CMO 2.0 Conversation with Steve Pinetti, SVP Inspiration and Creativity at Kimpton Hotels

Written by on May 29, 2012 – 1:28 pm -

pinetti-100My CMO 2.0 Conversation with Steve Pinetti, the SVP of Inspiration and Creativity at Kimpton Hotels was inspirational to say the least. Steve has been with the company since the beginning and embodies all that Kimpton stands for. He did not end up with his job by design, but by happenstance and serendipity — which is why Steve is a big believer that everyone needs to keep themselves open to possibilities. If you’re open-minded to possibilities, things will come. If you’re closed-minded, you miss.

The vision for the company came from Bill Kimpton, the founder of the company who loved travelling and staying in small hotels that had great food and good wines. From the get go, the way he managed was to empower his people to make sure that every guest had a terrific experience — no matter what it takes. That allowed them to rely on word of mouth to grow the business and to never have to focus on advertising. Steve considers it a good part of his job to make sure that the legacy of Bill Kimpton lives on as the company keeps growing and as they hire more people. His primary goal is to inspire people and make sure that the spirit of creativity is alive in everything they do — from the wake-up call to how to greet the guest at the front desk, how to say goodbye when they leave, and so on.

Kimpton is a very people-centric company which focuses first and foremost on the well-being of their employees. In fact, they don’t necessarily see themselves being in the hotel and restaurant business, they consider themselves being in the business of people. They realize that if an employee is not happy, then the guest won’t be happy and the investors won’t be happy. That is why in the last Fortune top 100 companies to work for, they came in number 16. They also realize that you can only empower people, and achieve consistent emotional connections with customers, by having a shared set of strong values, not rule books or scripts. In their case the values are: focus, passion, creativity, integrity, commitment to self-leadership and continuous improvement. All this employee-centricity leads to very low employee turnover, and very high investor returns.

At Kimpton, humanizing the brand is not an empty slogan — they truly want the personalities of their employees to come through and to be the representatives of the brand — not some faceless corporate personality. One of the important tools that they use to successfully achieve this is Kimpton University – where senior executives spend at least a quarter of their time training others. A formal mentor program in which at least 300 senior level managers are being mentored forms the other part of the investment they make in their employee commitment to continuous education. Another promise they make to their employees is that they’re going to have a safe workplace — one in which people feel comfortable coming to work and one where they feel comfortable with the people they work with.

Next we tackled the topic of creativity — which is hugely important for the company — dating back all the way to its origin. Interestingly enough, Steve is convinced that creativity can be taught. Creativity at Kimpton is focused on how to do things differently so that “when customers finally make their Kimpton stop on their journey of trying different places we want to blow their hair back, we want to stop them in their tracks.” It centers not just on big things but also on small things like what to tell the customer when they get out of the cab, or how to make the wake-up call more memorable. Everyone has to be creative at Kimpton — you cannot have employees wait for the marketing department to become creative.

Next we switched to some more traditional marketing topics — including branding. Originally Kimpton Hotels was branding every property differently — with its own style, its own restaurant and its own local environment. As they grew, and since they do cater to a business audience, they developed the need to provide customers with an umbrella brand. In developing their corporate brand they went from zero to 100 overnight and it actually resulted in a significant uplift in business — with customers now easily finding the boutique hotels they wanted, but with consistent corporate promises like being pet friendly, having kids’ programs and wellness programs.

If you doubt whether people-centricity can pay off, think again. 60% of all their first time customers are there because of word-of-mouth — that compares to 20-25% being considered successful in the industry.

Other things we talked about include:

  • How to maintain a startup mentality in a 31 year old company
  • How Kimpton built in guerrilla marketing as part of their culture
  • A successful corporate wide ideation campaign they are currently running
  • The importance of loyalty programs to focus on individual preferences

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Conversation | 3 Comments »

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