After speaking at the Clever Content Conference in Copenhagen, I met up with a good friend, Diana, in Manchester, England. We were thinking about where we should spend our weekend and she suggested that we visit Chatsworth.
I got excited right away.
If you’re as big a fan of Pride and Prejudice as I am (the movie version starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen) then you’ll know that Chatsworth was Mr. Darcy’s country estate, Pemberley! Mr. Darcy’s country estate seemed so dreamy that I had to check it out.
The weather was everything you’d expect from the British countryside, birds chirping, flowers blossoming, cloudless blue sky and lush green grass. A superb and perfect spring day.
We got there early and strolled through the surrounding fields while we waited for the estate to open. I was told that Chatsworth covers over 1,000 acres and most of the grounds are open to the public all year around. The current owner, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, still lives in the manor with his family and is keen about open access, so he allows the community to use it for recreational purposes. From the manor, you can see the landscape designed by Capability Brown, integrated into nature effortlessly, yet it’s picture-perfect.
If you’ve read my blog before or listened to my podcast, you might know that my travels often inspire me to relate my observations to marketing. The world stage is indeed my muse. My visit to Chateaux Clos Lucie in Loire, France inspired a podcast episode about Leonardo Da Vinici and my thoughts on how to hypothetically market his inventions. When I attended the US Open Tennis Championship in New York, I shared insights about how they mixed traditional sponsorship and online content marketing.
The first impression of Chatsworth didn’t disappoint. Visitors are ushered into the main hall. In the center of the main hall is a big incense burner which exuded a pleasant aroma. Suddenly, I heard different bells ringing inside the main hall. I was told that the music was created by mixing the sounds of different church bells around the estate. The relaxing smell and music created an initial experience which is rather unique to Chatsworth.
When I started putting my marketing lenses on, I knew exactly why I am so fond of this manor:
Authentic Brand Ambassadorship
Each room and hallway have one or two members of staff in attendance. They are eager to share their personal Chatsworth knowledge and stories. Many of us have visited other palaces and castles. In those, most staff members are like watchdogs, telling guests not to do something; like not to take photos and not to touch anything.
Not at Chatsworth!
They fully embody the brand and they know their presence can add a nice touch to the overall customer experience. Every staff member I talked to genuinely loves this estate. They also want you to love the estate.
Keep products current and up-to-date
In the technology world, innovation is the key to driving business growth. New generations of products are launched or updated frequently. Intel launches new generations of processors every 1-2 years. Apple’s iPhone is up to the 10th generations in less than 12 years. Why do they introduce new generations of products? They need to give their customers “reasons” to come back to re-purchase or refresh their products. If you think about it, museums’ new exhibits and symphonies’ annual new seasons are no different than new product launches. They are all trying to get their customers to come back.
Chatsworth is a manor, the manor itself is an intangible ‘product’ that they sell. They need to refresh and update Chatsworth to entice people to come back. Therefore, they need to think creatively about how to continuously improve their product offerings. Most mansions and palaces focus on showcasing many rooms with antique furniture. If you go back to visit five years later, you’ll see the same rooms with the same antiques. No changes.
What makes Chatsworth Manor different
By going through the rooms and talking to staff at Chatsworth, I got a sense that they constantly move things around to create a fresh experience for visitors.
There was a movie titled Duchess that was based on the 5th Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana and it helped to make Chatsworth popular. People want to check out the place where Georgiana lived. Therefore, they created a gallery hallway to share Georgiana’s lifestyle. That gallery was beautifully staged.
Another gallery hallway on the other end was also completely redone to showcase the current Duke’s and Duchess’ modern art collections. Two hallways in parallel, one modern, one classic. Both renovations were done in the past several years.
The team at Chatsworth understand that the estate, in a way, is their product. They constantly improve the customer experience by moving things arounds and bringing new collections to enhance their product. See the mixture of old books next to the modern art ceramic collections]
This is nothing new to tech companies who are constantly adding new features and revamping their product offerings. I am impressed to see a similar approach at Chatsworth.
Marketing works best when you have something new to say about your products. Then, you can continue to create new content to entice a new audience and retain existing ‘customers’. The management at Chatsworth may not know or use terms such as product roadmap planning, feature updates or content marketing, but they are doing just that.
At Chatsworth, they aren’t afraid to tell stories through content marketing and curation.
The 11th Duchess, Deborah Cavendish, wrote several books about Chatsworth. Talk about content marketing! She used her books to share the history and stories about Chatsworth and got people to pay attention to her estate. The books also led to several TV documentaries which built broader awareness about the estate. Not to mention the frequent usage of the estate for period-piece dramas on TV and in movies. Books, documentaries or even the interviews of the current Duke and Duchess continues to build buzz and increase interest.
Merchandise and Consumer Evangelism
Another thing worth mentioning is the merchandise they sell in their gift shop. We all have passed through gifts shops at museums and palaces before. They are always strategically placed so we have to walk through them before we leave the property! Again, it’s to encourage people to buy before they leave.
The gift shop at Chatsworth is rather unique. All of the products and items are sourced with intention. Rather than displaying the typical categories of merchandise, they mix and match related and relevant accessories with elegant style and taste.
You feel as if you walked into a high-end store.
They also know people are curious about the current Duke and Duchess. I noticed a clever marketing idea: showcasing some of the Duke and Duchess’ favorite products. A sign denoting “A few of my favorite things” highlights some of the store’ products, encouraging people to check out items the Duke and Duchess recommend. In effect, they are endorsing items as social influencers.
The importance of corporate culture
I asked one of the staff members who’d been there for several years why they are all so eager to tell Chatsworth stories. She said that the Duke and Duchess are both very kind and generous. They consider themselves lucky and they treat their staff with respect.
I think she hit the core about how to run a good company.
Corporate culture, especially for a family-run business, truly reflects the personal values of the founders.
Chatsworth has been renovated, updated and expanded over 12 generations. It’s a miracle that this estate has stayed with the same Cavendish family throughout tumultuous regime changes since 1549 (more than 450 years). A massive collection of artifacts, art, books and other objects have been accumulated. Chatsworth is lucky in that there is no shortages of unique stories and there are countless ways to curate related content. It’s a matter of how to tell compelling stories and curate content naturally and effortlessly.
Chatsworth is considered one of the finest country estates in England and I can totally see why. The staff is doing a great job representing the estate, i.e. the brand!
They won me over and I’ll not only visit this place again but also share my wonderful experience with others, like writing this blog.
Do you put on your marketing lenses when you travel? Any good stories to tell? Please share with me.
Note: I didn’t talk to the management before writing this blog post. They don’t know I am writing this, and I received no preferential treatment when visiting the estate. These are my personal observations from simply viewing and talking to several members of the staff.