RadioFacts Talks Branding with Hard Rock Hotels Global Director of Music Marketing, Matt Watts
Bali, Macau, Punta Cana, Singapore, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Ibiza are all places on the map where some of us have been and some of us dream of going. These seven destinations are unique in their own right yet they do share a commonality. You can find a Hard Rock Hotel in each one of these extraordinary places as well as a few other places around the globe. Whether is the architectural beauty of the Chi, the warm beaches of Punta Cana, the tantalizing energy of Las Vegas, or the pulsating nightlife of Ibiza, Hard Rock Hotel has established itself as the brand that resonates with travelers looking for an experience where music culture collides with hospitality in a way that recreation, rhythm, and relaxation rejuvenate the spirit.
If you have ever stayed at a Hard Rock Hotel or just partied at one, you instantly feel like you are in the presence of rock stars just as much as you feel like a rock star yourself. That aforementioned feeling of rock stardom isn’t by accident. It is a feeling that is created and cleverly crafted by Hard Rock Hotels as they have established strong connections with the music community. They are truly unique in the way they bring music and culture to their clientele and guests and they understand the significance of branding in a way that transcends the hospitality industry. Just as music is a combination of sound that is crafted in a way to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion, the Hard Rock Hotel is the physical entity that metaphorical captures that essence.
We all know that terrestrial radio, television, concert venues, and more recently streaming services are significant ways for people to receive music but the Hard Rock Hotel sort of combines those elements in a way that allows their guests to savor music culture. Whether it’s Lenny Kravitz, Kings of Leon, or Slick Rick, the Hard Rock understands the significance of the diversity of music as it is a part of their DNA. They have become masters at creating an awe-inspiring environment that is highly beneficial to them, the artists, and their guests while living out the rock star life. For all parties involved it’s a party that no one wants to end.
RadioFacts wanted to join in on the party so we chopped it up with Hard Rock’s Global Director of Music Marketing, Matt Watts to talk about the growing relationship between hotel and music brands and how the Hard Rock Hotel solidifies itself in the market. We also talked about terrestrial radio’s significance in the marketplace when it comes to branding and we picked Matt’s brain about a myriad of topics ranging from branding, developing music artists, Hard Rock’s uniqueness, to music mediums. Flip the page and see what Matt had to say.
RadioFacts : I have been to the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas, Orlando, and Chicago and each time it is a different experience. I have witnessed everything from Pete Wentz DJ’ing to Slick Rick performing his classic. When you all are in the war room brainstorming on ideas, how are these artists chosen and how do the ideas come to fruition for Hard Rock and the global brand?
Matt Watts: As far as the global brand goes, we have been fortunate enough to have great relationships with artists, record labels, managers, and agents. We generally have a good idea of what artists make the most sense for a certain activation and we sort of have a go-to list of artists that are on our radar. We are a big organization with a very wide audience and obviously want to deliver the best experience possible so we research everything from ticket sales, Soundscan numbers, streaming numbers, etc. Having a presence in so many countries helps as well because it allows us to lean on our local markets and keep our fingers on the pulse.
RadioFacts : Being that you were in a band in early 2000’s you understand the significance of creating good music. In today’s industry, it almost seems as if the brand of artist or business somewhat outweighs the content an artist creates and the music seems to be an add-on to the brand versus the brand being developed based on the quality of the music. Do you agree and can you speak to that?
Matt Watts: I think there are two schools of thought to that. I was an artist for about 15 years and we still play from time to time. I also was an artist manager for about seven years so the artist side of me says that good music will always prevail and always rise to the top. On the other hand, there is so much noise out there in regard to how people are consuming music and how easy it is for an artist to get their music out there so branding becomes increasingly important. I believe artist need to clever and utilize several different platforms because you have to stand out but how you stand out is by having great music. If you have great branding and not great music you will have a moment and not a career. The artist we look for at Hard Rock have great music and also great artistic integrity that we can help them champion.
RadioFacts : Many times in the industry there are people that work in the music business but don’t really know music. How has you being a musician aided you in this position at Hard Rock Hotels?
Matt Watts: It has been incredibly beneficial. It’s given me the relationships and the tools to provide a really unique perspective on artists, the industry, and culture as a whole. It has aided me in understanding what artists and artist managers are looking for and that has been invaluable. It also adds a layer of credibility that not a lot of brands in our space can really offer.
RadioFacts : When it comes to marketing the Hard Rock brand is terrestrial radio still a significant form of advertising when getting the brand concept out to the public?
Matt Watts: Radio is certainly important. There is such a huge presence and audience on terrestrial radio. For Hard Rock Rising Barcelona, that was a huge driver for sure. We want to engage people across all platforms but terrestrial radio isn’t our primary focus. We have over 12 million followers on social media around the world and we work with various streaming services. But I still think it’s important that we cover all bases and there are still so many music lovers that still engage with terrestrial radio so we appreciate it as a platform. We don’t see the relationship wavering any time soon.
RadioFacts : What other innovations, ideas, etc. can we expect from Hard Rock Hotels?
Matt Watts: I think overall we are about embracing new music mediums and technology. We just recently launched a contest with Mixcloud, which to me is a really powerful platform that allows DJ’s and producers to upload their own mixes. We did a DJ contest with them where the winner gets a grand prize trip to Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza and they get to DJ there as well as other prizes. That was the thing but for the future, we want to develop artist relationships as well as more partnerships on the technology side as well.
RadioFacts : With music as the focal point for Hard Rock as a global brand how do you go about achieving your marketing goals at each specific location? In other words, how is the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza marketed differently than the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago, Orlando, etc.?
Matt Watts: Music is our DNA but every market is different. It’s a matter of recognizing that people resonate will music and we love all music. It’s a matter of tailoring what music is played in those outlets based on the vibe of that local market. We engage with local partners and musicians and we have a vibe manager at each property. It’s the vibe manager’s job to curate what those sounds are and what the guest experience is. In other words, they create the soundtrack for our guests. It’s super crucial and so important to our brand because music is in our DNA and it is also why I believe guest keep coming back and are loyal to the Hard Rock Brand.
RadioFacts : Are there any cases where independent artists have not been on your radar but they reached out to you and Hard Rock decided to work with them based on whatever correspondence was sent?
Matt Watts: Yeah that happens all the time. One of the things we want is to champion the artists who are operating on a smaller level. We want to extend the olive branch and help them by providing an outlet. We love to introduce new artists to our guests to let them know who we believe might be the next big thing. We have a Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands competition, which is the largest battle of the bands. It’s really unique and an interesting platform to help artists develop and provides a chance for exposure. We are trying to find ways to include those artists in our activations and nothing would make us happier than to partner with an artist early on in an effort to be a part of their success while serving as a medium for their talent.
RadioFacts : In a dream world if you could pick three artists dead or alive to perform at a Hard Rock event, which artists would you choose and which Hard Rock location would host the event?
Matt Watts: I would choose Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza because the setting and performance space are amazing and conducive to a really great time. To me, there is nothing better than an outdoor concert on the beach. I would pick Jay Z because he is a legend, the Beatles, and it’s a toss-up between Radiohead and Nirvana. I think people would really show up for that one.
RadioFacts : Music culture is obviously the game changer for Hard Rock Hotels but how else do you feel you stand out from other brands in the market?
Matt Watts: Music is definitely the biggest thing but when it comes to hospitality, we love to make the guest feel as if they are on stage at any of our properties and we want them to feel like rock stars. I think it’s a combination of world-class treatment with world-class amenities that unparalleled. Every Hard Rock Hotel is different and we provide a unique experience.