Niche travel marketing – suite smell of success or left at the altar

NB: This is a guest article by Peter Matthews, founder and CEO of web design agency Nucleus.

When a hotel brand admits to spending $18 million on a new website, well, that’s news (the brand later changed press material to reflect an ongoing investment).

The new Four Seasons website, launched in January, is pretty impressive, but, when it was first unveiled many peers asked why it had cost so much; couldn’t it have been created for a mere million or two?

Yes, it has a new CMS platform, is multi-device-friendly and socially connected, but perhaps, that was only part of the plan. After all, $18 million is peanuts in the context of a single hotel refurbishment. I know of a single hotel spa that cost rather more – and spas never make money like websites can.

Four Seasons Weddings launched last week with, wait for it, the following: a quarterly online magazine, a flip book, a “Real Weddings” section, a mobile app, newsletter, twitter channel, facebook channel and Pinterest.

All launched on the same day. That’s what I call an integrated digital blast-off.

Clearly nuptials are big business for Four Seasons, or targeted to be. Much time, effort and budget has gone into this launch, from excellent photography and original content in the Four Seasons Weddings Magazine to lashings of PR in social media (I’ll come to that later).

The magazine is contract publisher-created, formed from the Conde Nast mould, with approaching half the 88 pages being full-page glossy advertising; the first editorial page appears on page 12.

Global luxury brands mingle with aspiring brands, but did they pay for the space? Maybe, but I suspect Four Seasons Weddings needs the big jewellery brands more than they need Four Seasons.

The app works well on an iPad (Android out soon, I’m told) with stunning photo resolution but, weirdly, won’t function in landscape format, offering a prompt to tilt to portrait.

This feels at odds with the slick presentation and has severe ramifications for the big advertisers, as single page ads look great and double page spreads look titchy. If Tiffany had paid serious bucks for its inside front cover spread, they’d be asking for some of it back, but, then again, perhaps they didn’t, so won’t complain.

Then there’s the social media. Let’s start with the upstart Pinterest. “Pin your own dream wedding” is a contest with a $2,500 prize, but the most pins I found on a single image was a meagre seven, so not much interest there. Many were not re-pinned at all.

That’s the problem with social media; even when it’s beautifully executed, if there isn’t much engagement, it’s obvious.

Moving onto Facebook, the page looks great at first glimpse with an emphasis on ‘Real Weddings’, but on second glance it’s a replica of the Real Weddings section of the website, where ‘real’ Four Seasons weddings are shared.

Clear evidence of the level of social engagement is telling – the top image gets just 19 likes compared to 1,423 on the Hotel & Resorts page. Do these Real Wedding couples not have friends?

Perhaps they don’t, as out of ten “real” weddings on the website, there are just five comments. When you deduct the number of PR and in-house likes, comments and pins from these totals, you are left with the impression of very few engaged brides, grooms or friends…

Four Seasons #Luxbride Twitter chat hosted by Four Seasons on May 8 and @FSbridal (with 541 followers) seem to have generated more activity, but, again, first impressions are misleading.

The #Luxbride Twitter history shows plenty of tweets, but half are from FS properties (you will tweet!), brand partners (please tweet!) and the rest from PR companies and wedding planners (you are paid to tweet!).

It’s a dead giveaway when your tweet is from @deirdrePRCO or @denisePRCO. Others disguise their roots, but if you check them out it’s only a little less obvious: “PR Gal”, “Luxury PR”, “Wedding Planner”, “Integrated Marketing Pro”. It feels like they are all in it for the money and not a real bride amongst them.

What’s more, like TripAdvisor reviews, this stuff quickly gets stale.

So at the end of the day, an integrated digital blast a marketing director’s ego trip that explodes on the scene and then peters out, or will it create a viral tsunami that will justify the huge investment with lots of engaged couples interacting with the brand and saying “I do” with Four Seasons?

This is certainly a bold attempt, but it inadvertently begs the question, can traditional marketing and PR excess catalyze viral, or does contrivance kill it?

In the meantime, perhaps we now know where some of the millions are going…

NB: This is a guest post by Peter Matthews, founder and CEO of Nucleus. Follow on Twitter @nucleuslondon

NB2: Unhappy couple image via Shutterstock.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Alexa Bixby

    What an incredibly juvenile discussion! (from a few people)

    Scott, as an SEO expert I for one get what you said and truly appreciate your post as I tried to visit the Nucleus site and figured it was down. Thanks for pointing out he problem to the SEOMoz team. Dennis, thanks for fixing the links.

