Best Western Melds Old and New1 Mar, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response
The international hotel chain finds a new take on an old-school direct response medium helps build brand loyalty and adds to the bottom line.
Tammy Lucas, managing director of marketing programs for Phoenix-based Best Western Intl. is not operating under any illusions when it comes to the image of the 4,000-location strong international hotel chain. "A lot of companies find themselves doing the same things over and over. At Best Western, we definitely test new marketing ideas to see what moves the needle," she says. "That may surprise some people who think Best Western is just a 'same-old' brand. We've been looked upon as a stodgy brand, but we have spent a lot of time and effort in marketing to contemporize the brand."
The 63-year old company, "The World's Largest Hotel Chain,"® operates as a non-profit, member association hotelier, meaning all of its more than 4,000 locations in 80 countries are independently owned and operated. Best Western locations offer more than 305,000 guest rooms and employ more than 1,100 people. More than 1,000 of Best Western's North American locations are three-diamond rated by AAA.
The size, scope and quality of the Best Western brand may surprise big city dwellers who are perhaps not used to traveling across "fly-over" America. However, Best Western, since its founding by veteran California hotelier M.K. Guertin in 1946, has become a part of the American — actually, the international — landscape for any traveler on lengthy driving or train journey.
Not only has Best Western contemporized its marketing efforts, but the 4,000-location strong hotel chain has also worked hard to update the look and feel of its properties.
It's not a shock then that, as part of what the company has built, its loyalty rewards program is one of the strongest in the travel business. Recently re-dubbed Best Western Rewards, according to Lucas, the hotel's loyalty program members are some of the most active and most invested around.
"When we talk about our direct response marketing programs, we are really talking about tapping into our loyalty customers," Lucas says. "We do direct work on TV, online and in print, and the majority is directed to existing customers. The new name, Best Western Rewards, is part of a revamp of the look and feel. And, this refreshed loyalty program is more contemporary, very targeted and offers more affinity programs, as well as better elite member benefits."
Lucas, a native of Ottawa, Canada who operates out of the company's Phoenix headquarters, says that Internet and E-mail marketing has played the biggest role in the success of the company's loyalty program since she arrived in April 2004. The ability of Web-based marketing to "drill down" and "gain feedback" from customers has been a boon for Best Western. "E-mail has been the most cost-effective program, and we continue to build initiatives around that — including more targeting to our elite members, who really drive the loyalty program," she says.
However, it was a recent direct response print media campaign that drove some of the most stunning success that Best Western has seen from its marketing programs in recent times. "While we have a variety of channels we tap into — we never put all our eggs in one basket — direct mail hasn't been a key factor," Lucas says. It is now.
The trial Best Western and InfoPrint worked on helped boost response, number and length of hotel stays, and applications for the Best Western-branded MasterCard.