Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hotels Working Hard To Connect The Dots on Young Loyalty

USA Today filed a report on hotels and their “new” quest to engage teens and pre-teens with programming and other benefits to build early hotel loyalty. The quest is all fine and good, but USAT assumes that the marketing is specific to the teens, when the real recipient is the parent.  When you look at the samples of activities, they didn’t really make sense as marketing tools to kids – but they might make sense to draw their parents to their properties.  The biggest issue is that it seems the hotel operators might not have their finger on the pulse of what their teen and pre-teen prospective consumers would even be drawn to. It’s good to look for ways to build brand loyalty – especially with young consumers – but you can’t build that loyalty with confusion about who you need to connect with.

The article recounts a few of the offerings that have recently been launched by some hotel chains. What the article doesn’t do is cover how these features are marketed. If there is no specific marketing strategy for these offerings, then too much is left to chance – making the offerings less effective. But, let’s just say that the offerings were marketed through specific media or even as part of their CRM or email communications. You still have to question who (and when) the target is for some of these offerings:

  • At select Omni Hotel locations, a “Teen Connection” program has been launched where the teen-aged guests can communicate with a Teen Concierge through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or text. Besides the obvious question of “why don’t you just go downstairs and speak face-to-face with someone?”,  I question how much business (or loyalty) will be generated for something so specific. If, as a teen, I had connectivity – which should be paramount – I would be communicating with friends not rushing to communicate with a stranger about things I would need permission from parents in order to actually do it. Since the marketing would be toward parents, would parents want their kids to be asking for reccos through social?  Maybe they would feel more comfortable that it is from a more substantial (i.e. hotel) source, but again, why not go down to the lobby to ask someone? Which leads to the bigger concern about the Teen Concierge idea.  As a parent, do I want an 18 year-old to be a concierge telling my son or daughter to go see a rock show at the Beacon or skateboard through Central Park when I am visiting New York City? David Strebel, the teen concierge at Omni Berkshire in Manhattan gave those examples of what he would offer. While those suggestions are borderline fine options for  teens who know the city well, as a parent, I’m not so happy about the argument that is probably going to happen when I tell my kid they can’t do what the cool guy at Teen Concierge got them to set their mind on.
  • Hyatt has rolled out their “For Kids by Kids” menu and it seems like it makes the parents happy due to its healthier options.  But, the concept of “by” is an interesting one as it seems the menu was only “approved by a group of young taste-testers.” To be upset about the lack of offerings like  “curried shrimp lettuce wraps” on a kids menu could just as easily be appeased by hotels in offering child-sized portions (and costs) of the regular menu items. But, again, there is confusion as teens are not the sweet spot for children’s menus.  Most children’s menus are targeted at 12 (at the high-end) and under with many targeting even younger. Maybe another solution is to rethink some menu options entirely to more strongly relate to their target audience. Maybe the rethinking leads to a couple of items on the menu that are healthy, but are more of a “grazing” type of offering – where young adults can lay around and idly eat healthy foods like crudite, crackers and tuna or chicken salad, etc.
  • Some real head scratchers are Sofitel’s French Language TV station, Tivi5MONDE, for children under 13 and the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes teen massage and facials. What’s the audience size for kids under 13 who want to watch something in French and are teens really that interested in spa treatments as a progenitor or loyalty? The Ritz offering might make perfect sense due to its overall demographic, but the loyalty they have going has very little to do with how kids are treated.  In fact, there are many who stay at such hotels that would prefer there were not pre-teens or teens running around…

We’re not even dealing with Tyson’s Corner Marriott’s belief that American Girl packages with free viewings of American Girl’s McKenna Shoots for the Stars are perfect for pre-teens and teens.  American Girls’ target is considerably younger than that demo.

It could all come down to how the writer, Nancy Trejos, framed the story as attempts to target and draw in those demos. It seems that the examples either over think the target or don’t really address them.  One commenter on the article succinctly stated that “the best way to keep teen guests content – offer free wi-fi.”

Obviously, the best way to provide loyalty is to offer great experiences without being too gimmicky. As the adults are usually (hopefully) the ones making the decisions, the effect the offspring have is based on their content and how much they enjoyed things.  So, there are probably inexpensive ways to convey to parents that there are great offerings for the kids to allow for sampling and, based on good experiences, many happy returns.

The low-hanging fruit is for hotels that are heavily used for business travelers.  By way of CRM programs and booking confirmation emails, they can easily include a little blurb inviting those business travellers to bring their families along. They can work on programs that make travel for children, pre-teens and teens more comfortable.  And, there are things that can provide a sense of security and comfort for the parents.  Maybe its just having a late-afternoon kids and teens “only” reception in a part of the hotel restaurant where healthy choice foods and fun activities are provided at no extra charge.  Maybe its in the form of borrowable MP3 players that have music that conveys the spirit of the city they are visiting.  Obviously, there are so many more options – all with different degrees of difficulty.

The thing is, a lot of what was listed seemed like it was from some ideal story of teens who visit the Waldorf-Astoria and take it over. While it might seem exciting to talk about QR codes and healthy choice education in order to get press coverage, the results are what matter and the ones shown just don’t seem to do the trick.

If you want to target a certain demo, you’ve got to know who they are, what they want and then deliver on that.  But that’s not all… You’ve also got to be clear in how you’re going to communicate it.  You’ve got to make sure you’re communicating clearly to the people who really matter.  In this case, is the kids that the initial communication needs to happen with?  No.  It’s the decision makers – who happen to be the parents. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much the parent’s love an idea of something, f the child doesn’t like it, there will be problems.  The challenge is in connecting the dots – or at least leaving the right breadcrumbs to draw target demos to your product and generate loyalty.

It Sucks When You Stop Showing Up To The Party And Nobody Cares

After a ten-day blackout of Viacom-owned cable networks on DirecTV, the sides finally announced this morning that they have come to an agreement. It may be a while before it is absolutely clear what the real impact of this standoff was. During the blackout, there were measurable elements that fluctuated but the real ramifications could be much more than ratings or stock prices. It wasn’t surprising that Viacom took the position that they were in the driver’s seat or that DirecTV engaged in a publicity campaign to ensure that its viewers believed that the negotiating stance was there for the consumer.  What was enlightening was the general ho-hum response by the general public and the nod to what the future holds – both in entertainment outlets and negotiating tactics – as the multitude of choices in channels and consumption platforms is not just a cliché but a reality.


First off, what I found interesting is that the DirecTV subscribers are not in Viacom’s wheelhouse demo. From a non-scientific analysis, it would seem that the majority of the people who are paying for DirecTV are not the ones who are the target for much of Viacom’s offerings. The assumption is that the kids are interested in the Nickelodeon and MTV channels and they aren’t paying the bills. But that’s obviously not entirely true as the bigger issue for Viacom is that there are so many ways to consume the content. They went so far as to remove the online episodes of the grown-up or bill-payer shows (such as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show), only to make those available days later. But, there’s not much new product in the summer to drive demand or viewership. My kid loves a Nick Jr. show, but there were enough episodes in the DVR that she had no idea there was a blackout – let alone have any clue what it means.

Besides the opportunities that consumers have to find content elsewhere – (DirecTV has a whole array of extras that allows viewers to watch content through YouTube and similar online outlets on the TV) how can the sold advertising be allowed to not be shown? The quick-response viewership decline that Deadline pointed out – “Live, full day ratings in the target demos for its channels were down 27% in the week that ended July vs the same week last year – the previous week, before the loss of DirecTV, they were -14%” – only tells half the story. If advertisers are able to, they’ll capture how much of an effect the loss in advertising had on their actual sales.  Perhaps the biggest losers are studios who are trying to promote their films to the key movie-going demo watching Viacom’s channels. But, again, the timing is bad – I don’t know that the demand for the next Batman film is lessened because DirecTV viewers couldn’t see the spots on a few of the many more outlets they access regularly.

The worst by-product of this for Viacom, and perhaps even DirecTV, is that the absence of something provides an opportunity for people to find alternatives. The timing of DirecTV’s addition of Disney Jr during the blackout opened up eyes to the possibility of an alternative for any child who couldn’t get their Nick Jr fix. If the loss was to something outside of the media environment, can anyone be so sure that they will come back?

