A lesson in marketing from the chateaux of France
Last month, I travelled through France’s Loire Valley, where more than 100 chateaux have opened their doors to the public. With so many sumptuous palaces to choose from, how exactly is a tourist to choose?
Few who hail from the Antipodes would forget their first visit to a European chateau or British stately home. When I first travelled extensively in Europe in 2002, I couldn’t get enough of the luxe furnishings, renaissance artworks and fine furniture, all centuries older than the oldest building in my home country. It felt like the stuff of fairytales, the kind where being a princess is all about banquets, balls and handsome suitors and no-one ever gets betrayed or beheaded.
But visit three or five or ten chateaux in a place like the Loire Valley, and enthusiasm starts to wane. I challenge even the most dedicated of chateau-lovers not to tire of parquet flooring, gilt mirrors, sculpted gardens, ancestral portraits and white pebbled paths. After a few days, it’s tempting to skip the audio guided tour and go straight for a rosé on the gift shop terrace.
The marketing challenge for the owners of these gorgeous renaissance pads is to find a way to engage the punters and entice them through their gates, not through the gates of the chateau up the road. It’s simply not enough to rest on your historic, majestic, or elegant credentials. So there are classical concerts, jousting displays, incredible gardens, incredible kitchen gardens, mazes, art exhibitions and various tenuous links to Leonardo da Vinci.
But there’s one simple solution that many of these chateaux seem to be overlooking.
Personally, I don’t care to know too much about how the chateau was designed, the architectural influences or the technical construction details. Pop that in one audio track for the designers and builders amongst us, if you must.
But give me another audio please, dedicated to one thing: stories.
Stories that bring the walls to life and ignite my interest in their history. For if the Loire was the place to see and be seen in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, then it must also have been the site of some robust political posturing, some vicious skullduggery and some outrageous scandals.
Give me political intrigue, state secrets, fine banquets and balls, illicit liaisons, dastardly deeds, treachery and betrayal. Tell me how the chateau was ransacked after the revolution, or the noble owner dragged away to Paris to meet his fate. Tell me how the chateau was used and abused during the world wars, its treasures scattered, its occupants forced into do-or-die decisions.
I want to know the joys and sorrows these walls have seen, to hear vivid and personal perspectives on history.
Granted, not every chateau will have witnessed momentous events. But as Amor Towles writes in the book I’ve been devouring pool-side, A Gentleman in Moscow:
“I suppose a room is a summation of all that has happened inside it”
Every wall has a story to tell. All you have to do is find someone who sees the story and engage them to do a little digging.
Which brings me back to you. What tales are lurking behind the scenes in your business? What stories could you share that would entice, engage and delight your audience, or create a memorable customer experience? Share your ideas in the comments below.
And if you need help digging out your stories, I’d love to help. Helping my clients find and share the stories behind the work is one of the key aspects of the work we do together, whether through 1:1 coaching, or done-for-you copywriting. Click here to book a free 20-min chat on how you can use stories to share your remarkable work. I’m taking bookings for September.