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Hilton Garden Inn | Brand Spotlight Partner What is this?

4 Words That Can Recast Your Brand's Culture

With a fresh perspective, brands have an opportunity to make customer engagements truly wonderful. Here's how.


Leaders of consumer-facing brands–across industries and geographies–face a common challenge:

Courtesy of Hilton Garden Inn

How do we attract customers? And how do we encourage them to remain loyal?

The simple answer is … through an all-encompassing emphasis on strengthening brand culture. And that culture can be shaped and re-shaped by four small yet powerful words. More on that in a minute.

Brand culture is especially important in hospitality, where consumers are bombarded by intriguing new brands, hotel consolidations and mergers, cool design trends, and cutting-edge apps–all designed to win their hearts and dollars.

In addition to the tangible services and amenities travelers expect and deserve, guests are also eager for a more personalized experience that goes beyond form and function, price and features.

Trust me. I know. For more than two years, our Hilton Garden Inn team researched, created and tested a comprehensive refresh of our company and brand culture, which we have rolled out across our entire 750+-property global footprint this year.

To some, the timing was surprising. Our metrics were trending in the right direction, we were globally recognized for our food and beverage offering, and we had grown steadily worldwide into a well-respected premium brand. Why would the best brand in hospitality (our humble opinion) need to be refreshed?

To become even better. Amplifying our brand culture was anchored in the belief that we can articulate and implement an overarching purpose in order to emphasize and improve what we already do well. Hilton’s brand mission is to become the world’s most hospitable company, and this mission is at the center of our enduring commitment to guests.  We ensure that guests’ needs and preferences are central to every decision we make, and every action we take.

Our guests, team members and hotel owners have responded positively to our revisions, which are summarized here.

I’ve learned some key lessons that will enhance our continual efforts to refine our brand. Let me share a few that played a key role in recasting the Hilton Garden Inn brand. And I believe they can be characterized by these four powerful words:

1. Listen.

Given the explosion in data analytics in recent years, “listen” has taken on added meaning. It means taking the time to ask your teams their thoughts on how we can do things better.  And beyond the literal definition of paying attention to what your guests and your employees have to say, you must also vigorously “listen” to what your data is telling you–about preferences, aversions and purchase habits.  

Listening has encouraged us to focus more on our ecosystem, as a method for bringing our brand culture to life. For instance, as a result of listening to our Team Members, we recently created a new online platform and mobile app that enables our Team Members around the world to connect with each other and share best practices from their local hotel with others throughout our global network. Since it’s accessible via a mobile app, suggestions can be made–and reviewed–in real time. It’s a tool that makes it easier than ever for our Team Members to provide exceptional guest service and make every guest’s stay brighter. 

2. Empower.

We’ve enhanced our Brand Promise, emphasizing that to make a guest’s stay better and brighter, any of our Team Members are empowered to take action to make things right.

To that point, one of our operational pillars is encouraging team members to be intuitive. In my consumer experiences, nothing is more frustrating than having a simple request delayed because the employee needs to run it past a bevy of supervisors.

If it seems reasonable to take action, the employee should feel authorized to do so. And to leverage their personal strengths and attributes to do so. An “action-taker” in our Albany, N.Y., hotel is Irene Estes. The hotel is adjacent to a medical center, so some guests stay there while receiving outpatient treatment or supporting a hospitalized loved one.

When Irene learns that guests may be worried or troubled, she will proactively go to their room and check on them, sit with them in the lobby, or offer comforting words or a hug. It’s not in her job description. She doesn’t ask permission. Irene helps others because it’s the right thing to do.

3. Brighten.

At Hilton Garden Inn, “brighten” encapsulates what drives us to come to work and be of service to others, each and every day. Getting the basics right–clean rooms, courteous staff, flawless execution–is table stakes. But we can we go beyond what’s expected to make the customer’s experience even brighter.

Not long ago, I received a message from a guest who had stayed at our Minneapolis hotel, expressing her gratitude for an act of kindness. Devastated by a recent break-up, she returned to her room to find a hand-written note from one of our housekeepers, simply worded: Don’t you give up!

As the woman told me, “[The housekeeper] has no idea how much of an impact she had made. She has given me more strength to get through this.”

4. Innovate.

Even the best brands can do better. Whether sprucing up the lobby or revamping a menu to reflect changing tastes, innovative approaches can delight customers and reinvigorate staff.

An innovation we have recently instituted at our hotels is Digital Check-In, and now many guests at numerous properties can check-in from their mobile device and use our app as a “digital key” to access the room. Why do we focus on these and other enhancements? Because guests and Team Members asked for them, in focus groups and surveys.

If you truly “listen,” to both customers and your employees, you will easily discover similarly clever ways to innovate that can truly make an impact on your business and even the communities you serve.

Every day, and in countless ways, brands have the opportunity to make customer engagements truly wonderful. And, when an experience is wonderful, who wouldn’t want to come back–again and again–for more?

John Greenleaf is the global head of Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton’s upscale yet affordable global brand of hotels.

Hilton Garden Inn

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