Marketing La Dolce Vita: Why your hospitality business needs to be creating content
I love working with businesses in the hospitality industry. There’s a few reasons for it, possibly my parents running a restaurant when I was growing up makes it feel familiar, my love for food definitely has something to do with it and the idea of welcoming people and providing them with a memorable experience definitely resonates with me.
Above all this though, I get so excited about the opportunities that hotels, B&Bs and self-catering businesses have in their marketing and with their content.
Not only is creating a content marketing strategy and the content itself for these types of businesses highly enjoyable because it tends to come straight from the heart for me, but it’s often the kind of content which attracts the most attention and that people actually enjoy consuming. Whether a picture on social media or a blog, it has the potential to whip people out of their mundane everyday life for a few moments to dream or plan an escape, and image imagine themselves in a completely different place.
Recently I interviewed Ashley Bartner of La Tavola Marche for the Hot Content Marketing Podcast. I’m Italy-obsessed and the farm, inn and cooking school in the Le Marche region of Italy has been on my radar for a long time!
I’ve followed their journey from the hustle-bustle of life in New York to organic farmers & inn-keepers. Why wouldn’t you?!
Ashley and her husband Jason started from scratch in a relatively undiscovered region of a foreign country. Them, their 500-year-old farmhouse and the business they’ve created there has now been featured in the likes of Forbes, The Huffington Post and The Times. People come from the world over to experience their way of life and hospitality.
Ashley has always been very focused on the online element of marketing the business and I wanted to find out how she’s put La Tavola Marche on the map.
They didn’t wait until ‘the right’ time
In the podcast interview, Ashley tells the story of how she created a landing page for their business with a mission statement on it a year before they even had a property in Italy! On it, they would collect email addresses from people who wanted to be kept up to date on their progress.
Ashley started to blog about their prospective move and fondly tells the story of when Jason’s Grandma, quite dumfounded by the whole thing, asked, “Who’s going to read that?!” Undeterred, Ashley continued to blog about their journey, continuing to plant the seed of their new venture and begin to get the word out about their plans.
Once Ashley and Jason physically moved to Italy, they were so glad they’d got this head start with the promotion of their business because they were about to come up against a series of obstacles which drastically slowed their marketing down.
They moved to a 500-year-old farmhouse which was 10km away from the nearest town with no phone line or internet connection. In order to do any online marketing, Ashley had to visit internet cafes while Jason went shopping or worked on the house. The locals thought she was crazy, the concept of settling down in a café to work being quite unfamiliar to them!
Soon afterwards, Ashley and Jason began to share their experiences on a different channel and began a podcast. At first, with no internet connection, they had to record the audio and head into town to the internet café to upload and post it!
Always up for trying out new things it was frustrating for Ashley that she missed out on some platforms when they were first emerging, such as Instagram because of lack of internet and smart phones not being readily available in Italy at that time.
As time went on and they got their internet connection though, Ashley made up for lost time and made use of live video on Periscope. Facebook became a great outlet for them and still is today as a way not only to attract new eyes but also to keep them connected to family and friends and also past guests.
They embraced video
At first Ashley and Jason experimented with creating simple video.
But it soon became apparent that they had to find a way be creative with their marketing over winter when the garden was far from in full bloom and there were no cooking classes going on to photograph and talk about on social media.
Around four years ago they started doing live online cooking classes. They would run two different time slots, 7pm and 10pm or later, to accommodate different time zones.
This was before Facebook Live existed and at that time they used Gotomeeting.com and navigated full conference set ups to orchestrate these live meet ups. It was a logistical nightmare even once they had live streamed; due to limited broadband they’d send the video footage to someone in Minnesota to post the video on YouTube!
But this got them into YouTube early on and was great promotion for their cookery school. They’d send a list of ingredients and recipes to attendees beforehand and they’d cook three dishes live together.