    Bob Jones, I’ll say what Scott was either too nice or too professional to say. The only “Dickhead” on this thread is you for taking a professional discussion and reducing it to uncalled for negative comments of two of the posters and childish name calling. Grow up and get a life as you’re a pathetic troll!

    Sorry folks for dropping to Bob’s level but it needed to be said.

    Peter, nice analysis.
    Brian, interesting thoughts.
    Matthew, you missed Scott’s point. Without his notifying Tnooz of the broken links you wouldn’t have been able to easily visit the Nucleus site.
    Kevin, thanks for being an adult!
    Brian & Ava, way to fly above the fray and stay on topic!

    Keep it professional folks — this isn’t personal and we’re all better than this (except Bob). Or at least, I’d like to think you’re better than childish name calling but your posts will reveal the truth.


  2. 5 noticias para estar al día | Blog TRW

    […] 3. Four Seasons se vuelva con el nicho de las bodas y mucha actividad online ( […]

  3. Peter Matthews

    Four Seasons is, without any doubt, a great brand, but the test of whether its ambitious Real Weddings social media strategy is successful or not, is whether it’s ‘digital blast-off’ strategy engages with the real audience, or turns them off. That’s why I was asked to write the article.

    Many in the industry will study this case history to inform their own plans. Time will tell if it’s successful.

    However, as of this morning (I’ve just checked), this article has generated 3x the number of comments that 10 ‘Real Weddings’ have. That, in itself, is quite interesting.

  4. Ava Roxanne Stritt

    From my perspective The Four Seasons is one of the best at getting information out to both their customers and potential customers in a way that is as pleasant and pleasing as a stay at a Four Seasons resort or spa.

    If you are accustomed to dining, relaxing, visiting a luxury spa, sleeping at an exclusive luxury resort along with the level of service and hospitality one gets while a guest there, then you would expect the promotion items and media to match this same level.

    Would you expect this from the Motel 6? What would be the comments if Motel 6 put out something of this quality and level?

  5. Brian Hayashi

    Hey Bob, welcome to Tnooz. Looks like you chose a lively topic for your first comment.

    I just don’t think anyone named Peter, Bob or Brian is going to be able to offer the most credible or authoritative critique of a program designed for brides. Insofar as I can tell, any of Peter’s arguments against the efficacy of the @FSBridal campaign could also be leveled against any bridal magazine. From my time in media, the world of brides always seemed to operate using a different set of assumptions than traditional media or retail. For an example, here’s a look at wedding gown economics through the lens of Pinterest:

    As far as social goes, I guess I don’t understand your argument that social media is just like a Ben Stiller movie. I’m of the opinion that modern media can be best managed when you categorize it into paid, earned, and owned media. Under that rubric, less than a week is far too small of a sample size to determine whether and how brides use the @FSBridal program to plan and execute their wedding plans. After all, if you’re measuring sentiment about a pop concert, doesn’t it make sense to include the actual event in your sample?

    As I tweeted to Kevin, let’s revisit this in a few months after real brides have had a chance to try it out.

  6. Bob Jones

    Thanks for the insight Peter, it all makes very good sense what you say and you raise very good points for anyone else contemplating social media strategy and whether it’s worth the dough. I frankly think FS is mad as snakes spending that sort of money, but at the end of the day, it’s their money. One thing, though. All these companies spending on social media sort of miss the point of social media. I’m generation x (showing my age, sadly) and to me, FS and all the rest of these suits remind me of the gen x movie reality bites….they fit perfectly the character played by ben stiller … ie the loser corporate guy trying to be cool. FS will dump money on this and whatyaknow they will have missed the point anyway and their rhetoric about engagement etc etc will still be rhetoric.
    Brian –you’re an appeaser. At least Peter puts it out there and has a point of view. You’re just a middle ground man, Mr Grey.
    Scott — you’re a dweeb. If that doesn’t translate, how about dickhead? comprehende? Happy weekend guys.

  7. Scott Crumpton

    Dennis, you thanked me for finding the mistakes and then came back an hour later to vent and in public? LOL!

