What Airlines and Hotels Can Learn from Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Sephora’s Approach to SoLoMo

Mar 19, 2013

So, what’s happening on the SoLoMo – the convergence of social media, proximity advertising and smartphone technology – scene these days? Plenty.

Like retailers, travel and hospitality brands are no strangers to attracting and retaining customers in innovative ways. But there are clearly some lessons to be learned from particularly successful brands doing SoLoMo well, like Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Sephora:

Starbucks pioneered the SoLoMo movement back in 2011 and today offers two apps for different customer segments. While both apps turn users’ smartphones into mobile wallets, one links to Starbucks’ rewards program, My Starbucks Rewards™ and the other partners with the payments company, Square. Using the second app, for instance, customers can find a nearby Starbucks as well as other area retailers that accept Square payments and offer additional deals and discounts. A popular SoLoMo example comes from China. In 2011, Starbucks offered a free drink to everyone who checked in to specific store locations , which culminated in more than 20,000 weekly check-ins. This wasn’t a Groupon-like daily deal; it was a fun, social and collective experience where “team unity” built brand awareness and long term loyalty – and continues to do so.

Coca-Cola’s “The Coke Machine Fairy” also stands out as a great SoLoMo example. Launched in Sydney, Australia in September 2012, the two-week campaign distributed prize-winning Coke cans in vending machines throughout the city. Prizes included a $300 voucher, flight tickets, a helicopter ride and others. The goal: generate brand excitement and gamify the search-for-rewards process. Participants signed in to location-based social network Foursquare, then friended and followed The Coke Machine Fairy to find the nearest vending machine. Additional tips narrowed the search. The Coke Machine Fairy earned more than one thousand friends on Foursquare in 14 days and helped hidden vending machines find new life.

Sephora, the French cosmetics chain, might be doing SoLoMo best. The brand has a Facebook SoLoMo, rewards programs, rewards, hospitalitypage, a Twitter feed and a YouTube Channel, also engaging shoppers through its Beauty Talk community and helping them share in-store experiences through Instagram. Users share products and ideas on the brand’s Pinterest page while the Sephora to Go app provides real-time GPS mapping to store locations and in-store information. With some 2 million downloads and a 300% mobile sales increase in 2011, Sephora knows that engaging users via social media must occur across multiple channels. It also knows that tablets are not oversized smartphones. That means the successful use of its “virtual mirror,” where users can follow how-to makeup tutorials while seeing their own image on screen.

Flying SoLo(Mo?): Travel and Hospitality Lessons Learned
So after reviewing the above examples, what’s the common thread? What does SoLoMo do well regardless of vertical? In each instance, the SoLoMo campaigns were: fun, engaging, timely and useful. They all generated genuine real-world excitement, conversation and loyalty. They also:

  • Sought engagement across age, gender and socio-economic brackets: The lesson? Smartphones and gamified approaches to collective enjoyment aren’t limited to teens and 20-somethings. Many travelers are older but no less interested by these loyalty-generating tactics.
  • Two of the three examples employed SoLoMo strategies in narrow windows: Airlines and hotels should remember to keep their SoLoMo experiments limited in duration, but frequent in updates – especially when the campaign’s gaming aspect figure prominently. Such diversity will help keep consumers engaged and their wallets open.
  • Sephora’s efforts downplay gaming, but promote the need for an omnichannel approach. SoLoMo may be a three-part abbreviation, but hotels and airlines must be continuously reaching out to their customers on the channels they prefer with an engagement style, email, SMS, push notification, that speaks to them best.

With the above examples in mind, consider these hypothetical scenarios. In light of the tightening mobile booking window, imagine a Coca-Cola-like scavenger hunt that incentivizes guests’ hotel stays – especially chains with multiple locations per city. Instead of “lucky” soda cans, guests are awarded “lucky” room numbers. Airlines, too, might employ additional social media elements to their mobile strategy. Envision a campaign wherein smart digital airport signage connects to consumers’ mobile phones, sending timely and relevant travel information as well as offers related to future trips and allowing travelers to share this knowledge instantly with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter integration.

What are some additional ways that airline, travel and hospitality brands can use SoLoMo to their marketing and loyalty advantage?  Share your thoughts on this vital marketing channel trio in the comments section below.