During my tenure in the hospitality industry, I’ve worked both onsite as the director of sales and marketing for several hotels, as well as on the corporate side as a director of brand performance support and as vice president of brand marketing. As a result, I have the unique perspective of seeing firsthand how branding in the hotel industry is approached on both the property and corporate levels. Through these distinct experiences, I have developed a sound philosophy when it comes to branding: the brand and its identity does not reside on volumes of strategy documents and reams of research papers at corporate headquarters.
To me, the essence, the true meaning of the brand, resides on each and every street corner where there is a hotel property. It is the individual properties that are in the optimal position to bring a brand to life every day, and I believe it is the responsibility of the corporate team to put the power of branding into the hands of hotel operators by making sure they have the necessary tools and resources to be successful brand stewards. After all, it is the team member and the experience at the hotel during a stay that connects with loyal customers as well as new customers. The success of having a brand ‘reside on property’ has to do with the success of that daily connection with guests.
Hotel operators are sometimes under-emphasized as a key group that has potential to make or break a hotel brand; they are often provided with top-line guidelines they are meant to follow without much, if any, interpretation. The reality is that these key constituents can play a much bigger role: they can infuse the brand with local flavor, shape it to guest preferences and keep it fresh in light of trends and on-the-ground successes. Hotel operators can be empowered to uphold the brand personality day in and day out, by giving them the flexibility and the assets to bring the brand to life on-property and opening up a two-way dialogue that enables an exchange of thoughts and ideas to keep the brand ahead of the trends and changes in consumer behavior.
Balancing Flexibility and Quality Assurance
A key component of successful hotel branding, and one that operators have a large influence on, is brand consistency. When a guest walks into a property, it should be clear which brand they are staying with and what that brand stands for no matter where the hotel is located or who the owner and/or management company is. Maintaining consistency also has a direct impact on guest satisfaction. The more an operator aligns with the brand’s promise, the better they can meet guest expectations to provide exceptional customer service and the more successful their individual property will be.
Maintaining brand consistency across different regions and even countries is done with a clear quality assurance program that holds individual hotels accountable to base brand standards. The program should be reflective of the overall brand identity, providing details and guidelines ranging from how food and beverage offerings are presented, to how team members should approach customer service. Once those standards are in place, an individual property should then have the flexibility to add local elements that bring in the feel and authenticity of the local marketplace to enhance the guest experience. Whether it’s design elements that speak to the indigenous look and feel of the local area, artwork from a local artist, or locally sourced food options, hotel operators should have the freedom to give their property a unique twist in a way that feels authentic to both the brand and the region.
Bringing the Brand to Life on Property
The personality that is threaded throughout an advertising/marketing campaign is an asset that hotel operators can use to tell the brand’s story on property, as well. Consumers like brands with personalities. They want to do business with brands that they can relate to on an intimate, personal level. It simply makes them feel more at home, more comfortable and most importantly, more likely to return. Ensuring that the promise of the brand, as conveyed through the marketing message, has buy-in from team members and is delivered to guests is crucial. Creating an on-property environment where what consumers see on TV or in magazines from hotel advertising is echoed in all aspects of their stay contributes to that 360˚ experience, be it signage for the front desk or guest rooms that mirrors advertising language, or branding guest-facing items in the hotel like key cards, door hangers, coffee cups and ice machines with campaign creative. This type of ‘brand persona connection’ collateral creates an integrated experience for guests that is consistent across multiple touch points – online, social media, print and television – and strengthens their knowledge of and affinity toward the brand. Another benefit that is equally important is that it reminds all hotel team members about the overarching campaign, further reinforcing the brand identity for them and enabling them to live it in their service to guests every day.
Creating a Two-Way Dialogue
In this industry in particular, staying ahead of trends and changes in consumer behavior and being nimble with a response is critical in both brand building and brand management. Those on the front lines every day – hotel operators and employees alike – are in the prime position to gather this information from daily interaction with customers and share key learnings with corporate headquarters. Creating a two-way dialogue between corporate and operators, where operators can assume an advisory role that encourages them to share their thoughts and feedback, gives them a sense of ownership of the brand that goes well beyond their individual property. Brands rely on the ideas from the field. Incorporating them as part of our brand strategies strengthens the relationships between brand and hotel, benefiting both entities and ultimately our guests.
While every hotel has its own personality and unique features that contribute to their overall brand identity, recognizing the impact that hotel operators can have on the brand now and in the future is a clear strategy for long-term brand strength and success. Regardless of the hotel, the end goal is to make sure the brand envelops guests throughout every moment of their stay, and to the extent hotel operators can make that happen, brand loyalists will be inclined to seek out that brand wherever they may travel.
John Lee has more than twenty years of hotel sales and marketing experience and began his career at Embassy Suites Hotels as director of sales and marketing for several California properties. Lee is now vice president, brand marketing for Embassy Suites Hotels, and is responsible for all advertising, public relations, direct marketing and promotions. Lee’s chief goal is to expand brand relevance and brand resonance through powerfully built media and creative strategies that ultimately propel deeper relationships with Embassy’s key customer groups.