooms. Moxy Hotels plans to show a whole new side of Ikea and with the high level of reliable service.

“‘We’ve got to be cool!’ Mr. Marriott exclaims, sitting in one of the last bastions of the old Marriott aesthetic – his office.”

As a follow-up to my post last week on CitizenM hotels, I want to feature the highly anticipated Ikea-Marriott love child brand, which opened their first hotel at the Milan Malpensa airport on Monday! So far there area several projects in the pipeline, all in Europe with plans to open 150 properties in the next 10 years. With a concept that almost exactly resembles a CitizenM hotel, the hotels “will feature small, low-cost rooms with grab-and-go food and the feel of a Silicon Valley startup.”

American Apparel vibes for the hospitality industry.

American Apparel vibes for the hospitality industry.

This match seems almost too perfect to be true. With the operational efficiency and affordable luxury that Millenials love about Ikea combined with the long-standing track record and fundamental hospitality mastery of Marriott, how could Moxy Hotels not be a success. And it’s also a step in the right direction for both veteran brands; while Ikea diversifies it’s portfolio with property development, Marriott is able to cool-up it’s brand image that until now is associated more with our parent’s family vacations growing up than the ones we’d like to take. Flawless leader and personal hero, Bill Marriott, discussed Moxy hotels in a Wall Street Journal article on Where Hotels are Going, citing startling figures for the future of the hospitality industry and how Marriott is evolving to deliver the experiences these new markets will be looking for. “In four years, 60% of our business will be Millennials,” says Mr. Marriott, who adds with a laugh, “All of us old folks are moving on. The collaboration brings to light a fundamental difference between classical and contemporary storytelling: a historical record. I imagine this will be a popular topic as I explore the concept storytelling for modern hotels and restaurants. The process of storytelling is often associated with historical buildings (either an old property or an adaptive reuse), recapitulates notable milestones as demonstrating long standing tradition. But by this definition, new properties face disadvantages for having a “shorter” story. While milestones will always be milestones, technology enables everyday operations to be featured on digital profiles constantly contributing to its archive through social interaction and individual personality. furthermore, technology offers precision and universal access to this information within the cocoon of online permanence.

For a designer living in Rome, you either love or hate a Mortadella rug. There is no grey area. (For the record, I love it!!!)

For a designer living in Rome, you either love or hate a Mortadella rug. There is no grey area. (For the record, I love it!!!)

Employing a contemporary storytelling strategy means crafting stories from genetic history, in this case integrating the history of Ikea and Marriott into Moxy creating a brand that not only strengthens the birth of a new brand but also extends, diversifies, and updates the image of the Ikea and Marriott brands. It highlights the concept of family when Moxy marries two industries via rather polemic brands. Only time will tell what the reality is for this collaboration, but one this is for sure: these brands have a lot of experience and are very good at what they do individually. Now it’s just a matter of seeing what comes from the collaboration.

CitizenM hotel brand for millennials

This is a brand for millennials


SAYHELLO Creative is a creative agency that I founded with the hope to build relationships with hotels and restaurants in Rome, learn about their story and, in turn, help them tell it.

The story is the single most precious asset for any business but offers totally unique opportunities especially for the hospitality industry. Technology and social media have changed the marketers’ game for how the story can be capitalized not only to fill rooms in hotels and seats in restaurants but also enrich the business itself as a constant process in evolution and archive. To me, these are the ingredients that constitute a successful contemporary storytelling strategy – one where sequence in narrative is less important, structure is tagged and organized and categories, and digital permanence rules over guided decision making. In this article I take a look at CitizenM Hotels as a model for contemporary storytelling, marking the first in a series of case studies to further define and master the concept.

Dutch hotel chain, CitizenM, caters to a new type of guest – what it calls the Mobile Citizen. This person appreciates value in travel, choosing unbeaten paths and exotic locations in search of adventure and authenticity. After a long day exploring, the hotel acts as a comfortable, unpretentious but nonetheless luxurious place to rewind, reflect, and relax. This traveler appreciates replacing antiquated “frills” with convenience and efficiency, design that offers good backdrops for selfies, and a reliable internet connection to share the experience with friends, families, and fellow mobile citizens. In short, this is a brand for millennials.

Coming from a real millennial, here are 5 ways CitizenM Hotels is winning at my freshly coined concept: contemporary storytelling.


