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Part II: Building Equity in Master Brand-Dominant Architecture


Picking up from my last post on brand architecture, let’s look at one example, from the hospitality sector: Marriott. Marriott manages a broad, diverse suite of hotel and resort brands that manifest various kinds and degrees of ‘linkage back’ to the Marriott master brand — and some with no connection to it at all. The range moves from ‘purity’ to ‘mixture’ to the invisibility of the Marriott endorsement.

Invisible | Independent Luxury Hotel and Resort Brands:
At one end of the scale, Marriott owns and manages a portfolio of high-end luxury brands which it developed or acquired and are completely autonomous: Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari, Edition, and Renaissance, as well as a branded sub-portfolio of exclusive boutique hotels, the Autograph Collection.

The presumptive consideration behind the purity of these brands is that Marriott doesn’t have value-conferring equity in this segment and that it would be drag on them. Why? Marriott may or may not rise to the level of luxury of a Ritz or a Bulgari. The J W Marriott brand is a luxury hotel brand (as is Grand Residences), to be sure. But, better known are its suite of mid-tier, functional Marriott-endorsed brands, e.g., Courtyard, Spring Hill, etc. Essentially, economical business travel brands. The Marriott brand’s value is mediated by these tier-specific sub-brands. So, linking Marriott explicitly to Ritz has two unappealing side effects: (1) the Marriott brand would look schizophrenic or at least unfocused; and (2) the Ritz brand would be compromised by the intermediate link to mid-tier hotel/motel brands, ‘guilt by association’ (not to mention being demoted to an item in a larger portfolio, rather than a stand-alone offer: sometimes portfolio membership undermines prestige).

Mixed | Mid-Tier Marriott-Endorsed Sub-Brands:
Occupying another stratum (or other strata) are the collection of endorsed or underwritten sub-brands mentioned above: Town Place Suites, Spring Hill Suites, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Courtyard, and AC Hotels — all of which are linked to the Marriott brand name. Arguably, this mid-market is where Marriott plays, where it pushes its brand hardest and from which it draws the core of its meaning, equity, and awareness. What this managed portfolio model says about Marriott and the Marriott brand is that it stands for variety; that it recognizes a range of hospitality experiences, which while productized, is also tailored to a typology of (mostly business) travelers, each with distinct, identifying clusters of needs, preferences, and price points.

Pure | Marriott-Master-Branded Plays: 
The third sub-set of the portfolio is made up of ‘pure’ Marriott-only brands like: J W Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Hotels and Resorts, Marriott Conference Centers (a sort of wild card in this mix is the Grand Residences brand. It is endorsed, rather than branded. It is also a residential play, not a hotel or hospitality brand. And the name is so close to a descriptor, that it leaves things rather ambiguous. In any case, what Marriott is attempting to accomplish here, at least from a brand-building perspective, is unclear to me. With the possible exception of Conference Centers, these brands seem to play in the luxury echelon and they span functional segments: residential, rental, resort, and business. On the face of it, this feature replicates or at least resembles the diversity of models within Marriott’s mid-tier offer.

And perhaps therein lies the point: Marriott wants its brand to ultimately stand for a diversified portfolio of hospitality and residential experiences (or ‘models’) across a range of price points, but always backed by some uniform standard of guaranteed quality within each. What that standard specifically is, I’m not sure and it would take another layer of archeological digging to get at it. I will save that excavation for later.

The range, depth, and apparent thoughtfulness of the Marriott architecture makes it an outstanding specimen for vivisection. I’ve tried to reveal some of the underlying anatomy of this portfolio to illustrate how brand equity is managed and managed architecturally. Other examples are welcome.