Brands today are in the hardest battle for customer mindshare that they have ever faced. In the past, a company really only had to think of other companies in the same industry as "competition." Hotel brands competed against other hotel brands. Car makers competed against other car makers. But today, spurred largely by the rise of digital and social media, brands must battle for consumer attention not just against their direct competitors, but against all other brands in every industry, unprecedented entertainment options, and a consumer's friends.
At The Ritz-Carlton, we have always taken great care to create and share the best possible content on our social media channels in order to further our mission of inspiring life's most meaningful journeys. Our objective is to understand the needs and desires of our guests when they are both on and off our property, and as such, we use every means at our disposal to better understand what our customers want.
In the past, brands have traditionally had to make a tradeoff between quality and quantity. Brands which choose to post more content have no choice but to sacrifice the quality of that content. Brands which choose to maintain quality can't produce enough content to maintain a high quantity of posts. We did not believe it had to be this way. In 2018, our objective was to figure out how to make more content AND better content.
The Ritz-Carlton has consistently been hailed as the most engaging luxury hospitality brand on social media for the better part of a decade. This success is due in part to never accepting the status quo, and never resting on our laurels.
In 2018, we availed ourselves of the newest advances in technology and used AI to help us better understand how to make and share the most impactful content to increase our mindshare with consumers.
We partnered with Cortex to unleash the full power of AI and machine learning and analyze amounts of data that would have been far beyond what any human analytics team could do.
We began with two AI-powered studies. We looked at all of our own content over the past two years and all content from the entire luxury hospitality industry over that same period. Tens of thousands of individual pieces of content were analyzed spanning hundreds of millions of consumer reactions.
The AI discovered patterns of content and creative choices that resonate with the luxury hospitality consumer as well as patterns of what content falls flat. With the results from Cortex we were able to understand more about things like subject matter, image elements, color, framing, and aspect ratio than ever before. Also, for the first time, we were able to understand the effect of each individual creative element and predict how things would affect the whole. This is far beyond any traditional analytics approach.
These initial studies then led to a third study specific to the use of people within our imagery, providing us completely new guidance on how and when to best use people to better tell our story.
Our work with AI shaped our content strategy and production throughout the year.
In 2018, as a direct result of our AI Creative Studies, The Ritz-Carlton invested in content production shoots across the globe to acquire content that aligned with these new studies, employing social-first photographers. We completely trimmed out our low-performing content and, guided by Cortex, understood how to avoid using that content in the future. Furthermore, we adjusted our overall content strategy to put greater emphasis on the visuals (elements, colors, aspect ratios, etc) that lead to better performance on each channel. Even more revolutionary, we held seminars with all of our photographers before each new campaign/photoshoot to help them understand how to adjust their shot selection, framing, and post-processing to yield the best performing images. We believe we are the first hospitality brand of any type to use AI to direct the production of new content.
When this is all taken together, The Ritz-Carlton was able to use artificial intelligence to gain an unprecedented understanding of not just which content resonates most with our consumers, but also why that content resonates. Through studying massive quantities of data across our entire industry we were able find creative patterns that still elude most brands. And we were able to put all of this knowledge directly to work to drive success.
Using AI to help refine and guide our content strategy does not have stereotypical results in the way most Shorty Award categories do.
As mentioned previously, use of AI in our creative process has had impact throughout the entire process from planning to distribution. Furthermore, though the initial impact of this AI work has been in our social media marketing, the findings from this work are now also being used across other forms of digital and traditional marketing.
Strictly within social media, 2018 was an incredible year. Our work with the Cortex AI showed that we do not have to choose between quality and quantity. On Facebook, social media interactions rose 450%, with engagement rate increasing nearly 900%. On Instagram, our total interactions rose by 20% with an engagement rate increase of 16%.
Our total owned audience across our social channels grew by a massive 152,000 people over the course of the year.
Most brands would only ever see this kind of increase as a result of an equivalent increase in paid social budget, but our results show the power of using AI to guide the creative process.
Perhaps one of the most powerful results in how The Ritz-Carlton used AI to create more impactful content and inspire life's most meaningful journeys is that in 2019 other Marriott brands are following in our footsteps to use AI as part of their creative process.
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