Starwood has a new hotel brand, Aloft that will offer loft-style rooms with flat-panel TVs and Wi-Fi Internet access. However, the first hotel will not be built until 2008!
To build buzz, brand loyalty and gain consumer input on design, Starwood opened in September a prototype of the real hotel on Second Life, a social networking space with more than 600,000 registered users.
Aloft Hotels are targeting trendy, tech-savvy 30-year-olds—exactly the Second Life demo, according to Second Life owner Linden Labs. The site’s users are 65 percent male and 35 percent female. The average age is 32, and users spend an average of 22.8 hours a month on the site
Starwood will also use Second Life to hold virtual marketing events in conjunction with other advertisers to keep the buzz alive. Starwood also created www.virtualaloft.com, a blog to gather consumer input on the color and style of the real hotel based on their thoughts of the design of the virtual hotel. It’s too early to start counting real-world hotel bookings, but Starwood execs are paying close attention to the PR impressions. Since the blog launched on Aug. 7, it’s had more than 10,000 visits.
Starwood considers the virtual Aloft blog “added value.” Several hundred consumer comments —from “would love to see more artwork” to “too much Jetsons”—are being considered and incorporated into new versions of the virtual hotel—and may change the appearance of the hotels in the real world.
So what should Buzz Marketers do? You have to keep tracking new technologies and try catch them as they move from the early adopters to the masses. The brands that capture that sweet spot will become very successful!