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 / Autumn 2012 / Issue 68(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Social Life of Brands

Embassy Suites Hotels has engaged all its “team members” (as it refers to employees) in the creation of a socially rewarding brand experience. The company’s culture is focused on this, and is characterized by the Embassy Suites service statement: “Gracious, engaging and caring…making a difference in the lives of others — in ways both big and small.” The ongoing culture initiative, “Make a Difference,” encompasses a number of programs that influence the behavior of employees, other stakeholders, and guests. For example, new team members are introduced to The Deal — a booklet that outlines goals, expectations, behaviors, and “secrets to success” that catalyze the distinctive Embassy Suites brand experience. A complementary program called “Make a Difference…for you” enables hotel managers to acknowledge team members for their contributions; acknowledgments include certificates of achievement and a selection of other nonmonetary rewards. The payoff for this attention has been dramatic; in 2011, for example, Embassy Suites took the top spot in the J.D. Power and Associates annual North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study in its category.

A Better Brand Relationship

Many marketers — and some consumers — may wonder how far companies should go in pursuing enduring brand-to-consumer relationships. Conventional marketing, focused on the explicit value of products and services, is easier and more familiar.

But social engagement is not just unavoidable. It represents a far more effective use of marketing effort and resources, and at its best, it represents a more human approach to engaging consumers. By using the four RULE activities — reframing, understanding, listening, and engagement — companies can invoke the kind of social learning that leads to long-term, mutually rewarding relationships of any sort. On their side, companies will deliver products and services that are more closely tied to the values and ideals held by both employees and consumers. Of all the moments of truth along the total brand experience, the ones that make the most difference could turn out to be the repeated social connections that create bonds among the people who are part of the brand community. The social life of a brand can be an integrative force for a more holistic approach to marketing, in which companies build long-term, multifaceted, and fruitful relationships with the people who identify with their brand ideals and choose to buy and advocate on behalf of their products and services. 

Reprint No. 00118

Author Profiles:

  • Matthew Egol is a partner in Booz & Company’s communications, media, and technology practice. Based in New York, he focuses on marketing strategy and capability development related to digitization, social media, and shopper marketing.
  • Mary Beth McEuen is vice president and executive director of the Maritz Institute in St. Louis, Mo. The institute is an independent network of thought leaders working to create next-generation business practices based on human science research.
  • Emily Falk is an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she directs the Communication Neuroscience Lab. She is also a research associate at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research.


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  1. Charles Gremillion, Make Their Day: The Power to Make Guests Happy (Tribe, 2011): By the director of Embassy Suites’ brand culture, on the power of a great customer relationship.
  2. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011): Compelling guide to the two overarching systems that govern thought.
  3. Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (Jossey-Bass, 2002): How to build a business that meets the drives to acquire, bond, learn, and defend.
  4. Jim Stengel, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies (Crown Business, 2011): Research-driven manifesto on the link between what brands stand for and how they prosper.
  5. Maritz Institute
  6. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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