There’s no shortage of new brands being introduced within the lodging sector these days, but there are many factors involved in determining whether or not those flags have success and ultimately stand the test of time. Two prominent brand executives, Alexandra Jaritz of Hilton Worldwide and Michael Morton of Best Western, offered some insight into some of those factors for their company’s respective newly launched brands at HI Connect®
in Nashville last week.
Taking part in the “Breakthrough Brands” panel, the duo addressed a number of issues related to rolling out new brands. Jaritz, global head for Tru by Hilton-- the company’s newly launched midscale brand-- talked about the strategy behind the new addition and what went into it.
“We started working in earnest on Tru about nine or 10 months ago when we started prototype development. Before that we did a lot of research. You have a lot of players in midscale segment today. But we felt we could differentiate ourselves in the market and offer a consistent brand, first and foremost, which really isn’t existing today, and also one that really disrupts the segment and thinks about evolving consumer needs. We have the demand; we knew we could differentiate the product and we knew we had the Hilton commercial engines to make the product successful,” she said.
Morton, meanwhile, who is VP, Owner Relations, Best Western, talked about some of the keys to ensuring a successful launch of the company’s new Vib and Glo boutique midscale brands. “What probably is most important when we went into launching brands is the research that was done was phenomenal, and comprehensive. I think everyone would agree if you don’t do that from the get-go, you’re at a disadvantage. Best Western has been around for 75 years, and we have been either underrepresented or do not have representation at all in urban destination markets. We know both customers and developers who wanted to be able to get into those kinds of markets. We actually were traveling internationally and saw lot of things that were going on in Europe and that was sort of the inspiration for Vib,” he said. One of the defining elements of Vib is a very small footprint, which includes smaller rooms and an expanded lobby space.
Morton added that the creation of Glo, which is targeted for more secondary and suburban locations, was “really the result of feedback from so many developers after we launched Vib.”
Jaritz offered some additional insight into the formation of Tru. “We did a couple of things very strategically. What we did is we involved 10 of our owners in the development of the brand from day one, so we were side-by-side with key owners from Hilton and Hampton, and they became our true pioneers. They went out to sell on our behalf even before we launched Tru. Along the way we had whisper campaigns, and we spoke to lots of owners and showed the product. We were very committed to ensuring we gave existing owners first right at building these hotels,” she said.
Of course coming up with a name for a brand can be a critical component to success as well. Jaritz detailed the process at Hilton. “We had some guiding principles from the very beginning, which we call brand pillars. For Tru, they’re simplified. We want to make sure everything is easy and intuitive for owners; easy to build, easy to operate and easy to maintain, but also easy and intuitive for guests. We wanted something spirited and grounded in value. We were very clear we didn’t want to have another name with C. We wanted it to have some creative legs and that three-letter vernacular as we’re really going to be playing this brand up in social media. It’s simple and it’s authentic, which is what we’re trying to be. It really played nicely with our core values; who we stand for, what we’re trying to do and to be a little more innovative in the marketplace. It really ticked the boxes on all of that and consumers loved it,” she said.
Morton added, “I didn’t realize how difficult it is to try and find a name that hasn’t been taken by somebody, and that’s really one of the biggest challenges we faced. Vib was short and sweet and relevant to what it was and Glo kind of played off that.”
Gaining critical mass is something any brand aspires to, but it can be defined many ways. Morton offered his perspective, “there’s the traditional sense that you would say 100 hotels is when you have it. However, if you can get people out and there pushing it in social media and it’s everywhere, that’s a lot different from when you had to have 100 spots on the map. There’s a lot of brands that have had success and they haven’t gotten to what you traditionally would say was critical mass. Of course, we still feel that’s important. We also feel with Vib, for example, if we’re going to get urban destination downtown locations, it might be 75 so there’s not this aspiration that we have to go out and do 500 deals. I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation, so critical mass is evolving.”
Jaritz noted, “When launched at ALIS [Americas Lodging Investment Summit] we had about 10 deals in process. About eight weeks later we have 200 deals in process for Tru. Our CEO says Tru will be the largest brand yet for Hilton, so we definitely think we have lot of momentum. It’s ripe with opportunity and we feel we have the right product and developers are responding, so we’re really excited.”
The panelists were asked where they hope to be with their brands a year from now during next year’s HI Connect®. “A year from now we need to be able to say we’re getting the development, we’re getting the locations where we know we need to be and that we found that what we’ve done with all these different brands has been the right thing,” said Morton.
Jaritz concluded, “For us we really want to make sure that these first hotels that we’re opening are going to be super successful, that they are really living up to the spirit and intent of Tru. That they’re performing at the numbers that we want them to perform at, delivering the returns. We’re confident that they will, but it’s always good to see it come to life.”