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Harvard Business Review

Innovation the Culturematic Way

Posted on Harvard Business Review: January 3, 2012 11:27 AM

It takes an act of imagination and intellectual mobility to stand in a hotel room and say, “You know, this could be a showroom.”

That’s what happened at the St. Regis hotel in New York City when someone decided to give one of the rooms the Dior treatment.

This is how many Culturematics start. Someone says, “You know…” or “What if…” and in that moment we reimagine something. A hotel room becomes a showroom.

In this case, someone’s weekend stay at the St. Regis becomes an opportunity for the Dior brand to spend some “quality time” with precisely the kind of person this brand treasures: well-heeled and sensitive to luxury. In the world of marketing, a full weekend of someone’s attention is a virtual lifetime. It’s an excellent opportunity to make an enduring connection. Especially when you are the only brand in the room. Talk about a “blue ocean.”

The next question is, “Well, why not every hotel room?” Every hotel attracts a customer someone cares about. Why not do Lincoln suites at the Westin or Nike suites at the W? Why not a Campbell suite at the Marriott? Why not a Celebrity Cruises suite at the Loews?

This too is characteristic of the Culturematic: Boundaries between product categories blur, and partnerships between distinct enterprises spring up. New innovations flow.

We don’t want to be heavy handed. To judge from the photos, the Dior Suite at the St. Regis is merely evocative—a hint more than a declaration. And this is what makes it a welcome presence for the customer, who, after all, is not paying $500 a night to live in an ad. What we want here is something subtle, an invitation for the consumer to make connections, not an exercise in the didactic or the obvious.

Innovation is the name of the game here. But this innovation is not about coming up with something brand new in the R&D laboratory. It’s not about inventing new technology or coming up with a new solution. This is about seeing the world with new glasses, the better to see value that’s been sitting there virtually forever. How many people have stayed in how many hotel rooms since the installation of hotels in the United States of America? The number is breathtakingly large. Thanks to the St. Regis (and the hotelier who first came up with this idea), we can now see that each of these stays was a wasted opportunity for an advertiser.

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Copyright © 2012 Harvard Business School Publishing. All rights reserved. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School.

Grant McCracken is a research affiliate at MIT and the author of Chief Culture Officer (Basic Books).

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