1. They keep in mind where it all began


CitizenM started as an observation: the world has seen the evolution of a new type of traveler.


Check out any of their profiles and you’ll find evidence of this inspiration in mind. The company hasn’t grown too quickly with just 6 properties (Amsterdam, Glasgow, Rotterdam, New York, London, Paris) since it opened its first hotel in Amsterdam in 2008. CitizenM’s founder, Rattan Chadha, had a keen eye when he noted a new type of traveler emerge as a result of mobile technologies, millennial lifestyle tendencies, and the social potential for the internet.




2. They defined a niche market [before it even existed!]


Market segmentation is a happy place for marketers because it establishes order amidst chaos, but CitizenM took it to a whole new level when they called out a hodge-podge of outlying traveler types and grouped them under a single term – the Mobile Traveler. They created an enticing video that logically demonstrated a need for a new kind of lodging; one that marries the conveniences of an expensive hotel with the laid-back casual atmosphere of a local hang out spot. The strategy was genius and led to industry-wide changes: hotels that offer automatic check-in and casual pantry-like, alla carte dining offerings. In the end, the brand has become easy to identify with because, well, it’s just damn cool.



3. Their killer video marketing skills


By now, all hotels know video marketing is successful. But instead of shamelessly panning guestrooms or featuring a smiling waitress drop some steaming eggs to a table, the videos evoke a sense of local vibe and individualistic personality, promoting the local culture as much as the hotel.

In providing examples, I could easily have posted 50, each cleverly using a dynamic backdrop extend the brand, tell you who they are, and draw you in. But it’s important to mention that all of the short clips that CitizenM publishes are professionally crafted, evocative and pleasing, direct and clear.

Like the video that explains who CitizenM is, where it came from, and what it does:

citizenM says: hello! from citizenM hotels on Vimeo.
So, can we talk for a minute about just how genius this storytelling strategy is? The company talks to you like your their best friend, they know you even better than you know yourself. And even more so they know just what you like when you travel, even though you could ever put it into words. Keep watching if you’re not convinced.

These are no amateur vines or low-res home videos, and there is no templates. Just take a look at two grand opening videos, one celebrating a new hotel at the Paris airport and the other in Times Square. One masters the Euro disco vibe while the other takes on the fast-paced, culture-high found only on NYC streets.

Or how about one that asks for a little help from a real New Yorker to help them make friends in their new neighborhood:

And then the one about how far we’ve come from bed spreads, anonymous hotel watercolors and nightly towel sculptures:

The videos are purposeful and add value – they demonstrate an un-corporate kind of personality that avoids self promotion but employs a pathos that’s quite inviting.




4. They take the time to give you a personalized response


Have a question about your reservation? Need to cancel or change your booking? You don’t need to call the hotel like a neanderthal. Facebook ’em. Tweet. Google+ it or tag them in an instagram.

Ask on any platform and they’ll answer you with a helpful answer. It’s like their front desk is just sitting on Facebook all day waiting to help you. It sure beats treating these channels as a switchboard by simply feeding you you which phone number to call.




5. They maintain a consistent “voice”


The gentleman who narrates all of their videos does a pretty good job giving one kind of voice to the brand, but having a consistent voice is a little more than that. With the birth of “lifestyle brands” came this concept of voice, this innate quality about a company that recites all of their public material to you. Its how a company walks and talks; how a company launches a new program or announces a new property; how they promote an award-winning dish in the restaurant and manage special occasions in the dining room. CitizenM stands behind the same megaphone for all of it’s publicity, resonating the same cool, young, world-conquering vibes while acknowledging subtleties for individual markets and genres of mobile citizen.




So where is the beginning, middle, and end, the climax, the protagonist, and the coming of age? Well, I’m not sure those classic story elements apply in the definition of contemporary storytelling. Think about it. When sequence and order in a situation are given over to the more immediate who, where, and when, and perishability gives way to a virtual infinity, I’m not sure what marks the point where tradition meets the future of storytelling. But to consider the strategies and tactics that CitizenM has introduced and that so many hotels and restaurants around the world are now utilizing to grow their brand, I think a new definition for storytelling is in order.

Waging War on Bullshit

“…and what I found out was the makeup industry, uh, makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bullshit.”

Woah. I’m not sure I would go that far.

Harvard Business School graduate Grace Choi sounded her war cry during a presentation where she launched her startup, Mink, a retail-ready concept for printable makeup. The presentation on TechCrunch went viral online initiating discussion over the innovative and groundbreaking concept that aims to disrupt the distribution and pricing structure of the modern cosmetic industry.

New technologies like 3D printing and its derivatives promise to be the game-changers, replacing veteran products with panacean alternatives that are highly efficient, energy-saving, waste-managing, socially responsible or economically sustainable. This is great. I love it. But I think the approach taken by Ms. Choi and others to confront an established industry with direct and unabashed competition and an overly-confident subversive attitude is capricious, immature and misguided.

I believe her brilliant invention could start a war against her, slowing its development and market penetration and denying the cosmetic industry a technological innovation for a niche demographic. Large, established brands like Sephora, a competitor, could seek legislative action citing potential health risks or foul play to condemn the distribution of the technology; or they could develop a concept that directly competes with Mink, easily running it out of business before it gets off the ground. Sephora is a Titan in the cosmetic industry with the influence and resources to maintain its position on top.

What does this have to do with hotels and restaurants?


AirBnB’s Founders – Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk – featured in Details Magazine

Under similar circumstances in the hospitality industry, large hotel companies have waged war on AirBnB, the online apartment-sharing service that disrupted traditional pricing and distribution systems, claiming the company has evaded millions in taxes. Neighbors who don’t want strangers in houses near them and housing authorities that claim AirBnB limits affordable housing possibilities have also joined the fight. Especially in New York City most of the highest performing users are allegedly operating unlawfully, which demonstrates the battle and losses between a brilliant new concept weakened because premature roll-out didn’t consider the possibility to collaborate with industry leaders first.

Imagine for a moment if Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, or Hyatt developed a concept like AirBnB? This would open the gate to lucrative and intriguing brand-extension possibilities. Distribution through their hotel websites and even the opportunity to earn loyalty points for travelers would really change the game for hospitality leaders like Starwood, whose portfolio from Aloft to Westin could tap into a new standard for service and experience authenticity. Data shows that AirBnB hasn’t had the negative effects on occupancy rates that hoteliers claim; the real issue the hotels have is that AirBnB thought of the concept first.


BMW Electric Car-Sharing Service called DriveNow (source: http://ecomento.com/2014/05/09/san-francisco-car-sharers-get-80-new-electric-bmw-to-rent/)

Not conviced? Consider BMWs new short-term rental concept rolled-out in San Francisco. Car rental and car-sharing has made headlines as much as AirBnB. But before Uber and other car-sharing services Zipcar made a name for itself as the members-only short-term car rental company. Realizing an opportunity to join the car sharing business, BMW created a concept that doesn’t directly compete with Zipcar but expands and diversifies the market to introduce a different product for short-term car renters. The strategy increases the number of drivers behind BMW steering wheels as well as embraces dynamism in the automobile industry’s traditional systems.

Branding is critically important for any company whether it’s a market leader or a new, genius concept seeking to shake things up. Branding is the single-most direct and effective way to communicate who a company is and what it offers. So to attack branding as a useless gimmick used to sell a product for a premium is misinformed gibberish. Ms. Choi has a fabulous opportunity in front of her; she has a game-changing idea, a solid product, confidence in herself, and a lot of people who will be willing to invest. I have no doubt Mink could be the next best thing, just like AirBnB and BMW car-sharing. But she should learn to play nice and listen to her elders. Because when she calls war they will call bullshit.

Meet Me Where Technology meets Tourism

Last Thursday I met Sorin Deaconu in his office for our weekly English conversation.

He hasn’t got any paintings on the walls or any photos on his desk. There is a locked security cabinet in the corner near the window where an ambient light from overcast skies diffused a dull blue tint onto the walls. He had a sheet of paper in front of him where he’d jotted a few notes and the latest TIME magazine where we often draw inspiration for our conversations. We were the only two people in the room except for small collection of electronic devices – a laptop, an iPhone, a Samsung tablet, and a Chromecast – quietly charging in a heap of wires that came from under his desk.

As the Director of Information Technology, our discussions cover topics on everything from credit card security to data encryption, parallel Internet infrastructures and competing fiber optic networks in Italy.

