Monday, May 12, 2008

Brand Awareness and Perception Matter: 10 Minutes with Julie Carey, CMO La Quinta Inn and Suites

Peter Krainik: Why don’t you start by giving some background about your company and your career.

Julie: I am a Packaged goods marketer who recently moved into hospitality. I have worked on a number of brands including Hostess, Energizer, Gerber, and Dean Foods brands such as International Delight Coffee Creamer, and Hershey Milk. After years in packaged goods I moved into hospitality and worked for Brinker International and now CMO of La Quinta.

Peter Krainik: Let’s go back to early 2007. What was the biggest challenge you faced as the CMO at La Quinta?

Julie: There were a number of key issues back in late 2006, early 2007. From a customer perspective we had low brand awareness and an opportunity to improve perception. So, the challenge up front was to drive awareness and at the same time, change perception while driving business results.

Peter Krainik: So what was your approach?

Julie: We developed the appropriate customer segmentation to identify target customers and programs, developed new positioning , hired a new agency, developed a new campaign and extended the campaign to all touch points. We also implemented marketing mix modeling to determine offline ROI and brand tracking to see improvements in brand awareness and perception.

Pete Krainik: So, who was the target audience?

Julie Cary: We have three different groups, or segments, we focus on. One is the hard core business, road weary type of traveler; the second,is the perky socializer, which is a more younger business target that straddles both business and leisure in terms of vacation, and the third segment is what we call the travel enthusiast, an older group who travel a lot for pleasure. The commonality of all three targets is one, the value orientation and two, they are more optimistic about life which plays into our brand positioning around optimism.

Pete Krainik: You mentioned you found a new agency and developed a new campaign, with new branding. Walk us through more details around what you did and your approach.

Julie Cary: Being owned by a private equity firm, it’s important to move quickly, demonstrate results and get everybody aligned. In an ideal world and coming from packaged goods, the process would have been a little bit more linear. However, I did not have the time to conduct the linear process, yet I had to do it right, and do it fast. So, we very quickly embarked in consumer segmentation on top of getting positioning developed. There wasn’t a lot of consumer research when I came to the brand, so we had to do that work up front and parallel path it with what we knew about the brand. Once the research was completed, we immediately went into an agency search. The agency candidates were given the research as part of the pitch process. Mullen was the agency that won and they used that data to help us develop the “Wake Up on the Bright Side” campaign.

Pete Krainik: How did the process work for you? Any tips for the other CMOs?

Julie Cary: Having chosen different agencies in my past life, the one thing we did very differently, was really born out of necessity: it,was to use an agency search consultant. We didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t have the opportunity to cast a wide net on our own. The agency we decided to use wasn’t an agency that we really knew of that well, so, by using an agency search consultant, we were able to cast a wide net much more quickly. I think it really kept us focused on the key criteria of what we were looking for in an agency. We started that process in September and we had a new agency in place with a new campaign byJanuary. The campaign launched in early February.

Pete Krainik: So you’re saying by using an agency search company, it forced you to really think through what you’re looking for even more so than if you had even on your own and tried to cast a wider net. That’s a really interesting point.

Julie Cary: Thinking through the criteria well ahead of time, as well as gaining alignment on the criteria prior to leveraging an agency search consultant really helped us stay focused and true to our original objectives of increased brand awareness and perception.

Pete Krainik: Tell us a little about the campaign and some of the brand building initiatives.

Julie Cary: The brand positioning is around optimism. From our research, we saw two key facts emerged. One, travel stress is at an all time high and never seems to go away, and two, customers are always looking for a way to deal with this travel stress more effectively. Interestingly enough, our research showed a common thread of our target group: they are all optimists. So, how do we provide an emotional benefit to those customers ? We developed our positioning on the emotion benefit of optimism where a stay at La Quinta will refresh your outlook. We launched the Wake Up on the Bright Side campaign that was very humorous, very edgy and very different that the hotel space was at that time.

Pete Krainik: How have the results been?

Julie Cary: We have increased our brand awareness and perception considerably. I can’t give numbers because they are confidential, but we do track it and it’s improved pretty significantly. We have also seen a significant increase in website traffic, revenue, and overall online engagement.

Peter Krainik: So where do you go from here?

Julie Cary: I am now focused on how to continue to drive revenue, improve marketing ROI, while continuing to improve brand awareness and perception. In addition I am focused on leveraging our strength in online marketing and transforming our online experience for our customers to a competitive advantage


David H. Deans said...

Pete, I believe that hotel chains are missing an opportunity to engage their repeat business visitors, while staying at one of their hotels.

Many hotels require going to a landing page when using the hotel's wireless internet access service.

The user experience typically isn't personalized, because hotels haven't yet attempted to integrate or even connect their "frequent guest" programs with the in-hotel Wi-Fi access.

IMHO, this is an untapped opportunity for the creation of value-added services. With a little imagination -- and a savvy IT organization -- hotels can enable a new form of social media.

2007-2009 Officers said...

If you want repeat business from your customers, I will tell you as a person who is at this moment spending valuable time to track down a way to complain to the chief marketing officer of LaQuinta Inns, that the best way to advance brand loyalty is to value the privacy of your customers. I was searching the internet and landed on a CBS page that included an advertisement from LaQuinta asking if I am still looking for to book a room in a specific town in a specific month... That sort of data mining will do nothing but drive me away. The booking that La Quinta used follow me across the net is my LAST booking. Now that's something you can all think about in terms of repeat customers and brand awareness.
Carolyn Spears
Nacogdoches, Texas