Sheraton is making big changes to what was referred to as a "tired brand" by its interim CEO earlier this year and has since announced a five-year plan to reinvigorate the brand. Though the brand needs reinvention, is a $100 million marketing campaign striking the right balance between the messaging and taking action?
Not long after the announcement of its newest premier-tier Sheraton Grand brand, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts launched a $100 million multi-channel marketing campaign, its most comprehensive effort since 2011.
Sheraton’s “Where Actions Speak Louder” campaign incorporates television and print advertising into its strategies along with employing digital platforms, including video and banner ads on sites like YouTube, AOL, and Facebook.
The campaign carries with it a price tag, $100 million, that is anything but pocket change. There has been conversation around Sheraton’s image as a “tired brand” and its 10-point plan, Sheraton 2020, is to be rolled out over the entire portfolio of 435 hotels over the next five years. But is pouring money into marketing the answer?
“The driving force behind the Sheraton brand’s new marketing campaign comes across directly in our tagline, ‘Where Actions Speak Louder,’ designed to boldly communicate ongoing enhancements to the Sheraton guest experience, including a renewed focus on service, an elevated look, feel and design, as well as new products and partnerships for the flagship brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts,” says Dave Marr, global brand leader for Sheraton Hotels & Resort.
Marr says that research shows Sheraton’s guests are increasingly represented by a younger consumer base, and he also points to the brand’s focus on female travelers.
As such, Sheraton is looking to target today’s “modern, discerning traveler comprised of individuals who are inventive and motivated,” Marr says.
“They are generally between the ages of 25-54 and over-index on travel and higher education. They seek effortless travel experiences and find value in simple, creative solutions that save them time and allow them to experience more while they are visiting a destination. They are social in nature, and value experiences more than material goods.”
Yet if the “modern” traveler is the core demographic, it seems ironic to place such an emphasis on traditional media in its marketing campaign — particularly its move to use TV as a platform for its message after nearly 10 years of forgoing Sheraton brand airtime as part of its marketing tactics.
The commercials will air starting September 21 on national networks and global cable channels, including ABC, ESPN, CNBC and CNN International. According to Marr, TV presents Sheraton with the ability to reach a large audience to ingest the brand’s “Where Actions Speak Louder” message.
“The TV spot follows a Sheraton associate as she embarks on everyday guest service interactions, bringing to life, in a storytelling manner, the ‘Where Actions Speak Louder’ philosophy, meaning what you do is just as important as what you say,” Marr adds.
TV isn’t the only traditional route that seems to go against the grain of Sheraton’s intent to reach young, modern travelers, as Sheraton also is turning to print media.
“The significance of this campaign is to publicize Sheraton’s strong commitment to delivering exceptional service and driving innovative guest experience and design at every Sheraton property around the world,” Marr says. “In order to amplify this message to all of our guests, customers, associates and owners, it is imperative that our Sheraton media plan be activated in multiple channels from print, TV, digital and social.”
Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah and a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consultant, supports Sheraton’s strategy goals to “turn heads, change minds and deliver guests” through a multi-channel and global campaign, saying it makes sense. However, he adds that the issue is whether the campaign aligns with the brand’s aims.
“The ultimate question with any form of advertising is whether the campaign satisfies those goals,” Cole says. “Thus far, I don’t see strong alignment. Aside from the Wall Street Journal ads and the press coverage, I have not seen or heard much about Sheraton — including through social channels.”
In April, Starwood Hotels and Resorts interim-CEO Adam Aron admitted to financial analysts that its Sheraton brand is a tired brand and that the service quality is subpar in some locations. The concession was soon followed by Sheraton 2020, or a plan to revive Sheraton’s global hotel brand by enhancing and changing the culture.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, the rebuilding of the Sheraton brand will likely take time, which Cole says Sheraton may have already sacrificed too much of.
“It’s not only the initial media launch that concerns me, but also that this is also the first global ad campaign for Sheraton in over a decade – that represents a lot of ground to make up,” Cole says of Sheraton’s efforts.
Among the changes made so far are the brand’s new upscale lobby bar menu, Paired, which features small plates and more sophisticated bar snacks served alongside premium select wines and local craft beers; Sheraton’s new visual identity and redesigned website, Sheraton.com; the launch of Sheraton Grand, a collection of its premier properties; and its recent SPG promotion that offers one free weekend night for every five nights spent at any Sheraton property.
Additionally, Marr says that Sheraton will be working with employees, including general managers, at its high-performing properties as a sort of internal case study to glean knowledge on the best and most effective practices regarding guest experience and implementing those efforts across its entire portfolio.
“We are also championing a culture of action with on-property associates by reminding them of the Sheraton brand legacy and its status as the most global upper upscale hotel brand in the world and empowering them with the right tools to bring to life our new brand positioning,” Marr says. “The motto, ‘Where Actions Speak Louder,’ will bring about the big changes, and the little changes, that will drive an overall improved brand perception.”
Though its actions are well-intentioned, Sheraton will have to overcome several challenges, including its size, which Cole describes as monstrous and accounting for over a third of Starwood’s hotel portfolio of more than 435 properties and over 44 percent, or upward of 150,000, of its rooms.
“Changing anything that size, particularly with fragmented ownership and management of the assets, is a real challenge,” Cole says. “And challenges take time.”
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Photo credit: A shot from Sheraton's TV spot to promote its "Where Actions Speak Louder" campaign. Sheraton