Marriott And The Millennials

Large global companies that sell to consumers directly are in the process of making sure that they continue to be relevant to tomorrow’s buyers – the millennials, who will shape their profits and growth for the next two decades. And you can see this not just in terms of marketing and Ads but also products and platforms across diverse industries – cars, electronics, food and so on and so forth.

Marriott, which operates more than 660,000 rooms across 16 brands globally, is no different.

So what is it trying to do? Brooks Barnes writes in a highly readable NYT piece that

To win over younger business travelers — and, even more important, to keep them in the Marriott fold when they travel for leisure, particularly overseas — the energetic Mr. Sorenson (Arne Sorenson, the first non-family CEO at Marriott International – Ed.) is relying on a range of strategies.

Core hotels are getting gussied up. In September, the Chicago Marriott O’Hareunveiled $40 million worth of improvements, including a better bar, historically a Marriott weakness. (Some analysts trace that to the company’s Mormon roots.) The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center begins a similar $30 million upgrade in February. The company has been trying to improve what it calls the “guest-room beauty experience” at Marriott-brand hotels — stocking bathrooms, for instance, with a Thai skin care line.

A new ad push, “Travel Brilliantly,” estimated to cost roughly $90 million over three years, reflects Mr. Sorenson’s focus on younger consumers. TV and web ads, taped at international resorts like the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, intone: “This is not a hotel. It’s an idea that travel should be brilliant. The promise of spaces as expansive as your imagination.” Marriott also offers Xplor, a free smartphone app combining reservations with games; players win loyalty club points by completing challenges at virtual hotels.

“We want people to be saying, ‘Hey, do you see what Marriott just did?’ ” Mr. Sorenson said.

And it is starting new brands and not explicitly associating them with the Marriott name in some parts of the world. In others, it is trying to explicitly link the Ritz Carlton name to its Marriott owners, etc.

A terrific read, that piece.

How Angela Ahrendts Fixed Burberry, In Her Own Words

As my regular readers know, every once in a while, I encounter something on the web that is so well written that I have trouble selecting a good extract to blog about. Still, I persevere. 

So here’s an extract from an eminently readable HBR article (which I quoted from, in my previous post on Louis Vuitton), by Angela Ahrendts, on how she fixed Burberry and the challenges she faced in that process.

On the surface, I might have seemed an unlikely CEO for a company that was considered quintessentially British. I was raised in a small town in Indiana and educated at Ball State University. I was a classic midwesterner—something the Financial Times had fun mocking when I first took the job. But I’d been fortunate enough to work with and learn from some of the most inspirational leaders in the fashion industry, from Paul Charron to Donna Karan. And I had 25 years of experience on my side.

I also clearly had one attribute that made me a good fit: I admire and respect great brands and helped to build some over the years. From Apple to Starbucks, I love the consistency—knowing that anywhere in the world you can depend on having the same experience in the store or being served a latte with the same taste and in the same cup. That’s great branding.

Unfortunately, Burberry didn’t have a lot of that. An experience in any given Burberry store in the world might be very different from the customer’s previous one. As part of my transition, I spent six months working closely with my predecessor, hitting the road to get a sense of Burberry worldwide. In Hong Kong, I was introduced to a design director and her team, who proudly showed me the line they were creating for that market: polo shirts and woven shirts and everything with the famous Burberry check, but not a single coat.

Then we went to America, where I was introduced to another design director and design team. This team was creating outerwear, but at half the price point of that in the UK. Furthermore, the coats were being manufactured in New Jersey. So we were making classic Burberry raincoats that said “Made in the U.S.A.” I later learned that we had outerwear licensees in Italy and Germany making trench coats that were even cheaper than those in the United States.

Great global brands don’t have people all over the world designing and producing all kinds of stuff. It became quite clear that if Burberry was going to be a great, pure, global luxury brand, we had to have one global design director. We had an incredible young designer named Christopher Bailey, with whom I’d worked at Donna Karan and who I knew was a sensational talent. So I introduced him early on as the “brand czar.” I told the team, “Anything that the consumer sees—anywhere in the world—will go through his office. No exceptions.”

Highly recommend reading the piece in its entirety

Asana’s Co-Founder – Advice For Product Managers

Dropbox is worth a couple of billion dollars today.

So how would you feel if the product you were managing could have become Dropbox, but didn’t, because the President of your company shot down the idea after you presented it to him?

Without rancor, and with grace, Justin Rosenstein talks about his experience with Google Drive and Larry Page – and concludes with this advice for Product Managers:

1. If you’re managing a project inside of a company, living and breathing it, the onus is on you, not upper management, to understand and articulate the marketing positioning and strategy that’s unique to your project. If management still disagrees with you, I wouldn’t fight them, but have enough confidence to make your case with conviction.

2. Now that I’m in a leadership role as the co-founder of Asana, I think twice before disagreeing with one of my reports when they look like they’ve really thought something through in their area of expertise and are passionate about their conclusion. I still disagree a lot — ultimately it’s my responsibility to ensure Asana maintains a consistent vision — but once I’ve made up my mind, it can still be changed.

I thought the article was a class act. You can read it  here.

Reed Hastings – On The Future of Video

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote a 11 page essay on the future of video (what’s with consumer/tech CEOs writing letters and essays these days?).

Peter Kafka, at AllThingsD, has helpfully summarized it for readers.

And out of the 7 bullet points from the article, I excerpted the three that I thought were most interesting. [Note: This excerpt includes Peter's insightful commentary.]

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Bill Marriott – On Not Choosing His Son As CEO

A fascinating, long read from Bill Marriott on not choosing his son to succeed him as CEO, comes to us from HBR.

An excerpt:

…my son John, who is 52. Like all family members who have joined the company (including me), John started at the bottom, as a cook in the kitchen. He went on to work in nearly every part of the business over the next 30 years. He spent most of his adult life preparing to succeed me as CEO. He devoted his heart and soul to learning the business. If I’d followed my own heart, I probably would have chosen John as my successor.

But as time went on, I realized that it wasn’t the right fit—not for John, and not for Marriott. As personally disappointing as that was to both of us, I had to make the right decision for the company.

Read the full piece here

It is as much a chronicle of Mr Marriott’s thinking, as it is an account of how Arne Sorenson became CEO.

Giving – The Secret To Success?

True leaders give without expecting anything in return, say the gurus. Forget leaders though. What about regular professionals that may (or may not) want to become a leader – but still want to get ahead in their careers. Is “giving” a way for them to get ahead too?

Likely, argues a long essay (highly recommend reading it…probably takes 10 minutes or less. Admit it…you’ve spent more time looking at cute cat videos on YouTube!) by Susan Dominus on the NYT, last month.

In it, she writes about Adam Grant, Wharton’s youngest tenured Professor (he’s 31). Consider this excerpt:

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