How a Tiny Motel Built a Digital Following

By BrainStation November 23, 2018

If you stayed in a hotel and didn’t post about it online, did it really happen? If you’re a millennial, there’s a good chance the answer is no.

That’s why nine-to-fivers turned motel owners Sarah Sklash and April Brown designed The June Motel with digital marketing in mind. With an Instagram following that rivals well-known hotel brands, the moteliers’ plan is paying off, and they’re just getting started.

Here’s how digital marketing helped transform a rundown motel into a social media success with nearly 30,000 Instagram followers.

A Digital-First Mindset From Day One

When Brown and Sklash were thinking about quitting their jobs and buying a motel two hours east of Toronto, Ontario in a town called Picton, they knew there was a market for millennials looking for accommodations in the area.

June Motel
Sarah Sklash and April Brown, owners of The June Motel.

Armed with a business and marketing plan targeted toward twenty-somethings, Brown and Sklash bought the 16-room motel and got to work. A key part of their plan was designing the motel for a customer that is never far from their smartphone.  

“We knew it was going to be really important to nail the online experience. We knew we needed to make a splash with the design and encourage people to want to walk through the space and share it,” says Brown.

From the motel’s bright pink doors to the neon ‘Peace Love Wine’ sign and the palm print wallpaper, the motel was designed around what Brown calls “Instagrammable moments” that invite guests to photograph and share their experience online.

The next step was to translate the physical look and feel of the motel into an online brand. Sklash and Brown didn’t have a big budget for marketing but invested up front in two key areas: design and photography.

Invest Where It Matters

The social media landscape is competitive, and Sklash and Brown knew they would need more than a well-selected Instagram filter to stand out. Early on, the moteliers hired a designer to develop their brand guidelines and a photographer to begin building a library of Instagram-worthy images.

Instagrammable moments

“It wasn’t just about the environmental shots of the rooms. We really wanted to capture the heart of the motel, what we wanted to be about and what we wanted to stand for – the essence and the spirit of the motel,” said Brown.

Investing in branding, design and professional photography set The June Motel up for Instagram success, which led to media coverage in big-name publications like Vogue, the Huffington Post, Bloomberg and many more.

“We still invest a lot in photography. I think it’s a huge piece to succeeding on social media. Instagram is our number one platform and it’s so visual, so we’re always making sure we have the best shot to put forward,” says Brown.

Beyond Likes and Hashtags  

While Instagram put The June on the map as a destination for millennial travelers, Sklash and Brown are constantly thinking about other ways to integrate the digital experience into their guests’ stay.

For example, The June’s text concierge system Whistle gives phone-shy millennials an easy way to ask for extra pillows or area recommendations. The system also makes it easy to check in on guests throughout their stay, giving staff the opportunity to turn a negative moment into a positive experience before it turns into a bad online review.

june motel

“For example, midday we can reach out to all of our guests and ask them on a scale of one to 10 ‘How are we doing?’ If anyone responds with eight or lower there can be an automatic response that prompts them to tell us what we can do to improve that experience,” says Brown.

Another way digital media allows guests to connect with the motel is through The June’s online store offering items like the wallpaper guests might find in their room, the locally sourced toiletries in the bathroom and the ‘good vibes’ throw pillow on the bed. Prompts in each room let guests know which items are available for purchase online.

Digital Transforming the Physical

What’s next at The June Motel? Brown is interested in the way digital is changing the typical hotel experience.

“Because you can have a concierge in your pocket essentially at all times, there’s not this need for somebody to sit behind a check-in desk and wait for a guest to need assistance, for example,” says Brown.

Instead of a check-in desk, The June has a check-in lobby bar that makes the arrival experience less formal and more interactive. Along with their room keys, guests arriving at The June are given a welcome glass of rosé (and their first opportunity to share a social media moment).

The motel also recently launched a co-working space that feels more like your living room or a cool coffee shop than a hotel business center. By moving away from the typical hotel workspace with desktop computers, desks, and printers, guests are invited to bring their own device or rent the space for a meeting or event.

“It’s interesting how digital is shaping the guest experience, the flow, and the physical environment,” says Brown. “Changing that typical experience for people and making it less formal, more casual and more interactive is a big piece.”

Inspired? Find out more about BrainStation’s Online Digital Marketing Course and Online Social Media Marketing Course

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