Recently we’ve been discussing the Internet in Italy, or more specifically, Italy’s Digital Competence, a term that addresses not only physical underground channels harboring telephone and fiber optic cables but also the reliance on the Internet and technology in everyday activities. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda directly addresses the issue and provides clearly stated objectives for all member states phasing development for a powerful and expansive digital network.

Not surprisingly Italy’s progress-stalling bureaucracy and chronic financial mismanagement are culprit to the country’s less-than-stellar scorecard, the commission’s country-specific progress report. But hold on a sec, I don’t mean to cast long shadows over the waxing light that’s traveling increasingly further through Italy’s expanding fiber optic network.

Internet and Italy: Decrepit Infrastructures Will Diminish Italy’s Chances to Compete on a Global Level

The problems that arise from falling short in developing the high-speed internet access, especially to rural areas and in the south of Italy, will have long-term ramifications as the global economy turns more reliant on e-commerce. Small businesses in rural areas where high-speed access isn’t available aren’t able to compete with similar firms located in areas where high-speed access is available.

The fact is that the “digital divide” is not only a cultural and social phenomenon in Italy but a geographical one, too. An enlightening article in the New York Times by Beppe Sergnini (“Why No One Goes to Naples”, April 11, 2014) describes a frail transportation infrastructure, power struggles among regions, and mismanagement of public funds that drastically diminishes the opportunities for a thriving tourism sector in southern Italy.

These same arguments hold true for the virtual highways as well. Antiquated copper telephone lines installed under Mussolini provide broadband access to many parts of the country but the connection is less efficient and supports a lower capacity. Many of the key players of the Internet today – Google, Yahoo, Bing – require high speed access to function normally, which isn’t an option for a significant portion of Italy’s population.

Within the last few years, fortunately, the rise of several new private competitors (e.g. FastWeb, Vodafone, Wind) to Italy’s government owned Telecom Italia has boosted competition and increased development. With digital infrastructure seemingly on track, will the delay in its development have any lasting negative effects on Italy as a competitor? The simple answer is yes.

Charts taken from European Commission, Digital Agenda Scoreboard 2013

Internet and Italians: 45% of the Population doesn’t use the Internet regularly

Approximately 45% of the Italian population doesn’t use the Internet on a regular basis. Collusion between traditional cable companies and political leaders delayed the development of high-speed fiber optic networks sooner. And now the question asked by the opposition is, if nearly half the population doesn’t need Internet to work, why should it be considered a priority? Especially for a country whose enormous debt has forced a series of reforms on public spending.

Italians must see the Internet as an absolutely necessary investment that will free them from their financial squalor. The benefits of globalization, open communication, wider markets, higher efficiency, and streamlined processes are crucial for all businesses to survive in a future economy where cloud-based applications will eventually infiltrate every corner of the global marketplace. Italians shouldn’t waste any more time in bureaucratic battles, but concentrate their efforts on connecting thousands of small and medium sized enterprises with each other and the rest of the world.

If All Roads Lead to Rome, then We Need to Build More Roads

Building the network is only half the battle. Educating users on its benefits and how to use it is equally challenging. To successfully establish technology prominently in people’s lives, it must be integrated into a familiar context. Considering history to be a chief competitive advantage in Italy, this intersection should be where technology meets tourism. It is my personal commitment to this intersection that I founded SAYHELLO Creative and that addresses my aspirations for it: as a portal for small, independent, under optimized businesses in Italy’s hospitality industry to encounter technology, engage with it, master it, and optimize their performance through it.

Integrating technology with tourism doesn’t just mean creating websites. It means creating a digital interface that marries technology with the core business. Some examples for small hotels and restaurants include: analyzing competitive sets and market share; creating specials and packages based on online interest; opening communication channels through multiple platforms; combining the efforts of multiple businesses to achieve economies of scale; and using algorithms to maximize profits and minimize loss. Technology can drastically improve performance by adapting strategies used by large properties in cities to small, independent properties outside urban centers.

For many rural, struggling economies that thrived for hundreds of years on agriculture, tourism signals a recovery. In theory, developing a competitive tourism sector generates tax revenue to fund municipal improvements. Smart investment in these public projects could entice developers to consider housing projects, offices, workshops, and technology-laden spaces for progressive businesses that engage in telecommuting. For such micro-economies technology is the key toward economic autonomy and growth.

