Though much ink has already been spilled analyzing Marriott's
newly rebranded Bonvoy loyalty program, it's clear that the platform, which has
more than 125 million members, won't be fading from public consciousness
The company kicked off its Bonvoy launch campaign with the
airing of several television ads during the Academy Awards on Feb. 24. The
spots had been created with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet at the
helm as director and two-time Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski overseeing the
More Bonvoy promotional activity is planned around
high-profile events, including Coachella, the NCAA Tournament and the Dubai
Jazz Festival, among others. Marriott is also backing the program via
partnerships with sports organizations including Manchester United, Formula One
and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.
Such heavy investment is not surprising coming from a
company with pockets as deep as Marriott's, but what has been somewhat
surprising is just how high Marriott has set its aspirations for Bonvoy, which
was unveiled in January.
Bonvoy consolidates the group's Marriott Rewards,
Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) programs. On the
company's fourth-quarter earnings call March 1, CEO Arne Sorenson told analysts
that when it comes to taking stock of the group's 30-brand stable, "the
brand that is most important is Marriott Bonvoy."
"Each hotel brand hopefully says something," added
Sorenson. "It's got a product definition ... and it meets the expectations
of our customers in a way that lets them sort of understand what they're
booking within our portfolio. But it's that Bonvoy umbrella branding which is
the most important thing."
The fact that Marriott expects Bonvoy to serve as a kind of
parent brand for its diverse portfolio could be a tall order for the loyalty
program, especially since the platform's moniker has received a mixed response.
"I've never seen more backlash over a name," said
Gilbert Ott, founder of loyalty-focused travel blog God Save the Points. "Some
people seem to really hate the name Bonvoy, so I think Marriott's definitely on
the charm offensive right now trying to combat that."
Likewise, Allen Adamson, co-founder of the Metaforce
consulting firm and an adjunct associate professor at the NYU Stern School of
Business, said that the abstract nature of the Bonvoy name could pose a unique
challenge for Marriott.
"The first hurdle for Marriott is getting people to
understand and embrace the name, which will require far more spending and time
than most people think," Adamson said. "Because what is Bonvoy? They're
creating a brand out of what we call an empty vessel. It has no inherent
meaning, so this is really going to take some old-fashioned brand-building in
an era when most companies don't have the budgets or the time to do that."
Overall, however, Adamson is bullish on Marriott's efforts
to bring its many brands under the Bonvoy flag. While it may take time for
consumers to warm up to the name, he said, the company's move to both unify and
magnify its loyalty program was "a smart branding approach."
"I personally think the name is actually pretty good,"
Adamson said. "It conjures up upscale travel and has a bit of panache. It's
just going to take a fair amount of investment to get people to remember it and
understand it. But it does solve a problem by being such a neutral brand and
one that all the brands in the portfolio can connect to without confusion.
Marriott really had to do something like this, and there are huge stakes, because
this could be a linchpin for unlocking the value in all the brands they've
Ott said he sees similar opportunity for Marriott to benefit
from a more cohesive branding strategy.
"I think the average traveler who stays at these
different brands has no idea that they're necessarily staying at a Marriott
property," Ott said. "Whereas with Starwood, people were extremely
loyal and knew that Starwood hotels had a unique way of doing things. It's
clear that Marriott wants people to recognize that Marriott Bonvoy is the
entity behind all these places and to maybe create some of that same beloved
recognition that the SPG brand had."
Some in the branding and marketing world remain skeptical
about just how big an impact Bonvoy can ultimately have. Thomas Ajello, global
chief creative officer and senior partner at the brand strategy firm Vivaldi,
said the program so far doesn't live up to the campaign hype.
"It's not clear that they're doing anything new,"
Ajello said. "I took a look online and gave Bonvoy about as much time as
one would give when trying to research a hotel stay. And in the time I gave it,
I wasn't able to find something that made me go, 'Holy smokes, this is
something I really need to know about.'"
Ajello said Marriott might need to think more outside the
box in order to truly offer what the Bonvoy campaign tagline claims are "rewards
"One of my mentors once said to me, 'Online --
especially online and especially in this kind of customer experience-driven
world -- you can only derive value to the extent you deliver it,'" Ajello
said. "I think rewards brands, in general, are going to need to evolve
dramatically. The value isn't there in the way that the perceived value was in
"If you want someone as a customer, you have to deliver
something back in order to get them to connect and engage. Marriott may really
need to think about the customer at a much broader level."