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Hilton HHonors Points to Experiences

Posted by Barry Silverstein on April 7, 2011 05:00 PM

It's a given that frequent traveler loyalty programs pitch points for hotel stays and airline flights, right? Well, Hilton Worldwide is shaking up that convention with its new rebranding of the Hilton HHonors loyalty program.

Using the theme, "A World of Experiences Worth Sharing," Hilton HHonors is now promoting (particularly on its Facebook page, above) the memorable experiences travelers have rather than focusing on earning points or miles.

Travel brands and financial services are trying to make customer loyalty programs more about the experience, not just tallying and redeeming points — look at how American Express Rewards last month shifted its focus to encompass digital experiences.

In the case of Hilton, the HHonors program wasn't broken; in fact, enrollment is up over 16%. More than 2.5 million joined Hilton HHonors last year, and total membership now stands at an impressive 27 million members.

So if things are humming right along, why the change in strategy? Jeff Diskin, SVP of customer marketing at Hilton Worldwide, tells PROMO magazine, "We didn't see anyone separated from the rest of the pack in travel hospitality programs overall. There was a standardized level of expectations at the core and we saw a competitive opportunity."

That translated into a new positioning for Hilton HHonors which, Diskin says, was based on focus groups and surveys of travelers. Hilton decided to move away from the focus on points and instead rely on "large-scale photography that captures intimate moments and unique experiences that people instantly connect with," says Diskin. "It's vibrant photography that we shot around the world and around the hotels, but not typically property shots. ... We feel the creative will stand out in the industry, but more importantly people identify with it."

Hilton is putting its marketing muscle behind the new approach with the launch of international promotion utilizing print, outdoor, and online. One of the issues is the fact that the new branding has to work well on a global scale. "We have ten different brands in the program with hotels in 86 countries," Diskin tells PROMO. "It was important to have a single look and feel that had universal appeal, which did great in the testing process."

The hotelier may be on to something. Increasingly, frequent traveler programs have blurred as airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and others fight for brand loyalty. The introduction of general credit cards that offer miles regardless of carrier or hotel, like Capital One's Venture card being pitched by Alec Baldwin, below, has only added to consumer confusion.

By breaking out of the points discussion, Hilton HHonors' new approach may just resonate with a miles-weary traveling public.

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