Some years ago, I had the pleasure to work with Walter Schaerer designing a new About story text for his labor of love: the blog travelmemo.com. This is the long-form true story of how his blog underwent a transformation from publishing ho hum content for luxury “travel nuts” to offering one-of-a-kind exciting travel experiences for everyone.
It was first posted on my blog in 2016.
In 2010, Walter was a senior web products manager by day and independent travel blogger by night. His dedication to work is second only to his love of travel with long-time partner Katja Birrer. Many might recoil at the idea of mashing together career, hobby, relationship and blogging for fear of dumbing them down into mediocrity – or worse, losing one’s passion for any of them. Walter may secretly harbour such fears, but it hasn’t slowed him down. In fact, unbeknownst to me when we met, he was already planning a new strategy to power travelmemo.com to new heights.
In early December, over lunch at Brisket, Walter allowed his food to grow cold while peppering me with questions how storytelling could raise his game. Because even though his white-hat SEO coupled with curating “A list” luxury travel destinations had moved his blog from obscure to a respectable ranking among peer travel bloggers, Walter knew it could do better. Storytelling he believed was the answer.
In appreciation for picking up our lunch tab, I took a closer look at Walter’s blog. To be fair, I like to travel as much as the next person; in my former job as Marketing Director for an European luxury property developer, I had no complaints about the perks that come with business travel or the new experiences they afford. But I’m not a travel addict like Walter and Katja.
However, I am addicted to good stories. So if you’re like me, before I get excited about a juicy post or matter-of-facts, I want to know its source. That means, my second click – if it’s not away – is the About page of a website. Walter’s was no exception.
Here’s what I found:
travelmemo.com is a travel blog on ‘luxury destinations’ worldwide. Discerning couples enjoy inspirational travel reports from city trips, tours, boutique and design hotels, golf, wellness and spa resorts as well as gourmet restaurants.
+Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create travelmemo.com.
+For six years, Walter was in charge of developing web initiatives for two leading Swiss tour operators: Kuoni Group and Hotelplan. He was part of a team of experts that collaborated to create various innovative websites. During this time, Walter’s assignments were predominantly in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Italy.
+Furthermore, Walter‘s formal training as an architect has provided him with expert knowledge in visual communications – a skill that has contributed greatly to develop his photographic eye, which he spends time to perfecting at every opportunity.
+Still in its early stages, travelmemo.com has grown quickly, due in part to Walter’s current successful blog; a (German-language) Swiss travel blog (http://reisememo.ch) and the valuable social media resources that he acquires with his current position as a business development manager. What Can Make Your Experience Better?
The main focus of this blog is to inspire travelers to expand their horizons and make the most of their worldwide adventures. We are happy when we inspire others to dream more, learn more and do more. The main topics include unique accommodations, fine dining, romantic escapes, inventive activities, detailed itinerary suggestions, exceptional golf courses and much more! Contact us with any suggestions or requests for specific destinations, locations or events.
Audiences of all content are justifiably selfish. We expect a minimal Return On (our time) Investment. Instinctively, people apply a “ROI Story Test” to judge whether they’re getting good value for time spent. Our minds are asking:
- Does the story make me care?
- Does the story show me what’s at stake?
- Does the story tell me what you want me to do next?
Scoring Walter’s original “About Us” version)
* scoring scale 1-4 (where 1 = ho hum or 4 = brilliant)
- Does his story make me care?
He cites believable facts to explain what his blog is about and how he is uniquely qualified to publish it. But since I’m a passive reader with no specific travel agenda, it didn’t make me seriously care one way or another about his motives, his travel destination reviews or about himself.
- Does his story show me what’s at stake?
Did his About text show what was at stake if I wasn’t a travel nut and clicked no further? Not really. Thankfully, Walter didn’t try to put lipstick on matter-of-facts by presenting data preceded by adjectives. A common trick that annoys readers more than titillates.
- Does his story tell me what to do next?
The final ROI Story Test question, of particular importance for anyone selling an idea, product or service, did it tell me what he wanted me to do next? If one scrolls way down, in the site’s footer, there’s a link to subscribe. Unfortunately – too little too late.
Repositioning Using S.T.O.R.Y. Framework
A few days after our luncheon, Walter asked me to assist redesigning his blog’s About text. Since he was familiar with my S.T.O.R.Y. methodology, he readily agreed to be interviewed and allow me to extract the critical S.T.O.R.Y. elements for a new About text needed for a rewrite and pass ROI Story Test with flying colors.
We met at the chic 25 Hours design hotel lobby in Zurich’s west end and got down to business. You can read a transcript of our interview here. Following our Q&A dialogue, I wrote a draft plugging his interview responses into the S.T.O.R.Y. Framework, and sent it off for Walter’s review. He tested my humility a few days later by feigning displeasure, then agreed it splendidly represented the new direction he was taking travelmemo.com. Namely, by focusing on traveler’s experiences instead of descriptions of cool destinations.
Below the S.T.O.R.Y. Framework graphic is the draft “ABOUT” text sent to Walter – my comment/references to S.T.O.R.Y. Framework in red.
S.UBJECT – the setting, time, place, context, characters
Lead off with a positioning statement that differentiates and challenges the reader to care and know what’s at stake.
travelmemo.com specializes in telling unique stories our bloggers uncover during visits to luxury destinations close to home and far away. We write about our personal experiences, both pleasant surprises and those to be avoided at all costs, so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect before you arrive at a boutique hotel or sit down for an intimate candlelight dinner.
T.REASURE – a need or goal of the hero – also used to differentiate you and your content so an audience can identify their values with yours; you both want the same thing.
