Companies & Industries

Embassy Suites: Winning Customers with Contests


The hotel chain hopes to gain consumers' "share of heart" by inviting them to post tales of "office holiday party no-nos." The prize? A party

Who hasn't had a regret (or two) about something that happened at a holiday office party? Perhaps a cringe-inducing memory of a conversation that seemed like a good idea at the time, an embarrassing move on the dance floor, or the confession of a deep, dark secret that should have stayed that way? Embassy Suites Hotels is inviting people to share those stories on its BusinessBalance Web site in its "office holiday party no-nos" contest. In exchange for baring their souls, contestants get the chance to win an office holiday party "where they can right those past wrongs," says John Lee, vice-president for brand marketing. Embassy Suites gets the chance to "stay in touch with our guests." Tapping into people's feelings about those squirmy moments—whether it's a business trip gone bad, the inopportune time housekeeping knocked on the door, or the holiday party you wish you had skipped—is actually a key part of Embassy Suites' strategy for what Lee calls "capturing share of heart." Lee believes that success in that realm is followed by growing shares of wallet and market. "You have to reach them not just when they are guests of the hotels, but on a regular basis and in fun ways," he says. "That creates the kind of connection between the brand and the guests that builds loyalty and helps establish our brand to potential guests." Reward: A hair of the…party animal

To that end, Embassy Suites launched BusinessBalance.com two years ago—a site where visitors, not just Embassy Suites guests, can get tips on travel, food, and overall work-life balance. "Our goal is to help people stay healthy and productive while traveling," says Lee. "We know how difficult those things can be when you're taken out of your normal routine." A key element of the strategy behind capturing "share of heart" has been contests. The first one invited guests in 2008 to submit new "Do Not Disturb" signs. The company got more than five thousand submissions and some of the signs are still in use, Lee says. One of his favorites: "There's a good reason for you not to knock right now." Over the past summer, Embassy Suites ran a contest that invited people to tell their stories about business travel blunders. "We realized that everyone had some kind of story to tell about an interview gone wrong, some travel disaster that affected a business trip, and we thought it would be fun to have people share those stories," says Lee. Maybe getting people to unburden themselves of those embarrassing memories will help them move on. The lucky winner can hope that another party is just what's needed to recover from disasters of office parties past.

Patricia O'Connell is Management Editor for BusinessWeek.com.

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