Lead Agency


Contributing Company



The Challenge

Marriott Europe’s heritage is both a strength and a weakness. It has been one of the most prominent hotel brands in Europe for over 30 years. While its legacy is a strength for Baby Boomer and Gen X travelers, it becomes a hindrance among the growing number of younger, tech-savvy business travelers.

For this younger audience, business travel is a signifier of success and so their choice of hotel is a reflection of this success. Marriott as the traditional stalwart, found it was losing bookings from this group to younger hospitality brands that offered more modern facilities and enjoyed a more innovative brand image.

The challenge was therefore to drive reappraisal and grow affinity with this audience of younger tech-savvy business travelers.

The original client strategy was to meet this challenge by branding content consumed by this younger audience.

Marriott became a sponsor of TEDx talks across Europe and briefed us to amplify the talks to drive brand affinity.

We believed however that a different approach was needed. We convinced Marriott to think differently and rather than amplify someone else’s story, become the story that their audience would talk about.

The Strategy

Our strategy stemmed from an insight that this younger business traveler audience comprised two subsets; the ‘Wannabes’ and the ‘Real Deal’.
At the core of Marriott’s desired audience were the start-up entrepreneurs – the people who were taking risks, building businesses and driving tech innovation. We called this group the ‘Real Deal’. The remaining majority aspired to emulate this core of entrepreneurs, but ultimately they were dreamers. We called them the ‘Wannabes’.

The difference between the two is distilled in this quote by Real Deal King, Mark Zuckerberg: “Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work hard at it.”

If Marriott could appeal to the ‘Real Deal’ core of entrepreneurs, they would win over the wider tech-engaged audience.

We argued that sponsoring TEDx talks about innovation was ‘Wannabe’ brand behavior. If we wanted to appeal to a ‘Real Deal’ audience, we would have to become innovators ourselves.

Becoming an innovative brand is not an easy task. Especially when you are the size of Marriott. Large hotel chains are slow to move and have legacy systems that take time to change. Driving innovation within the brand would be a costly and long process.

We therefore elected to build an ‘open innovation’ approach and collaborate with the startups that were already developing innovation for the travel industry. This was the first ever time the open innovation approach has been used in the hotel industry.

MEC’s solution was to create, design and manage a bespoke programme, inviting the most innovative Tech startups within the travel category to partner with Marriott and help shape its guest experience: Marriott TestBED

The Implementation

MEC launched Marriott TestBED with a call to action to startups in Western Europe. We did it by combining media and PR, but by adding clever networking and earned coverage within the startup community, our campaign reached far beyond the region and spread across the globe.

The incredible response we received led to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style event, where 8 shortlisted startups were invited to pitch to a panel of experts – from Marriott and from the Tech startup industry. From this, two startups were selected to the programme:
Jambo – a mobile app that connects business travelers while away, and Dazzle – a voice-activated, in-room concierge.

These industry-changing innovations were first workshopped at the Testbed Bootcamp and then piloted live in hotels. Working closely with them, we were able to provide the startups with valuable guest and employee feedback, help them validate assumpti0ns and improve their product. But more than that – implementing these technologies in the hotels created genuine excitement amongst guests and employees.

Throughout the programme we worked with AOL to reach Real Deal and Wannabe audiences alike. We created highly relevant content for tech enthusiasts across Tech-Crunch, Engadget and many more. No less than 50
owned pieces of content were created, telling the stories of the start-ups and the progression of testing innovative products within hotel environments. These have firmly established Marriott hotels as being the ‘Real Deal’ when it comes to innovation in travel.

The Result

TestBED allowed us to lean on a network of start-ups to enrich on-property experience, position the brand as a true innovator, whilst boosting the success of 2 start-ups. All this whilst spending every marketing dollar on amplifying our story, as opposed to investing in product or services on-property.

The TestBED programme exceeded expectations across a breadth of media and business metrics. Despite only running media and PR promotions in Western Europe, we received entries from 22 countries across 3 continents. Over 150 entries to the programme were received – 5 times the target set, and more than well-established accelerator programmes within other industries.

The content we produced smashed engagement levels of previous Marriott campaigns. Videos showed 270% improved CTR vs industry benchmarks and a completion rate of 40%. Articles enjoyed dwell time up to 70% longer than other campaigns.

It wasn’t just the programme results that were overwhelmingly positive. Over 200 organic news articles were generated globally about TestBED, and social listening showed 76% of all conversations linked Marriott with innovation, solidifying our goal of shifting brand perception. Our Marriott client has been invited to speak about TestBED at international innovation conferences to the audience we set out to appeal to in the first place.

MEC is now working with Marriott’s head of ‘Guest Experience’ to explore more innovative tech solutions – placing MEC at the heart of Marriott’s innovation pipeline. And most importantly – Testbed is helping to shape Marriott’s future guest experience.

Client Quotes:
Osama Hirzalla (VP of Marketing & E-commerce): “you could measure TestBed’s success by how it infiltrated through the organization to the highest level”
Simone Papa (Head of Guest Experience): “it’s amazing how opening our doors to start-ups can change the way the organization
works; and how it helps to foster an innovation mentality.”