With a record holiday season behind us, the hospitality industry is looking forward to a strong 2017, thanks to an improvement in the economy and low gas prices. Occupancy rates in the U.S. during 2017 are expected to match the record numbers of 2016.
For Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, it is also a year to open new markets. Kimpton, mainly known for its boutique city hotels, opened its first resort in late 2016, the Seafire Resort + Spa, in Grand Cayman. It is also expanding overseas, opening its first international property in Amsterdam next month. This will call for adjustments in the chain’s message, but it will retain its core identity, including wine tastings and communal activities for guests that Kimpton is known for, said Kathleen Reidenbach, who, as the brand’s chief commercial officer, oversees sales, catering, and marketing.
Reidenbach has been with the company over a long career with roots in revenue management roles. She recently spoke to CMO.com about the importance of content and social media to customer engagement and the need for curiosity among executives.
CMO.com: You have a wide portfolio. What’s the thinking behind one executive coordinating those functions?
Reidenbach: We found that bringing all these different disciplines under the same umbrella allows us to be more closely aligned and therefore stronger and more strategic in terms of how we deliver the Kimpton experience from a selling and merchandising experience.
We saw there were a lot of synergies, whether you are in revenue management and your focus is on yield management, or whether you’re in sales or are in brand. All of these different disciplines are very interconnected, and they’re dependent on each other to be successful.
CMO.com: How important is it to have that coordination to build a better experience for your guests?
Reidenbach: That is something we take incredibly seriously. We have an awareness that a meeting planner who is talking to a sales manager about booking a corporate event is the same person who is on Instagram on their way home from work, looking for a bit of inspiration.
Looking at consumers and our guests holistically beyond just the one reason they might be engaging with us at that time is incredibly important, so we can build stronger relationships with them and be more relevant to them.
CMO.com: You worked in revenue strategy before moving into marketing. Does that background give you a different perspective on marketing as a revenue source instead of a cost center?
Reidenbach: Having a level of curiosity when you are in a revenue management, revenue strategy, or yield management role is important. In order for you to be effective from a pricing and yield management perspective, you start to peel back the onion and understand the demands on our rate tables for a specific period.
That is an exercise I went through early in my career—understanding how many different people influenced my ability to have an effective revenue strategy, all the way through to the core, which is ultimately operations and the guest experience. I always had a passion for understanding all the different levers and influences that are in place in order for me to do my job effectively. That allows me to connect with and pull a lot of different disciplines together in order for the whole business to be successful.
CMO.com: Kimpton has built its brand on personalization. How has that changed as mobile and social media evolved?
Reidenbach: A lot of energy and focus goes into the heart and soul of Kimpton, thinking about the psychographic profile as much as thinking about the data-driven points on personalization. We’re thinking about the point of view of our guests and our employees. We’re thinking about how our guests want to feel, what is stressing them out right now, and how we can make their lives easier. That is ultimately what drives a lot of the content we’re delivering.
CMO.com: As more hotel brands leverage data to offer personalization, how do you keep ahead?
Reidenbach: I think it’s about listening. It’s about paying attention to the behaviors of our guests. You have to watch for those clues and behaviors that are not necessarily written down.
It’s really easy for everyone to be very prescriptive, take the data, and deliver something that is personalized, but it’s not so easy to deliver an experience that is personal. It’s reading the guests when they walk up to the front desk and they look like they had a rough travel day.
We put a lot of energy around that sort of unscripted and what we call “ridiculously personal” experiences. We’re constantly listening on-property and through social media, looking for those opportunities to make that experience personal.
CMO.com: Do you remain committed to content marketing, or has travel content become a commodity?
Reidenbach: We’re incredibly committed to it. We have enjoyed the evolution in our social strategy and enjoyed outlets like [the] “Life is Suite” [blog] as ways that we’re able to help our guests and make their lives a little bit easier.
We leverage social media to deliver a better experience on-property. We are listening to what our guests are telling us. We are constantly listening from a service recovery perspective to ensure we can also recover from mistakes and missteps that are inevitably made throughout the journey. We have a 24/7 social listening desk where we have a team that’s monitoring social feedback and responses.
We also treasure all of the content our guests give us. Our guests are some of our best photographers and videographers. They generate a tremendous amount of gorgeous Kimpton imagery and experiences that I don’t know we could ever recreate in an authentic way, so we ... pull those images and videos into our website, our blog, Pinterest, and Instagram. We have a lot of fun showcasing their stories in the way they want to share them.
CMO.com: As you expand internationally and into resorts, do you need to adjust your marketing focus?
Reidenbach: The beauty of Kimpton is we have a lot of practice—with over 60 hotels, 70 restaurants, and destinations—given each property has its own unique identity. We’re accustomed to representing each destination in a highly localized way that represents the personality of the hotel, restaurant, and bar.
CMO.com: How do you balance the boutique aspect versus a Kimpton brand message?
Reidenbach: It’s been Kimpton’s sweet spot. You’re always going to get a warm and welcoming experience. You’re always going to have a great design and an exceptional, locally loved restaurant and bar. There’s pillars of the brand, and they come in the shape of emotional brand standards—ways we want our guests and our employees to feel on property.
Our guests love that we are consistently unique in each destination. They can count on something to happen that is warm and welcoming and social, but they like to see how that’s going to unfold based on the personality of the destination.