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Behind The Brands

Execs Talk About Key Factors Driving Sustained Growth During BITAC® Panel

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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How to define the DNA of a brand, flexible design footprints and the importance of loyalty programs were among the key topics discussed by brand executives at last week’s BITAC® Symposium.

Taking place at the InterContinental Times Square, the event featured a panel discussion entitled “Behind The Brands: The Strategies Driving Sustained Growth.”

Alan Roberts, global head, Embassy Suites by Hilton, weighed in on what makes up the DNA of a brand. “A brand is the promise that we make to the consumers in its simplest form. To Harley Davidson fans a brand is a lifestyle, while to fans of Levi's it’s a rock-and-roll attitude. To fans of the Embassy Suites brand it’s the value perception of an experience we promised to them,” he said, later adding, “how they [consumers] see themselves through the brand is just as important as how we see the brand.”

Meanwhile, Kat Flores, EVP, Trump Hotels, offered the perspective of a luxury brand company. “You start with who and what you are and that’s important as it’s something you can support and build upon because it’s authentic and genuine. You balance that off what your consumer is going to tell you that they want. The brands are all getting it now. It’s not set it and forget it, but it’s a constant evolution. I don’t think it’s chasing what the consumer wants necessarily, but it’s being aware and being a lot more flexible than we used to be,” she said.

Amanda Marcello, SVP, brand strategy, Red Lion Hotels Corp., emphasized consistency. “The brand DNA is beyond the logo and the colors you use and the visual assets that we might coin, but it’s the core values. What my colleagues are saying is ultimately what we define as the brand is it continuous throughout that guest journey?” she asked.

Josie Kilgore, brand president, Cobblestone Hotels, explained it’s not just about the guest for the company. “For us as a brand it’s important to remain true to our franchisees as well,” she said.

Roberts reinforced that point when talking about flexible design footprints and the Embassy brand’s robust pipeline.

“That is all about adaptability. There’s no way this brand could continue to grow and have a pipeline of 43 hotels if we weren’t actively listening to the development community and finding creative ways to bring to life Embassy Suites hotels,” he said.

Marcello also emphasized flexibility while noting Red Lion has a different challenge as most of its growth is derived from conversions. She touted the company’s Signature Moments program, which effectively provides franchisees with direction on the core elements a guestroom needs to have.

“How do we get them to convert to our brand? The best way to attract that owner and keep them happy is to not make them change the carpet because that’s just another point of friction. So for us that’s part of our balance; we have to walk that line. As long as we have those core elements we’re confident in having them join our brand family. And our franchisees like it because we’re looking at the whole picture of what they’ve been doing and the quality condition of their property today,” she stated.

Kilgore acknowledged the importance of flexibility noting the company has shifted its approach since getting its start over a decade ago. “We had a very cookie-cutter model of what every property was going to be and throughout the last five years we’ve definitely adapted to different needs or different trends, including going just a little bit bigger. We always had a 31-room property [prototype] but now as different markets have changed we have definitely opened that up,” she noted.

The impact of loyalty programs on overall brand growth is undeniable and the panelists outlined just how important it is. Hilton, for example, has developed an app specifically for its roughly 94 million Hilton Honors members, according to Roberts, who noted the company is closing in on its goal of 100 million by the end of the year.

“That is how we talk directly to our customers. That is the vehicle for which we do that and why it’s so critical to us to drive membership to the HHonors program. Right now what’s happening with the OTAs is they’re trying to control our guest and communicate with our guests, tell them our promises and give them our messaging. By signing up more members we can combat that,” he said.

Marcello detailed about some of the differences with Red Lion’s Hello Rewards program. “Our loyalty program is really different. Why it’s different is because although many of us in this room are road warriors, the average American is not. It takes them a really long time to get enough points to get status with the airlines, rental cars and with hotels so our whole program is based on instant gratification. Basically every time somebody stays with us as a member they get 10 bucks in their wallet that they can use for a future stay. The beauty of the program is they don’t have to wait a long time to actualize rewards and that instant gratification is something in a very disloyal world that we are focusing on,” she commented.

Meanwhile, the trend of local continues to gain momentum within hospitality, particularly from a design standpoint.

Flores spoke about the trend, particularly as it relates to the company’s American Idea lifestyle brand that was launched a few years ago. While the brand is in something of a holding pattern for now, Flores cited it as a perfect example.

“The whole concept behind that was to capture the local environment. We’re all moving toward a more flexible structure with adaptive reuse and conversions. Our population of customers in the franchise universe is often an owner/operator and [we need to] allow them the opportunity to actually put their stamp on their property and to have that pride,” she said.

Marcello added that as a conversion brand, Red Lion really looks at activating the lobby space and common spaces to emphasize local. “I think it can be done, but I think you have to have some parameters. Ultimately it’s how do you executive and does the guest even notice it? To put a beautiful piece of art at the end of a hallway that nobody really looks at, is it really worth it?” she asked.

Roberts pointed out that while the Embassy brand has a prototype design there is plenty of opportunity for regional tweaks. “Designers can come up with a plan that’s going to fit in that local site. We encourage the use of local elements with signature pieces behind the front desk or in the guestroom that let the traveler know where they are and what’s unique about what they are,” he noted.
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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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