When the largest hotel operator in the world rebrands its rewards program, it’s sure to make waves across the industry.
Marriott’s new loyalty program, Bonvoy, generated so much buzz that ABC created a special advertising block for its unveiling. Overall, the program’s story has been the most noteworthy travel and hospitality story of the year—and marketers took notice.
So, what can travel brands learn from Bonvoy’s launch? How should firms view Marriott’s successes—and mistakes—with the launch? Here are five key lessons from this remarkable rebrand:
1. Rebranding or Creating a New Brand is Challenging
The first takeaway from the launch of Bonvoy is that rebranding or launching a new product is no small feat—it involves creativity and navigating complex factors, such as legal and cultural considerations.
According to AdAge, launching Bonvoy was a two-year process from concept development to final rollout. Marriott faced many of the same challenges any firm would face during a rebrand: finding a positive identity, conveying the correct message, and finding a name that was available.
While Bonvoy made great effort into choosing its name—it was carefully vetted and tested in several languages—the name was just a small part of the project. Marriott also had to develop a new visual identity, restructure its rewards options, and create a new, fitting tagline: Rewards Reimagined.
2. Hospitality Is About Customer Loyalty
Given the significant resources and effort required, why did Marriott choose to rebrand?
It was partly due to necessity. Following the acquisition of Starwood in 2016, Marriott had three separate rewards programs to combine. Bonvoy would encompass Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).
However, the rebrand went further than simply combining these programs. Marriott wanted to create a strong, overarching identity that would both appeal to members and unify its brands. Marriott Bonvoy was to become Marriott’s most important brand, said CEO Arne Sorenson.
Why would Sorenson direct the Marriott team to prioritize Bonvoy? Because loyalty programs are essential for hospitality brands. In fact, these programs have become indispensable when competing against home-sharing brands and online travel agencies, according to Chekitan Dev, professor of marketing at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
Ultimately, loyalty bookings translate into direct booking relationships with consumers, which is key when competing in the extremely saturated travel market. With Bonvoy, Marriott presented a new and more powerful rewards platform, not just a refresh of an existing program.
3. Brands Are Increasingly Multifaceted
When Marriott was established in 1957, it was little more than a logo and name. Times have certainly changed—today’s hospitality and travel brands are more multifaceted than ever, producing a wide variety of digital and physical experiences.
Bonvoy’s launch involved changing all aspects of branding, from signage and keys to print materials to social media accounts and website hosting. Even the company’s mobile apps were affected. Additionally, Marriott’s partnerships, such as credit card and airline offerings, had to be integrated into the new system. This was an enormous undertaking as Marriott’s Bonvoy began to take flight.
4. Change Can Be Difficult for Customers
Was Bonvoy met with enthusiasm from customers? In reality, the launch had mixed results. Some customers made jokes about the name, likening it to a brand of soymilk or Jon Bon Jovi.
More notably, the launch also became associated with some of the frustrations consumers expressed during the Marriott-Starwood merger, even spawning the hashtag #Bonvoyed. One unhappy customer even created Bonvoyed.com, where disgruntled loyalty members could air their grievances.
Some of this was due to mistakes by Marriott, such as not merging its loyalty programs seamlessly. However, this pushback was also due to the fact that change is difficult for both brands and customers. The more established a brand is, the more challenging it can be.
5. Branding/Rebranding Doesn’t Happen Overnight
When customers don’t immediately accept a new brand or rebrand, persistence is essential.
“It takes time to build a brand, whether in hospitality or any sector,” Marriott’s Karin Timpone told Skift. Timpone noted that today there are many popular brand names that were once perplexing to customers.
Taking an aggressive marketing approach, Marriott included traditional and digital campaigns to familiarize customers with Bonvoy. The firm also took these efforts to the next level, purchasing an entire ad block during this year’s Oscars.
With a proactive, multichannel marketing approach—and a lot of patience—Marriott was able to truly transform its loyalty program. Brands hoping to rebrand should consider Marriott’s approach in order to keep their own customers engaged.
About Michael Del Gigante, CEO of MDG Advertising
In 1999, CEO Michael Del Gigante founded MDG Advertising, a full-service advertising agency with offices in Boca Raton, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. With his unique insight and decades of industry experience, he turned what was once a traditional ad agency into an integrated branding firm based on an innovative 360-degree marketing philosophy that provides a full spectrum of traditional and digital advertising services to the hospitality and travel industry.