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Marketing disruption: Hans Brinker Hotel claims “worst hotel” status

Disruption can be a powerful tool.

The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam claims to be the worst hotel ever. In fact, an official line from one of their ads claims, “The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam. It doesn’t get much worse.” Without apology, they have made a successful business out of being awful. Click here for a first hand look at that housekeeping commercial. It will give you a whole new perspective on changing pillow cases! The assumption of course is that there is not a lot of competition to own the space of being bad. Check out their website here.

Apparently curtains double as blankets at the Hans Brinker, and their propensity to not replace light bulbs regularly and to leave the heat turned down, is simply billed as “being eco-friendly.” You get it. The Hans Brinker is something to be endured. Survival offers bragging rights, and that frankly is part of their “blue ocean” strategy.

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The Disruption:

To truly understand how they can do this however, requires you to grasp who their target audience is, their competitive environment, their strategic competitive advantages (this may require a stretch), and how all of that can be successfully leveraged.

The target market for this hotel should be pretty obvious – students and youth in their 20s, single, budget minded, international travelers visiting Amsterdam, attitude of adventure, curiosity and risk tolerant. A one-night stay at the 127 room hostel will run you $35. Advertising slogans warn of no hot water, sparse rooms and filthy conditions. Guests are encouraged to dry off with the shower curtain to save on washing.

The Hans Brinker owns awful. Nobody generally wants to be the worst when it comes to travel and hospitality. But vying for the best is a crowded space. They recognized that their target market just might love their honesty and irreverent attitude. This position has allowed them to not only stand out from most hotels (admittedly that was the easy part), but it also allowed them to stand out against other budget accommodation options (the harder part).

Word of mouth & going viral

The best way to ensure powerful word of mouth is to give people something that makes them look smart, funny, insightful, or connected to an inner circle in some way. At the heart of word of mouth is powerful storytelling. The Hans Brinker is a story begging to be told, whether its as a travel tip, a survival story, or simply something that begs to be shared for pure entertainment. To that end, the company made visually sharing their story easy. They have a Youtube channel, where their commercials are posted, and they also encourage customers to post their own awful experiences. Certainly turns customer rating sites like Yelp on its ear – don’t you agree? Here’s their Youtube channel.

Recognizing that Instagram and Facebook were social channels heavily used by their target, they regularly post to those platforms, and encourage their customers to as well, tagging them #hasbrinker.

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Choosing channels to leverage media

When picking a channel it’s important to consider your audience, the reach, and your personality.

The Hans Brinker heavily uses Instagram, Facebook and Youtube since their customers frequent those social media platforms. But they also know their customers, armed with mobile devices, will help with the heavy lifting of telling their story and personal experience. If you Google the Hans Brinker, the results and resulting earned media dominate the first 10 pages. Their approach is a model of anchors, outposts, earned and paid media.

The company has even published their own book on customer service – appropriately displayed on the floor to prop up a table leg, rather then with pride on a bookshelf.

HansBrinker_WorstHotel_book

 

The 4 pillar media approach

Anchors: Website, enewsletter and blog. The Hans Brinker publishes regularly to all of their owned platforms.

Outposts: This is their “rented” social media space, which includes: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. The hotel publishes content to these platforms that leads customers back to their anchored website, where the goal is to convert them to customers.

Earned: Because they have such an unusual position and funny story, they have earned print and broadcast media globally. Even travel rating services such as Yelp and Trip Advisor list them for all the wrong reasons.

Paid: The Hans Brinker does traditional paid advertising including print, broadcast, and outdoor. But the primary focus is digital, where they amplify their message through sponsored content directly to their target audience on mobile through Google ad words for search, and sponsored content on Facebook and Instagram.

So what insights might you draw from this example? (other then where NOT to stay next time you’re in Amsterdam)

  1. Disruption cuts through the competitive clutter. It’s a blue ocean strategy.
  2. Disruption can happen in the form of: price, product or service, promotion or the way you distribute.
  3. Disruption gives you a story to tell. Stories are at the heart of word of mouth.
  4. Disruption feeds content for your owned and rented media.
  5. Disruption will earn you media.

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What do you think? Is this an effective strategy? Have you ever stayed at the Hans Brinker Hotel? (and are willing to admit it!) I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

Mary Charleson

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