Behind the Product: Is Hilton Boiling Off Brand with Herb ‘N Kitchen?

In our new “Behind the Product” series, we’ll discuss examples of products or services that highlight a particular product management concept or principle. As product managers, we’re constantly watching new and old products, and the marketing associated with them, to find examples for our training and materials that we can use to exemplify good, or not so good, practices in product management.

A bit of background

I’m a pretty frequent business traveler, as I travel around the world to engage with our clients in training or consulting. As such, to minimize the challenges of travel and maximize the benefits, I try to stay at hotels under one brand umbrella. I know what to expect, get more points, and can travel with more efficiency and comfort. That’s important when you’re away from home for a week or more at a time.

Now that you understand my persona, the frequent business traveler who is loyal to a hotel brand, I want to talk about brand promise, and how important it is for a company to align its products and services with customer needs and expectations of the brand. When a company is delivering “on brand,” every part of the experience meets the customer’s expectations, and satisfies their needs.

Suitcases packed

Recently I traveled to an East Coast city that I’ve been visiting for over two years, staying at the same Hilton I usually use when I’m visiting this client. I choose the Hilton brand instead of one the lower tier brands, because I’m typically traveling cross country and want the convenience of a hotel that has a full service restaurant with room service. After traveling all day, I want to just stay on property and eat a simple, hot meal, with a beer or a glass of wine.

Dinner is served… or is it?

When I arrived and checked in, I noticed that the restaurant I was used to had changed names—it was now Herb N’ Kitchen (say it out loud… get it?). I didn’t give it much thought as I headed up to the room to unpack and check email. When I came back down to eat and watch the Monday night football game, I noticed the restaurant now had an open seating plan, and there was no longer a hostess to seat me. That was fine though, as I wanted to grab a beer and watch the football game at the bar anyway. I asked for a menu, saw an Italian salad that looked good, and asked the bartender to order it for me. I’ve known her for two years now, so I could tell from the look on her face that something was amiss. She coughed and said, “well, you can go over to the cold case and grab it yourself.”

That’s when I lifted my eyes and really took in this remodeled restaurant. And realized… it’s not a restaurant at all. It’s a bar combined with the equivalent of a 7-11. Lots of prepackaged snacks, a cold case with salads and pre-made sandwiches, a pot of chili, and a pot of soup. Don’t forget the “fresh made” flatbreads, which were under heat lamps. What happened here? If I wanted 7-11 food after traveling across the country, I could have stayed at a La Quinta Inn with a convenience store on the corner, or perhaps a Chili’s across the parking lot. As it was, I had this cold, pre-made Italian salad, at least with a good local brew, and watched the game, disappointed. Brand promise broken.

It’s not me, it’s you

Now if this Herb N’ Kitchen were in a Hampton Inn, or a Homewood Suites, that would be fine. Those lower-tier brands aren’t known for having a restaurant or room service. In fact, in one of those hotels, this kind of a grab-and-go experience would actually be an upgrade. But in a Hilton hotel, the flagship brand of the chain, Herb N’ Kitchen is misaligned with the brand promise. At this hotel, there is now no restaurant to sit down in and expect a hot meal cooked when I order it. As a business traveler, that’s why I stay at a Hilton—so I can have a meal without having to walk outside or grab a Lyft to get to a restaurant.

Let’s investigate

Am I the only one who’s disappointed by this change? Now the particular Hilton I was staying at is in a smaller city, where that restaurant hasn’t garnered any reviews. But other Herb N’ Kitchen’s are not faring so well. The ‘Kitchen at New York’s Hilton Midtown has a 1.6/5 star rating on Google, and a 2.5/5 star rating on Yelp. Yikes. The ‘Kitchen at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square fares a little better with a 3.5/5 rating on TripAdvisor. Still, not what you would expect for restaurants in flagship Hilton locations.

Why did Hilton make the change? According to one article, it was made to appeal to millennial travelers and “today’s time-pressed guests, especially business travelers.” Hmmm… I’m a business traveler, and I’m not on board. The article goes on to give opinions on both sides of the concept, mentioning that female business travelers are less comfortable walking alone to a restaurant down the street, and weren’t happy with this new approach either. According to the hotel management, this concept was also driven by the lack of profitability of room service. Of course, product managers must always be looking for ways to be profitable, but there is a balancing act between achieving profitability and being true to your overall product brand promise. Product Managers do have to keep refreshing their offering to appeal to new market segments, but if multiple other segments are harmed in the process, like female business travelers, or loyalists like me, will the change have a net positive effect on the business?

Here are a few suggestions of ways to analyze the situation:

  • Review the key values of your product or service that your customers care most about. Write them down as succinctly as you can.
  • As you consider new market segments that you want to appeal to, assess their needs and write these down as well.
  • Look for overlap between the existing and new customer segments and leverage these common needs as much as possible.
  • If the new segment’s needs require changes that affect the value of your offering to existing segments, try to measure the impact, to ensure that launching this new product version will have a net positive effect on customer loyalty and revenue.

Wrap Up

So, fellow product managers, as you’re considering changes to any part of your product or service, you must consider whether the changes will be faithful to the brand promise, or expectations of value that your company projects. Because, when they don’t align—bad things can happen.

Do you have an example of a product or service that you encountered that made you think about the product manager behind the product? The decisions they made, how they did or didn’t follow a PM best practice? Send your ideas to me at roger@280group.com, and maybe your topic will be featured in a future “Behind the Product” blog post!

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

4 Replies to “Behind the Product: Is Hilton Boiling Off Brand with Herb ‘N Kitchen?”

  • Great article. Sometimes as product managers we think a change will be great and we fail. It happens. What really shows a great PM is to be able to recognize this, shift, and come out stronger. Let’s hope Hilton comes out on top.

    • Good point, JT. I’ve had my share of failures, for sure. I too am pulling for Hilton to figure out a way to hold true to this tier’s brand AND provide a wider set of options that appeal to ALL of their customers.

  • Great real-life example of the need to consider the broader brand value promise and proposition, when working on non-core/secondary (on-property dining, in this case) offerings of a brand; and the need to really focus and map out the outcomes and experiences you’re trying to deliver, not just for the desired market segment, but for all impacted users of a brand, rather than the individual product per se.

    • Great point Andy! This may be where Hilton went astray. By only considering the restaurant in isolation, without thinking about how it contributes, even as a secondary value, to the overall value proposition of the hotel property, they missed the brand disconnect. We all need to be considering the broader brand promise, when changing even a secondary value proposition.

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