Some CEOs appear to sleep with
business books under their pillows, and when they rise, every
marketing buzzword from the text has seeped into their vocabulary.
Starwood Hotels CEO Steve Heyer opened a media summit in New York
recently by presenting the companys strategic overview. This, in
part, is what I heard:
... six pillars ... corporate footprint opportunities ...
uniqueness over ubiquity ... build brands, not trademarks ... Six
Sigma principles ... development will be bugless ... experience
engineers must become the brand they represent ... to loyalize the
Or something like
Starwood would join the ranks of Starbucks, Apple, Harley-Davidson,
Virgin and Oprah. Theyre our standard, he said.
executives said they were searching for a truly radical concept
that would not only differentiate Starwood among hotels but would
bring them into the ranks of the visionary companies mentioned
above. In this spirit, they and their agency, BBDO, decided on a
positioning that focuses on experiences, to the exclusion of even
showing the hotel products in ads.
Throughout the day,
the brand managers of each of the hotels showed how this philosophy
would apply to their flags, and media were presented with a
glossary of keywords that encapsulate the new
I really like
Starwood, and I think the new emphasis is good -- it will help
strengthen the brands, some of which need strengthening. But there
is a disconnect here, and I hope Starwood officials were only
trying to fool the media and not themselves.
Its disingenuous to
position their new direction as radical. They are following a
certified trend, walking in the footsteps -- Im sorry, corporate
footprints -- of office supply companies, dog food companies,
destination marketing campaigns and (hate to bring this up) other
To prove that other
hotel ad campaigns were generic, Javier Benito, chief marketing
officer, showed four rather dull hotel print ads, then confessed he
had switched the logos.
But absent in his
show-and-tell were Peninsulas campaign using Annie Leibovitz
photographs, Marriotts edgy athletes-on-a-bed series and Hotel
Indigos haiku campaign.
The only way he
could build a case was to tamper with the evidence.
To wit: Similar to
the new Starwood ad proclaiming that white tea is the calming new
scent of Westin, the only photography behind Indigos haiku is a
green plant. Hands down, I like the Westin ad better. The photo is
more arresting, and it has the very cool touch of having a perfume
strip. But unfortunately, the Indigo ad was already out there to
compare it to.
keyword glossary, I was reminded of Canadas rebranding keywords.
Where Canada promotes self-expression, St. Regis is bespoke.
Canadas exploration morphs to Le Meridiens discovery. Canada:
Freedom. W Hotels: Escape.
Looking at the
Starwood keywords and the brands, I think they represent, in a very
traditional sense, classic, not radical, brand
The ads are, of
course, only the external face of the rebranding; Starwood must
also deliver the appropriate experience at the property level.
Training employees is important, but the ultimate rebranding
challenge for hoteliers is that its difficult to match brands with
keywords due to legacy inconsistencies among its
For instance, the
most bespoke Starwood property Ive visited was not a St. Regis but
a Sheraton (keywords: warm, comfort, connection) in the Luxury
Collection (keywords: enriching, local experiences) in Addis
certainly failed the local experience test. The French restaurant,
the owners Ferrari and the Bellagio-like choreographed fountains
did not strike me as particularly typical of Ethiopia.
Still, Starwood may
be able to command brand discipline with W, Aloft, St. Regis and
its work in progress, Project ESW by Westin.
credentials as former president of Coke give him more credibility
than others who speak in buzzwords -- and if former Starwood
Chairman Barry Sternlicht had wanted radical reshaping of his
brands, he would have hired the guy who revitalized Mountain Dew
In the end, I
suspect that people who define their branding strategy in buzzwords
are just as likely to achieve success as iconoclastic
I sincerely hope
the new Starwood campaign improves guest experiences and spins
buzzwords into buzz. But if youre looking for radical, keep