    People have their own reasons for writing articles and analysis. Sometimes they’re trying to be helpful, sometimes they want PR, sometimes it’s an ego thing and frequently they want to have their opinion heard. There are a myriad of reasons for writing articles but one of the best PR ROI values in doing so is the link back to the author’s site — why else include the link if not? It just struck me as funny.

    You can agree or disagree but I wasn’t being cynical — just laughing out loud and sharing with others.

    • Matthew Barker

      Scott, you’re a) wrong and b) not funny. I found this article interesting and visited the Nucleus site to find out more. They seem competent and professional. I’d like the opportunity to work with them some time in the future. I also visited your site to find out more, but not because I’d relish the chance to work with you- I just had to know what kind of professional would put behave so shamelessly in public!

      Thanks again to Peter for the interesting article, it’s a shame people have to bring it down. Presumably driven by petty jealousy for other peoples’ airtime.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @scott – just jumping in here before this turns into a slanging match.

      We include links to all companies that are mentioned on Tnooz and would be happy to link to Whitestone if the opportunity came up.

      This is standard practice and we do not do it for SEO purposes on behalf of the companies or guest writers.

      I have known Peter personally for many years (he was a regular columnist, alongside Dennis, in fact) at the last title I edited, so I am happy for him to write for Tnooz as he pens a good tale and knows his stuff.

      I would therefore ask that given Whitestone is clearly in the same business space as Nucleus, would you agree with what Peter has written?

      Would you come up with a different analysis or interpretation of 4S’s approach?

      • Scott Crumpton

        Amazing how easy it is for some people to make assumptions and misinterpret your intent online.

        Kevin, thanks for trying to stop the slanging match. My post was simply to point out the broken links as I believed Peter should have the benefit of them for his hard work. I found them as I was also interested in finding out more about the author and his company. The assumptions made here that I’m trying to say anything negative about Peter or his article are off base. The assumption that I did this because I wanted one of the readers as a client and was degrading Peter is misguided at best. The assumption that I’m a jerk for finding the situation funny is irrevelant as I’m entitled to that opinion.

        Bottom line, settle down people — I pointed out some broken links for Peter’s benefit and nothing else. Yeesh, some of you act like you’re 14! Try to be an adult, link back to your site so we know who you are and try to have a conversation without degrading others just because you disagree or worse yet, misunderstand their point.

        As to agreeing with what Peter wrote, frankly an $18 mil marketing plan is above my pay grade. After 18 yrs of marketing small properties I can’t imagine being able to spend that much (unless it’s on advertising) without wasting half of it or more. I thought only the federal govt could accomplish that but the four seasons is neither stupid nor hurting for high-end clients. If that’s what it takes to get the business then that’s the cost and they’ll most likely easily get great ROI. Good marketing almost always pays for itself if the product or service is good and Four Seasons has exceptional quality. Additional, the high-end client hasn’t stopped spending so it’s a good market despite the economy.

        Peter, thanks for a great article, enjoy the links!


        whilst i did enjoy this analysis about four seasons latest effort to target weddings, I think it is not the most accurate and balanced.
        as brian rightly points out, four seasons is merely paving their road to their overall online strategy.

        what i did find odd – nucleus got a very irrelevant mention on tnooz about a new website for a hotel going live – there was no value in that news, though kevin explained a possible reason for that…

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          @hotelmarketing – oh perrrrlease…

          What you are insinuating is beyond the pale.

          The What Else article you mention is our regular roundup of bits and pieces (mostly product news) we hear about or are sent via press releases.

          You send me/us product news and we’ll also consider it.

          Very disappointed that you would even think Tnooz would drop to a level where we run stories for people or contacts purely as favours.


            I usually don’t insinuate and should probably retract my initial reaction as I, as you might have come to realize, value your stories.

  8. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Scott: It is interesting that when someone puts themselves out there, like Peter did, with strong opinions and obviously some subject-matter expertise, that you feel the only value is the links to his website.

    Pretty cynical and in my opinion, inaccurate, Scott.

  9. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Scott: It’s fixed. Thanks for pointing it out:)

  10. Scott Crumpton

    LMAO! — So Peter Matthews wrote this article and likely did so because it will bring attention to his own company, Nucleus. It’s a standard SEO tactic and there’s nothing wrong with it. However, though his company website is linked to twice, neither of the links work correctly. This negates the entire (and probably only) benefit for the effort put into this article by Mr. Matthews.

