Hyatt’s Sara Kearney talks brand positioning

Chicago – After decades prospering with brands such as Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt, Hyatt Hotels Corp. in recent years has added the upper-end boutique Andaz as well as entered the select-service segment with Hyatt Place and the upper extended-stay segment with Hyatt House. Now the company is aggressively moving forward with a brand known simply as “Hyatt.”

Today there are 33 such hotels, comprising more than 7,800 guestrooms, in destinations ranging from New York to Paris with more to come. “It’s our fastest growing brand,” said Sara Kearney, SVP of brands.

But in terms of branding, where exactly does Kearney see a “Hyatt” Hyatt hotel fitting? Many of Hyatt’s industry competitors, in fact, whether Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide or Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, among others, have already invested heavily in developing their own sophisticated brand differentiation strategies. Where does Hyatt’s Hyatt belong?

“If Andaz is our high-end, full-service boutique brand, Hyatt could be described as a less high-end, though still full-service, boutique product. But each Hyatt is also intended to tie into—and closely reflect—its location,” Kearney said.

She cited the recently opened Hyatt 48 Lex and Hyatt Union Square, both in New York, as examples. Other examples include Hyatt Times Square, a third New York hotel currently under construction, Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile in the company’s headquarters city and Hyatt Paris Madeleine.

The Hyatt brand emerged as an offering of its own when a developer inquired about the possibility of franchising an Andaz hotel. With the Andaz brand still finding its footing at the time, according to Kearney, Hyatt executives declined to make the brand available for franchise. But out of those discussions emerged the concept that evolved into a Hyatt brand prototype.

Consumer Input

With the company’s first wave of brands, which included Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt, most of the conceptualizing, including the selection of a name and a logo, was done internally and with the assistance of outside consultants. That process changed dramatically, however, with the launch in 2008 of Hyatt Place.

“This was the first time we focused on consumer feedback in developing a brand. In effect, we learned how to design the hotel by responding to the needs of consumers as they described them to us,” Kearney said.

In deciding to enter the select-service segment, Hyatt had acquired 129 AmeriSuites hotels and they became the first generation of Hyatt Place hotels. “Because we owned the AmeriSuites properties, it made sense to use them as a laboratory as we continued to develop the concept that evolved into Hyatt Place,” she said.

Likewise, the thinking behind Andaz began to take shape when the company acquired a hotel in London, also in 2008. “Being able to test concepts in a hotel, rather than off-site, proved a significant advantage. It doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes, you do, but it allows you to see them sooner and with greater clarity,” she said.

The company followed a similar path when it decided to venture into the extended-stay space. It acquired the Summerfield Suites brand and, while it fine-tuned the product offering and planned for future new builds, opted to rename the existing inventory Hyatt Summerfield Suites. That way, consumers would know of the Hyatt affiliation. Then when the timing was right, the hotels were renamed again, this time to Hyatt House.

Logos were developed that would provide visual cues to each brand’s core experience. Given that Hyatt House is an extended-stay brand, for example, “guests don’t check in as much as move in,” Kearney said. “Accordingly, the logo can be said to represent a table, chair and a glass of wine.”

More times than not, that choice of words reflect the brand attributes that the brand team has developed to reflect the brand’s personality.

“But when other words are used or the words better apply to another of our brands, it’s an indicator we have a problem,” Kearney said. “Our job then is to find ways to better clarify that brand story.”  

Resort Entry

Last month a Hyatt subsidiary closed an investment in Playa Hotels & Resorts, a company formed to own, operate and develop all-inclusive resorts. The portfolio will include 13 resorts in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica, and Hyatt will enter franchise agreements for six of these. Those six will operate as Hyatt-branded resorts. The first two, currently Barcelo Los Cabos (part of Barcelo Hotels & Resorts) and The Royal Cancun (now affiliated with Real Resorts), will open under Hyatt branding later this year. The company has invested $325 million into this project, according to its recent financial statements, and more investments are expected to come this year.