Delta Air Lines and the STAPLES Center – brand synergy!

Yesterday a press release was issued about how Delta Air Lines has entered an agreement with AEG to become the official airline of the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, official airline of the L.A. Kings, official partner of The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live, and will have rights to marketing in the L.A. Live complex. Whew! That is quite a mouthful of information for a one press release! What I find most interesting, though, is the impact of branding a brand like Delta Air Lines and STAPLES.

In the travel industry, perhaps it began with airlines promoting brand name coffee served on their flights? I’m not sure. But soon after we saw cruise ships starting to feature popular branded F&B outlets onboard like Johnny Rockets and Starbucks. Starwood Hotels has even created brands inside brands (see “Aloft – a vision of W Hotels”). I suppose that part of keeping brands fresh involves mixing other brands in to the advantage of both. Certainly but not limited to the travel industry, products need to be kept fresh and exposed to find and maintain relationships with new consumers.

Take this hypothetical example: John Doe just moved to Los Angeles from Atlanta to begin his career as a professor. In his new position he will travel to Asia often for research. He is an avid hockey fan and one evening goes to an L.A. Kings game to see his new home team play. At the STAPLES Center he notices Delta’s presence. In fact, he notices Delta’s presence all over Los Angeles and how they just began service to Tokyo’s convenient Haneda airport…. Back to the Kings game: Just after the 1st period, his assistant calls to report his laptop crashed. He glances up for a split second, and responds “Go to Staples and get a new one”.

The synergy of branding a brand or having multiple brands working side-by-side is – if nothing else – great exposure!

Press release with complete details can be found here:
http://www.staplescenter.com/doublecol.php?section=about&page=news_article&news_id=1871

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Functional Branding at the Ames Hotel of Boston

As a young student at Johnson & Wales University, I had a professor in hospitality management who constantly chanted “the customer is king!”. That was not anything new or profound but the fact that he exclaimed the phrase so often has stuck with me. Taking this a step backward, in the travel industry, how do we even get the customer? When there are so many options for products and services in travel, brands need to reinvent and expose themselves frequently to capture attention and steady the flow of new customers.

This weekend I stayed at the Ames Hotel in Boston, a Morgans Hotel Group property which opened in late 2009. Having already experienced a number of the group’s fantastic hotels in New York City, South Beach, and London, I was very intrigued to see how they transformed the old Ames office building into a hotel. To my delight, the hotel rooms, lobby, and Woodward restaurant/lounge all had been designed with time-period artifacts of the 1890’s blended with modern luxury.

What prompted me to write this piece, however, are the items I found in my room above the mini-bar. Not only were the obligatory snacks available, but they also had brilliantly packaged branded winter hats, shirts, and even a CD entitled “Morgans Hotel Group 4”. When I checked-out of the hotel, new “Ames” hotel hat on my head, I wondered what kind of impact branded merchandise has on a venue’s marketing strategy? I feel that if the merchandise is functional and provides brand exposure it will work. People are walking billboards for brands and embracing this marketing technique definitely makes an impact….

Plus, with a hat this comfy and warm – I may be a walking advertisement until spring!

For a refreshing drink, delicious meal, or great overnight stay in Boston, please visit: http://www.ameshotel.com

Branding the Great Smoky Mountains – Dolly Parton Style

A group, developer, and even celebrities have put many places on the map. Cities and regions have specific identities where people, over the course of history, have built the physical land into the destinations they are today. A relatively recent large-scale example would be Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Both the developers and the government (in many times a combination) have been driving traffic there by promoting Dubai as the opulent oasis of the Arab world featuring the tallest of buildings, most luxurious of hotels, and even an indoor ski mountain to beat the desert climate. Dubai takes every opportunity to upkeep it’s brand as a top spot for business and leisure travel.

Now let’s explore a place where celebrity has used their brand to put a region on the map. Not Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Orlando (does Mickey Mouse count as a celebrity?). I am thinking about rural Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Can you guess which celebrity made Pigeon Forge into a travel destination? Dolly Parton! She was born and raised in nearby Sevierville, Tennessee, and after reaching star status went back to her roots in 1986 and revived an old amusement park in Pigeon Forge. “Dollywood” (www.dollywood.com) now attracts millions of visitors each year and is the largest employer in the area. Numerous supporting hotels, restaurants, and other attractions are also adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dollywood is known for showcasing the unique crafts, music, and artifacts of the Smoky Mountain area.

Wildly popular herself, Dolly Parton’s brand has impacted the local Pigeon Forge community tremendously. She created a philanthropic foundation to help local schools and built a platform where local people can work and be proud of what their region has to offer. This is a great example of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?” Without Dolly there would be no Dollywood, but without the Great Smoky Mountain culture there may have been no Dolly Parton.

I am planning a trip to Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains in a few months and hope to get a closer look at her branding methods and the related impact on the region.

Take a look at this promotional video highlighting the 25th anniversary of Dollywood last year. Enjoy!

The win-win cycle of loyalty programs

A hot topic is the travel industry’s use of loyalty programs to foster and maintain consumer relationships while increasing their brand recognition and improving the organization’s bottom line. The frequent traveler quickly finds that earning points increases their “status” levels and leads to priority services. The organization then increases revenue by the traveler’s loyal spending. This cycle has fueled massive program membership among all parts of the travel industry.

I engage in the cycle and have made a point of enrolling in the programs where I intend to earn even just a few points each year. Keeping an account active varies by program, but generally it is not hard to keep your points or miles from expiring. Redemption is a completely different subject and can be tricky based on the traveler’s status and the availability of the product or service.

