Creating a ‘service signature’: Westin Gear Lending

During a recent stay at The Westin Hotel in Cape Town I came across a great example of a ‘service signature’: a distinctive, memorable and scaleable customer experience that dramatises the brand idea at a moment of truth.

I was away for 10 days running back-to-back brand strategy workshops for a financial services client, and so had to pack a load of stuff, with no room for my gym gear.

However, when I got to my room I noticed a little booklet about a service called ‘Gear Lending’: New Balance shoes and clothing to borrow during my stay for just $5.00.

I thought, wow, that’s bloody brilliant.

1. Solve a real consumer problem

What I love about Gear Lending is that Westin are doing here exactly what brands are supposed to do.

Not producing expensive, clever and largely un-branded digital content that seeks to connect with me on a higher order emotional level to create loyalty beyond blah blah blah.

No, here is a brand making everyday life a little better, by solving a problem (having to pack bulky gym gear) and creating an opportunity (keep fit whilst away on a trip).

Gear Lending added a little bit of ‘wow’ to my Westin stay. Not sure I should own up to this, but I did take a snap of me in my nice New Balance gear and send it home to Mrs Taylor and the girls. And I’ve told a bunch of people about the service, including you right now.

3. Brings to life the brand idea

Importantly, Gear Lending is not just a one-off tactical trick. It is part of a comprehensive program of experiences that deliver Westin’s brand purpose: ‘To be the preeminent wellness hospitality brand, by empowering guests to enhance their well-being while traveling‘. This is summed up with the brand idea, ‘For a better you.’

The program is based on six pillars of well-being: “feel well,” “work well,” “move well,” “eat well,” “sleep well” and “play well”. So, the hotel also has a well equipped Westin Workout gym, a Heavenly Spa (didn’t have time for that) and also a menu featuring super foods for a ‘nutrient-rich energy boost’.

The way the brand idea has been driven through the whole mix is impressive. Even the key cards were re-designed in 2016 (see below: old on the left, new on the right), following our principle that ‘everything should sell’ your brand.

4. Scaleable and replicable

One important feature of a Service Signatures like Gear Lending is that it is scaleable. You can replicate it across your whole brand delivery system. This contrasts with what I call ‘random acts of kindness’: brilliant but one-off gestures relying on the individual, which are hard or impossible to replicate in a systematic fashion (e.g. going out to buy gym kit for a busy guest so they could work out).

5. Excellent execution 


Its one thing for a global team to come up with a concept like Gear Lending, but another think altogether to make it happen late on a Friday night in Cape Town.

Hats off to the Westin team for excellence of execution. My kit arrived as advertised shortly after I called up and requested it. The gear was nice, new and clean New Balance shorts and shirt, and perfectly fitting shoes.

A clever touch is a brand new pair of New Balance socks you get to keep. Every time I put those on, I will remember my Westin workout!

From a business stand-point I tried and dig up some data to check if this wellness-led approach was working for Westin. This wasn’t easy, as Westin is part of the Starwood Group which was taken over by Marriott. I did find out that in 2016 Westin had the highest occupancy (77.4%) and revenue per room ($167) of the group’s ‘upscale’ hotels in North America, which also includes Marriott and Sheraton.

In conclusion, Westin Gear Lending is a great example of a brand creating a Service Signature, that brings to life the brand in a distinctive, scaleable and memorable way.