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.