How To Build An Unforgettable Hospitality Brand: Utilize The Symphonic Approach
In a time of ever-evolving terms and meanings, we want to take a moment and focus on the concept of brands and brand building within the hospitality industry. If I asked you to define the term brand, what would you say? The logo? The tagline? The colors? Our work with hoteliers, developers, and DOSM shows us that for the vast majority, those three components would define what brand means. The reality is that the brand is SO much more than that. Building truly remarkable brands is about much more than a slick tagline and exceptional materials. It’s about creating living, breathing experiences that immerse the customer in a story. To be successful, take the time to define your terms.
Our favorite definition of a brand comes from Sergio Zyman, former Chief Marketing Officer of Coca Cola.
“A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with a product or company."
We couldn’t agree more, and when viewed through this lens, you realize how much more breadth and depth is needed to create a memorable and meaningful brand. Preeminent brands are fanatically focused on the story and its daily execution throughout every experience. Philosophically, we see brands as stories, and those stories are told through the customer experience. The customer experience encompasses many things. Ads, websites, collateral, personal interactions, physical structures, packaging…the list goes on ad infinitum.
So the question is, “How Do You Create an Unforgettable Hospitality Brand?”
Take A Symphonic Approach:
Building remarkable brands truly is a symphonic effort. If you go to hear any philharmonic and only the winds or the brass play, it never feels as emotive or impactful as if the entire orchestra were playing together. The same concept holds true with brands (and in life for that matter). The careful and meticulous planning of these details playing together creates the depth and richness of a given product or service. We advise our clients to start working on these four sections of the orchestra to get your brand ready for prime time: Print Experiences, Digital Experiences, Physical Spaces, and Personnel Experiences.
I know, I know… print is dead, right? In our experience, no! Obviously, the world is moving towards more and more digital experiences, but print still holds a strong place in people's minds and probably always will. You will always have some amount of print collateral within your property. Not only will you have traditional collateral pieces like menus, check-in forms, and in-room pieces, but you will also have non-traditional pieces like room keys, key jackets, napkins, and temporary signage. Regardless if they are traditional or not, take the time to strategize how your particular brand will communicate through these pieces. How developed is your Brand Tone Of Voice and how do you utilize it to create unique stories within each piece of collateral. Do you have specific paper standards that you utilize throughout your efforts? When trying to communicate with your audience, the power of touch cannot be overemphasized. Choose papers that help you convey your message and why you are unique. When done right, these pieces become guests’ keepsakes from their time at your property. We recently visited a client where we developed the brand for their bar amenity, and the bartenders told us how hard it was to keep the coasters stocked, as people were always taking them. These are the type of experiences that you are looking to create. No matter how small or insignificant something seems, there exists an opportunity to create an unforgettable experience for the guest. Don’t forget - everything communicates.
This category grows larger every day, and not without reason – the digital landscape equips you with the unique opportunity to signal boost your brand with distinct precision, wide reach, and expansive KPI tracking at a fraction of the cost of a print campaign. With that said, elevating your digital marketing efforts to match today's ever-evolving industry standards is no easy feat, but the secret to success remains constant: strategy. Effective digital branding requires critical thought beyond captivating visuals and catchy copy – Is the content on your website optimized for converting mobile traffic? Take it further: does your website respond well to the vast array of screen sizes of mainstream mobile phones? Even further: How well does your website accommodate the particular screen dimensions that make up a majority of your website’s mobile traffic? Multi-layered questions like these are crucial to ensuring that your digital strategy is communicating your brand’s identity accurately and skillfully not just on your website but across the digital realm, including email marketing, social media, and digital signage. Is your email marketing captivating? Is your social media content indicative of your brand's standards? Are the digital efforts within the physical property amplifying your guests’ experience? Lastly, always question your intent – Are your digital efforts thought through down to their very deployment, or are you simply attempting to meet new industry standards and out-tech your competitor? Be thoughtful in your review of this, and all the categories outlined here. Doing things solely for the sake of doing things will surely create an experience for your guests, but the ultimate question is, is the resulting experience the one you want them to have?
The days of the monochromatic hotel experience are hopefully numbered. You know what I mean, right? Where the guest rooms, restaurant(s), spa, and bar are just slight variations of each other? In essence, you could change out the functional equipment of each amenity, and they would then be indistinguishable. As hoteliers, we have the opportunity to create cities within cities, essentially creating a myriad of experiences for our guests to discover throughout their stay. When you set out to build new physical experiences, are you utilizing the Brand Strategy to guide your efforts? Or are you just developing what strikes you at the moment? A properly defined brand strategy will dictate how and what you are building to make your property distinctive. And while we may all build similar offerings, you have the opportunity to rethink how the build could help define the brand. For example, when we were helping a client build a spa in the wilds of western Idaho, we though the spa pools could be completely different than what one typically experiences at a spa. So we suggested that the pools be handmade using 78,000 pounds of local granite, creating these incredible hot springs right outside your hotel room. That spa went on to become the only Forbes rated property of any kind in the state. Take the time to think through what you are going to build as you have only one shot at this. Whereas print and digital campaigns can be redone relatively inexpensively and efficiently, you never want to start the building process over!
Arguably the most crucial component of the orchestra, and also maybe the most neglected when it comes to getting the brand right. As hoteliers, our product is different from a consumer goods product, in that the only product that we are selling is the experience. So to do it right, we need to meticulously craft that brand story and execute it each day through our staff. Think of the unique position that the hotel industry sits in. While countless industries and products are being relegated to online experiences or are being consumed in more private spaces, hotels still need to be seen to be believed. Literally! Our product can only be consumed by being there. With that in mind, we owe it to our guests and staff to create the most compelling experiences possible. As with all great experiences, there is a bit of show business that must be crafted, practiced, and executed daily. There is an ancient Italian word (circa 1528), Sprezzatura that describes "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." (1)
Essentially that is what your staff needs to have to deliver your brand properly. A command, ease, and deep understanding of your brand so that their delivery is second nature. So I ask you, does your staff understand the details of the programs that you are running and why they are special? Does your team understand why specific fonts, colors, and phrases are used consistently, while others are avoided at all costs? Are you teaching your staff how to bring the brand to life every day? Do you have branded (in all components) standard operating procedures? Or are you using the employee standards from your last property? You can do better, and you need to if you are going to thrive.
By defining, developing, testing, and executing these four components of the symphony that is your brand, you are assured to be successful in your efforts, ultimately attaining your goal of differentiating your brand from the others and being able to maximize your revenue and profits. Be ready to work. You will develop a brand; the question is, will you define the final brand, or will the final brand define you? You will be creating all of the necessary components of your business: brochures and collateral, websites, physical spaces, products, staff, ads. Will you customize it to your vision, or will you simply develop what we call “stock”? You’ve seen it before, that completely forgettable brochure, that mildly offensive color scheme, the staff member who has no idea why they are truly there. Now is the time to ensure your brand is serving you to the fullest extent. Get to it!
(1) The Book Of Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione