As I said, the purpose of this blog is to showcase what’s new in hotel and hospitality marketing. So let me begin by saying that, to me, all hotel marketing strategies look the same. It seems that it has become a mouse and cat game, where one company will come up with a promotion or new strategy, only to have it copied by everyone else.
What is the effect of this? The danger is that all of these hotel brands will blur together in the consumer’s mind, and we will end up with commoditized brands within each category. Why should I stay at the Hyatt, when the Marriott has just as nice beds? Or why should I stay at the InterContinental and get double loyalty points, when I can stay at the Hilton and get points & miles? Or how will I differentiate an ad from the Ritz or One&Only or The Peninsula when they are all very similar in black and white?
Why are all hotel companies telling the same story as everyone in their competitive set?
Want to see some examples? Let us look at the past years, where we have seen the loyalty wars, the bed wars, and the experiential marketing wars.
The Loyalty Wars:
The loyalty card started out as a way for hotel brands to reward their most valuable customers, gain their loyalty, and get rid of some underutilized inventory. This ended up being an increased cost for the properties and an expensive point of parity with the competition.
Where is the true value for a loyalty-card member? In how fast she can get free nights. Hotel companies realized this, and tried to make this process faster by giving more points:
- Between September & December 2006 Inercontinental’s Priority Club offered double-points.
- Hilton’s HHonors program offers Double Dipping: where you can get loyalty points and miles at the airline of your choice. At times, they’ll even give you double points AND double miles!
- What’s better than double? Triple! This winter, Starwood’s SPG program is offering triple Starpoints at various properties throughout the US.
- Did someone say Quadruple? Best Western did, when it offered Quadruple miles back in 2003. I haven’t seen this promotion since then, but it was a bold statement.
Instead of loyalty, or differentiation, you get your target audience for this message, loyalty-point junkies, to make their hotel decision based on where she will get the most points.
The Bed Wars
It all started back in 1999, when Westin introduced the Heavenly Bed; improving their hotel rooms with high-end, comfortable beds, and centered their marketing around that. Soon enough, everyone else followed:
- Hyatt introduced its luxurious Hyatt grand bed ®
- Marriott has its Marriott Bed advertised in airports around the country.
The next step was to sell the guest the bed. That way, you could have the Westin experience at home. Soon enough, now, you can buy your own Hyatt and Marriott bed as well.
And it even moved to the mid-scale market where, now, even a Hampton Inn has an amazing bed!
- Radisson partnered with the Sleep Number Bed® and introduced it to its properties.
- Holiday Inn Express recently spent $53 million on its Simply Smart Bedding Collection®.
Instead of a point of differentiation (which it was for Westin for a couple years), a good bed became a point of parity. I do not think that there is anything wrong with making sure that the product is good; but centering your marketing around that, just because the competition did it, is a different story.
So once we all realized that the product was good (at least the bed) across all major brands; marketers moved to showcasing the experience of traveling. And the experience of staying at a hotel with a loved one, with your family, or the relaxation it brings.
The problem? Every luxury brand began doing it, and it has crept down market.
- Every ad and/or website began showcasing either couples or relaxation.
- Everyone began using black and white photography to better depict emotion.
- Ritz-Carlton’s homepage welcomes you with black & white photography; so does One&Only’s.
- The Peninsula, came out with their own black and white photography collection.
Starwood has positioned itself as a lifestyle company. It will be interesting to see the effect that this will have in the long-term and how successful they will be able at protecting that positioning.
The real question is how will hotel companies be able to tell a unique story and how executable will that be? Particularly when these hotel brands’ product is actually owned and sometimes managed by a different company. How will each brand differentiate itself from the competition when all of its properties are so different and unique themselves?