Hotels use a branding model that is mostly broken. This reality leaves a gap for savvy marketers to exploit. Here’s a refresher on tactics to use according to the professor who literally wrote the book on hospitality branding.
Hotel managers talk a lot about branding. But many hotel companies do not manage branding well. Confused, I turned around Chekitan Dev, the person who literally wrote the book on Hospitality Branding.
Conceptually, branding is simple. It’s about giving travelers concise reasons to choose your property over others. Dev said an effective mark is:
- Brave. “Brands should take a stand and have a strong point of view,” Dev said.
- Relevant. “Brands should really be attuned to the needs and problems of their target market and evolve with their core customers.”
- Authentic. “Be true to, and stay in touch with, your origin story.”
- Novel. “People like the new and innovative. Have something meaningful to say when a returning guest asks, ‘What’s new?'”
- Distinct. “Marketing efforts must not only articulate what the brand offers, but also how its offering differs from other brands,” Dev said. “Choose carefully some points of parity, but highlight some points where you differ or excel.”
- In case you didn’t notice, the items above spell out the acronym BRAND
Branding may sound easy to talk about. But brand management is very easy to do very poorly, Dev said. He is “not completely satisfied” with how many hotel companies approach this responsibility.
- “A lot of brands haven’t been relevant enough or authentic enough,” Dev said. “That’s why boutiques and independents and Airbnb are gaining traction.”
- “R&D [research and development] is at an all-time low,” Dev said. – More innovation is needed. Most brands are mired in a sea of sameness.”
Operators must be alert. Here are some tactics for tweaking:
- Find a viable position and stick to it.
- Beware of trying to appeal to too many audiences. It can dilute the power of the brand.
- Make branding a concrete goal for all stakeholders to gain buy-in. Branding is not an activity that only involves advertising or the signs on the front of a building.
- Measure your brand-level revenue per available room, satisfaction scores (such as the customer’s surveyed intent to return) and related metrics. Then frame a property’s performance relative to its competitors within the framework of brand equity.
- A good brand is more than memorable. It increases the share of the wallet. Low overall awareness is fine if you have high awareness and loyalty among your target guest segment.
- “The ultimate test of a great brand is the amount of premium a guest is willing to pay for your brand compared to your closest competitor,” said Dev.
Dev can list several brands that generally do a good job of branding. Here are a few.
- “Before the pandemic, you had these ‘Aman junkies,'” Dev noted. “They didn’t say they were going on holiday. They said they were going to an Aman.”
- Oberoi, ranked the world’s best hotel brand by Travel & Leisure magazine this year, is successful with its fanatical attention to detail and total customer centricity, Dev said. (The professor started his hotel career in the Oberoi over 40 years ago.)
- “Disney is exceptional in being aware of its brand at every touch point,” Dev said, noting that even ushers are trained in how to interact with guests if they happen to meet them.
- Dev recently stayed at a hotel in Positano on the Almafi Coast which he gave top marks for understanding how operational decisions relate to branding. He learned that every year it spends a couple of million euros on renovations, even though it only earns about 10 million euros a year. It spends the money to continue to surprise and impress repeat visitors.
The pandemic may have led to more “brand cheating”. Some franchisees have failed keep pace with maintaining brand standards and capital expenditure.
- Dev has contributed to pre-pandemic research work on this topic.
- Parent brands can often more effectively reduce cheating through non-coercive positive appeals and incentives rather than punishment.
- “It’s usually better to start the conversation by making logical appeals, such as showing how a property falls short compared to similar properties,” Dev said, noting that these measures are often more effective than sending inspectors or threaten to sue.
- That said, a parent brand shouldn’t be afraid to kick poor performers out of the network when necessary. Such a move could increase the long-term renewal rate of high-quality franchise partners, offsetting the short-term loss.
- Paradoxically, Dev’s research found that hotels owned and operated by parent hotel companies had, on average, poorer compliance with brand standards than franchised properties. The researchers hypothesized that adherence to brand standards was taken for granted in hotels operated by a parent brand.
Of course, this is a journalistic gloss on some of Dev’s recent views.