My discussions with Sorin are evidence that Italians aren’t complacent about Italy’s technological progress so far, but he’s not enthusiastically optimistic that Italy can overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that torment his country’s governance. It is my own hope that Italy’s Millenial generation stand up, take charge, and lead by example, to demonstrate to their parents and grandparents the value of the Internet and its advantages; to foster collaboration between people and businesses; and to convince business owners that the slew of electronic devices on their desk don’t harm personal interaction. They only make it better.


5 lessons that vodka can teach us about hotel and restaurant marketing.

According to the 10 Most Successful Marketing Campaigns of All Time,

in the 70s/80s “Americans were consuming upwards of 40 million cases of vodka. One percent (about 400,000 cases) of that market was imported vodka, and a mere 2.5 percent of that was Absolut. The rest of the imported brands were Russian, and selling on the credibility of Russia as the authority on vodka…Today, Absolut enjoys a dramatically increased share of the vodka market in the U.S., 4.5 million cases, or half of all imported vodka.”

So how did TBWA/Chiat/Day, a marketing firm, do it?

Well, almost ironically, they chose to focus on the single, least-unique aspect of the brand – the boring, no-frills glass bottle – and really roll with it. Evidently it was a genius move.

For 20 years they created nearly  1,500 ads for the same bottle. The advertisements were jarringly simple. In the beginning they featured the bottle against a black background with the words “Absolut (insert key word here)” realized in a bold, white, sans-serif font. The campaign evolved to feature the silhouette of the bottle as a subliminal image hidden in objects, landscapes, islands, even New York City taxis. The ads successfully connected with consumers on a relatable level, triggering memories in order to sell vodka. Some examples from Absolut Ad are featured here

So what do vodka, hotels, and restaurants share in marketing aims? At their core they sell an experience, a lifestyle, or some prescribed moment of happiness that results in a lasting memory. These kinds of products require a kind of marketing that’s not only appealing and provocative but also intimately relatable. To lots of people. Different kinds of people. And at the same time.

While social media has championed direct marketing as a way to do this through crafty code and “ad inundation” techniques that are both effective and annoying, you’ll need more than just a Facebook or Twitter profile to fully optimize your marketing efforts. In short, you need content.

How do you create content? The success of Absolut vodka ads illustrates the effectiveness of a stripped-down, visual storytelling approach to advertisements that sell an experience; this approach produces highly visual, diverse content for a story that takes different perspectives, all while presenting this experience as an everything-to-all-people kind of product.

Interested but don’t know where to start? Here are 5 ways to apply Absolut’s visual storytelling marketing strategy to your small, independent hotel or restaurant, provided by SAYHELLO Creative:


1. Be yourself and show your personality!

Do you collect art? Are you a huge sports fan? Do you brew craft beers? Then tell the world! You aren’t a separate entity from your business so don’t market yourself separately. Your interests are significant and should be integrated into your brand. Even if your business has outgrown your own home, it is important to realize that a little bit of personality goes a long way. The advertisements for a certain internationally recognized brand of vodka are chock full of personality, which itself becomes a part of the brand.

2. A picture is worth a thousand words

TBWA/Chiat/Day managed to make Absolut Vodka one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time using a simple bottle image and 2 words, one of which always remained the same. So follow their lead. Take a striking, high res image of your sun glazed hilltop town, an elegant bottle of your homemade amber liquor, or even the rustic beauty of a nearby ancient stone wall (staples of any small town in Italy) slap on a simple title and you’ve got all you need to tell a  story. Save time and add skim value with suggestive images on your website and all your social media profiles.


3. Connect with people on a personal level

This is similar to showing your personality is understanding realness; again, I’m talking about you. Don’t pretend you’re a big property when you’re not. You have the ability to offer more personal, more authentic service than the bigger guys with high-end, 1:1 service delivery. Demonstrate your commitment to service by marketing your secret family recipes, personally designed tours and excursions, or homemade liquors. Need help? SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in creating innovative ways to connect you with your guests from marketing to delivery.

4. Dare to be different

For any business the mantra holds that the bigger the risk, the greater the reward. So go for it. Don’t fit any mold to be like your competition; instead lead your competition through innovation and then market your initiatives. For example,

    • Offer complimentary wine tastings in the afternoon for your guests, giving them also the opportunity to purchase.
    • Partner with other local restaurants and design dining coupons for a complimentary antipasto or dessert.
    • Implement simple sustainability initiatives to show your concern for the environment: use all natural, organic cleaning products, energy saving light bulbs, low VOC paints, paperless receipts, recycle, food sourced at 0km, etc.