The story of travelmemo.com illustrates how our attitude and approach to travel differs from other luxury travel blogs. Our story explains why we began, and remain – indie bloggers who care deeply about design and boutique hotels, fine dining and personalized experiences discerning couples desire to create their own memorable travel stories.
O.BSTACLE -Signal the summary is finished and foreshadow conflict.
Before reading further – understand travelmemo.com’s story almost ended before it began.
Now properly introduce the protagonist, revealing enough details to create empathy, i.e. he’s a lot like me!, an ordinary person, not a superhero or overdog. As soon as possible, show what’s at stake to start building tension. We learn Walter’s career is at stake.
Back in 2010, co-founder, Walter Schaerer, was tasked with developing a social media strategy for his employer, a blue chip Swiss media company. Before betting his hard-earned career on the new strategy, Walter decided to test it using his own time and money.
O.BSTACLE – 1st turning point – positive outcome for Walter’s bet.
Teaming up with Katja Birrer, a kindred spirit who shares his love for luxury one-of-a-kind travel experiences, the two quietly built and launched reisememo.ch, a German language travel blog. It was an immediate hit, outperforming other Swiss travel websites in search rankings including Kuoni and Hotelplan’s branded web content.
O.BSTACLE – 2nd turning point – negative outcome for his blog.
Entertaining dreams of becoming the next TripAadvisor, Walter and Katja committed a near-fatal error by cloning reisememo.ch blog and publishing it in English. Smitten by the euphoria of early blogging success, they assumed the world’s massive audience of English-speaking Internet users would naturally convert into huge numbers of travelmemo.com fans and followers. It was not to be.
R.ETURN – Having overcome the OBSTACLES and found his TREASURE – protagonist must return back to where he started to share what he learned.
When asked about his experience today, Walter smiles ruefully, having paid the price to learn, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But as painful as mistakes can be, the dismal results of their first efforts sowed the seeds for travelmemo.com’s future success.
WHY. – the moral of the story – what finding the TREASURE means for Walter (and ourselves)
Walter freely admits without those early setbacks, it’s unlikely he and Katja would have kept their day jobs that today permits travelmemo.com remains proudly independent when so many travel blogs have devolved into thinly disguised advertorial platforms for luxury brands’ marketing machines.
This final section of this (new) ABOUT story could be omitted. But the story is stronger and more memorable by including an actual event to show the reader what Walter means by “one-of-a-kind” travel experiences. Notice how S.T.O.R.Y. elements are used again.
Walter likes to tell the tale of a city trip he took to Lisbon a few years ago with Katja. A story exemplifying their enduring love affair pursuing the next memorable travel experience.
S.UBJECT – the setting (time, place, context, character). Same protagonist.
Katja and he were in the bar of the Areias do Seixo hotel in Portugal writing up their day’s travel notes when a guy sitting next to him began talking about an unusual restaurant they simply had to dine at during their visit.
T.REASURE – Walter learns about a one-of-a-kind experience and desires it.
Skeptical but always curious, Walter pressed him for details. The man sheepishly conceded the restaurant had no Michelin stars, no TripAdvisor ratings; neither did it take reservations or print a menu. “Trust me,” said the stranger, “you won’t be sorry. I’ll have my driver pick you up in at ten o’clock.”
O.BSTACLE – First turning point – overtures of negative outcome for Walter.
Walter was having severe misgivings a few hours later as they were driven down a dark narrow street flanked by anonymous brick buildings that gave the appearance of last being occupied when Wellington fought the French in the Peninsular War of 1808.
O.BSTACLE – 2nd turning point – more overtures of negative outcome for Walter.
The driver abruptly turned into and stopped at the end of a dead end alley void of streetlight or commerce. “It was pretty creepy,” Walter remembers. “Like something from a cold war spy movie that ends badly for the hero.”
O.BSTACLE – 3rd turning point – positive outcome for Walter’s gamble.
They were ushered through a wide wooden door and down a left-winding staircase lit by bare bulbs to an underground passageway. Another 20 meters further led into a cavernous room with an arched ceiling and stone floor.
R.ETURN – Protagonist overcame OBSTACLES, found his TREASURE – took it and has returned to share what he learned.
WHY. – the moral – what finding the TREASURE means for Walter (and ourselves).
The room was part wine cellar but also a well appointed dining room filled with close to sixty people laughing and all talking at once – as though this was the most popular restaurant in Lisbon!
“Which it probably was,” Walter later admitted. “It turned out the gentleman I met at the hotel was this hide-away restaurant’s owner – and once a month he opened its doors for private guests! It was one of those unbelievable serendipitous moments that can happen to anyone when you follow your curiosity to indulge in new travel experiences.”
This ABOUT story text ends with summary of Walter’s journey and an implicit promise of what’s to come for its readers.
Despite failing to dethrone TripAdvisor, travelmemo.com continues growing by satisfying readers’ desire to discover one-of-a-kind travel experiences around the world. Using exclusive photos that tell their own stories, combined with emotionally rich narratives, we showcase top destinations from perspectives not found anywhere else.
Whether you make your Call To Action (CTA) subtle or strong – be clear what you want the reader to do next. Here’s how I worded travelmemo’s CTA
We invite you to browse our stories and subscribe to our regular luxury travel news briefings to see what Walter, Katja and their cadre of talented travel bloggers have prepared for you. Then use our first-hand experiences to make great choices designing your own unforgettable “travel memos,” ready to share with friends and family.
Big ThankS to Walter and Katja for friendship and support these many years. I highly recommend their one-of-a-kind memos collected from destinations near and far – and check out their updated 2020 About Us story too!