They later met a couple who made videos telling beautiful stories of artisans called The Perennial Plate and it spoke to Ashley, she felt it was something she could do; to share stories and make things a bit more polished.
Ashley started filming videos of such things as visits to the market, clips of cooking at the farmhouse, places to do butchering courses and festivals. As a result, their YouTube channel has now reached almost 1.5 thousand subscribers.
They were themselves
Ashley described herself to me as a ‘chatty Cathy’ and when you talk to her in real life (well over a video call!) she’s excitable, bubbly, warm and smiley. That is the same Ashley you see on the videos and the same sense of personality that comes through on any of their social media channels.
Ashley is a natural storyteller and what they’ve found over the years is that their personal story is what has resonated with people, far more than them having a cooking school. People visit La Tavola Marche as much to meet and get to know them as anything else.
She hustled for PR
Ashley knew that she had to make use of every possible channel to get word out about La Tavola Marche. She had no connections in the media but knew that she needed to think about PR.
She began by ripping out articles she saw on Italy and emailed the different writers and editors. From most she didn’t hear anything back but, not allowing this to put her off, she continued to make this kind of contact and over the years they have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Times and The Telegraph.
They put their region on the map
Le Marche is often described as ‘the new Tuscany’, and being close neighbours, with only Umbria in between, there are certainly similarities. That said, it’s still nowhere near as well-known and popular with tourists as its more popular cousin, perhaps working in Le Marche’s favour, attracting those who want a more authentic taste of Italian life.
From the beginning, Ashley and Jason themselves wanted to be in an area of Italy that was authentically Italian, to learn from the Italians.
But when Ashley and Jason moved there in 2007, Le Marche was far less known still. Not only did they face the task of putting their new business on the map but they knew they had to work at putting the Le Marche region on the map too.
Ashley began blogging about the region, creating little series such as ‘Eating your way through Le Marche’ and featuring some of the best places to eat, local dishes and food festivals. She started connecting the dots and answering the question, ‘If I come to La Tavola Marche, what else is there to do?’
Promoting Le Marche even before the business helped them form relationships with their neighbours, showing they were here to promote the whole area and be a good neighbour.
Whilst all the competition was in Tuscany, giving them an opportunity to stand out, they knew they had to be creative from the beginning. They priced themselves on the high end for Le Marche knowing that wasn’t where their competition was but remaining competitive in comparison to similar businesses in Tuscany to entice people to consider Le Marche as an alternative.
They also noticed a gap in the general marketing of the Le Marche region. At the time, there wasn’t much information in English about Le Marche on the internet and promotional videos would feature the most beautiful beaches and towns, but fail to mention the names and location!
Ashley took it upon herself to begin covering some of the key areas of interest and beauty in Le Marche through her own content to give people a reason to visit the region itself.
They entertain AND educate
Ashley and Jason have done their fair share of showing the whimsical and romantic side of loving in Italy.
However, in the last year and a half they’ve begun to show people more of the reality, partly through their vlog.
They want to go beyond showing a purely rosy view of Italian life, beyond the beautiful to show the real version of life there. They find this much more satisfying because it’s less like playing a part, and is simply just sharing a part of what you do.
In this way, they’re constantly evolving and changing their marketing based on their audience and what they want to do.
They remained undeterred and persisted
Think of all the challenges Ashley and Jason have faced. Whilst many dream of doing something like they’ve done, few would have the guts to actually up sticks and do it.
As if starting a new life in a foreign country and starting a new business weren’t enough, there was house renovation, learning the language, challenges with having no phone or internet connection and striving to sell an entire region as well as their own business.
It’s certainly the truth that in the hospitality trade it’s the people that make it and these people not only had the courage to make their wildest dreams a reality but have done it with pride, integrity and authenticity.
Ashley Bartner wears many hats: food & travel writer & photographer, host-extraordinaire, consultant & free-range chicken wrangler on the farm. Find out more about Ashley and Jason’s journey on their website.