Over the last five years, DoubleTree by Hilton has spent some $3 billion on improvements to the brand. And with 250 properties and counting, the 42-year-old hotel brand is in a unique position to launch itself into a higher echelon of the industry—something it intends on doing not only through growth and improvement, but also via an aggressive marketing campaign that kicked off with a new logo and a celebration of an industry icon.
It was January 1969 when DoubleTree was launched in Scottsdale, Ariz. But it was February 1986 when the brand unveiled its signature freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, firmly putting the hotel brand into the minds of travelers. Still, John Greenleaf, vice president of global brand marketing, says that the brand remains an unknown to many travelers despite a unique service philosophy, the brand’s longevity, and the popularity of the cookie, which by the way is made universally across all properties with a secret recipe.
That’s why the brand is embarking on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of itself in the eyes of consumers—through television, radio, and print advertising. Following the large-scale brand improvements recently made—the brand flushed out 70 properties from its portfolio—and it’s recent growth, coupled with the 25th anniversary of the iconic cookie, now is the perfect time for the brand to make itself more visible to the traveling public.
“Few brands are in a position to be meaningful, and we feel we are,” Greenleaf said recently at the brand’s launch of its Cookie CAREavan tour in New York City. “What makes DoubleTree unique is our culture.”
DoubleTree by Hilton will open 50 hotels this year in 22 countries, but Greenleaf said consumers need to know about the brand’s culture of service, something he believes sets it apart from the field. The marketing blitz is focused on service, product, and growth, he said.
“Our focus is on a return to humanity in travel, and the cookie is the first touch of humanity guests experience at our hotels,” he said. As he explained, traveling in today’s world has become trying for consumers, not only due to security concerns but also the decline of caring service.
“We want to get the world out about how our service is different,” Greenleaf said. He said that advertising would offer guest stories of experiences with DoubleTree hotels. However, he said the marketing blitz is not only designed for external use, but also internal use. Getting the word to associates that caring for each other helps lead to better service is just as important as getting the word to guests, he said.
One way the brand is doing that is by using technology to help with service training. For example, it’s launching a proprietary program to use iPads to train employees. “It brings training to where people can understand it,” Greenleaf said.
Another aspect of the marketing campaign is focused on product improvements. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make the physical environment unique,” Greenleaf said.
The brand has developed a design-guidance plan for its hotels, which allows for the ability to customize both the hotels and their food and beverage outlets to local environments.
Greenleaf pointed to the success of theWit Hotel in Chicago as an example of how the physical nature of DoubleTree is evolving. “Business there has been improved since it became a DoubleTree,” he said. “It’s a strong endorsement from an asset owners’ perspective.”
He said the DoubleTree target audience has skewed a bit younger, but the brand offers the opportunity to target people that have different personal interests and travel habits.
Growth for the brand is coming via conversions and adaptive reuse, such as the case with the Arctic Club Hotel in Seattle. Greenleaf says only 15 percent of new hotels in North America are new-builds, while 60 percent of the brand’s portfolio in Asia is new-build.
DoubleTree is also growing rapidly. The brand added 20 countries in the last three years. In China, the brand has six hotels with six more approved.
Last week, the brand kicked off a 50-city promotional tour with its Cookie CAREavan. The brand has distributed more than 230 million cookies over the years, Greenleaf said. It distributes an estimated 2 million cookies a month.
Greenleaf said that the cookie is an important symbol of the brand’s commitment to service. “It’s not just a gimmick, but it’s representative of who we are,” he said. The CAREavan will be handing out cookies in cities all summer. And, judging from the response at its initial giveaway in New York City, it will be hard for the public to resist free cookies.
Greenleaf and the DoubleTree brass also hope the promotions will help consumers find themselves unable to resist staying at DoubleTree as well.