6. Be flexible
Long gone are the days of location-specific brands. New products are now universal, meaning they work in international, domestic, urban, and suburban settings, and that guides early planning and design. In fact, brands have to be flexible in many ways. “Brands have to learn to fail fast and fail smart,” Dev asserts. “As a consequence, brands must always prepare to tweak their strategy after a launch. The most successful brands I have studied can pivot smoothly with market changes; the ones that fail aren’t set up to do so.” He says this means encoding flexibility into the brand DNA, from the start, with the knowledge and cooperation of all stakeholders.
According to Hyatt’s Kearney, when Andaz was launched, the company conducted research in eight countries so it could gain a slightly more global perspective on the guests’ expectations. And study after study showed universal characteristics. “Research revealed that guests wanted to break down the barriers between themselves and our hotel staff members,” Kearney says. “They wanted things simplified and didn’t want to be nickel-and-dimed for things during their stay.” She adds that Hyatt’s research also revealed that Andaz guests considered themselves creatures of community and looked for ways to experience interaction and real engagement with the local area when they traveled.
But being universal does not necessarily involve significant alteration of the product to fit into different markets. “We were consistent from the beginning with some regional nuances like color schemes or wall treatments,” McGuiness says.
7. Embrace the future
It’s been said that the only thing that can be predicted is change. With that understanding, hotel brands must prepare for future change even though they are dealing with bricks and mortar.
“We are timeless and always innovative,” McGuiness says. “We will be going completely mobile in dealing with our guests. We are always looking ahead a minimum of four or five years because a hotel takes two or three years to build. We picked a door locking system six years ago that anticipated the smart check-in that we are introducing this year. Updating that lock will only involve installing a new chip. We like to think we have future-proofed the hotel.”
At Virgin, Leal says: “We do not go with the trend of the moment, even with technology. We are not aiming to be the edgiest product but want to create a comfortable hotel where people leave feeling better than when they checked in.”
And some brands plan for spin-offs right off the bat. B Hotels created b2 not long after B was launched and is opening its first B Resort this summer at Walt Disney World. According to Weinstein, one reason the brand has been able to diversify so quickly is because it allows third-party hotel management companies to execute on full-service lifestyle hospitality. “Leveraging the brand’s established programs, mechanisms, and systems, the hotel management has all the tools to quickly implement the marketing and operational concepts in a way that’s beneficial for the hotel and the destination.”
8. Stick with your vision
“If you want to launch a brand, have a strategic plan in mind and stay true to your vision,” McGuiness says. “Even when the economy was a mess, we never had the conversation at Starwood of cutting back.” For developers looking to be part of a brand launch, the most crucial ingredient can often be enough patience to allow the concept to take root.
At Home2 Suites, Duncan says, the lessons his team learned included understanding the segment, since it’s easy to create a brand but harder to create one that’s needed and wanted. It also meant involving potential owners early in the process because they are smart and have great ideas and solutions.
“The fact that this has taken longer than many expected has worked to our advantage,” Leal says. “It enabled us to learn a lot about technology and other basics. Our best lesson is that as we look to our competitors, we realize more and more that if we stick to what has made the Virgin brand successful, we will be successful.”
However, it is impossible to fully anticipate how a brand will fare until it’s exposed to the marketplace. As Glickman says: “The biggest lessons learned will come after we open the doors. If we did it right through these planning years, we will know soon enough.”