The one thing true of every generation, dating back to antiquity, is a desire for a something better; that tomorrow should be better than yesterday, and this year better than the last. Today, with technologies and expectations that were unheard of less than 10 years ago, the preferences of younger generations indicate a large-scale shift in how companies do business.
While these preferences certainly have affected the credit union industry, large hotel chains such as Marriott are feeling the disruption as well. Here are three lessons on catering to millennials that credit unions can learn from Marriott.
Lesson No. 1: Think About The Millennial Mindset
To design an experience to attract the millennial consumer, Marriot first had to understand what this generation liked and how it could translate those experiences into its hotels. In other words: What do they want?
“More prominent design in the product, more food and beverage, a somewhat livelier scene, probably a bias toward being in the public space than the guest room, more integrated use of technology,” Arne Sorenson, chief executive of Marriott, told USA Today last year.
In the next four years, Marriott has plans to open 100 hotels in major metropolitan areas under its AC Hotel brand, which it operated exclusively in Europe until late 2014. According to the USA Today article, rooms at the AC in New Orleans — the first U.S. location — are minimalist by design. There are plugs and USB ports near beds, Bluetooth-enabled speakers, and flat-screen TVs. Showers are more like spas, each floor has a hydration station from which guests can fill carafes and take back to their rooms. A mini-fridge in each room contains chilled glasses.
But the experience extends beyond the room. The lounge serves cocktails and tapas; the AC Kitchen serves European-style breakfast; and there is a shop near the main lobby that sells bottles of wine and other beverages and snacks designed by celebrity chef Jose Andres. Instead of a business center, there is a library with computers and wireless printers. Guests can use the media salon for meetings and to connect wirelessly to flat-screen TVs to give presentations.
“We have to have design that is comfortable, says Antonio Catalan, who founded AC Hotels in Spain. “The client wants it to be easy, not complicated.”
Lesson No. 2: Millennials Don’t Care Much For Tradition
To previous generations, comfort was found in the familiar. “The trademark of the boomer was that they wanted familiarity, safety, and comfort,” Wolfgang Lindlbauer, chief discipline leader, global operations at Marriott International, tells Fast Company. “What we’re finding is that the next-generation consumer wants the exact opposite of what we’re delivering.”
Which put Marriott in a difficult position. If the next generation of hotel consumer wanted the exact opposite of an experience, did the third-largest hotel chain in the world have the agility to transform its brand from cookie-cutter to a “hip, sexy brand that will appeal to its next generation of guests?” as Fast Company phrases it.
As a first step, the chain hired Fahrenheit 212, a consulting firm specializing in reaching the millennial market, which helped the chain come to terms with the changing tastes of this new generation.
“We know that millennials want local and unique,” Pete Maulik, managing and chief growth officer of Fahrenheit 212, tells Fast Company. “They want to spend time in places that have a sense of community, and that feel a bit imperfect or yet to be finished.”
As Fast Company reports, Fahrenheit 212 has developed “Rules of Engagement” for working with millennials. They include:
Millennials need to be convinced of the value of a product or an organization through storytelling;
Millennials value companies that have a powerful vision and a distinct point of view on the world;
Millennials appreciate it when companies have strong connections to the local community and are more impressed by raw entrepreneurial talent than mighty displays of wealth and power by large corporations.
It became clear that Marriott had to improve on all of these things. Lindlbauer, Marriott’s chief discipline officer, expects millennials to make up half of its guests by 2020.
The change would start incrementally. Lindlbauer convinced executives to select 14 of Marriott’s hotel locations around the world to use as incubator labs — test kitchens, if you will — where teams could experiment with different concepts. These locations include cities such as Budapest, Dubai, London, and Phoenix, AZ.
Lesson No. 3: Each Space Is Different
Incubator labs focus on developing ideas for each location’s particular food and beverage services, with the idea that new concepts focused in this way would actually compel guests — and maybe locals — to frequent. In this way, Marriott planned to overcome a stereotype that hotel food at large chains is not worthy of an individual’s time or attention.
But by spacing the incubator labs across the world, designs for new food and beverage services were totally different, unique to each particular location and emblematic, arguably, of each city’s personality.
In London, the hotel’s rooftop was transformed into a pop-up bar and dinner spot and on opening night had, reportedly, eight-hour lines to get in. In Phoenix, the hotel opened a cheese-and-charcuterie restaurant, which focuses on artisan cheesemakers, charcuterie producers, and local beer and wine makers. And in Dubai, the hotel opened a nightclub where international DJs perform and there’s plenty of room for dancing.
By allowing teams from each hotel to design and implement their own ideas, Marriott was able to leverage its considerable resources in a creative and authentic way, giving those who interact most often with hotel guests the first opportunity to build restaurants and bars the next generation of consumers want to try.
The eventual goal is to create incubator labs in all Marriott locations and to go beyond food and beverage services, proving that Marriott is the place for millennials.
“This is a great way to introduce millennials to who we are as a company and begin to change their impression,” he says. “But in the end, we hope that these changes penetrate the very core of the Marriott brand and begin to transform every aspect of the hotel experience.”
There’s a need for the credit union industry to transform as well as the millennial generation continues to grow and gain purchasing power, and they would do well to learn from historically successful companies such as Marriott. Because if every successive generation wants something better than what came before it, someone has to build it for them.