I’ve been in Paris during a strike by the Metro and museum workers. My feet killed me from so much walking and I ate very well as an alternative to museums, but there is no doubt I would be returning once the trains were running.  Disruption in access to a few channels leads to much less discomfort than the loss of transportation. Viacom and other content providers and carriers should keep that in mind as they threaten tactics like this in the future.

The hardball tactic is fine from a negotiation standpoint – with its true business value debated. But, the risk to the ultimate bottom line of consumer’s interest is a different story that nobody can ill-afford to take lightly. Because, if you’re not around, there’s no certainty that anyone will really care.

A Dutchman, An Aztec And A Pig Enter A Bar

A few weeks ago, I was showing a cousin visiting from Germany (in the middle of a year-long volunteering stint in Mexico City) around Los Angeles. Part of that trip took us to the Pueblo de Los Angeles – the original city of Los Angeles – and its environs.  Needless to say, the area is heavily hispanic.  So, it wasn’t surprising to see a bus shelter ad for a Mexican beer written in Spanish.  I asked my cousin to translate what it said and tell me what the beer’s reputation was in Mexico.  His response was that the copy was just announcing that it was coming, but from his experience in Mexico over the past year he intimated that the beer itself was thought of as one of the lower quality ones in Mexico. From the image and messaging alone,  someone who didn’t know about the brand or its quality  would be led to believe that it was of a quality that we, in the US, will be lucky to finally be able to enjoy. Worst case scenario? Heineken should get credit for putting a nice shade of lipstick on the pig.

On the surface, it seems that the distributors of the beer have done an intriguing job of setting the brand as something that it might not be. The branding (developed by London-based Bulletproof) was striking enough to engage me to find out what it was. The fact that the imagery of the Aztec leader and copy made me think that it was something special to behold is a testament to the marketing team. Then, to find that the quality is not so great, I was  oddly intrigued to find out more.  As soon as I saw the beer in stores last week, I dug around and found some interesting things.

It ends up that Heineken owns the Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma brewery that creates Indio – as well as other Mexican beers, Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol and more – and the press release states that “they will be focusing on Hispanic men 21-26 years old who are constantly in search for brands that understand their need to express their identity by creatively fusing urban and Latino cultures.”

Could that low age also have to do with the feeling that the age group may not know any better and buy into the conceit that the brand is symbolic of the finer things in Latino cultures? The work done prior to launch in the US seems impressive in that they did a road show with “live performances from DJs and bands, Spanglish tutorials and brand sampling,” but what happens when people start tasting the beer?  If it is sub-standard, will they go back to whatever their previous Latino culture alcoholic beverage fave come back into the cooler?  I would think so.

Though Heineken did not own the brewery when they launched their “Most Interesting Man” campaign for Dos Equis in 2006, they did a great job reaching the young target with their own Heineken Star Campaign over the past few years. But each of those were marketing products that already existed – and were already considered to be at least decent tasting – in the US market. Could the same be done in bring an entirely new product to the market?

So, with the stated goal of extending Mexican heritage to a generation of Hispanic Americans who may not know any better, will they ever become the wiser? If the quality works and the target buys into the Latino culture bit, then it doesn’t matter that a Mexican beer is owned by a Dutch company with a brand designed by a London firm. It will just be an intriguing little secret behind a new brand that its owners have crossed their fingers in hopes of success. If it falls flat, then you still have to acknowledge they did a decent job with prettying up the pig…

JCPenney Gets The Buzz But Misses The Point

Sarah Mahoney might have incorrectly or unfairly categorized JCPenney’s newest ad as pandering to the Right in her recent MediaPost entry.  Whether it is, in fact, the company’s attempt to counter any backlash that they have received from their same-sex marriage ads or not, they might be doing more damage than good – due to the buzz they are generating for the wrong reasons. The prodding of consumers to round-up their purchases to the nearest dollar for charity – with the proceeds going to the USO – is admirable but it doesn’t really do much for JCPenney in its latest push to move to greener pastures in the sales column.  I don’t think it has to do with liberal or conservative, Left or Right, Gay or Straight – as Mahoney suggests (specifically as none of those are mutually exclusive when it comes to charity, military or the USO.)  What it does do is further remove focus from the company’s switch to lower prices across the board.

