5 Questions for Javier Benito, EVP and CMO, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

  • by October 26, 2006
Javier Benito is executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Based at Starwood's White Plains, N.Y. headquarters, Benito is responsible for brand marketing, revenue management, strategic partnerships, the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, and the chain's Internet and call reservation systems worldwide. Most recently, he served as chief marketing officer and president, U.S. Retail Division, for Coca-Cola North America. At Coke, he was responsible for retail field sales and marketing, as well as brand and customer marketing in the U.S. and Canada. Benito also served in executive roles in Coke's global organization. He joined the soft drink marketer in 1994 from Procter & Gamble, where he served in a variety of brand management and marketing roles in Spain and the U.S. He earned a master's degree in marketing and international business from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California-San Diego.

Can you talk about some of the biggest digital media and marketing initiatives at Starwood over the last few months? What were you most proud of and why?

>We believe that the brand Web sites are critical channels of communication with our key targets. We have embarked on an exercise in brand positioning through all of our Web sites. Two great examples of this are the changes we've made in our Sheraton and Four Points sites. Sheraton is about warm, comforting connections, and we have created a network of travelers who exchange ideas and pictures of their experiences with each other. Four Points is all about honest, uncomplicated comfort, and if you go through the site, you will get a great feel for what the brand is all about. So far response from consumers is very positive.

What are the most vexing issues facing your business right now?

>Our biggest challenge is how to continue to grow at the pace we are growing while executing many of the initiatives we talked about. For instance, with our acquisition of Le Meridien, we basically increased the number of hotels by about 40 percent. So the challenge is to begin building the brand consistent with the work we have done with our other brands and implementing the other programs as soon as possible. That is the challenge we are facing most in all areas of our business.

What is Starwood's brand proposition/mission, and how does it influence or contribute to your online marketing strategy? What are the challenges in reaching your target consumers?

>As a company we pride ourselves in being innovative and coming up with ideas that will represent a change in the industry. Five years ago we were the first to introduce the Heavenly Bed with our Westin brand, and to do a strategic alliance with Reebok for our fitness centers. This year we launched new campaigns for Sheraton, Westin, and Four Points which are different from anything that has been done before in the industry.

The examples I mentioned before are also good representations of that. Our focus is to continue to build world-class brands that connect emotionally with consumers.

What opportunities, if any, do you see for Starwood to partner with online and offline properties for product placement or branded entertainment, or even reality TV, Webisodes, or on original content creation?

>It's critical for us to create strategic partnerships that help strengthen the equity of our brands. For example, we have a great partnership with Yahoo to create a space in our hotels where both Sheraton and Yahoo come to life. It's called the Yahoo Link. Our pilot results are very positive, and both companies feel that we have done something very special for our brands that strengthen their equity in the marketplace.

If you were not in your present position, what would you most like to do?

>I would be traveling. I'm very passionate about discovering new places and meeting new people from different cultures. This is why my job is such a great job.

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