At a recent event in Hong Kong, The Hotel Stories caught up with COMO Hotel’s Group PR and Communications Director Chris Orlikowski — who was visiting the APAC region for a series of PR and Marketing initiatives.
A COMO veteran having been with the company (and specifically in their marketing department) for over 10 years, Chris was hosting an intimate experiential media gathering, as part of a wider strategy to update press on key news with an added COMO element.
For this particular event, they had brought along their resident Ayurvedic consultant (Ayurveda being an ancient system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent) Dr. Prasanth from COMO Shambala Estate in Bali, who lead a discussion on how to incorporate it into busy lifestyles, followed by a restorative yoga class to highlight the benefits of holistic exercise.
While small and intimate, the event was synonymous with the luxury hotel group’s wider marketing and communications strategy — the main aim being, Chris tells us, to enable customers to fully understand and buy into the COMO brand as a whole, rather than looking at single properties.
What he means by brand as a whole, is that COMO as a group has several different elements to it. “As a group it’s not just about the hotels, we have Club 21 (an international fashion retailer), COMO Lifestyle (the group’s F&B arm), COMO Foundation and our wellness brand COMO Shambhala, which runs like a silver thread throughout all our properties. At the moment, and going forward, our marketing strategy therefore is about brand building and presenting ourselves as a whole lifestyle concept,” he says.
This holistic approach is something Chris has always championed when devising the group’s marketing campaigns. “I always look at other industries to get inspiration for our marketing strategy — for example fashion and luxury goods. People talk about competitors but for me I’m not too interested in what other hotels are doing, but rather what other industries are and how we can apply that — like luxury luggage for example. If you are buying these goods then you are inevitably going to travel with them. For our hotels, we understand that we are part of an entire experience, from the luggage to the airline to the pick-up it’s all part of an interchangeable process largely looking at the same customer base.”
Pushing the group as a lifestyle brand also means a holistic approach to marketing. “Our marketing strategy looks at all areas, from media outreach, to events, digital marketing, content creation and partnerships,” says Chris. “We do this by pushing the point of all the different aspects of the brand on our marketing channels. That way we automatically stand out as unique, because there is no one else who combines that fashion element to the extent that we do with the hotels, the spa and with the COMO lifestyle.”
With 14 extremely beautiful and design driven properties around the world, the visual element is key to marketing success at COMO. “Producing inspiring content is a pivotal part of our marketing strategy and ensuring we have consistent tone of voice throughout all our platforms. Our COMO stories magazine for example is one of our most powerful pieces of collateral, as it really showcases the brand experience as a whole in print format. The quality of the content is exceptional as we have a very strong team behind it.”
Email marketing is also a key touch point his marketing team uses as part of their strategy, but they are mindful to follow a strict code of conduct. “We are very careful when it comes to this type of communication. We don’t overload people’s inboxes and never rush these. Each EDM is always designed from scratch (following a certain framework) and has to be approved by our founder Mrs Ong. Anything customer facing is always approved by her.”
When asked about a certain campaign that has really stood out, Chris tells us about a six night Bhutanese helicopter experience his team put together last year at COMO’s Bhutan properties (Uma Paro and Uma Punakha). The experience utilised the country’s six emergency helicopters, which when not needed for emergencies can be used for tours. The helicopters enabled guests to reach hidden valleys and remote areas that could otherwise not be reached, including the Laya valley, known as Bhutan’s hidden paradise.
“Our brand is very much about experiences, so this was a perfect example of a campaign that offered this,” says Chris. This was then successfully marketed across all channels, including on social media, in the COMO stories magazine, on the website, EDM’s and media outreach. “Before we put together any type of initiative, we always need to make sure that it can definitely work across all our marketing channels,” he adds.
On why he chose this particular campaign, Chris tells us, “In my opinion you go on a vacation because of the experience. You don’t really go because of the hotel. The hotel should create the perfect backdrop or refuge you can have after a day exploring that destination. This campaign encapsulates this perfectly — you encourage guests to buy into the destination and then convince them that they will get the best experience out of it by staying with you. That combined creates a magical holiday and should be the role of hotels these days.”
While COMO does not usually use paid advertising as part of their strategy (except occasionally to support certain less developed markets), they do look to tap into influencers to help showcase the incredible destinations where COMO properties are set.
“We work with micro influencers and are very selective. The people we engage will have a real job and are not chosen because of the amount of followers. They are chosen because of what they do and the expertise they bring. It’s not simply about posting pretty pictures of the destination, it will be someone who people know and follow because of their role and impact in a particular industry. These people are more likely to generate actual sales — it comes down to the numbers as with any marketing initiative.”
Event sponsorships in the past have also been successful for brand building within markets without COMO properties. “Two years ago, we launched a series of event sponsorships in markets like Germany and France,” says Chris. “We sponsored two polo tournaments as the headline hospitality partner which worked really well in terms of an awareness point of view where we did not previously have a presence.”
So what’s next on the agenda for COMO? After a successful 2018 Chris says it’s all about continuing to forge ahead and build the brand as a lifestyle concept, paving the way for new hotel openings in the future.