Already, a head has rolled in just the few short months since JCPenney announced its new direction with always-discounted pricing rather than asking consumers to wait for sales to come. In January, an AP interview with CEO, Ron Johnson, clearly spelled out what their revamp was. In June, their President, Michael Francis – a seasoned marketer – was fired after five months on the job.

Could it be that it was because their lifestyle ads were compelling and welcoming, but missed the point about how you could go into a store any day and find great prices on products from major designers?  Did they not focus enough on their new offering of deep discounts on the first and third Friday of every month?  Most of the buzz I heard was the flak about Ellen DeGeneres being their spokesperson, followed by the image of two mommies in their Mother’s Day ad and then two daddies in the Father’s Day version. From a liberal perspective, it might have had a warming effect.  Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have a heating effect on sales.

This is by no means a scientific analysis of what people are taking away from those ads, but on a surface review, they just don’t do enough to present JCPenney as a true competitor to its main competition.  They are certainly not the first store to have specific lines made for them (see Missoni for Target) and they are not the only ones to permanently drop their prices (see Falling Prices for Wal-Mart.)  Even when looking at the one ad out there about those Friday sales don’t make their overall strategy clear.

Sadly, it seems that they (JCPenney) are the only ones to have lost that point in well-meaning yet unclear advertising.

The Marketing Magic As Seen In A Rock

When reading Christopher Knight’s Culture Monster piece in this past Sunday’s LA Times, I was struck by more than just the points he made about a “levitating” rock and the responses it is invoking.  The main components are permanent installation Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer (a 340-ton granite boulder perched above a 15-foot deep slot), the concerns of money spent ($10 Million) and the question of what constitutes art. I feel that the whole conversation pointed to a larger concern relating to people’s general inclinations when internalizing anything. Well, really, it might be more about how so little is internalized. While not getting all touchy-feely about how amazing a sunset is, or how much wonder can be found in a flower or the bee fluttering about it, there is a sense of our rushed lives leaving us unable (or unwilling) to appreciate the nuances of anything. In fact, much of marketing is the art of making products/experiences/ideas seem so obviously perfect that consumers have no idea why they would choose anything else. As we toe the line between being disruptive to the point of jarring and normal to infer that our product is the normal, natural and the perfect solution for what ails us, we are forever conflicted about whether we should be the rock or the magical levitation.

LEVITATED MASS by Michael Heizer at LACMA
Image: © Michael Heizer.


How often do we launch a marketing program that is grueling in its planning, exquisite in its execution and terrific in its ROI and KPIs – yet the response from the c-level or publications is ho-hum?  Or, conversely, how many times has something been slapped together at the last-minute with wonky execution and ho-hum measurables – yet the experience was so disruptive that it was lauded by senior executives and publishing pundits? Though it’s never so cut and dry as the examples above, we’ve all been a part of examples that take bits from each side.

In the case of Levitated Mass, who knows how many people will just look at it and not even thing of it as anything more than a garden rock?  Will people consider the whole story about Heizer’s conception of the installation some three decades ago and only recently finding the perfect “rock” in Southern California – or the crazy “parade” as the boulder made its way through the streets of a major metropolis? Ultimately, none of that really matters as the true test would be if people are actually moved when the come in contact with the installation.

That same test holds true for marketing – it can’t be about the big disruptive execution or the subtle representation of what a product does or can do for a consumer – it has to be about moving people and making a connection.

We’ve certainly seen some fantastic marketing product executions over the years – some have driven sales and some might have just garnered buzz and awards. Unfortunately, we’ve also come across some executions that are barely noticeable and, at most, only generate a shaking of the head with the questioning of, “So what?”

As opposed to marketing, art has time to build appreciation or importance. With some campaigns, there’s just a matter of days or weeks of life. In this case, there may need to be some consideration of the beautiful sunset or flower as the right mix of disruption and connection is required.  Disruption without connection doesn’t do much good in the long run. We know that people will probably never care about what went into marketing programs – nor should they.  They should only be concerned with how much they were connected with it.

Knowing that we would be naive to think that the marketing or business world is as ideal as this, we’ve got to sometimes take a step back, open our eyes and smell the flowers. In the end, it is about more than a rock.  It doesn’t need to matter about cost (with fiscal prudence assumed, of course), the way it was conceived or the route it took to get to its end state – all that matters is whether the “magical” connection was made with the intended audience. Everything else works itself out – at some point…