Rebranding Hotels

Hotel Rebranding: Aim For Intelligence

Hotel RebrandingThis examination of the Holiday Inn Express hotel rebranding considers the pitfalls of humor. It also examines whether its “Stay Smart” campaign (unveiled in 1998) works.

The concept behind the Holiday Inn Express brand certainly should be “smart.” Customers are supposed to feel an increased sense of intelligence after staying at Holiday Inn Express. They have recognized and capitalized upon good quality for a great price.

With the reputation of Holiday Inn’s quality for reasonable prices backing the brand, Holiday Inn Express should have a win-win status in the mindset of the consumer. It should also boost the efficacy of the Holiday Inn parent brand.

The Hotel Rebranding Campaign Messaging

Does the current messaging for Holiday Inn Express accomplish what it’s set out to do? We think not. Many brands use messaging that makes the customer feel smart. As though he has made the right choice. Walmart and Target are examples of brands that ensure customers. That if they shop at those stores, they are avoiding the embarrassment of overpaying and not finding what they want or need.

Hotel RebrandingCustomers not only like to know that their purchases matter. They like to know that their choices matter. Brands that give customers real affirmation that they have done the smartest thing will succeed. This affirmation must be evident through effective brand execution, including marketing and advertising. The message must be both clear to the customer and clearly shown by the brand.

Does Holiday Inn Express have a sure-fire brand message? Yes. Does Holiday Inn Express convey and execute this message properly? According to our brand model at Stealing Share, it comes up a short. In fact, if you read how the “Stay Smart” campaign began, this hotel rebranding is more superficial than it even appears. This is empty hotel rebranding.

The Customer Feedback

According to customer questionnaires, the reason why customers felt more savvy for staying at the Holiday Day Inn Express was the free breakfast. These are simply table stakes. Many hotels offer a free breakfast. They are not what fuels real brand. Clearly the right questions were not asked. The customer’s connection to the brand should go deeper than cinnamon rolls.

Hotel RebrandingFurthermore, the commercials for the “Stay Smart” campaign contribute to the shallow continuum of hotel rebranding. For example, one commercial opens on a group of scientists hovering around a microscope, observing a strain of the Ebola virus.

The man standing in front of the microscope explains the characteristics of the virus and proceeds to knock the sample off of the table. He assures the group that it was not airborne. When his colleague asks him how long he has been studying the virus, the man responds, “Well, I’m not actually a scientist. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Several other commercials followed in a similar pattern. One commercial showed a man who had not graduated past the seventh grade winning Jeopardy. While the commercials are humorous and borderline ridiculous, they demonstrate a rather narrow interpretation of the brand.

Although the commercials are effective for short-term brand awareness and recognition, this hotel rebranding execution is overall unsatisfactory. The customer will not consider the brand a serious option. If anything, the brand has become more of a joke among consumers because of the blatantly ignorant people portrayed as customers in the commercials.

The Real Brand

Hotel RebrandingThe customer’s perception of himself when he uses the brand is not one of intelligence. In fact, this brand face mocks intelligence rather than reinforcing it. This failure to execute is more at the fault of brand management than advertising creation.

Unfortunately, in all industries, one directly influences the other. Humorous commercials are memorable and entertaining. But does the brand directly reflect the customer and benefit from this type of execution? In the case of Holiday Inn Express, we argue against this method.

This hotel rebranding execution began with category benefits rather than the belief systems of the customers. The advertising had to rely upon a general campaign focus of “Stay Smart” without knowing what being smart really meant to the target audience. In order to correct this problem, Holiday Inn Express needs to take a few steps back, observe what its customers want/need from the brand and challenge the brand to accommodate these expectations. They would need to get a full outside-in perspective from the market.



balanceThe “Stay Smart” campaign was effective in raising awareness. But that is where the effectiveness remains. Real brand success goes beyond the reiteration of a funny punch line. The “Stay Smart” messaging does not reinforce the brand as a tangible option for the customer. The humor, in this case, actually creates distance between the brand and the customer.

Overall, Holiday Inn is all about quality for a sensible price. Holiday Inn Express can make that message work as well. Holiday Inn Express needs to convey this message with a little more honesty and customer perspective. That way, it can own real estate in the mind of the customer looking for reasonable hotel accommodations. In short, “smart” needs to be more about intelligence of the customer than the cleverness of the business and its agency.

(Read our market study on destinations here)

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