    In the first link instance which is on the first line of the article, the website url is “http://nucleus/” which is not a FQDN and thus useless. In the second instance at the end of the article, the link url is “” which would normally work but it appears Nucleus didn’t bother to configure their server for the non-www version of their domain.

    While the article discusses the potential wasted money for an online marketing effort I can’t but laugh at the wasted effort in writing about it to not even receive a proper link back to the author’s website.


  11. Brian Hayashi

    Peter, you’re lavish with faint praise for the website and for the people that participated in the various launch activities. As one of the participants in the recent chat, I can tell you there were a number of people that I recognized from previous monthly chats that came for information in an unpaid capacity. I’m not affiliated with Four Seasons or their PR team in any way.

    You suggest there are only binary outcomes: either the program is “…a marketing director’s ego trip” or “a viral tsunami that will justify the huge investment with lots of engaged couples interacting with the brand”. I’d like to suggest a third possibility: an investment in the future that is commensurate in scope and preparation with other brand initiatives. Eighteen million dollars may seem like a lot to a nascent social media agency but in some circles, that may be table stakes to signal the relative importance of an initiative.

    Having assisted Jeremiah Owyang over at the Altimeter Group on collating information on social media strategists for several years now, I can tell you that the journey is individual to each company’s culture and cannot be easily quantified into black and white terms. There is a cost to each program: it’s not just about putting the latest shiny object out there, but training people on what to do and how to do it in a way that is consistent with brand iconography. If Four Seasons were just another brand, they could use an off-the-shelf product from any organization, including Nucleus, and be happy. Rightly or wrongly, the culture at Four Seasons does not lend itself to an off-the-shelf product, which means their cost of production will be higher.

    As a fellow Monday-morning quarterback, I understand the urge to judge their efforts based on what is tangible, today. But talking with many brides-to-be, I recognize there’s a lot that I don’t understand. Some brides-to-be love Pinterest, some are comfortable with technology, some prefer the tactile feel of a glossy print publication. I can find no fault with an integrated approach that gives brides-to-be the choice of approach they prefer. But since the typical bridal planning schedule takes far more time than the time that has elapsed between the #luxbride chat and today, it’s no wonder that the social media channels don’t have a lot of feedback just yet. My experience is that the most telling tweets about an experience are immediately after the experience, not in the beginning of the planning process.

    My suggestion is to talk with the target demographic and get their impression of the program. Is this something that is truly differentiated from the other offerings in the space? Did the @FSBridal program add meaningful value that wasn’t there prior to the new service offering? Did the use of social media cause the Net Promoter Score to increase; i.e., are participants more likely to refer Four Seasons to their friends? Since neither you nor I have been brides (I’m guessing, sorry), I would venture a guess that we won’t know how to judge the program until the middle of the summer bridal season at the earliest.

  12. Matthew Barker

    A very useful dissection of a very extravagant digital marketing campaign – thanks Peter. Some very interesting points here, it would be good to see a follow up to explore what kind of traction this campaign manages to create.

  13. Linda Fox

    Steve, interesting point about engaging with the brand socially and demographics, Four Seasons research shows 72% active on Facebook and 36% on Twitter.

    Also, worth noting that website gets 30 million visitors a year but online only represents 12% of total revenue so brand is clearly investing heavily to get more of those to convert.

    • Steve Rushton

      Interesting – and great Facebook stats – guess just have to wait for Pinterest to catch up – a great tool. Will be interesting watching what/how other hotel brands respond

  14. Steve Rushton

    The argument is really about cost vs returns. I think everyone is pretty unanimous in thinking that 4 seasons have gone overboard on cost – but perhaps with luxury hotels and websites popping up right, left and centre its their attempt to dominate the market with a ‘better than’ than everyone else. The digital Tsunami that is their Weddings launch while looking a little sorry because no one is really engaging with the brand socially probably says more about who uses social media (perhaps a different demographic than 4 seasons have). That said, you can’t ignore any channels and so if 4 Seasons have the backing and finances to spend such extravagant sums then they will win in the end. If however, it’s a marketing field day then no doubt the financial press will be reporting on that soon. Most smaller brands choose a more proactive cost/return driven approach to this and to quote’s CEO – if the innovation in technology doesn’t make money, then don’t do it if you can avoid to.


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel