By Fiona Soltes
Brands are realizing that they, too, need a unique voice, position and promise to be successful in the market.
There’s much to be said for knowing who you are – as well as how you fit into the family.
This year, Wyndham Hotel Group has begun rolling out a new family album of sorts, complete with a more clearly defined picture of each of its 16 economy, midscale and upscale brands. The result of an 18-month study, the move is an effort to “democratize” travel with value and quality experiences at every price point.
Certainly, the rise of millennials and the global middle class each have played a significant role. But more than just incorporating elements that might appeal specifically to those groups, the self-described transformation is about honing in – and highlighting – what already made each brand special.
“What we are doing with our brands is giving them unique voices, unique positioning and unique promises, so that we can now clearly articulate and identify their differences,” said Lisa Checchio, VP, brand marketing and insight, Wyndham Hotel Group. “Everyone is excited to get started. What we’re starting to see, by having a clear definition of what each brand stands for, is that we can create roadmaps of what those brands will be going forward.”
Unique Voice, Unique Value Proposition
In virtually every industry, products and services are being marketed specifically to the millennial generation, which recently surpassed baby boomers as the largest living age group. One of the generation’s hallmarks, ironically enough, is that it dislikes being stereotyped and targeted. That said, it typically seeks out experience over things, freedom of choice, authenticity and opportunities to feel unique.
Wyndham’s recent efforts offer a chance to satisfy the millennial generation while not losing sight of the rest of its customer base. It’s a strong strategy – elements of which can be seen in other hotel “families” as well.
Consider Choice Hotels International. In 2015, while releasing the results of a study on the travel habits of millennials, now President and COO Patrick Pacious noted that the age group hadn’t established allegiance with specific brands yet, presenting “such an amazing opportunity for companies to capture and build their brand loyalty.”
Choice now has 11 brands on its family tree, from economy to upscale, including two that are extended stay. Like Wyndham, Choice has endeavored to differentiate and strengthen each individual brand in recent years, while still balancing the overall master brand that is Choice. The company strategically uses data from a variety of sources to “clarify and quantify” the Choice Hotels guest target from both a demographic and psychographic standpoint, said VP of Brand Strategy Anne Smith.
“Our Choice Hotels target is one we call ‘Resourceful America,’” Smith said. “They are the people who care about what they’re doing, how it contributes to their family and to society. They’re hard-working, and they are conscious of what they get for their money. They are willing to spend more when the experience delivers. And they’re really the backbone. We love the term Resourceful America, because it speaks to the history of Choice and the power of this broad population in America. Every one of our individual brands, however, has a distinct consumer target that makes up part of that Resourceful America target.”
The upper-midscale Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites, for example, are ideal for those travelers on a trip where “it really matters that things go right,” she said, whether on business or related to a special occasion. The tagline is “Rested. Set. Go.” Sleep Inn, conversely, is aimed at younger and/or less experienced travelers who consider a stay at a hotel an adventure.
“They’re optimistic, they’re energetic, and staying in a hotel may be more exciting than being at home because someone designed the room for you, they make your bed and they make your breakfast,” Smith said. “It’s a very different target. With Sleep Inn, we’re designing our experience around that guest, pleasing them and delighting them and making them happy.”
Then there’s Quality Inn, aimed at those the company considers “Proudly Practical Travelers.”
“They are no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth,” Smith said. “They want just the basics, the basics done well. And they don’t want to get too much ‘extra,’ because they’ll feel like they are paying more than they need to.” Thus, the brand tagline: “Get Your Money’s Worth.”
As for extended stay and vacation rental properties, a recent addition to the portfolio, they weren’t added in response to the growth of services like Airbnb. But they do offer an alternative for the traveler with that mindset, she said. An added bonus is that stays there can count toward Choice’s popular Choice Privileges rewards program.
“The benefit of having a brand portfolio as diversified as ours is that we can cater to multiple guest segments, multiple demand segments, and therefore really give our owners a strong delivery on their value proposition,” Smith said.
Brands can’t simply be differentiated, however, based on guest targets. Also up for consideration: The reason guests are staying and what else is in the immediate market (a business center or more of a resort area, for example).
Wyndham’s Checchio speaks of its Travelodge brand along these lines; the company discovered that more than 60 percent of Travelodge properties were near a national park, so the brand became the “Base Camp for Adventure.”
“It supports the adventurous spirit of our guests,” she said. Ramada, meanwhile, in more than 60 countries, has been positioned as the global brand, ideal for “encouraging guests to sample the world.”
“The research tells us that for each one of our 16 brands, the value proposition to the guest is different,” Checchio said. “The story that these brands can tell is different. There’s an emotional connection to brands, and it’s different for different customers. That was something that was such a great thing to find in the research. It’s something we’ve always felt, but to be able to back up with research was terrific.”
The research – performed through a partnership with brand strategy and experience firm Siegel+Gale – also has shown that the award-winning Microtel Inn & Suites and Wingate (both by Wyndham), economy and midscale, respectively, each “box outside out their weight class,” Checchio said. “Our guests tell us that they are almost surprised these hotels are economy and midscale because of the service, because of the amenities and because of the product. That makes us feel that we are clearly doing something right.”
On the economy end of the scale, Wyndham has refreshed its brands by, for example, adding unique headboards in Super 8 hotel rooms featuring photos of iconic area landmarks.
“We truly believe everyone deserves a great experience regardless of their budget,” she said. “Guests value satisfaction over status. Regardless if they are paying $39 a night, or $139 a night or $239 a night, they want to feel satisfied. They want to feel special. They want to leave with an experience. People value different things in the way they travel. It’s not a one-size-fits-all economy; it’s not one-size-fits-all in midscale and it’s not one-size-fits-all in upscale.”
Strong Identity, No Matter the Size
In-depth research studies and sweeping changes might be fine for large hotel families. But what of those who might only own a single hotel, or even a small chain? Both Checchio and Smith see the value in being able to clearly define the brand – and in understanding what various segments of the market may be looking for. Generally speaking, for example, millennials may look for communal spaces, tech enhancements, and plenty of places to charge devices in both public and private spaces. Adventure travelers may appreciate grab-and-go breakfast options – in addition to breakfast items with a regional flair. Business travelers, on the other hand, will likely go for free breakfast, as it may help with per-diem allowances.
Regardless, the best approach may well stem from paying attention to what’s already happening – and enhancing the unique qualities and offerings from there. Strong brands are those that are relevant, authentic and consistent through all touchpoints, regardless of whether the guest is an adventure-seeking millennial or a budget-conscious international traveler. Rather than setting a course and expecting guests to fall into line, it is listening to their needs and paying attention to whatever feels “special” to them.
“When we put the guest in the center of all we do – and what we really are doing is transforming to meet the needs of our guests – when we put the owners first and foremost in terms of being partners, when we are thoughtful in the way we approach innovation and clear in the foundation we’re setting for our brands, I don’t know how that’s a risk,” Checchio said. “We really feel that there’s untapped potential.” ■
One company, 30 brands
In late September, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels and Resorts officially merged into one company. Marriott, which acquired Starwood for $13 billion, will be formally inheriting 11 brands to add to an existing 19.
With a combined 30 brands to understand and differentiate, Marriott has a lot of brand identity to create and maintain.
In “Every One of Marriott’s 30 Hotel Brands, Explained,” an article published Sept. 21 on Skift.com, Deanna Ting and Greg Oates write about how each of the 30 brands have been positioned thus far and include a helpful personal take on how each brand will operate in the new merged landscape. The article provides a great summary to better understand Marriott’s entire new portfolio of brands and is a must-read.
To access the article, visit Skift here.
Getting it right
Clearly identifying both brand and target audience isn’t just a game for the heavy hitters. Whether a single hotel or large hotel family, Choice Hotels International VP of Brand Strategy Anne Smith offers a few suggestions for how to do it:
Pay attention to what’s going on in travel and tourism on a broad scale. Industry publications are a great place to start, she said. (For example, InterContinental Hotels Group’s 2016 IHG Trends Report considers “Transforming Membership in ‘The Age of I,’” a look at the evolving way people seek to connect with brands.)
Take note of the other hotels in your own neighborhood. Is there any commonality? What’s close in the area that draws travelers in? Is it mainly vacation? Business travel? Certain festivals or events? How are other hotels attempting to make the most of it, and how can you do it differently?
Figure out what makes you unique. If you’re a 100-room limited service property, what are the most essential elements for you to deliver? How can you dial those up? Differentiation begins with understanding what the category demands are, covering those basics and experimenting with fresh ways to be more relevant to travelers. If you’re near a resort destination, for example, can you be the best source of local attraction information around?
Have the conversations. Take the time to ask questions of your guests. How did they hear about the hotel? What’s their occasion for traveling? Where are they traveling from? How did they enjoy their stay, and what can the hotel be doing better? This doesn’t mean pelting your guests with questions, but creating a natural, ongoing conversation that allows for honest and open communication.
Check back often. Brand identity can’t be a “set it and forget it” proposition. It’s important to revisit the issue on a regular basis – even every couple of years – to make sure the brand is still relevant to the target market, or if the target has migrated, to consider how the brand needs to adjust.