Best Western: Why the 69-year-old brand is modernizing its image

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Dorothy Dowling, SVP of sales and marketing, discusses what inspired the company to rebrand globally

Best Western is embarking on what it refers to as the "largest strategic repositioning" in the brand’s nearly 70-year history. In the works are new logos, a name change, the launch of new hotel brands, and the redesigning of the hotel chain’s digital platform.

Dorothy Dowling, Best Western SVP of sales and marketing, explained what inspired the company to rebrand globally and the tactics it employed.

What is your approach to rebranding?
Best Western has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. But what a lot of our customers have been telling us for the last three is that even though there has been an enormous improvement at Best Western, because we have a 22-year-old logo, it doesn’t signal that our brand has improved.

Some companies rebrand and then have the product catch up, some invest in product and then rebrand. We have taken that latter positioning, so the customers have a good experience when they come to our brand so the proof point has already been established.

Have you pinpointed any particular areas of confusion for customers?
In 2011, we embarked on a program to take Best Western and categorize it into three types of hotels: Our mid-market brand, Best Western; our upper brand, Best Western Plus; and our upscale brand, Best Western Premier. We did this to clarify and set better guest expectations, but I don’t know if consumers understand the segmentation in the industry.

This is why we are clarifying the differences between each hotel type by introducing new logos for all three brands. We were already known as a global brand, but many people did not know about a lot of the beautiful resort products we have. We have 900-year-old castles, a prison in Scandinavia, and stunning product in South East Asia with enormous spas and restaurant facilities.

Best Western International will be renamed Best Western Hotels & Resorts to signal to consumers the breadth of product we have globally and hopefully introduce the concept that resorts are a core part of our brand offering.

You are also discarding Best Western’s award-winning website and building an entirely new digital platform. Why?
Using a phased approach, we are redesigning our digital platform, mobile website, and mobile applications. As part of this, we are trying to narrow the experience for customers for when they are booking. In total, 88% of our business is booked electronically, so we wanted them to have a deeper understanding of what they could get when they arrive at the hotel.

What is the biggest challenge for the Best Western brand?
Next year, Best Western is 70 years old. So our biggest challenge is staying relevant. Most people have touched the Best Western brand at some point in their life, but we have to continuously evaluate where our brand is and make adjustments to make it relevant to today’s traveler.

What are Best Western’s current business objectives?
We are making property improvements and renovations to North American Best Western hotels through capital investment of $2 billion by the end of 2016; and creating this separation between our different offerings.

In addition, we are contemporizing and broadening our reach. There are 80 million baby boomers in North America and 100 million Millennials, not that our rebrand and new offerings have been Millennial-driven decisions. But we do realize that Millennials are a very large market segment, so we have to be relevant.

How are you attempting to reel in Millennials?
We are introducing a new hotel brand called GLo, which appeals to a younger, more tech-savvy traveler and is the only new construction boutique concept in the midscale hotel segment. We are enhancing our product portfolio to respond to what consumers and hotel developers are looking for.

Do you view disrupters like Airbnb as a threat to Best Western?
I see Airbnb as not a traditional disrupter to us. They expand the universe of space and the sharing economy is one that is here to stay. The hotel community is not unlike some of the other communities responding to the sharing economy. As long as everyone is on a level playing field in terms of their tax contributions and the regulatory environment we operate within, we welcome them.

Best Western has always embraced the local element of our hotels, but Airbnb is going to force all of us to be more mindful of the customer.

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