True innovation is a vital ingredient to brand loyalty at La Quinta Inns & Suites.

What is true innovation?

Loyalty360 asked Dave Sims, vice president of loyalty marketing at La Quinta Inns & Suites, to answer that question for our audience.

“I think that true innovation is always a mix of ‘what’s possible’ and ‘what’s desired or needed,’’’ Sims explained to Loyalty360. “Our guests tell us all the time about the what’s needed, but, as marketers and technologists in 2017, we have to continually seek out the what’s possible. We have a program, Talk To Dave, where we elicit feedback on the company and the program from our best members. They remind us that we have to get the basics right, but also that they are open to innovations that make their travels easier. And they want to be able to use their points. So while nobody asked us for Instant Free Nights or Redeem Away!, they did tell us that they want to be able to use their points for a free night on property and they wanted their points to have more value – and we figured out how to do that through those two innovations.”

Given today’s competitive environment in the hospitality industry, the customer is clearly in charge.

“Every industry is being disrupted,” Sims explained. “As a result, customers have more choice, and more voice, than ever before. Nobody does a thing without reading reviews anymore. We have so much data about the impact of positive (or negative) reviews and pay a ton of attention to responding and reacting to feedback. So, unlike my previous days in retail, where Amazon flat out takes customers away, our disruptors are the OTAs like Booking.com, Expedia, etc. and they may still send a guest our way, but they are working hard to make that guest loyal to their platform and their loyalty program. As a result, we have to take every interaction with our brand to convince them not just to choose us, but, ideally, to book directly with us.”

Sims has been fortunate to have worked with some of the best brands in CPG and retail.

“The thing that made them all highlights is that the work we did had a direct impact on company results–growing revenue and adding shareholder value,” Sims added. “When I got to La Quinta two years ago, I asked our then CFO, and now CEO, why I didn’t hear any mention of our Returns program on investor calls. I was accustomed to listening for things my teams worked on and the impact they have on company’s performance. He said that he didn’t know what the program did for us, what the levers were, and how to quantify the impact. On our recent 2016 Q4 and full-year call, the program was called out for the innovations and for the impact on that key company initiative of engagement. It felt good. And that allowed me to share with the team how important their work is–and sometimes that’s how you find out. But it’s a pretty good way to find out. We have a lot of work to do still. When you launch industry-first innovations, they are typically a new behavior and that takes a lot of selling, education, and reinforcement. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. But, they are starting to and early indications are that they like it. It’s an exciting time at La Quinta!” 

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