My husband and I had two choices of hotels for our stay last weekend at a destination wedding—Hilton Garden Inn or Best Western. The choice was a no brainer. More on that decision shortly, but first, let’s take a diversion into the history of brands.
My parent’s honeymoon story was a family favorite. Married in Pittsburgh after WWII ended, Bill and Bernie drove to Miami for their honeymoon. The first night, they stopped at a hotel and dad unpacked the car, bemoaning that mom had not packed one (smaller) overnight bag. Mom entered the room, looked around, and then said, “It’s neither clean nor lovely enough.” Five stops later they found an acceptable motel. The process repeated itself the second night. Thankfully, the marriage survived.
It’s no wonder then why Dad rejoiced when Howard Johnson’s motels popped up along turnpikes across America. He always selected them for our family’s one-night stays en route to the family summer vacation rental cottage. As one of the first national brands in the hotel industry, Howard Johnson’s promised clean rooms, a restaurant kids loved, and ample space for roll-away beds. It delivered. To pick a local motel risked a “honeymoon repeat.”
Flash forward to 2015 and the economy is full of national, indeed, global brands. Drive the outskirts of any city and it’s hard to know which city you are in as you pass Trader’s Joe’s, Starbucks, Marshall’s, Macy’s, Marriot, Olive Garden, etc. National expansion resulted in a larger market and economies of scale, both beneficial to shareholders. And we, as consumers, gained simpler choices and lower prices.
But a lot has been lost. Travelers spending twenty minutes in line at Starbucks at the San Diego airport miss the local outlet, Pannikin, with its shorter lines and far better tasting coffee and meal options. Macy’s destroyed the heart of soul of Marshall Field’s and many other regional department stores. Macy stores increasingly look like Sears — disorganized with discount signs everywhere.
The hotel industry is packed with brand names. Many, including Starwood, Hilton, and Marriott, have sub-brands that carve out market niches. It’s a perfect recipe for competition on price among similar-class properties. If you want to win with a national brand – in hotels or any category – you must have a powerful brand promise and deliver on it consistently.
Which takes me back to our no-brainer hotel choice. Best Western’s brand issue is the huge variability around its properties. Some are new and modern, offering a terrific value. Others are old and worn. The local property owners and managers benefit from the brand, as they increase bookings. But we as consumers have no idea what we’re getting when there is so little control over quality. So we have to invest extra time in Trip Advisors to figure out the experience for a specific Best Western property.
Hilton Garden Inn, on the other hand, delivers a more reliable and higher value (despite higher price) experience. The service level is friendly, the properties always up-to-date and clean, the breakfasts fresh and filling, and the exercise room adequate.
The formula for the brand is clear. It’s articulated so well, you can imagine how the business model design, processes, and measures flow directly from promised amenities.
When a brand gets the operations consistently right, they secure an additional differentiated benefit — the prospect of offering a guarantee. Hilton Garden Inn seizes this opportunity by promising, “to do whatever it takes to ensure you’re satisfied, or you don’t pay. You can count on us. GUARANTEED™.” That statement is one powerful hotel value promise.
And our experience in selecting Hilton Garden Inn was exactly as we expected. We left delighted, as did the new bride and groom who wisely chose the same hotel. As to sisters, parents, and a brother at the Best Western, they felt their sore backs returning home after two poor nights of sleep.