Universal Orlando’s Mandy Penn on Immersive Experiences and Brand Ambassadors

In the more than 10 years that Mandy Penn has been with Universal Orlando Resort — rising from manager to her current position as senior director of marketing — she’s been part of a wholesale revolution in hospitality marketing that emphasizes immersive experiences and multiplatform brand engagement. Recently we asked Penn — who is a member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board — to talk about all of that, including what might be next. 

What recent trends do you see coming down the line that will impact hotels on the marketing front?

So much of the traveler’s expectations, wants, and needs are changing, and the pull to truly get away is more important than ever before. As our day-to-day lives are busier than ever and vacation times less frequent, the need to completely disconnect and soak in every minute of our vacations become more important. More and more guests are looking for truly immersive experiences. Immersive can be definable. It can wrap our guests in a theme or a locale, deliver on a lifestyle or goal, or provide a complete escape.

Lots of great hotels are tying these experiences to local food-and-drink pairings, adventure experiences, or even character theming like the “Despicable Me” kids suites at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel for those Minion lovers visiting Universal Orlando Resort. Guests can stay in igloo hotels to watch the northern lights, or travel back in time with events and festivities that honor the traditions of simpler times. A great hotel no longer wins if it beats the competition in room appeal, great F&B, or even location. It’s the experience the guest can’t get anywhere else that leads their choices.

How can you turn your hotel staff into brand ambassadors?

As more consumers turn to word of mouth as marketing they can trust, the best advocates for your brand and product are your employees. Employees that are inspired by and feel connected to your brand will become your best asset and act as your brand ambassadors. This can start with Day 1. All orientations and job trainings must begin at the brand level before even getting to the day-to-day job responsibilities. Employees need to see how they fit into the culture and how they deliver exceptional experiences, and how guests take back those experiences to their realities. Employees want to make an impact, and tourism employees make an impact on people’s lives that they will remember forever.

If your company doesn’t have a brand vision, mission, and charters that each employee knows as their mission to deliver, that is the first step. Develop these points of light that all employees can support and work toward. Then create different events and weeks throughout the year that prop up the charters. An example would be a “Spirit Week,” where everyone is reminded how they impact our guests every day. Show them how their daily interactions support marketing and advertising. Never stop talking, training, and living these values.

Another great way to help them spread the word is to create shareable content that allows them to show their pride for their company. Spread the word by capturing your employees doing socially conscious activities, volunteer events, and more. This helps them show how the brand betters their lives while they are bettering the guests’ experiences. Brand ambassadors are not recruited, they are won over. They organically are engaged and support the brand. These are the people that go out of their way to ensure the brand name and image is defended. These are the people who are engaged with your brand, and these people are your employees!

Categories: Marketing, Digital
Insight Type: