Lessons from a Starwood brand champion

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One of the few brands that I champion is Starwood Hotels and Resorts. I stay at Starwood properties whenever I travel for work and make all purchases on my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card. I even own the Heavenly Bed!

But recently I’ve found myself disappointed in Starwood, which hasn’t been delivering an optimal experience. This isn’t the case with the hotel industry in general, which according to Siegel+Gale’s third annual Global Brand Simplicity Index was the only travel-related industry to rank in the top 10 for simplicity.

As a strategist, it’s disappointing when a favorite brand stops providing a differentiating and simplified experience. Below are a few branding lessons we can learn from my recent visits: 

1. Your logo is one of you biggest brand assets. Protect it.

While on vacation at the St. Regis Princeville in Hawaii, one of Starwood’s luxury hotels, I noticed something other than the breathtaking vistas. The iconic St. Regis logo seemed to be trampled on. Literally. The only times I encountered the mark were places I walked over (doormats) or items I threw away (napkins and to-go coffee cups). This logo usage not only devalues the mark, it tarnishes the overall equity of the St. Regis brand.

Lesson #1: Your logo is a sacred asset. It should be used carefully and diligently throughout your brand experience.

2. The way you organize your portfolio matters.

On a recent business trip to Omaha I booked a room at the Element by Westin, Starwood’s eco-friendly brand. While the hotel was comfortable, there was nothing that resembled the Westin experience. The hotel didn’t smell of white tea rose and the shower didn’t have Westin’s proprietary double head. As Starwood has grown, its portfolio has turned into a massive web of brands and subbrands. In addition, the portfolio has a wide variety of independent properties. The result is a confused and unclear brand relationship across properties.

Lesson #2: Your portfolio strategy sets expectations for the customer experience. The right portfolio strategy can enhance an experience while the wrong one can ruin it.

3. Be Consistent.

I pay close attention to the perks associated with my Starwood Preferred Guest gold membership. But I have learned that these perks vary from property to property and are determined by the individual hotels. However, from my customer mindset, I receive the perk because I am a member of SPG. That status doesn’t change. So my expectation is that I should receive the same treatment at every property.

Lesson #3: Consistency is important to building a strong brand experience. In order to do so, it’s important to take the customer’s perspective.

How you brand elements in your experience signals a lot about you. And I think the Starwood brand is starting to lose its way. What does your brand say about you?

Alyson Schonholz is a strategy director for Siegel+Gale’s Los Angeles office.

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