Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide CEO Steven J. Heyer, in office for a mere 18 months, rolled out a highly ambitious company vision, which includes an all-new brand positioning strategy. At a New York City media event, he vowed to make the hotel chain’s eight brands as cult-like and well known as Starbucks and Apple’s iPod. He said Starwood would become “the most balanced hotel company and the most profitable in our industry by sharply defining our brands.”

Taking over the reins from Starwood founder Barry Sternlicht in October 2004, Heyer wasted no time in galvanizing each of his brand managers to better define and position their segments. “Our research shows that brands are not a logo, but an experience. We will deliver an indelible moment” to each of Starwood’s guests, Heyer said. “Our brands must be ideas and feelings attached to rooms, but not just rooms … we’ve moved from selling boxes and beds to selling experiences.”

Heyer also rolled out ambitious growth strategies, moving from the current 850 properties in 95 countries, to 1,000 this year (in signed contracts), with a five percent to seven percent net annual growth in units expected through 2009.

Javier Benito, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, coined a new term and metric for the hospitality industry during the media day: revenue per occupied room, or RevPOR, which measures everything on top of room rate, such as food and beverage, spa, and other expenditures. “We plan to drive RevPOR on top of RevPAR,” said Benito.

Each brand will have at least three “core values,” or descriptive words, as part of the positioning statement. The only unifying elements among the eight brands are the ability to collect points in the Starwood Preferred Guest program by staying at any of the brands, and a corporate commitment to training to ensure that the brands’ essence will be employed by each hotel staff, even in those that are franchised. Here’s how Starwood describes each brand.

  • Sheraton: centered on “warm, comforting, connections,” and focusing on retraining its workers. Starwood's largest brand debuted its Yahoo! Link @ Sheraton, a lobby hub where guests can hop on the Internet, at its San Diego property and will be rolling it out at other Sheratons through the year.
  • Four Points by Sheraton: For the self-sufficient traveler, FourPoints by Sheraton aims to provide “honest, uncomplicated, comfort.”
  • Le Meridien: Starwood's newest brand's core values of “chic, cultured, discovery are born of its European heritage.”
  • Luxury Collection: The third largest luxury hotel brand in the world, The Luxury Collection will focus on “exceptional, indigenous, unique, experience.”
  • St. Regis: Its positioning is around “uncompromising, bespoke, seductive, address.”
  • W: By far, Starwood’s most distinctive brand is focusing on being a “flirty, insider, escape.” W prides itself on its “sensory” meeting rooms.
  • Aloft: Launched less than a year ago, aloft, a “vision” of W hotels, is a “sassy, refreshing, oasis in the boring desert of select-service hotels.” aloft is scheduled to have more than 500 properties in the making by 2012.
  • Westin: Westin's core values are around “personal, instinctive, renewal,” which drove the brand's recent decision to go smoke-free, a hotel industry first.

New collateral, advertising, and promotion for the brands have begun in some sectors, but will roll out throughout the year.