After more than two years of loyalty program limbo and “will it or won’t it” debates, Marriott unveiled the name of its unified loyalty program: Bonvoy. This final step in the world’s largest hospitality merger brings together over 100 million members, billions of records, and 6,700 properties in over 130 countries.
For Marriott, the stakes are high given the recently reported security breach and the expectations of its current members — especially the legacy SPG members. In a world where loyalty programs rarely inspire emotional loyalty (less than half of consumers agree that programs make them feel more loyal to a brand), SPG amassed a cultlike fan base. And while many of the major integration milestones are already complete, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing since the merger was announced in 2015.
There are lots of opinions (and even more puns) about the name and new program swirling around. But that’s to be expected: Our research shows that consumer commentary often explodes in the wake of program changes. The new branding makes one thing clear: Marriott wants us to view this program as a new perspective on loyalty (in the company’s words: “the very best of loyalty made even better”). It could have stuck with Marriott Rewards or a mash-up such as Marriott Preferred Guest. Instead, it will launch and build a new brand, a task that’s increasingly difficult with empowered and distracted consumers.
How Marriott executes Bonvoy will tell us the most about whether this is actually something new or if it’s just the same travel rewards program with a shiny new metallic tier. So far the changes appear mostly cosmetic, though the press release for the announcement emphasizes the one-of-a-kind experiential rewards and events that will be available through Marriott Bonvoy Moments and other Marriott brand partnerships. My hunch is that Marriott wants to maintain the relationships it has with its points- and upgrades-obsessed loyalists while also appealing to new customers and demographics such as Millennials, who our research shows appreciate choice, flexibility, and enhanced experiences (psychology of points). I’m not sure Marriott can have it all ways. As the program rolls out, I’ll specifically be watching how Marriott cultivates the Bonvoy identity, integrates it across all customer touchpoints, and balances traditional travel loyalty mechanics with emotional and innovative elements.