5. Know your story and then tell it 200 different ways

In Italy, using history is one great way to get started adapting your story. What was your property 1,000 years ago? 500 years ago? 150 years ago? 50 years ago? Then get creative with your story. Twist it. Flip it. Turn it inside out. And always remember that your business today is the contemporary result of all this history.Absolut Vodka didn’t market itself as the best vodka for everyone by just saying so. TBWA/Chiat/Day created a slew of ads to reach every potential vodka drinker, telling the same story in a way that would respond to every kind of consumer.

But don’t get stuck on just history. Look at your business from all angles. Take a food lover’s perspective and market your home-cured meats; an adventure-seeker’s and advertise a walking tour of your favorite churches; an architect’s and tell the story of your property’s unique form. Reach out but stay true to yourself, and keep your story Absolut.

How to Own and Sell History: Lessons from Matera




Lunch at L’Angelo Barbone – delicious food and wine with a stunning view.

On Matera, English Fodor’s claims it’s the only place in the world

where people can boast to live in the same houses as their ancestors of 9,000 years ago, which is a pretty cool thing to think about. And for hotels and restaurants, it’s also a pretty rad selling point.

The cave-laden city is a feast for architecture lovers, adventure seekers, and food connoisseurs alike – which all offer fantastic opportunities to the nearly 100 lodging properties that host the increasing number of visitors to the small, rural town each year. There are a few large luxury properties but the market is mostly made up of small, family-run B&Bs, affittacamere, and villa rentals. (I stayed at Residence San Pietro Barisano – a great value, optimal location, helpful owners, and 1 really sweet dog) In a market full of similar products there is bound to be a lot of competition among these properties. And thus a lot of opportunity to set oneself apart. Unfortunately in planning my recent visit, I didn’t find a lot of differentiation. Instead I came across promotion after promotion, all offering discounted rates. Is the only way to add value to your property to ask less for it?

During my visit, I went on an exceptional full-day tour with Liborio Nicoletti, a local Materno who’s seen the town during some of its darkest days until it was reborn again and inscribed into UNESCO in 1993. I left Matera feeling optimistic and enlightened by the extensive and riveting history of the place. This is no ordinary hill town; each and every stone has played some role in its evolution. And for lodging properties to take advantage of this story not only does justice to the heritage of this incredible town but also enhances the value of their brand, the experiences they offer, and them as the city’s storytellers.

So in the spirit of reflection and giving back, I’ve detailed three key takeaways from my visit to this rocky city to hopefully inspire some innovation in Matera’s crucial key bearers.


Sense-of-Place – Matera style

Branding & Marketing

Be careful not to confuse the two because they’re really not the same thing. I found that most branding was limited to a sketchy website, a few poorly composed photos of guest rooms, and a lot of Google Translate. Marketing was Facebook – and it was hardly ever a well published, fully complete page. No other social media platform was optimized for any property.

Imagine a knock at the door. Branding is about opening the door. How do you present yourself? Are you telling a compelling story? Is it complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to understand quickly? Or simply, How did you say hello?

Marketing, on the other hand, is if you were the person knocking. How did you knock? Are you tailoring your message to whom your selling? Are you being persuasive? Again it’s relevant, How did you say hello?

Now think about your website as your front door. How does the other side perceive you? Are you clear and professional? Are you different and unique? Is your story enticing enough to keep the listener interested? Are you prepared to take action immediately (i.e. take a reservation)?

Answering these questions honestly is the start to a strong branding and marketing strategy for your business.


Crafting Experiences

This is more important that you might think. And it can be summed up in a single word: packages.

Matera is the perfect place for packages. It’s isolated. And most of its attractions draw people to come and simply look at them, which explains why excursions and tours are the most popular. But they are often operated by another company which disconnects the excursion or tour from the lodging experience and thus doesn’t optimize it for the guests or the hotel.

But Matera is full of leisure travelers. Leisure guests are the most value-seeking, and nothing says value like a package.

