at the intersection of brands, media and culture

The Death of the W Brand

In agency, Branding, Brands, communications, Consumers, marketing, strategy on March 17, 2008 at 6:48 am

Sofa or bed? _W Hotel
Originally uploaded by K.W.

I’ve stayed at a dozen or so different W’s in my professional career which have ranged from the amazing (Mexico City) to the run down (Atlanta) to the downright not trying anymore (NYC midtown) which I’m staying at now on what has become a recurring bi-weekly trip to NY. The disparity between properties is alarming and even more so in light of further expansion plans for the brand into places as far flung as Africa and New Jersey.

I’ll admit that I was originally charmed by the W brand. Modern, metropolitan, design-oriented hotels built with the creative class in mind… but where did those brand attributes go? Early on I started to see chips in the dark wood desks which seemed to allude to the veneer that surrounded the brand. It wasn’t a deep brand, it wasn’t substantive– but that was okay, I wasn’t going to let a couple dings get in the way of a great hotel experience. Besides, they along with Schrager helped to create the bar-as-living room concept and how much time was I really going to spend in my room anyway?

Well, now I’m at the hotel on Lex and 49th which is going through a renovation that will change out the dirty carpet (ever notice how hotels dim the hallway lighting as the carpets get soiled?) and hopefully replace the chipped desk but the chance to wow me with their famous service has passed.

Rooms haven’t added amenities but they have added adjectives. I was pleasantly surprised to get an upgrade from a “wonderful” room to a “spectacular” room but it only made the let down bigger when I got to my shabby shoebox.

And a note about the Starwood points thing: I get the fact that you want people to book through the W site in order to get points. The fact that I saved $100 a night over a 5 day stay may be annoying to you, but I’m a Gold member and I’ve been Platinum in the past so evidently I do go out of my way to stay at Starwood properties. One indication of such “loyalty,” perhaps, was how I paid for the first night with an exhorbatant 20,000 points. So please don’t get surly with me and say that if I wanted points I should have booked through your site instead of Orbitz (“because it’s a loyalty program”) when I ask if you have my Starwood number linked to my reservation. If it were a loyalty program you would bother to note that I’m still choosing to pay more to stay at a Starwood property– but it’s more truthfully a marketing program, isn’t it?

And I guess that’s what the root of my issues come down to. W is trying to gloss over their brand issues with slick marketing, adjective-laced naming and dim lighting. The big problems are in the service and facilities though, not in the marketing, and that’s what they need to understand if they really want my loyalty.

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