Marriott clears up brands framework by making it more confusing

When Marriott International announced it was acquiring Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the first thing that jumped out at me was: "Man, that's a lot of brands under one roof—and some that are awfully similar."

Up until now, Marriott has been mum on its strategy to deal with the now 30 brands it owns. The only thing it would say was that it did plan on keeping them all—not selling any off or folding some brands together. Turns out, for the time being, that will be the plan moving forward.

Tina Edmundson, Marriott's global brand officer, who, prior to joining Marriott was 19 years with Starwood, said as much to Bloomberg.

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“We thought long and hard about how you serve up 30 brands in a meaningful way—one that helps consumers infer both price and experience,” she told Bloomberg.

Help or confuse?

Here's what we now know per Marriott's own website. The hotel company has put all 30 brands in buckets under either a "Classic" or "Distinctive" designation.

Eight brands are being designated Luxury: Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Bvlgari, St. Regis, Edition, Luxury Collection, JW Marriott and W.

And here's where it gets a little ticklish. It’s characterizing Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and JW Marriott as “classic luxury,” while the other five brands are considered “distinctive luxury.”

Here's how Edmundson broke it down:

“When we think about any of our brands, we start with the consumer and look at what they value. With Ritz-Carlton, this consumer is really leaning toward discovery. And for St. Regis, it’s really about status and connoisseurship. Luxury customers are looking for everything but lean more heavily on Ritz-Carlton for facilitation [to explore a new place] and on St. Regis when they want the hotel to be the destination. The St. Regis customer is looking for the hotel to serve up performances by jazz legends or signature rituals like midnight supper and St. Regis bloody marys.”

Here's what it means: For Ritz-Carlton customers, it's about the destination. For St. Regis customers, it's about the hotel. (Edmundson was quiet about JW Marriott, but assume it leans more toward the Ritz-Carlton persona.)

The remaining five luxury brands will be called "distinctive luxury."

Moving down the chain scale, we come to the Premium bucket, which includes these Classic Premium brands: Marriott, Sheraton, Marriott Vacation Club and Delta Hotels. Distinctive Premium set includes: Le Meridien, Westin, Autograph Collection, Design Hotels, Renaissance, Tribute Portfolio, Gaylord Hotels.

On to Select and Classic Select: Courtyard, Four Points, SpringHill Suites, Protea Hotels and Fairfield. Distinctive Select includes: AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy.

Then, Longer Stays and leading off with Classic Longer Stays: Marriott Executive Apartments, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites. Distinctive Longer Stays: Element.

What Does It All Mean?

My head is swimming and I'm not the only one.

First, would it not have made better sense to group its soft brands—Luxury Collection, Autograph Collection and Tribute Portfolio—together? Or detach each independent hotel from the brands and put them all under one master soft brand? That, for one, jumped out at me. 

The only thing that doesn't surprise me is that all but three of Starwood’s 11 brands are deemed distinctive. Meanwhile, in my opinion, classic is a euphemism for older, non-millennial-minded brands, while distinctive certainly means hipper and younger.

Maybe I'm one who craves simplicity, but bucketing all these brands, then adding sub-buckets, well, you catch my drift. (The handy chart above does give some clarity, however.)

Understandably, it's a tough task; it's a lot of brands to look after, and Marriott is doing its best to define them all so that customers can choose hotels based on their own preferences.

Ultimately, I'm still not convinced that all brands will be with Marriott for the long haul. Right now, it makes sense that they are, further so until Marriott 100 percent figures out its rewards scenario.

For instance, as The Real Deal points out, Autograph Collection—with a variety of upscale hotels—is not part of luxury, "which could be a great deal for travelers if the new loyalty program bases redemption values on where the flag falls in the company’s new spectrum."

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