Spokane Journal of Business

Hilton, Marriott, Four Seasons most 'relevant' brands

Study used methodology based on conversational buzz to reach conclusions

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How do you choose a hotel? By the quality of service? The view? What your friends might think? How about the water pressure in the shower? Don't laugh.

Brodeur Partners, a Boston-based communications company, looked into the heart of what really matters when it comes to online conversation about hotel choice and has come up with what it claims are intriguing findings.

"We wanted to go beyond speculation and opinion, and really see what drives online behavior—in this case, conversation—around different hotel brands," says Andy Coville, the company's CEO.

The study found that Hilton, Marriott, and Four Seasons, in that order, have the highest "conversational relevance" in online discussions among leisure and business travelers. The conclusion is based on an analysis by Brodeur Partners and research firm MavenMagnet of what is relevant in online brand conversation.

The conversational relevance scale is a measure of how much people are talking about a brand and how impactful and positive that conversation is. Brodeur and MavenMagnet parsed more than 18,000 online conversations between May 2012 and October 2012 across social networks, profiles, forums, news websites, and blogs.

"We looked not only at practical considerations but at how the brands resonated with hotel guests' senses, values, and social needs, which are the other dimensions of Brodeur's relevance model," says Jerry Johnson, Brodeur executive vice president of strategic planning. "When a brand is engaging all four dimensions, it inspires strong feelings and an abiding loyalty in those who experience it."

"Using our proprietary technology, we tap into the collective intellect of engaged consumers—in this case, consumers sharing their experience about travel and hotels," says Aditya Ghuwalewala, MavenMagnet founder. "Our zero-interference approach eliminates the risk of respondent conditioning, thereby delivering actual insights focusing on what's relevant."

The top hotel brands in the analysis displayed highly positive overall conversational relevance scores based on positive/negative buzz differential, with Hilton earning a 58 percent score followed by Marriott (56 percent) and Four Seasons (51 percent).

The analysis dug deeper, however, looking at each of the 10 brands' attributes through Brodeur's four relevance pathways:

Functional: Practical attributes people care about like service, location, rooms, recreation, and rewards programs. Comments in this area dominated the conversation about hotels. Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton were the winners here.

Sensory: Attributes that appeal to all five senses, such as the view and water pressure in the shower, which surprisingly eclipses bed comfort in online attention. Ritz-Carlton and Hilton led the category.

Values: Attributes that reflect personal values such as the hotel's service ethic and commitment to indulging patrons. Four Seasons dominated.

Social: Attributes related to customer status, such as the brand's cachet. Four Seasons dominated here, too.

The analysis further broke down results between leisure and business travelers. Room cleanliness, for example, means more to business travelers than leisure travelers. It's the other way around for recreation.

Leisure travelers were broken down further still, between those traveling with children and those without. The Ritz-Carlton was particularly popular in conversations in the former category, and recreation was paramount for families.

The conversational relevance analysis was able to specifically identify strengths that some brands could leverage and weaknesses that held other brands back, Brodeur Partners says. In addition, it identified a framework that all hotels can use in managing their online and social communications, the company says.

Service and location are the biggest "functional" conversation drivers. Accessibility, both to the hotel and nearby amenities, drives nearly two-thirds of online conversations about the functional attributes of a hotel.

When it comes to conversations about rooms, size matters, closely followed by connectivity and technology.

While there has been a lot of investment by hotels in the quality of beds, the subject that most people talked about in the touch or feel category was the shower, specifically the water pressure of the shower.

Room noise was a hot topic in the sound category, particularly among family travelers. Most of that conversation was negative.

People talked about the values of a brand in terms of what kind of service they received, i.e., having a "service-first" culture and being responsive. A particularly important element that drove online conversation was a hotel staff's responsiveness and personal attention to individual needs.

The biggest driver of social conversations is whether a hotel is referenceable—that is, something travelers would recommend to others.

That a hotel's luxury or indulgence is a symbol of status and achievement drove a considerable amount of conversation among business and leisure travelers; however one-third of that discussion was negative.

By far the biggest driver of conversation among business travelers is whether a hotel is considered best in class. Social relevance for leisure travelers derives more from peer reviews.

This study on the hotel industry is the first demonstration of Brodeur's new conversational relevance model. Touted to be applicable to any industry, organization, brand, person, idea, candidate or cause, the conversational relevance methodology measures buzz volume, impact, and positivity/negativity across four relevance dimensions.

At the same time, it identifies hot topics, positive and negative, uncovering hidden strengths on which to build a business and risks that could devolve into crises, the company claims.

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