Brought To You By the Letter W

I’m always intrigued with marketing. Not the usual “My Dad is bigger than your Dad” style that is so common in most industries, but the serious, hardcore, customer experience efforts of, say, Apple.

I use a Mac because there aren’t enough hours in a day for me to deal with a Linux desktop (although things are getting much, much better in that area), and the combination of stuff that “just works” combined with open source underpinnings is an unbeatable combination for me. But as I go and pay a premium for hardware the purchase is actually enjoyable due in large part to the way Apple provides an experience: from the clean and informative web site, ease of ordering, packaging, hardware and software design to their elegant and minimalist retail stores. It’s fun to buy Apple stuff, and it helps overcome the sticker shock.

This week I’m in Chicago working with a client. We have a rather large number of clients in Chicago due to the financial markets here. Many of these firms exist solely to make money for the firm’s owners, and so there is a bit of an informal yet high energy vibe at these places due in part to the lack of external customers. In every case there is a lot of technology being employed, and it is so highly customized that OpenNMS makes a perfect fit as a monitoring solution since it can be highly customized as well.

Of course, I never get to come to Chicago when it is nice outside. It’s usually in winter and it is incredibly cold, snowing or both. When deciding on a hotel, I choose the W since it was closest to the office.

I’m not cool enough to stay at the W.

Who ever came up with the concept of this hotel was a design junky. The hotel itself is rather old, but it has been fitted with modern furniture and funky art and lighting.

To my 42 year old eyes the average age of the staff is around 15. They are so friendly and outgoing that it borders on cultish. Seriously, I’ve seen less interest in my well-being from missionaries.

The “W” letter theme is everywhere. The catch phrase from the staff is “Whatever/Whenever” in response to your needs. There is a big “Welcome” mat as you enter the lobby. There is a kaleidoscope on the desk in the room that says “Wish”.

There were plums and fancy water.

There is a fully stocked minibar with the usual drinks and snacks, but there is also clothing (shirt, short pants and a hat), Clif Bars, a W music CD, an “Ouch” First Aid kit and a “4 Two Intimacy Kit” (don’t ask).

Now, the really strange thing happened on Day 2. When I checked in there were three magazines on a rack in the room: a fashion rag and two magazines from the Chicago Social scene. When I came in the next day, the fashion magazine had been replaced by Wired. So I don’t know if they were just keeping with the “W” theme, or if they just changed it out ’cause I’m male or, and this is the scary part, did they have some kind of deep client profile system that picked out I was in tech and might like such a thing.

I don’t ask much from a hotel: a clean, comfortable room with hot water and decent broadband. I like to be pretty much ignored outside of check in and check out. So all this attention is a little uncomfortable. Heck, the week before I arrived they called to see if I needed anything special (I had ’em put a non-minibar fridge in the room).

Now, at the OpenNMS Group we try to culture a unique customer experience. We’re laid back. We have goofy names for our products. We have no full time sales people. We tell people what things cost. And I am always looking for ways to improve it.

But there can be too much over-engineering of that experience. While I won’t say I’m not ever staying in another W Hotel, in my case the “W” word that comes to mind is Weird.

4 thoughts on “Brought To You By the Letter W

  1. W is putting the finishing touches on a mixed-use hotel / condo development in downtown Atlanta. I’m sure we could get you a deal on a room for Dev-Jam.

  2. No, Michelle, you’re not biased, you’re just a lot younger than me (grin). I’m sure if I was 20 years younger I would have loved the W. It was also a lot more fun when my friend Demetri came over to go out for dinner and we spent an hour or so in the lobby bar drinking expensive beverages. But normally I travel alone and thus a lot of the hotel’s possible charm was lost on me.

  3. Grrr – thanks for pointing out to me the humourous intent of your comment. I should have caught it as it was brilliant. I guess the “I’m biased” sentence threw me off.

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