Hotels Play the Name Game When Creating New Brands

After decades of focusing on the baby boomer demographic, the shift is on. Hotel companies around the world are paying keen attention to millennials—or, at the very least, their psychographic. Psychographics is the study of personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. The millennial psychographic is not necessarily marked by age, but by characteristics like individuality, adventurousness, passion, humor, and play. Today, many of the names hotels are choosing for their new brands lean heavily on these attributes.

By honing in on who the consumer is, “brands are choosing names that communicate to their customers that ‘we reflect who you are,’” according to Donna Quadri-Felitti, incoming director of the Penn State School of Hospitality Management. As a result, says Chekitan S. Dev, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, “The naming process has evolved from an off-the-cuff process into something far more systematic.”

Cyberbranding is also being taken into account as brands are named. To wit, the shorter the word, the more tweetable it is. And, while the quest for brevity may lead to purposeful misspelling, the law also plays a big part in the trials of the name game. Spelling is often varied into an uncommon form so that a name can retain meaning while being trademarkable. “The odder the name, the less likely someone has already captured it,” Cornell’s Dev notes. “That’s important in terms of intellectual property protection.”


Good Vib-rations
Amy Hulbert, Best Western’s managing director of design, admits trademarkability is part of the reason Vib, pronounced Vibe, was spelled without an ‘e’. However, if asked, most at the company will stick with the story that Vib is the first syllable of vibrant, a word that describes Best Western’s new design brand to a T.

About four years ago, Best Western, a 69-year-old association of independently-owned hotels, decided it needed to evolve its offerings. The first step, according to Hulbert, was to create tiers within existing Best Western properties. This concept led to the development of a prototype for a city hotel brand driven by bright, modern, bold design. And, although Vib wasn’t solely designed for millennials, many of its features hit their psychographic sweet spot.

After developing the brand concept and look, it needed a name and a logo. Best Western hired Acumen, a Houston-based design firm, to assist in the process. According to Dick Lew, a founding partner of Acumen, “First, we needed to understand that Best Western wanted a brand celebrating individuality. We narrowed down a list of names reflecting brand values and Vib evolved out of the process.” Hulbert adds, “The name was one of the last things to come out of the labor of building a new brand. It was like having a baby, where you wait to see what it looks like before giving it a name.”

The first properties in Seoul and Miami are scheduled to break ground later this year.

Marriott has Moxy
Marriott International, on the other hand, was all about the millennial when it started developing the brand that evolved into Moxy. About six years ago, the company realized it was missing a lifestyle element in its portfolio, according to Toni Stoeckl, vice president of Marriott lifestyle brands. Marriott started developing what Stoeckl refers to as its “black skinny jeans and T-shirt brand” four years ago.

With only that image in mind, Marriott’s Insight, Strategy and Innovation Team, headed up by Vice President Matthew Von Ertfelda, was charged with coming up with a name for a hotel serving “a sassy, determined, individualistic consumer.” “Naming Moxy was a four-month process involving a great deal of brainstorming,” Von Ertfelda says. “Once we came up with it, we knew we had a name with emotional resonance that hit a global sweet spot. At the same time, though, our lawyers noted the name had to be ‘ownable and trademarkable.’” The change of spelling from moxie to Moxy achieved that.

The first Moxy opened at Milan’s Malpensa Airport in the fall of 2014. The first American Moxys will open in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Tempe, Ariz., in December of this year. After that, there are three Moxys coming to New York City, one of which is scheduled to open in 2016. Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle (on the Amazon campus) are on tap for 2017.