How DoubleTree wins hearts – one cookie at a time
When DoubleTree by Hilton dropped their chocolate chip cookie recipe, I let out a squeal.
Those were the cookies that cheered me up every time I arrived in Shanghai for work. They made business travel less dreary and, for that moment, you felt truly welcomed instead of just checking into yet another soul-less chain hotel.
Excited as I was, it was two weeks into the Circuit Breaker – the Singapore version of the coronavirus lockdown – before I found time to test the recipe with my newly discovered talent at whipping up semi-edible food.
I should have known that desperate parents would have cleaned the shops of baking supplies in the wake of school closures.
Running between two supermarkets, I managed to snatch the last packet of Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips (never mind that the recipe called for Nestle Tollhouse, these were desperate times), grabbed the last two lots of walnuts and coughed up for organic vanilla essence (apparently parents were happy to feed their kids the regular sort). Thankfully I had some flour at home, which expired only last year.
Outpouring of goodwill
I baked the cookies that same night. And as I bit into one at 10.30pm, all those warm, fuzzy feelings came flooding back. For those few seconds I was transported to a DoubleTree hotel lobby instead of being hemmed in at home.
The cookie was a reassuring reprieve in these strange times, recalling the joys of travel – yes, after having been grounded for the last few months, even business travel is alluring now.
And it seemed like I wasn’t the only one.
Ever since the hotel publicly revealed the secret recipe on April 9, the video of the recipe has chalked up more than 430,000 views while the Facebook post has been shared more than 2,000 times. The amount of goodwill that this gesture has generated is obvious from the outpouring of comments on their social channels.
At a time when brands are still trying to figure out how to engage with their customers during COVID-19, how did a humble cookie win hearts?
1. Offers comfort
There’s no shortage of bad news with the global pandemic: People are dying, businesses are tanking and, in Singapore, bubble tea shops are closed.
To cope with it, some brands have scaled back on their marketing efforts for fear that their messaging will be lost amid the bad news. Others are doing their part to support government initiatives by putting out PSAs such as Nike’s stay-inside campaign. There are also many more that are donating either money or in kind to those who are vulnerable and needy.
— Nike (@Nike) March 21, 2020
All these good works are great and needed but, across the world, people are looking for comfort and distraction. Case in point: Netflix just announced that they netted almost 16 million new subscribers in the first three months of the year.
And DoubleTree recognises that. In a press release with the recipe, a hotel spokesperson said: “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness.”
At a time when no one can travel, getting consumers to bake your famed cookie – apparently also the first food baked in space – is a genius way of keeping your brand top of mind.
2. Reinforces brand
This is the time to push your brand, not your product. Admittedly, with all the travel restrictions, it’s not as though DoubleTree can push their product. But by releasing the cookie recipe, the hotel chain is reinforcing its brand philosophy of “making guests feel comfortable while travelling”, so that when people are ready to travel again, they will remember who made them feel comfortable even when they couldn’t travel.
I’m not sure about everyone else but I’m getting spammed with more emails from brands during this period. A quick word to companies using email automation – you might want to look at your campaigns so you’re not overwhelming your database.
A leading insurance cooperative in Singapore that I never used to hear much from had been emailing me about “Together, we’ll get through this” and “How are you doing?” since March. But what took the cake were emails over four consecutive days that went:
Apr 6: “We are standing by to serve you”
About opening hours in the branches – but if you really know me as a customer, you’d know I do everything online.
Apr 7: “Here to support you”
Offering deferments of premiums.
Apr 8: “From our CEO to you”
Other than addressing me by my full name as in my IC, it also reiterated premium deferments and how they’re standing by me.
Apr 9: “Notice of payment (Renewal)
I laughed. What happened to standing by me?
It’s probably just unfortunate timing but it also shows that companies need to be better at communicating to customers. With this company, it came to a point where I literally shouted into the screen, “Stop emailing and texting me!”
3. First mover advantage
As one of the earliest brands to give out a cherished recipe during COVID-19, DoubleTree captures the novelty of being a forerunner, which is again great for brand recall.
Some may argue that Disney blogged about their churros recipe a few days earlier than the hotel. While that’s true, the churros recipe wasn’t actually released during the pandemic, it’s been on their YouTube channel since January 2018.
Ikea apparently “created a recipe” complete with classic Ikea-style DIY diagrams for customers to recreate their signature meatballs at home. Now one wonders what’s in the original secret recipe. Horsemeat? The recipe’s gone down well enough, more than 4,000 retweets and 9,000 likes on Twitter.
— IKEA UK (@IKEAUK) April 20, 2020
Looking at the comments, it’s clear that DoubleTree is getting all the brand love. Discussions on the meatballs revolve around the recipe and whether Ikea will release the vegetarian version. But with the chocolate cookie, people are sharing stories of their positive experiences at the hotel, such as honeymoons and anniversaries. DoubleTree has also asked people to tag them on Instagram if they bake the cookies for a chance to be featured in the hotel’s Stories, so that’s another win and a great way to crowdsource content.
I have another hunch too as to why the cookie has trumped all the recipes that are being released by brands. With the meatballs, you have to fry then bake them in the oven. Or with the churros, you actually have to pipe them (I definitely don’t have a piping bag!) before deep-frying them.
But the chocolate cookie is simple to make and quite idiot-proof – this coming from someone who doesn’t cook. With minimal effort and mess in the kitchen, you can escape into happier memories. Excuse me while I go whip up some comfort.