SMPL Q&A: Dan Golden talks about our work with Wyndham Hotel Group

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In this special SMPL Q&A, we speak with Dan Golden, senior strategy director, about the breadth of our work with Wyndham Hotel Group. While our work with the client is ongoing, Wyndham Hotel Group went live with its brand identity and strategy refresh just last week, and as our work with them moves into the second phase of the engagement, we took a moment to discuss with Dan how we came to work with the hospitality giant and how we developed their new brand.

Why did Wyndham Hotel Group engage Siegel+Gale?

Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) has a well-established portfolio of 16 iconic hotel brands that includes nearly 8,000 hotels, dominating the industry in economy and midscale hospitality. Historically, guests of economy and midscale hotels have had to sacrifice unique brand experiences for cost. Macro trends in the industry, such as the rise of Millennial travelers and growth of the global middle class—groups that have a small discretionary income, but a high interest in travel—play right into Wyndham’s economy and midscale hotel sweet spot. WHG reached out to us to seize this opportunity by investing in quality brand experiences at every price point—a rallying cry for the democratization of hospitality.

What did the engagement entail?

This engagement was just as much about business strategy as brand strategy. In the first phase we repositioned all brands within the WHG family. In phase two we are working with four key brands, Days Inn, Super 8, Ramada, and Wingate by Wyndham, to deliver brand experiences backing up the newly defined brand promise and supporting the overarching portfolio strategy. This was not just about making these hotels compelling to guests, but building appeal for potential owners who want to become part of the WHG family.

Why was the discovery phase such an important part of the process?

Our team deployed its proprietary EyeOpener™ research tool to identify the individual drivers of preference for guests in the economy, midscale and upscale segments of WHG’s portfolio. This was an essential step: before we could develop a strategy to make a Days Inn, for example, more compelling and differentiated than a competitor, we had to determine what matters most to guests and where that differs across different price points around the world. We found that although the industry segments hotel guests by price (think: economy, midscale, upscale), travelers don’t think in these terms—they’re looking for an amazing experience regardless of cost.

What were the biggest challenges of this assignment and how did the team overcome them?

WHG has a franchise business model; many of their hotels are independently owned, meaning it was extremely important for us to create brand experiences that owners embrace. The owners are the stewards of these brands—they are the ones delivering on each brand promise—and so anything we built had to be cost-efficient and operational for them. We developed a strategy that aims to satisfy goals for both short-term financial performance and long-term equity by optimizing the sum of the portfolio, clearly defining the role that each brand plays in the WHG family. Our repositioning informed how different brands can accomplish those two objectives and we are working with franchisees to demonstrate how this research and ideation translates to happy, returning guests.

How did you bring the new strategies to life across WHG’s four key brands?

Phase one was defining the positioning and phase two is bringing it to life. Our insights are providing focus and clarity, so every dollar a WHG hotel owner spends is purposeful and going towards something that matters. Our team immersed themselves in the hospitality experience around four of WHG’s key brands: Days Inn, Super 8, Ramada, and Wingate by Wyndham. We travelled to six cities visiting more than 40 hotels under these four different brands. We conducted research determining their target market and developed guest personas to understand the specific needs of leisure and business travelers. We examined consumer trends in and outside of hospitality for inspiration on how other brands innovate for their consumers. We interviewed staff members. This research laid the foundation for a series of workshops with key WHG stakeholders ideating opportunities to create amazing guest experiences. All in all, we generated more than 1500 ideas that helped us to develop a roadmap based on short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.

What made this engagement unique? 

This is a true transformation story. Internally we deployed a large cross-functional team of strategists, designers, digital experience experts and brand communicators. For decades Siegel+Gale has defined brand promises—now we are developing the strategies to deliver on them. We are not trying to merely tweak the brand experiences; we are creating a foundation on which they can thrive. Overall, it’s been a very successful collaborative partnership with Wyndham Hotel Group and we continue our relationship helping them optimize the guest experience across their brand portfolio.

Dan Golden is senior strategy director at Siegel+Gale.

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