BLOGGING THE STARWOOD BRAND

Starwood isn't the only hotel company patrons comment on online. On the web, particularly on travel sites, comments about hotel experiences span praise to the far side of snide. But Starwood may be the only hotel brand to spawn an independent site that is essentially a blog, www.starwoodlobby.com. Corporate swears it's coincidence that John Paasonen and John Herbold started starwoodlobby just about the time Starwood launched www.thelobby.com, its own corporate blog.

Paasonen, 27, and Herbold, 26, are frequent travelers working toward a master's degree in business administration at Duke University in Durham, NC. They stay at Starwoods whenever they can.

“If I'm in a location where it's convenient and I find something that is priced accordingly, I'm not diehard to the extent that a Starwood is the only place I'll stay,” says Herbold, a recent patron of the Westin Casuarina Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa. “But I certainly do whatever I can to find a Starwood hotel.”

“We put ourselves in the bucket of fanatical Starwood guests,” says Paasonen, a Starwood Preferred Guest. “We created the site as a community for other frequent Starwood guests to share experiences. There wasn't a business purpose behind it.”

These Millennials don't censor their site; if guests see recurring problems with hotels, they'll write about them, and “if Starwood can learn from those become a better company because of them, that's fantastic,” Paasonen says.

The impetus behind starwoodlobby is “the emphasis on brand that Starwood has within its different lines,” Herbold says. “Customers of these Starwood properties share the same feelings and enthusiasms for the brand.” Paasonen says the fact that there are W types and Westin types speaks to the branding success of Starwood, whose CEO is Steven Heyer, a former Coca-Cola president. “He's all about brand,” Herbold says. “Very few other companies in the hotel space do this well.”

Robin Korman, vice president of loyalty marketing for Starwood, says the only connection between the-lobby.com and starwoodlobby.com is “we all love Starwood. We had started to evolve our blog concept six or eight months ago and about the time we were ready to launch, we read some post saying they loved Starwood and had started a blog and come visit.” A mutual admiration has evolved.

“Clearly, blogs are huge, and we felt there was an opportunity to have a different interaction with members than through our transactional site,” Korman says of thelobby. “There's a whole experiential relationship one can have with a member that didn't seem right or appropriate on the transactional site; it would have seemed added on.”

Thelobby pays independent travel writers for copy about Starwood experiences; these journalists come up with story ideas, tailoring their pieces to certain Starwood guidelines. But Starwood doesn't micromanage, Korman says.

Adding to the swell of good press for thelobby is starwoodlobby. This makes Korman happy.

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