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Clayton Ruebensaal

Clayton Ruebensaal


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Trendsetters: The Ritz-Carlton's VP Marketing, Clayton Ruebensaal, Cites a New Era of Brand Communications
Clayton Ruebensaal realizes that today even the most sophisticated marketer still has to be a student of marketing, a contemporary reality that can be overwhelming to even industry veterans. "Everything changes so quickly that you can't hold onto old rules of marketing and assume they will work today or tomorrow. You need to expose yourself to the cutting edge of what's being put into the market effectively to find new ways to get results."

In fact, his definition of innovation is "doing something different enough that it carries risk of failure."

However, he makes a distinction between keeping current and what he considers "trend chasing." Clayton admits that managing such a shifting balance can be one of biggest frustrations with the industry at present. "The insecure among us feel the need to do every new thing without evaluating how right it is for our brand and our strategy. Some new things may be right, others not right. Meanwhile there are just as many innovative things being done with traditional mediums as with new ones. Television has never been more targeted. As email has grown out of control, direct mail is now a far less cluttered space to break through."

In fact, he says that he'd characterize "the reinvention of marketing" as simply "cutting through the clutter." He adds, "As new levels of fragmentation and innovation continually become accepted industry norms, the harder it is to get your message noticed. Brands need to focus on cutting through the clutter today--more than ever."

He says that his own small contribution to reshaping marketing is "to put more eggs into fewer baskets--in an effort to engage consumers at a deeper level."

Clayton outlines his own strategies for executing this focused ideal: "At the Ritz-Carlton we take great pride in scouring our markets and understanding our marketing opportunities first hand. WeChat in China, SnapChat in the USA, navigating a Blackberry and iPhone at the same time in Dubai. But with all the new new new in the world, too often new opportunities feel like obligations; and if we jumped on every new opportunity, in social media alone, we'd drown in them. Instead we are selective about what we don't participate in, and this keeps our efforts focused and allows us to achieve excellence in a smaller list of channels."

Under Clayton Ruebensaal's leadership, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's new brand platform has come to life. In fact, Ritz-Carlton prefers to think of itself as being in the business of creating memories, a high ground in the hotel business, and as a result, eschews the usual copy and imagery of immaculate rooms, pools and spas. The brand platform, "Let Us Stay With You," turns a traditional approach on its head. Rather than telling customers, "Come stay with us," The Ritz-Carlton promises an experience that will stay with their guests long after the actual stay ends. Images in print advertising are of serendipitous moments remembering a vacation or a successful business trip amid day-to-day life. Such an imprint is an invitation to return to The Ritz-Carlton simply by closing one's eyes.

His experience with Ritz-Carlton has led him to think more about the future of marketing. "If this is the age of consumer control," he says, "next will come an age of brand control." A provocative statement at a time when many marketers are accepting consumers as content co-creators who can influence a brand's voice, if not its future direction."

He continues, "Brands will come out of this era unsatisfied with the result of where consumers have taken their brands, and realize they need to take a much more proactive role in managing the communications about their brands. It's not to say consumers can't co-create, but that brands need to have the vision and the plan to lead that conversation. Even in the world of social media, I believe brands will shape or orchestrate messages more in the future than they do today."

"It's too common for brands to say they are being reactive, because they put consumers first." He adds, "It doesn't have to be either or. You can put consumers first and still have a plan for the conversation you'll be having with them. Not doing so would be like having a dinner party without a menu or schedule of events, because you respect your guests so much that you want them to choose what to eat and where to sit when they arrive."

Clayton Ruebensaal is a member of THE INTERNATIONALIST 1000 initiative--1000 Marketers Around the World Reshaping the Future of Marketing in global partnership with the ANA/Association of National Advertisers. He is also a chapter contributor in the new edition of The Reinvention of Marketing, the recent book published by The Internationalist Press with the ANA.