marriott’s brand evolution

A couple of weeks ago the Times ran a terrific article by Brooks Barnes on Marriott’s aspirations for brand evolution. Marriott_Flickr_Jose_Carlos_Cortizo_PerezBut It Doesn’t Look Like a Marriott” described the challenges that the nearly 100 year old company is tackling as it tries to evolve from “boring” and “dependable” to “cool and current.”  It wants to be “as strong with the X’s and Y’s as we are with the boomers,” its CEO Arne Sorensen explains.

Based on the write-up, it sounds like Marriott is being very smart about the change.  Here are three things it’s doing right:

  1. Adding new brands – Rather than trying to re-position its existing brands (which is often an exercise in futility when your brands are as well established as Marriott’s are), the company has introduced new brands:  Moxy, a stylish, economy, 500-hotel chain centered in Europe, produced in partnership with Ikea; and AC Hotels, a popular chain “inspired by the runways and fashion houses of Milan.”
  2. Getting help – Marriott has tapped Ian Schrager, the genius behind stylish boutique hotels including the Mondrian in Los Angeles and the Delano in Miami.  The article rightly points out that the pairing is somewhat surprising – not only for Mr. Schrager who describes himself as the “anti-Marriott,” but also for Marriott, which is known for its conservative and straight-laced culture.  But the partnership seems to be working, with Schrager giving Marriott the “consumer permission” it needs to be credible in the boutique hotel space.
  3. Not worrying about its logo – Many leaders seeking to prompt a re-consideration would commission a new logo or focus on other symbols of reinvention.  But the Times reports that when Sorenson was “asked if he was open to a restyling of the company’s swooping M logo, a sort of coat of arms for the family, Mr. Sorenson’s voice grew chilly. ‘I’m not terribly turned on by conversations about changing the logo.’”  Instead he’s prioritized the strategic and operational changes that should be made first (truly a man after my heart!)

Overall it seems Sorenson has taken a careful, balanced approach to the evolution.  He seems to respect the legacy of the Marriott brand while pursuing changes that will ensure it lives on.  Apparently Sorenson and J.W. Marriott Jr., the 81-year-old chairman of Marriott International and member of the founding family, complement each other in the evolutionary process.

“Are we moving too fast? Are we undoing things that are sacred?” [Sorenson] added: “I’ve reached out a few times, and in every instance [Marriott] has said, ‘I love it, and you should go faster.’ He understands that the company needs to evolve.”

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