Written by Michael Del Gigante
What happens when a major company decides to rebrand?
Undergoing a major rebrand can be a challenge for firms of any size, but when a well-known global company decides to go in a new direction, marketers take note.
This was the case when the world’s biggest hotel brand, Marriott, decided to revamp its loyalty program. The rebrand, called Bonvoy, gained a massive amount of media attention, even snagging a coveted advertising slot during the Academy Awards. In fact, many experts consider this launch the most significant of 2019 so far.
Marriott’s Bonvoy launch affected its 120 million loyalty program members, and also greatly impacted the marketing world. So, what are the key takeaways from Bonvoy’s launch? What should marketers learn from Marriott’s success—and challenges?
Following are five things the branding experts at MDG Advertising think marketers need to know:
1. Rebranding Brings Multiple Challenges
Undergoing a rebrand is a huge task; it involves investment, creativity, and the ability to navigate cultural and legal complexities. The Bonvoy effort required two years to come to fruition, according to AdAge.
Marriott vetted every detail of the launch, paying close attention to the program’s new name. How would Bonvoy sound in different languages? Would it inspire a positive feeling? Marriott sought to answer those questions as it developed its new branding.
Of course, the name “Bonvoy” was just one aspect of the rebrand. Marriott also restructured its reward options, created new visual messaging, and crafted an aptly named tagline: Rewards Reimagined.
2. Hospitality Thrives on Loyalty
Knowing the tremendous resources and effort needed, why would Marriott reshape its rewards program?
Partially, it was a necessity: in 2016, Marriott acquired Starwood and suddenly was supporting three loyalty programs: Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), and its original Marriott Rewards. Marriott needed a new, all-encompassing identity to seamlessly combine its brands.
According to Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s CEO, developing Bonvoy was the top priority among its 30 brands. Why? Rewards programs are critical to the success of hospitality brands. Hotels often face steep competition from platforms such as Airbnb, and loyalty rewards can be a powerful promotional tool.
Additionally, rewards programs like Bonvoy encourage direct booking from customers, which is vitally important as hoteliers compete with online booking sites. This is why Marriott launched Bonvoy as a completely new program, full of exciting benefits and customer appreciation.
3. Hotel Brands Are Becoming More Multifaceted
When Marriott first entered the industry in 1957, it simply had a name and a logo. So, what exactly makes it a brand now?
Today, hotel properties are much more complex, offering multiple physical, as well as digital experiences. The Bonvoy rebrand involved a complete reimagining of all its properties, including keys, print collateral, hotel signage, and the rewards website. Marriott also had to redesign the entire technical network that drives the loyalty program—and even its mobile apps.
In addition, the rebranding also had to include offerings from third parties, including airline and financial services partners. This involved completely changing all the Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, or Starwood cards as well as the overall structure of the rewards.
4. Rebrands Can Be Challenging for Customers
Despite Marriott’s meticulous planning and significant investment, the program didn’t receive universal praise. Consumers even mocked the program, jokingly comparing it to a soymilk brand.
Even more unfortunate, the brand became linked with issues customers were having following Marriott’s merger with Starwood. The #Bonvoyed hashtag emerged after hundreds of consumers complained about customer service problems.
Marriott admits that missteps occurred when merging its multiple loyalty programs; some of the issues were caused by the challenges that typically occur with a rebrand. Change is challenging for both companies and consumers—and it’s especially so for established, well-loved brands.
5. Patience Is Essential During a Rebrand
Building a brand takes time, and Marriott knew that relaunching their loyalty program as Bonvoy would demand persistence and patience. In fact, Marriott CEO Karin Timpone pointed out that many of today’s popular brands were confusing to customers when they were initially launched.
The company implemented an ambitious marketing strategy, using digital and traditional channels, and presentations at Coachella, the Dubai Jazz Festival, and other popular events. That’s also why it bought a large ad block at this year’s Academy Awards show—Marriott knew that to fully relaunch its brand, it would have to make a huge impact.
Ultimately, Marriott was savvy enough to know that while relaunching takes a great deal of investment, patience, and persistence, those efforts can pay off in the long term.
About Michael Del Gigante, CEO of MDG Advertising
In 1999, CEO Michael Del Gigante founded MDG Advertising, a full-service advertising agencywith offices in Boca Raton, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. With his unique insight and decades of industry experience, he turned what was once a traditional ad agency into an integrated branding firm based on an innovative 360-degree marketing philosophy that provides a full spectrum of traditional and digital advertising services.