Seldom businesses can thrive nowadays without carefully-planned marketing strategies: not to say in the hospitality industry where there is at least one new property opening somewhere in the world almost every week. Moreover, the ubiquity of technology and the replicability of products means that branding has become one crucial differentiator for hospitality businesses. A hotel may be a superior service provider with its renowned facilities, but the customers need to seek a way to know about the hotel and its service quality out of all its competitors. As the market is saturated with countless hotels, brands and offerings and that consumer tastes have caught onto the industry, crystallizing and differentiating the brand vision is crucial to lead a new generation.
As the hospitality market is overloaded with advertising messages, how can hotels work strategically to gain customers' attention and to, ideally, create the right premise of a loyal customer base?
Hotel branding tip #1: Create a strong narrative for your hotel
Focusing solely on product, such as room types and facilities, is not sufficient.
Such tangible features do not leave a lasting imprint in consumers’ minds and are unable to generate enduring desires.
Hospitality is about selling a dream and creating a lasting experience, and that is why truly successful hotel brands focus on their brand stories.
Humans are wired for stories as they lead to a better understanding, trust, comprehension and receptivity. Unlike facts and statistics, a story engages both the brain and the body, eliciting emotional responses, which people are more attracted to.
The narrative – or the magic operator of your story - creates the desire: well-developed brand narratives traditionally touches on a brand’s history, mission, values or people. The story must be authentic, based on truths, and then built upon to create the dream and aspiration which capture clients’ needs and wants. In that way travelers are significantly more likely to build a connection with you, and to embrace the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with your brand.
Industry example - Novotel, Beijing:
Novotel hotels in China is a great example which realizes successful brand differentiation through strong storytelling. General Manager, Thierry Douet, of the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel says: "Twenty years ago, when we first arrived in China, the concept of traveling with children was not very common. Also, mid-scale hotels for pleasure or business did not really exist here. Our story was very foreign to the Chinese, but we took advantage of our French origins and built upon this. We were able to differentiate ourselves by offering a family place of leisure, where you can also conduct business meetings and events. We focused on the needs of the family and have continued to tell the story based on family. We are not a luxury hotel, nor are we an economy hotel. So we focus our story on family and business".
Hotel branding tip #2: Set up the premise of a good loyalty program
Remember that your guests are your brand ambassadors.
A loyal customer base, captured by novel reward programs, is essential for a brand’s development. The kind of brand you want to be has to be directly related to the type of guest you want to target.
All the brand activities you undertake should be consistent and authentic, rooted in the needs and expectations of your customers.
Just like in any relationship where trust is essential, it is crucial for hotels to fulfill their promises in order to maintain a loyal customer base. Rewards programs, recognition and redemption become drivers of your loyalty force. When a guest stays at one property of your brand, they deserve to be recognized on their returns to any other property of yours. Their previous information should have been stored and protected, then reapplied to ensure preferences are respected and remembered.
Such a high-level of global recognition conveys a sense of belonging for your clients. With such sense of fulfilment, these returning guests will depart the hotel as brand ambassadors, spreading recommendations through word-of-mouth and online reviews. As some of the most prominent hospitality players nowadays, you could even go a step further and offer opportunities for engagement and redemption outside of your own brand’s world.
Industry example - Kimpton Hotels:
Lead by the core idea of “good things come to those who stay”, Kimpton Hotels has a long history of using recognition and redemption to give guests something beyond expectations. Its reward program, Kimpton Karma Rewards, is a new approach to loyalty. Karma’s style is Kimpton’s style and the program is composed of name, identity, messaging, digital touchpoint and small details of identity like icons that represent program levels. These patterned icons have subtle numerical references, but also tie into color, textile and design patterns found recurring across hotel interiors. The loyalty program and the properties weave together a physical and digital experience highlighting Kimpton’s brand personality. Database technology communicates with digital devices to deliver personalized experience; from the front desk to the mobile phone or tablet, Karma is a more personal, contextual, meaningful rewards program. Kimpton Karma Rewards is an innovative way that goes beyond traditionally loyalty to become a true brand relationship platform. For example, guests may get credit for liking things on Facebook or get served what seems like a random perk unexpectedly anytime during their stays.
Hotel branding tip #3: Deliver hospitality and service excellence
Creating a strong hotel branding and brand personality is about defining your offerings.
Aside from the basic offerings such as the quality of the rooms, facilities, or service delivered by well-trained staff, the best hotels should stretch their definition beyond these elements to incorporate the concept of hospitality.
Hotels are in the business of taking care of people and a hotel’s staff should aim to deliver a transformative experience for customers.
All great brands begin with a customer-centric perspective and experience mapping is a great asset which helps to identify and rollout universal touchpoint of brand experience. The delivery of hospitality should create cherished memories, enrich clients’ experience and become part of their life story.
As world-renowned sommelier Bobby Stuckey defines it, service is “what you do to someone” and hospitality is “how you make someone feel”. When care is offered, it provokes a feeling and builds a connection which transmits such feeling between people. Hospitality is the genuine care which is capable of changing one’s mood and perspective. Successful hotel brands should truly nurture hospitality and service excellence - the very concepts upon which they are built - and integrate it into its brand culture.
Industry example - The Peninsula Beijing:
The Peninsula is one brand which creates transformative experiences through delivery of hospitality. The General Manager of The Peninsula Beijing, Vincent Pimont, explained his concept of hospitality:
"Anticipating the needs of your guests. Guests arrive from all around the world. It is vital to go beyond cultural difference by not judging the difference, but to deliver the care even before the guests know they are in need. Hospitality in Asia is different than in the West. It is about care, I mean really caring. Our brand originates from China and we respect our brand’s origins. We train our staff to embrace and manifest our cultural difference."
Hotel branding tip #4: Tap into experiential elements and technology
Gone are the days where hoteliers were wondering if having in-room wifi was a must have.
As the industry, challenged by new tech and service-focused businesses disruptors, has been under constant pressure to evolve and reinvent itself, every part of the hotel business can be an opportunity to outdo competition and set a well-defined concept in reality. Hence the necessity to tap into new elements as part of the brand experience.
The strategic use of sound can be powerful to reinforce a brand and enhance customer engagement. Like all marketing tactics, it is often those that sneak into our subconscious that leave the greatest impact. For a well-defined in-person experience, it is paramount to identify the different customer touchpoints throughout the hotel and determine where it adds value to the client experience. Piping music in through every corner for example of the hotel would not only be expensive, it would be irritating to customers, so some parameters are needed.
Carefully curated art pieces exposed throughout a hotel brings more than just creating an aestetic environment: the choice of interior design and art effectively reflect an organization's identity and be part of an overall branding story.
Under increasing cost pressures and the need for differentiation, hotel operators have been exploring how technology cannot only help them streamline operations but also deliver a highly personalized and experience-driven environment.
Technology has to be aligned with the overall hotel’s strategic positioning in order to allow hotel rooms to deliver user-friendly and customer-centric service solutions adding that these in turn will then support the hotel’s overall market performance.
Editor's note: this post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.