Q&A: Happy Employees Are the Best Brand Advocates, According to Kimpton’s Chief Commercial Officer

'Investing in workplace culture' is in your company's best interest, said Kathleen Reidenbach

Reidenbach will take the stage as a speaker at Challenger Brands: A Brandweek Event, Feb. 6-7, in New York.
Kimpton

Chefs at Kimpton’s boutique hotels are happy to say goodbye to edible dirt, molecular food and activated charcoal. Deconstructed dishes? So 2018. And bartenders at the chain plan to bust out the celery root and tarragon to spice up this year’s cocktails. Those are a few of the findings from the brand’s 2019 trend forecasting report, and one of the ways Kimpton aims to show off its in-house smarts and stay ahead of the hospitality pack.

The San Francisco-bred company may be a millennial darling, but it’s purposely infusing a digital world with personal touches at its 66 hotels and 82 restaurants. “No amount of data and technology can replace human intuition and the value of one-to-one connections,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, the chain’s chief commercial officer, noting that “heartfelt human connections make people’s lives better.”

On the eve of an expected two-year growth spurt for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Reidenbach will take the stage as a speaker at Challenger Brands: A Brandweek Event, Feb. 6-7, in New York.

Ahead of that gathering, which will feature C-suite executives from Casper, Hulu, BarkBox, Giphy, Harry’s and other companies, Reidenbach spoke with Adweek about staying true to her challenger roots, staging a room-based social experiment and fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

Adweek: What’s the focus of your “Stay Human” campaign, and what is the brand trying to say—particularly to digital natives—about our tech-heavy environment?
Kathleen Reidenbach: “Stay Human” is a brand campaign inspired by Kimpton’s heartfelt approach to hospitality. It’s grounded in the idea that in our world of rapid innovation and constant technological changes, we’re craving more connections, personalized experiences and touches of humanity. With all the ways we’re able to connect nowadays—texting, emails, social media, to name a few—we’re still somehow disconnected from one other.

"With all the ways we’re able to connect nowadays—texting, emails, social media, to name a few—we’re still somehow disconnected from one other."
-Reidenbach

Our “Stay Human” campaign is all about treating people like people. It means focusing on what’s most important to Kimpton: delivering a more human experience. We’re strong believers that even in an age of automation and technology, consumers are looking for those immersive and authentic experiences. We seek to foster those connections in our spaces and strive to spark more conversations about the importance of individual expression, community, and the spectrum of the human experience.

How did Room 301 fit into that overall message? How did the experiment go and do you plan to repeat it?
As part of our “Stay Human” campaign, we also launched Kimpton’s first social experiment: Room 301. Room 301 was available for three months at The Everly Hotel in Hollywood and intended to determine what commonalities and connections exist between people who passed through the same space, no matter their background or reason for traveling.

On the surface, the only thing these guests had in common was that they occupied the same physical space at different times. However, we found that the activities in the room (which were designed to be interactive) and the choices the guests made illuminated the surprising ways in which their experiences, aspirations and values both align and diverge.

We’ve been truly moved by what we’ve seen so far and look forward to inspiring more human connections in our spaces. The findings were hilarious, deeply emotional, hopeful and empowering, but above all else, incredibly honest and human. The contributions were unfiltered and unexpected, and we came away from it with a newfound appreciation for our guests. Due to the success of this activation, we’ve created similar experiences at other Kimpton hotels across the country. That’s all I can share at this point, but you can expect more details from Kimpton in the coming months.

Why does trend forecasting make sense for the brand?
Kimpton has always been a trailblazer and a brand that’s chosen to do things a bit differently. To our founder Bill Kimpton, “boutique” meant creating a hotel experience that was more like someone’s livable and stylish home than a big-box, impersonal hotel. Thirty-eight years after our first hotel opened in San Francisco, we still always start from scratch—there’s no “Kimpton in a box.” We take a highly individualized approach to every hotel and look at each market and region with a fresh lens to translate local flavors and designs into eye-opening but approachable experiences. It’s the “hard” way to do it but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We embrace originality and creative thinking, which means our brand takes risks, colors outside the lines, and is willing to evolve to meet our guests (and employees) where they are now.