A package experience could be a half-day tour with lunch included and a bottle of wine as a takeaway gift for 30€ a person. Or perhaps a sunset hike followed by an aperitivo picnic for 20€ a person. It’s the big the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts gig, where profit margins can be high, operation costs can be kept low, and you offer a unique experience that other properties don’t. Brand the experience and you only increase it’s value. It’s a win-win-win situation.


Peggy – the owner’s sweet dog at Residence San Pietro Barisano with the gorgeous view of Matera from the hotel’s entrance

Your Greatest Asset is your Story

Finally, Matera is full of incredible stories, but most of them are shared by everyone, including your competition – the caves being a prime example. Sharing in the history of Matera doesn’t make you unique from your competitors, so make sure the tale you tell is a bit different.

Many buildings used to be churches, homes, bakeries, animal stalls, or made up a part of an old neighborhood. Find out what happened in your location and build your brand around it. Or tell the story about you and your family’s involvement in the hotel. Then invite your guests to play a part and continue the history, transforming them from passive to active participants. Tell them they’ll help write history and, more often than not, it’ll be your place they choose.


To fully adopt a competitive approach to gain more reservations, improve your TripAdvisor reviews, or fans on Facebook isn’t a simple – or quick – task. Nor does it come free, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in optimizing the branding, marketing, package development, and storytelling of small, independent hotels and restaurants in Italy (and with their budget in mind!). Together let’s make some of the Italy’s oldest human settlements the model for the future guesthouses of tomorrow.

What AirBnB’s $10B evaluation means to me



Ok, I’ll admit it.

I rose my eyebrow just a bit when I saw the WSJ article about AirBnB‘s surprising projected evaluation for $10B, which would put it ahead of some pretty established lodging companies like Hyatt Hotels.

But in effect, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. In school we studied how hospitality trends have been shifting over the last few decades in favor for smaller properties that offer unique, often less classical, experiences to a rising niche market – the young, working professional. It’s a market that grew up with the internet and consists of adventure- and experience-seeking millennials who are sick of the same vacation spots their parents dragged them to every summer. And how has the hospitality industry responded? Well, I think the article says it all…

Of course I don’t think this means an end to any sector of the industry as we know it. There will always be (and for the sake of tradition, should always be) a place for the stiff elegance of a Four Seasons and the cater-to-your-every-whim service mentality of a Ritz Carlton. And on the other hand, I wouldn’t make such strides in saying that the industry can afford many concepts like AirBnB, or it’s more experienced cousin, the free-lodging leader, CouchSurfing. But there is something to be said for the surge of concepts introduced by hotel giants like Starwood (Aloft), InterContinental  (Hotel Indigo), and Hyatt (Hyatt House) that seem to target a new value-consciousness that hinges on unique, quirky, localized guest experience, and less on the frills of butler gloves and pillow-mints.

So where am I going with this? Well, back to the eyebrow and how I wasn’t surprised about the article. I recently launched a new entrepreneurial endeavor, SAYHELLO Creative, a branding, translation, and strategy firm for small hotels and restaurants in Italy. Basically I design logos, build websites, and help craft social media marketing strategies, targeting rural communities with B&Bs, vacation villas, restaurants, and the new hill town lodging craze, the albergo diffuso (scattered hotel) where hotel rooms are dispersed in different houses within a small village. The properties you’ll find in some of these towns are unbelievably amazing: guest rooms built into Tufa caves; rooms with an unreal views of snow-capped mountains or the sapphire-blue coast; rural country homes where 35€ a night buys you a private room, three home-made-from-scratch meals, and the company of the owner who will take you around and give you the local’s grand tour. But if you don’t live near the town (or speak Italian) you would never know these places exist. If they have a website, it’s not one you’d give explore for very long (i.e. it’s sketchy). And if they don’t they’re probably relying on an OTA that will keep 10-15% of your 35€.

The business of the small lodging concept works in the micro-economic environment of these hill towns, and efficient management of them could stimulate the town itself relieving some of the pressures from the ongoing European economic crisis which has particularly effected these already struggling small towns. So in the spirit of my millennial-ism, I’m offering services that will connect their properties to the growing market that will appreciate them.

In conclusion, I’m happy for AirBnB. And not just because 2 of the founders went to my graduate school alma mater. But the article gave me some confirmation in what I’m doing, and that what we see happening in our industry can finally be measured against the established giants. So is this the beginning to a resurgence of the good ol’ BnB? I don’t know, but it just might raise a few eyebrows.