Friday, June 4, 2010

Behind A Good Marketing Campaign Is A Great Product

I don't travel very much (ironic, since I live within walking distance of Logan Airport), but I am very certain that the next time I stay in a hotel, it will be a Westin.

It's not because Westin hotels are cheaper (I'm sure they're not), or because there are good locations, but really, because I'm in love with the in-house soap. Kid you not. Westin has a fabulous marketing hook in their white tea aloe "Heavenly" spa products.

My mother-in-law, Liz, is a road warrior, and she always brings me back the extra sample soaps/lotions/shampoos from her hotels so I can use them at the gym (and not lug around big bottles). She brought back some white tea aloe shampoo for me about a month ago, and I'm hooked.

But of course, I'm looking at this from a marketing perspective. I've never stayed in a Westin, but I did buy a full size bottle of shampoo and conditioner from their Westin At Home website. What the company has done is to take something that is often taken for granted--the tiny bottles of giveaway bath products--and created something that people actively want, outside of the hotel experience. And it's a killer WOM idea. The last time I traveled (admittedly over 2 years ago), I picked the cheapest hotel I could find in the location I wanted. Next time, I'm going to actively seek out a Westin.

This reminded me of a post over at Brogan Media on business models. Chris mentioned the classic story of Ray Kroc:

Ray Kroc used to quiz MBA students as to what business he was in. Everyone thought he was in the hamburger business. When I heard this, I thought, “A-ha. No. He’s in the franchising business.” But no, I was wrong, too. Ray was in the real estate business. McDonalds owns more real estate (more PRIME real estate, by the way) than even the Catholic Church. When you look at a business, the model isn’t always immediately apparent.

So while some might think Westin (and its parent group, Starwood Hotel Group) is in the hotel business, or also the real estate business, or franchise business, I think it's in more of a customer service business. Or an experiential business. The idea here is to make Westin's so appealing as an experience that you will want to take it home. A lifestyle business?

It wouldn't work if they hadn't invested so much in creating great products though. I can't think of any other giveaway items I've loved as much as the Heavenly bath line. And the genius in this particular product line is that it's a giveaway that links intrinsically with the atmosphere, the experience of the Westin hotels. At a recent conference, I got some seriously awesome swag, but a gorgeous silk tote bag or keychain doesn't necessarily make me was to hire a particular trademark protection service.

Takeaway: Make a great product, one that creates a lasting impression and is integral to your business model. Give it away, or create easy access to it. This creates a signature that customers (and potential customers) will recognize and return to.

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