ATLANTA—IHG’s Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts has had a busy year. In 2016, it announced its Accelerate program, a $200-million investment in the brand. This year, Crowne Plaza is embarking on its largest marketing push in the Americas in the past decade to support its transformation.
Accelerate touches all aspects of the business model—operations, quality, sales, in-hotel performance, above-property and on-property performance, yield management, traditional marketing and innovation—in an effort to make sure Crowne Plaza is design led, culturally relevant and technology enabled. Eric Lent, VP of Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, the Americas, said that the intent of the campaign is to reintroduce the brand to the target guest—modern business travelers.
“Last year was really about strategy development, hiring this dedicated team, ensuring alignment with IHG and the various stakeholder groups. This year is all about execution and delivery,” he said, noting the company is currently rolling out or in final testing stages with several initiatives, including “new uniforms, new revenue streams to otherwise latent public space areas and a new food & beverage operating model.” Over the course of 2017, Crowne Plaza will be making physical improvements to properties, including WorkLife Rooms—guestrooms designed to allow guests to flow between productivity and relaxation—and Flexible Meetings Spaces.
A driver of the transformation and the “We’re All Business, Mostly” marketing campaign—which is also its tagline—is the change in the modern business traveler. “A number of events in the past decade fundamentally shifted consumer behavior in the U.S., but even more broadly across the world,” said Lent. “Think back to the 2008 recession: What we saw was significant corporate downsizing with tens of millions of jobs cut out of the U.S. economy. While those people were downsized, the work remained, and that work was spread—more often than not—among the remaining workforce. At the same time that was occurring, the iPhone and the iPad were introduced. This need to get more done with a lower labor force coupled with these tools that absolutely increase productivity really created a dramatic shift. This whole notion of what we used to call work/life balance frankly died.
“As a result of that, what’s emerged is this need to manage this duality, this need to blend both work and life so that throughout the day, you’re accomplishing objectives in each of those needs,” Lent continued, adding that the campaign recognizes that “work has changed and with it our guests have changed. Today, work is more digital, more flexible, more mobile, more connected. The line between work and life continues to blur, and guests need a hotel that enables a successful work and life blend.
“That’s what Crowne Plaza does,” he continued. “We’re all business, mostly. That tagline is very deliberate, loaded with nuance and meaning. It cements our position as a hotel brand that caters to the business traveler; the ‘mostly’ is a wink and a nod to the recognition of this need to blend both work and life, and while we want to make sure our guests can be as successful as possible, we also want to give them ample opportunity to relax and recharge.”
Lent added that the modern business traveler isn’t necessarily a demographic but a mindset. “These people are drivers. They live life to the fullest—being successful in work and their personal goals. Their new normal, what they recognize and accept, is this need for a work/life blend,” he said.
Tam’ra Powell, director of brand marketing, Americas for the brand, said Crowne Plaza “really allowed consumer insights to lead the development of the entire campaign, to really hone in on how we express that we enable your success in achieving that blended lifestyle.” Crowne Plaza worked in partnership with the global brand team to lead consumer research and develop the creative brand platform; then, it worked with its agency partner, Ogilvy, to flesh that out into creative concepts and put all of those through a battery of testing. Finally, it tested the final TV commercial with Kantar Millward Brown, an independent research firm that has tested more than 150,000 ads globally.
The brand tested the advertising with consumers that fall into the modern business traveler target. “We saw that compared to a database of over 17,000 ads tested, this ad rose to the top 18% in its ability to impact awareness among consumers, as well as the top 14% in its ability to impact persuasion and really drive people to book a stay with Crowne Plaza,” Powell said.
The commercial features a business traveler at the front desk, taking selfies, grabbing drinks with a friend, and at the gym, among other activities. “In the video, as we’re trying to shift the image of the brand, we’ve continued to lean into what we mentioned earlier about ensuring all of our touchpoints are infused with cultural relevance,” Powell said. “Two ways we were able to infuse some current culture into the video were through the choice of director and music. On director, we were so excited to work with Henry Scholfield out of London, who brought a really strong vision to the table in partnership with our agency. He had a strong talent for creating those seamless transitions from scene to scene, which was so important as we did have so many different modes that traveler was shown to be in. Additionally, we leveraged a popular song, “Hand Clap” by indie pop band Fitz & the Tantrums. We believe this track embodies the modern swagger we want the brand to become associated with.”
In addition to TV—where the ad airs on channels the modern business traveler watches (news channels, but also lifestyle channels like Travel Channel and FX)—the video ad will play on social media. “We’re running it with both Facebook and Instagram, applying best practices but also taking advantage of new types of media,” Powell said. “We shot the spot vertically to make sure that we maximized that space on the mobile device.”
However, Crowne Plaza also wanted to leverage Facebook Carousel, which allows companies to showcase up to 10 images or videos within a single ad, each with its own link. “We want to make sure we’re using those new types of ways to communicate what the brand offers,” she said.
There will also be different versions of the campaign pushed out on social—for instance, a version that features a female business traveler.
“Another way we’re pushing this message out is in direct response media,” Powell said. “This is the type of media that targets travelers when we’ve seen a trigger that they’re in the market to book a hotel room. For instance, they recently purchased an airline ticket. Then we’ll serve them creative that will encourage them to book and it ties back to this campaign messaging.”
“The brand is on the move, is building momentum and is accelerating its performance,” Lent concluded. HB