Singing their praises: the heroes of marketing

Alarmclock4_150_1Friends of mine went to a London hotel recently only to discover that they couldn’t check in.  In fact, they couldn’t find see a front desk. 

No, instead, they were met in the lobby and quietly ushered to their room.  No standing in line.  No fishing out of credit cards.  No waiting for the staff and technology to "sign them in."

Sign them in?  Was that ever necessary.?  Who said so? But it is, for all of us, so much a part of the ritual of visiting a hotel that Cheryl and Craig said that they were briefly disoriented.  They were standing in their room, thinking, "Um, are we here yet."

Front desks and entry rituals, these are so deeply etched in our cultures, the hospitality industry, and our own expectations, that the world is a little confusing without them.  But in an era of the high-end hotel, they are, of course, completely gratuitous, and a classic example of the dead head of competence.  We force you to stand in line, because we always have. 

Capitalism finds advantage "outside the box."  So we are quick to "reinvent the world."  It takes us several decades to do so, but finally someone had the wit to eliminate the front desk and the entry ritual.

My question, and I do have one, who was this?  This is one of those wonderful innovations thrown off by the world of marketing, but no one is going to get the credit.  I’ve made this point here before, but the other meaning makers in our culture (film makers, talk show hosts, writers) get lots of ink.  No sooner were we treated to endless interviews with Peter Jackson to celebrate the release of King Kong, then we must now endure endless photos of and stories about George Clooney.  Hollywood would very much like to shower this fella with Oscars, so we will be subject to Clooney "revelations" right through Febuary. 

But will we ever learn who "rethought" the front desk of the hotel?  Not a chance.

In November, I was singing the praises of Geoffrey Frost, the man who brought the Razr through Motorola and into the world.  This guy did something extraordinary, and he died, November 17th, virtually unheralded.  As an anthropologist, I am obliged to tell you, this is just screwed up.  Our culture does not honor everyone it might. 

Another example is Stephen Gordon, the guy who founded and ran Restoration Hardware.  I wanted to write a case about him when I was at Harvard, and somehow the chance slipped away.  Now he appears to have left Restoration Hardware altogether.  (And if you have been in a Restoration Hardware recently, I didn’t have to tell you this.)  It is not impossible to find traces of this guy’s career on line, including, for instance, this intriquing comment:

It’s not about nostalgia. It’s an intuitive process to understand what an egg beater can mean to people, to package a set of salt cellars so they evoke a whole set of  memories…We appreciate tradition and history, but we stay away from ye-old.

Here’s my plea: please would you rack your brain and let me know of people like Geoffrey Frost or Stephen Gordon, that we might sing their praises here and perhaps elsewhere on Corante.  I mean, if we don’t, who’s going to?


Anon. n.d., Restoration Hardware.  Publication of the Corporate Design Foundation. here.
(source for the Stephen Gordon quote)

6 thoughts on “Singing their praises: the heroes of marketing

  1. Ennis

    I was about to guess that the hotel without the desk was EasyHotel (Stelios’ chain) because he likes to do things like that. For example, his car rentals don’t have an office – they’re supposed to have two guys working out of a van.

  2. David Sucher

    Are you quite sure that a hotel without a front desk is a good idea? i.e. an idea which will be repeated because guests like it? I have my doubts. It seems to me that a hotel without a front desk is like a dinner party without a host: chaotic, disorderly and without a focus etc.
    As well, I just don’t see how it works spatially. There _must_ be someone to check you in; do they hid behind curtains and then emerge when they recognize (among hundreds of guests) a new arrival?

  3. cheryl Swanson

    I’m sitting in a Phoenix, AZ hotel with all the usual front desk ritual (and very little service) reading your excellent post and thinking about the small group of women at Gillette who reinvented female shaving with the launch of Venus in 2000…all unheralded I might add. Jill Shurtleff, the brilliant product designer…every bit as talented as Karim Rashid, but works “inside” the corporation, so gets little acknowledgement from the world at large; Mary Ann Pesce…the VP of Marketing at the time, who now heads up Personal Care and is one the smartest people I know; Stephanie Connaughton, the marketing director, who truly inspires innovation and creativity and Pamela Parisi, the head of Global Design, who brought the whole thing to life visually.

  4. fouro

    Heya Grant.

    When I hear Restoration Hardware I automatically jump to thinking of Dick Hayne, founder of Urban Outfitters and later, Anthropologie (Hah!). The above link is to an interersting read in Phila Weekly on Hayne’s journey from hippie iconoclast to capitalist and Santorum benefactor. The Anthroplogie part of the story interests me most. I had a chance to pitch their business some years back and they truly have their heads in what I’d consider the right place when if comes to understanding the primal nature and workings of brand.

    For your readers unfamilar with them, Fast Company took a look a few years back:

  5. Grant

    David, it’s a high end boutique so i guess they dont have tons of guests and if they know when you are arriving, they can make some good guesses. But it would be enough to have to the first staff member to create you ask you name. It’s easy from there. Thanks, Grant

    ME-L, Not everything works! But what works works well. (Sorry about the snowman.) Thanks, Grant

    Cheryl, great suggestions, I should I have thought of Venus. Thanks! Grant

    Fouro, very useful, I always wondered about that store, I’ve even gone in to have a look around, hard to read a place, sometimes, from the outside (not to mention from across gender and age lines). Thanks, Grant

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