Lisa Marchese Interview: The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

Lisa Marchese Interview: The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

The highlight of my last day at Back End of Innovation #BEI13 was a charming chat about innovation with Lisa Marchese, Chief Marketing Officer at Las Vegas’ hottest hotel property, The Cosmopolitan Hotel. As we approach this year’s BEI Conference — which will be held at The Cosmopolitan, it seemed like a good time to publish this on Innovation Excellence.

Lisa is the “ridiculously smart and creative” leader who crafted Cosmo’s advertising mark as innovative, disruptive and highly creative, centered on seizing the attention of The Curious Class. A psychographic cohort composed of high IQ, worldly mindset, novelty seeking, early adapters who are attracted to unconventional fresh ideas.

Repeat unconventional.  Layer in a dash of daring disruption combining “vice & virtue,” or “misfit right in” as an advertising directive and that’s the Cosmopolitan marketing brief. An example.

Cosmo’s Curious Class consumers seek something new and different in their Vegas experience besides the pervasive Vegas tacky and cheesy sheek.  Lisa’s crew at the Cosmopolitan delivers fresh, innovative, and disruptive in spades through hospitality innovations such as a Chinese/Mexican fusion restaurant, Three Adults for the Price of Two, appetizers served in shoes, and buying art from old cigarette machines.

Lisa shared her serious thoughts and contagious laugh on what it takes to drive breakthrough innovation, walking the line between naughty and nice, all while having to answer to ROI focused German Bankers/owners fresh out of foreclosure.  And…how Esquire magazine chose her as an “Employee of the Month.”

‘Curious Class’: Reinterpreting & Innovating luxury from the Vegas past to the Cosmopolitan future

GPV: The Cosmopolitan started off in quite a deep hole–behind the market, room market over supply, foreclosure, bankers as bosses. What did it take to convince staid, conservative decision makers that your disruptive and innovative positioning of the Cosmopolitan was THE way to go?

We had to be provocative given the sheer fact that there was so much product in the market when we launched. We had to punch above our weight. Because we were new, we weren’t bounded by previous thinking, and no existing organization that had a bias. We were starting from a clean slate.  The power of a clean slate is much stronger than what I could have possibly anticipated. There are simply no boundaries. For us we had one shot and were going to swing for the fences.  If we came out weak we would have never recovered so we came out strong.  The visibility and talk value of the campaign with its innate ability to evoke the right emotions in our target guests was a powerful, powerful result of strategy.  The brief to our agency was “get me fired.”   They got pretty close!

GPV: You established guardrails for the disruption you unleashed, and created the “Curious Class” as the persona of your target market. Tell me more about the “Curious Class” as an innovation…

Curious Class originated from our limited marketing resources. Having limits gave us focus. The Curious Class might not be our entire consumptive target but we needed an aspirational target that would round our thinking.  Curious Class was born of secondary research sources creating a picture of a new psychographic reflecting our market. I anchor really on the psychographic than a demographic because it is so much more empowering to our organization to understand how guests think vs. necessarily we think they know who they are. So you can be 15 or 75, and you can still be a member of the Curious Class. It is not defined by age or income, it is about how you see the world.

GPV: How do you execute day-to-day on a concept of “Redefinining Luxury?”

We ground it in the idea of the Curious Class. Coming out of the recession (2010), we felt our target was still affluent, still willing to pay for a luxury hospitality experience. BUT…what we saw in our secondary research framed our disruptive attitude…what the Curious Class expected from a luxury experience was now radically different.

Concurrently then we had to be radically different from what already existed. Rather than cookie cutter luxury, or stagnant absurd formality and hierarchy of luxury, we wanted to create meaningful interaction. One way to do that within a guest experience is that no one on our team wears a name tag.

The idea being that we have to introduce ourselves to our guests. It’s not staff vs. guests–we’re breaking down the barriers, the traditional. We put the onus on our staff to engage, to be personal in creating a moment instead of creating a “transactional service mentality.” Contrary to traditional luxury brands who embrace formality, we don’t. We are polish without pretense. We’re unscripted yet thoughtful.

Our “make it right” approach is more sincere and suits the personality of our staff. No longer formally scripted. It’s reinterpreting luxury in a more thoughtful manner. They are empowered to make a decision to create the experience. It is a completely different orientation in how you hire, train, and equip your staff to manage our guests’ experience.

GPV: How are you tapping into the growing Chinese luxury class?

The Chinese luxury experience is changing. We have a group that works with all high-end international customers. What I think is interesting beyond that is drawn from our research three years ago and how it is now relevant to The Chinese Curious Class.

We saw how our American customers were changing and their anticipation of what a luxury experience is…now we’re seeing the same thing with the Chinese market. The old school luxury strategy for Chinese was that you had to have a traditional Chinese restaurant on property.  What we’re seeing is that if you want to attract the affluent, under 45, Chinese customer, they want something new, want to experience a different cuisine, not what they have at home. There’s a shifting modality with how you attract international customers and the concept of replicating what is “comfortable” for them.  It’s really not appropriate any more.

We enable a Chinese customer to embrace their sense of discovery, while giving them the appropriate amenities–maybe in-room that they require–but it is not reshaping their experience by replicating what they have at home.

GPV: Looking back as an innovator, a disruptor, a market maverick, do you think it was easier having a clean slate to innovate from?

A casino hotel opening is an incredibly frenetic event. Opening the doors of a $4 billion property knowing that the doors are never going to shut again, creates       such a shared sense of purpose.  It is viral. People get on board knowing that we are doing something radically different.  The hours, the degrees of commitment, make it like a start up.  A start up with a really big manifestation of being different, disruptors, mavericks. Starting from scratch gives you latitude that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. It ensures that every person you hire pre-opening believes what you’re going to open is going to be ground breaking, breathtaking. It’s going to change the market. Those that jumped from a competitive property were taking a leap of faith. An opening creates a dynamic that is hard to replicate and makes it easier to do something entirely different. It was a function of the management team that saw the culture of service in Las Vegas was so stale that there was a tremendous opportunity. We had the courage up and down the organization knowing we were going to change that.

GPV: Where do you want to be in five years given your goals and fears of maintaining the momentum of innovation?

Personally or for The Cosmo? Shall we make this therapy as part of the interview? No doubt, for The Cosmopolitan I want us to be a leader.  I want us to lead culture, not reflect it. That’s easier said than done. I think it is a combination of the leadership team combined with access to capital to sustain our innovation, particularly in such a capital intensive, capital driven market.

GPV: Your fears?

That we will not continue to lead. I think that through attrition we will loose that sense of ‘opening spirit,’ that innovation and independent spirit. Because we’re not owned by a conglomerate that enables us to do things differently.  But through attrition, that spirit walks out of the door every day, which means we could loose critical mass. That’s my fear.

GPV: How did you become one of Esquire Magazine’s ‘Best Employees of the Month’?

Laughing–I have no idea! I have no idea how that happened actually!

My gracious thanks, Lisa. Esquire was right…

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Paul Ruppert has been at the forefront of discovering, delivering and monetizing mobile service innovations over the last fifteen years – from taking a start up to a $400 million liquidity event to product developer within one of the globe’s leading mobile operators. He’s currently an Advisor to the CEO, mBlox, the world’s largest enterprise messaging provider, and Dublin, Ireland based Open Mind Networks, a leading provider of mobile messaging and data applications platforms.  He blogs at www.globalpointview.com.

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