As Warm As Its Cookie: 5 Questions With DoubleTree’s Stuart Foster


DoubleTree by Hilton Cookie

Hospitality brands are trying to extend their meaning in ways that speak to the modern consumer, including highlighting a brand’s efforts around sustainability or diversity. But for DoubleTree by Hilton, gaining deeper appreciation with travelers may be as simple as its chocolate chip cookies.

“Your Warm Cookie Awaits” is the title of DoubleTree by Hilton’s new integrated marketing campaign. The hotel brand is celebrating individuals deserving of a “warm welcome” through events and social activations (hashtag: #SweetWelcome), hoping to inspire a pay-it-forward effect through a new Instagram and Twitter contest.

Its first warm welcome was given at Boston’s iconic Faneuil Hall, where DoubleTree handed out its signature cookies at a naturalization ceremony for new US citizens. Activations in Washington, D.C., and California are also happening by year-end.

Stuart Foster - VP of marketing - DoubleTree“We’ve decided to take DoubleTree into being a brand that is very welcoming,” Stuart Foster (right), vice president of global marketing for Hilton’s full service brands including DoubleTree, told brandchannel. “We looked beyond the hotel and check-in and stay experience and asked, how else can we be welcoming and call out aspects of being welcoming in people’s lives?”

The cookie-based campaign coincides with DoubleTree’s adoption of a new visual identity and color scheme that the brand is publicizing in outdoor advertising efforts in a handful of US cities. It also comes in a banner year, with more than 35 new hotels opening in 2017 and more than 500 hotels around the world.

Foster shares more insights in our latest Q&A:

What’s the goal of this new campaign?

The point of the campaign is really differentiation. DoubleTree is a fantastic brand and has very high awareness. We’ve surpassed 500 properties around the world, adding 37 this year. We have a healthy business and strong brand, but my job is to make sure consumers love our brand—and engage and [feel] more passion for our brand—to drive the business.

There are a lot of brands in this price point, and a lot of competition. We’re a full-service brand. For that, you have to have some amenities like full-service restaurants, room service and a bar. And differentiation is part of the role of marketing: ‘How do I stand out?’ The point of this campaign is to do that: drive the differentiation and break away from the sea of sameness.

Everybody knows about the DoubleTree chocolate-chip cookie. Each hotel welcomes you with warm cookies when you check in, and it transforms our guests’ experience. So we came up with Sweet Welcome Moments and three events across the US (including) a veterans’ event, a culinary competition. Hilton has a very strong commitment to veterans, Operation Opportunity, and we’ve committed to hiring 20,000 veterans by 2020; we’re way ahead of our goal. The third event is in October in Malibu, for a youth charity, No Child Hungry, and there’s a bike race raising money for it.

This is about community engagement. One of the things that does differentiate our hotels is that team members are very much part of their communities and they’re passionate about giving back to their communities.

How does this fit in with your new visual identity?

The brand has been around for a long time, and look and feel always needs a bit of updating. So to be in line with the casual but fun spirit of the brand, but very real feeling, we’ve got a new color scheme—blue and green. And we are doing high-impact advertising out of home in four markets: L.A., Denver, (Washington) D.C. at City Center and New York at the Fulton Center. They are high traffic places with digital boards, and there’s a social media theme with a “cookie drop” and prizes such as stays at DoubleTree resorts and tins of cookies. It’s a fun way to get people to engage with advertising. We’re seeing about one-third more [contest] entries than we projected after a couple of weeks.

We’re also heavily investing in paid social and using a #SweetWelcome hash tag, inviting people to show us how they’re welcoming with their own friends and family. It’s about being a brand not just talking at you but having a conversation with you and being relevant in your life. If welcoming and caring for others is what you believe in, DoubleTree probably is the brand for you. Another 40 percent is digital media placement, such as news sites for business travelers and sports sites for leisure travelers.

A DoubleTree happy hour comes with a twist.

A post shared by DoubleTree By Hilton (@doubletree) on

With more than 40 million members of your loyalty program, how is data informing your marketing choices?

With the amounts of data we have and can collect and can target on people—in the old days you’d use demographics only, but that’s kind of irrelevant today—we’re targeting by mindset. To break through and win in a very relevant marketplace, you have to break through with the consumer and to their mindset. Why are they traveling? Some are connected with certain causes, so they help us in that regard.

But it’s really about targeting them from a mindset standpoint. And it’s how we can target people now. There’s so much rich data beyond demographics that you have to become a brand beyond your function.

You’re not just selling beds and showers and towels; you’re selling hospitality, and that depends on how you make people feel. It’s the emotional aspect of ‘Why should I choose DoubleTree over something else?’

If we’re the welcoming brand and stand for hospitality, the proof is in the pudding. We have a significant market share premium over our competitors and are continuing to get more partners.

Where does sustainability fit in?

We’re quite focused on it. We have a water conservation program that offers guests the opportunity to not put your towels on the floor and not ask to have your sheets changed daily. We are exploring some new programs, looking at dispensers where we can save on bottles and soap. But being a green brand isn’t our positioning.

How do you engage your workforce in the brand’s marketing efforts?

Foster: If you’re not focused on what you’re about you can lose your way. At the heart our core business is hospitality. We’re 100 percent focused on providing that.

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