American Express has a program called Membership Rewards® which allows cardholders to earn points and then transfer them into a host of company’s individual programs. I have found this very useful because it allows me to deploy points at my choice. Another favorite program is the Delta Airlines Skymiles® program which allows partial payment of many published fares using mileage. For instance, on a recent trip to Key West, Florida, I was able to deduct $600 off a roundtrip first class ticket and only spent money on what would average as a coach class ticket.

Even the smallest of travel related organizations should develop a loyalty program. The advantage is that by having consumers become participants they can increase brand visibility, publicize changes to their product offering, and identify trends that impact future growth. Nothing is better than a repeat customer and each loyalty program administration must agree.

Do you have any comments on the topic? Any tips to share from either the industry or consumer perspective? Let’s get some dialogue started and learn from each other!

Check out this USA Today article for more great information and tips:

http://travel.usatoday.com/deals/inside/story/2011/02/Frequent-flier-101-What-you-need-to-know-about-loyalty-programs/43216508/1

Status updates? Yes, please!

While the weather causes chaos across much of the United States, many of us folks in New England are starting to become submissive to the nasty winter weather. We have started thinking that snow is part of our weekly routine and an unfortunate expectation. And as we are required to travel for work, school, and basic needs, we often look for guidance in what was traditional media (as I define television, newspaper, and radio outlets). Huddled away from what seems to be thousands of inches of snow, my thoughts now turn to social media, smart phones/devices, and how organizations in the travel industry are harnessing the power of these communication methods.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter are by no means “new”. Neither are copious choices of iPhone or Android applications. What is interesting, however, is the sheer number of people that because of these outlets are informed simultaneously of an event or decision. One great local example is Boston’s Logan International Airport on Facebook. They update the status on traffic accidents getting to or from the airport, weather conditions with estimated flight delays, and changes in aircraft boarding gates due to construction. People are then able to adjust travel plans and arrive or depart the airport based current information. Bravo also goes to the airlines that also use social media to broadcast travel waivers and allow customers to be proactive in changing flights before the weather arrives.

The positive impact social media is making on travel industry operations helps to ease tension for consumers and employees alike. No one wants to miss their Caribbean cruise due to a snowstorm, but sitting in an airport for hours hoping to fly just makes the travel process more difficult. A simple text message notifying of a cancelled flight and then another of automatic rebooking makes all the difference to everyone concerned.

A sincere “thank you” to those in the travel industry that take the time to Tweet and update their status so we can be much more informed and prepared!

Amtrak’s Acela Express – America’s first generation of high-speed rail transport

I have to say that I have a love affair with Amtrak’s Acela Express service. This very minute I am enroute from New York to Boston on Acela Express, the only high-speed rail service in the US. With a travel time of about 3.5 hours between city pairs and speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, it is quite a unique transportation experience. First Class amenities include complimentary cocktails in branded glassware, a choice of meals provided by dedicated First Class attendants, free Wifi, and power ports at each seat. The Club Acela lounges in each major city are invitation only enclaves for First Class and very frequent travelers. There is a Business Class section on each Acela Express train and a club car with drinks, food, and flat-screen TV’s to gather with fellow passengers and watch CNN or ESPN’s hot game of the day. With fares often less than flights from Boston Logan to New York’s LaGuardia, who prefers the hassle of check-in at the airport, security, air traffic delays, and then commuting from the respective airports? And do you really want to travel via interstate highway with guaranteed traffic frustration? Not me.

Amtrak’s Acela Express and Acela Regional brands have been hugely successful. It has been reported that a mere five years after the launch of Acela Express, Amtrak’s share of the transport market between Boston and New York leaped to 40% from only 18% previous to Acela’s startup. So this begs another question: With the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to bring high-speed rail service to 80% of Americans (this figure taken from his recent State of The Union address), would it not be in the best interest to fully privatize the nation’s railway system at the same time?

I am excited at the possibility of new rail operators competing in high-speed service with their own unique brands. Yes, while the Acela product is great and profitable today, I see the potential for better services. And with the goal of increasing rail speeds the impact on travel and commerce will be amazing.

If you live anywhere from Washington, DC to Boston and have the opportunity to try Acela Express, do it. It is definitely worth seeing what the future holds.

More information on the topic to come, stay tuned!

Amtrak's Acela Express

Is Virgin Atlantic ready to mate?

Well it appears the global travel industry consolidation craze now has Virgin Atlantic Airways pondering a move. Virgin is finally seeking to join a global airline alliance (such as SkyTeam, oneworld, or Star Alliance), in order to strengthen its position and set pace for growth as international business travel upticks. The Sunday Times reported that Abu Dhabi based Etihad Airways recently posed interest in buying Virgin. But that is not going to happen according to founder and current 51% stakeholder, Richard Branson.

Considering an alliance agreement is formed, what impact will this have on the Virgin Atlantic brand? I feel the brand is so strong independently that joining an alliance would only expose more fliers to the brand and fuel the powerhouse it is today. Virgin Atlantic’s three classes of service continue to be highly regarded as the smart and sexy way to travel across the North Atlantic. No revenue sharing agreement alone will dilute the brand or defer travelers to other carriers.

Turning to Branson himself, he is comparable to Steve Jobs of Apple in that he is the face of the airline. Putting the rock star and glam behind the brand, Branson makes a media splash at every opportunity to gain attention to Virgin and showcase how “cool” the products are. I think he will turn any alliance agreement into a wild red carpet event. And why not?!

So go ahead Virgin Atlantic, mate! As long as you keep the in-flight bars, gorgeous cabin crew, and stellar service that is synonymous with the brand. A sample of their latest ad campaign…