Interview with Hoyt Harper II, Senior Vice President, Brand Management Sheraton Hotels & Resorts: “Brand positioning doesn’t equal market segmentation”

5 min reading time

Published on 04/11/08 - Updated on 17/03/22

We met Hoyt Harper at the Sheraton Lisbon where he was presenting the plan to revitalize the largest and most global brand in the Starwood Hotels’ portfolio. Sheraton and its owners are undertaking an aggressive multi-year strategy to improve the quality and consistency of the brand's supply (406 hotels and resorts across 71 countries) through significant enhancements, including a new lobby experience that serves as a destination for guests, new guest rooms and a specific service developed with Microsoft: Link@sheraton. He gives us some explanations for that campaign.

HTR Magazine: What is the main purpose of your presence in Lisbon?The new lobby experience in partnership with microsoft Developed in partnership with Microsoft, the Link@Sheraton provides 24-hour complimentary access to computers equipped with Internet and web cam abilities, Ethernet data ports for laptops, easily accessible electrical outlets for power, as well as free printing services and WiFi access allowing guests to email, search the Web, review local attractions and even print up boarding passes. In addition to digital connectivity, a food and beverage component will also channel social interactions and enhance the overall benefits afforded to visitors. In some American properties, Sheraton is also developing the Microsoft’s Surface technology, a 30-inch display in a tablelike form. Hotel guests can use their hands and gestures to access entertainment and information about local attractions, including CityTips, satellite maps and tools to search for local restaurants and bars, entertainment, recreation, shopping, transportation and services; Sounds of Sheraton, a lobby-based digital jukebox enabling guests to create personal music playlists from Sony BMG artists; and Sheraton Snapshots, giving guests a way to explore Sheraton hotels and resorts throughout the world by simply browsing the Surface photo library.Hoyt Harper: We want to make sure that we showcase what we believe in. We talk about re-inventing and re-invigorating Sheraton. Together with our owner in Lisbon we have decided to benchmark and showcase what the new Sheraton is all about. Over the next several years, Sheraton’s footprint will become even more prominent and, as we grow, we will leverage Starwood’s proven history of building great lifestyle brands to enhance the entire guest experience.HTR: With Sheraton, this is the last re-modelling of a Starwood brand, after Westin, Méridien…H.H: I don’t see it as the end of a process. It is a continuing movement and Sheraton is very special in that process. First of all because Sheraton is big. If you consider the number of hotels in the world, the average size of these hotels and their presence in major cities for many and many decades, before you enter any programme you really need to know where you are going to. You just cannot change direction in the middle of your process and it is critical to have a strong direction for a hotel brand such as Sheraton.HTR: On which core values do you want to remodel Sheraton?H.H: For some years, we have defined our basic values as Warm, Comforting and Connecting and for good reasons. We feel that Sheraton is really a great place to come home to for travellers for decades and that continues to be the case. It is comfortable in a way that I feel like I have been there before and I know what to expect. Our new advertising campaign insists on that special relation: “you don’t just stay at Sheraton. You belong”HTR: How can you deliver such a general message when Sheraton around the world are so different?H.H: We have to recognize the fact that we operate Sheraton hotels in a lot of different cultures and in a lot of different economies. For example, this Sheraton in Lisbon has been in the city since 1970. Our concern is to deal with real estate and to continue to update that real estate. The new built Sheratons in the Middle East are much different in terms of architecture or room size. It is economically different. The hotel boom in Europe was thirty years ago, in China it is right now. The second factor is cultural: the perception of an hotel in Japan compare to New York is very different, mostly for national travellers but also for international travellers in terms of what you expect. So it is impossible to duplicate exactly one type of hotel everywhere. But we can keep up our brand standards and maintain our brand perception consistent in a way that make sense culturally.HTR: Would you consider Sheraton as being typically a business hotel? 3H.H: The network is too wide and the brand is too strong to be limited only to one type of clientele. We cater for business travellers, leisure travellers and group travellers equally around the world. The primary market for each hotel depends on its location. Its not so much about the brand positioning but more what the local demand represents. Brand positioning doesn’t necessarily equal market segmentation. Having said that, of course I love resorts, but from the experience and our primary locations, it is obvious that Sheraton is a fantastic brand in the conference and convention market and business travel market.HTR: How do you communicate on your positioning?H.H: We are not a company like PepsiCo. For us communication is less about advertising strategy than what it is about to experience our hotels. Our marketing starts when you check in one of our hotels and you begin to experience the brand to a degree that you can say “I understand what is the Sheraton positioning and the Sheraton product”. That is our primary marketing strategy. We do public relations, press communication to be able to articulate on what features our brand is critical. Sheraton has a product that speaks to different segments and we address each segment with a specific message: being in a lobby, in a social setting and life around me, using the Internet free of charge, while sipping a cool beer. That kind experience will appeal to the business travellers. But we also have resorts where the kids can go and play video games, while their mum is sending an email to her sister. Thus Sheraton becomes part of a great social networking. We cannot have a single communication strategy we need to make sure that we bring the different brand experiences to life for the relevant segments.HTR: Thus being a global brand is not such an easy task from a marketing point of view…H.H: Sheraton is not that easy to put in a specific box. It is a very dynamic brand but with many different locations and therefore so many different potential business segments, you have to be very creative to communicate. When I address the general managers, I really insist on one thing: you have to make sure that the brands values come alive in your hotel. Just because you have “the link” in your lobby doesn’t mean that the brand is alive and that you fulfil your task. When I saw the new lobby setting in Lisbon, I said: “why aren’t you so creative every day”. People want to be surprised and have a smile on their face. The best communication ever is word of mouth.Sheraton’s aggressive development plan The Sheraton's growth plan is the most aggressive in the brand's history, with 54 hotel scheduled to open and 20,000 new rooms to be added to the portfolio by 2009. The plan includes an investment of $2 billion in new hotel openings and renovations in North America, and a number properties in worldwide destinations such as Ireland, Argentina, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Vietnam, Russia, China and Taiwan. In 2008, Sheraton will open one hotel every 12 days.

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