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Cookie Culture

DoubleTree repositions itself with a focus on service, flexibility and, of course, its signature welcome cookie.

Friday, May 06, 2011
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Is it possible that after 10 years travelers still did not know that DoubleTree belonged to Hilton Worldwide?

It turns out that it was not only possible, but it was reality for some guests. That research helped lead the brand to embark on a repositioning and major communications strategy to reach out to potential guests and owners and educate them about the brand.

“We’ve been quiet and behind the scenes,” said Rob Palleschi, the brand’s global head. “It’s time to get more active.”

The effort began with the brand’s outward identity: its name and its logo. DoubleTree is now known as DoubleTree by Hilton. Adding “by Hilton” connects the brand to the global Hilton enterprise and clears any confusion that guests may have had.

The brand also changed its logo, from the casual two interlocking trees to a more refined tree with two trunks that makes up the left side of the D. The brand’s research showed that travelers intent to stay grew by five times with the new logo, according to John Greenleaf, vice president of brand marketing. He attributed it to the endorsement of quality that the “by Hilton” adds.

None of the changes will affect DoubleTree’s positioning between full-service Hilton hotels and the select-service Hilton Garden Inn. But the communications will work toward differentiating the brand for consumers and owners.

The launch started in mid-February with eight hotels that fully rebranded with exterior signage and collateral as well as changes to their websites. The brand plans to convert 50 hotels at a time to complete the rebranding of all of the North American properties by November and the international properties by the first quarter of 2012.

To encourage owners to move quickly, the brand promised to cap the owners’ expense at $25,000 per hotel, with corporate picking up the difference. (The total cost for a hotel to switch over averages between $100,000 and $125,000; the brand expects to spend about $20 million itself on the effort, Palleschi said.)

The outward changes complement improvements made to the hotels’ interiors. Over the last five years, Palleschi said, owners have spent $3 billion on improvements to hotels including upgrades to the bed packages, showers and fitness centers.

“We needed to communicate that to guests,” he said. “It’s sort of like our coming-out party. Around this identity and positioning we’re able to tell guests and the ownership community, ‘Come take a look at us.’”

The brand will send the message through its first television and print advertising campaign in 10 years. The ads will air on the Discovery Channel, USA and the Food Network with one flight of ads in the spring and another in the fall. The tagline is: “Where the little things mean everything.” The brand also will continue its online marketing, including an online promotion for Hilton HHonors members that launches Monday.

The repositioning comes at a time of strategic growth for the brand. The brand is pursuing a growth strategy that for the first time is taking it outside of North America. In 2008, it did not have any hotels outside of the continent. Now, it’s in 17 countries and plans to add about 50 hotels this year (35 internationally, 15 in the U.S.) It plans to end the year with nearly 300 hotels in 20 countries.

The 50 openings this year is a significant bump from the 24 that opened in 2009 and the 25 that opened in 2010. In the US, 80 percent of its growth has come through conversions. Internationally, 70 percent are new builds. Palleschi said he expected those numbers to continue.

The brand hopes to guide the growth with a new design guide that it is currently assembling. In the past, Palleschi said, the designs felt prescriptive, which could be frustrating for owners. The basic core standards – Sweet Dreams bed experience or shower experience – will not change, but the guide will articulate to owners, designers and management companies what a DoubleTree experience should look and feel like. It will explain how to you infuse nature into the lobby and what a “barrier-free experience” in the guest room means.

“We’re already working on things to keep us relevant in the consumer’s mind,” Palleschi said. “This design brief will take us to the next level and encourage more owners to renovate their hotels as well as opportunities to convert new hotels or new construction properties.”

One of the hallmarks of the brand is the diversity of product, Greenleaf said, and the design brief will encourage owners to embrace that diversity.

“The interior design brief won’t say, ‘Here are three room designs, pick the one you like best.’ It will say, here is what a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel stands for,” Greenleaf said. “These are the elements of design we believe you need to incorporate so that people will enjoy the experience and recognize it’s a DoubleTree by Hilton experience. Then they can do the decoration of the hotel to make it part of our brand. The diversity of product but the consistency of the basics and the culture of caring is what makes the brand truly unique.”

The changes all contribute to the repositioning.

“Now we’ve got a strategy and a message that we can communicate,” Palleschi said. “Come try us. See the new DoubleTree and see how we’ve changed.”

One thing that won’t change? The brand’s signature warm chocolate chip cookie that guests receive upon check-in.

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