In order to create an effective hotel branding strategy, we first need to understand the definition of branding, whether we are working with new or existing properties. While most experts mince words and create elaborate philosophies about the concept of branding, the simplest definition gives us all we need. Branding a hotel boils down to building a reputation and humanizing a the property, that’s it. Narrowing the definition, of course, is the simplest part of presenting your value to the public. Whichever name or symbol you may choose to represent your hotel to the market, your reputation will precede and then be identified with it. Creating a stellar reputation is the most arduous task for marketers. Here are some first steps for branding or rebranding your hotel.
Building and maintaining brand equity is not a “set it and let it” practice, as some hotel marketing operations presuppose. Your reputation and your brand must be sustainable as long as your business exists online and offline. The “value” a hotel provides is also dynamic rather than a static offering since by their design, hotels cater to consumers from all walks of life. Your brand (the hotel) must cater to not only the casual tourist but to business travelers and other niches, as well. Think about how your brand and its equity are affected by the expectations of incentive tourists, cultural tourists, or those travelers with alternative trip plans. Let’s face it, very few hotel guests are simply looking for a roof over their heads and a pillow to rest their heads on. So, the brand strategy must be to be flexible enough to suit a wide range of guests, while at the same time maintaining its core identity. This is not an easy task, for trying to please everyone usually ends up making everybody unhappy. There’s a lot to be said for targeting customers that are the right fit for your hotel, but this is a lengthy inquiry best left for a report of its own. Allan Yip, Director of Brands at Intercontinental Hotels Group and Chief Marketing Officer at Dorsett Hospitality Group in Hong Kong expresses what it means for a hotel to have its own identity with:
“Every brand needs to have a purpose to its existence and have the human value proposition.”
Allen goes a step further to express the brand equation Brand = Human value + Functional value.
The hotel brand must establish authenticity, trust, and value, but all of these byproducts are in some way dependent on guest expectations. Your hotel cannot be a logo, some colors, and a fancy interior design, you must have a guiding philosophy and the ethics to go along. In short, branding is about creating a “soul” for the hotel. This is where humanization plays a huge role. A great example of this is the “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality,” brand philosophy of Hilton, which is expressed via a program called be hospitable™. Hilton’s brilliant strategy transcends naming and logos to reach the guest on an ethereal level. Like we said, humanization is 21st-century branding, a philosophy that creates an emotional connection. If you do not have this connection, your brand will wither and die, period.
There are several factors to consider, especially when creating an initial brand. First and foremost, geo-location and the local culture play a huge role in branding or re-branding effort. Local competitors, consumer expectations from the destination, value, novelty, integrity, individuality, and originality are the main things that will influence the hotel brand. Where a hotel also plays a big role in creating a brand philosophy in the long term. You must start with the basics, of course. Naming the brand, choosing your brand colors, and the design of your logo should all take into consideration the location variable.
As easy as this sounds, the process is not as easy online as you might think. Naming your hotel according to a city name, for instance, will probably end in disaster since the competition for attention online will be fierce. Common names for claiming your domain will be expensive, to begin with, and the climb up the search engine optimization (SEO) ladder may prove impossible in some case. This says nothing about the difficulty inserting your brand into Facebook, Instagram, and other social media matrixes. Imagine you are located in Miami Beach. Try and rank in Google’s SERPs for Miami Beach Hotel. The same difficulty applies to social media, advertising online, and brand differentiation overall. The best way to save time, money, and maybe even your business is to either hire someone to name your brand – a naming expert – or to simply spend some time brainstorming with your friends, family, and colleagues in order to find the right name. There are also naming generators out there like Oberlo, Namelix, and Shopify which you might find useful.
Another important aspect of your branding exercise is logo creation. We’ve spent years trying to find the most economical way to get the right design, but in the end hiring a designer to create a professional logo for a new brand usually saves a lot of time and money, and ends in the presentation of a unique iconography. Your hotel brand needs a symbol that is meaningful, memorable, and versatile enough to stand on your façade, but also on business cards, brochures, corporate documents, and so on. This flexibility is something most hoteliers or marketers pay little attention to. You simply must consider all the places where your brand (logo) will appear. The Facebook page, the Instagram account, your Google My Business, LinkedIn and other presences will require some pretty amazing flexibility. And the colors of the brand must be readily apparent in the hotel itself.
As a final “how to” item, it is wise to register your brand and protect it with a trademark for obvious reasons. For this purpose, there is trademark registration service like Marcaria.com that help streamline the process and to register your brand internationally. The U.S. trademark registration process is done through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but every country in the world has a similar institution to register brands. No matter what else you do from this list, be sure not to leave your new brand unprotected against brandjacking.
Here is a brief summary of what we have discussed so far.
Back in the 1990s, the American Marketing Association defined the brand as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers.” This definition, while accurate, did nothing for helping businesses reach consumers in the digital age. Technology put people in much closer proximity to brands they might never have heard of, as human communication was taken to the next level beyond TV and phones. Before the advent of television, hotels relied on big neon signs and newspaper ads, and word of mouth to get guests. Today, word of mouth is amplified by millions of voices potentially, and hoteliers have had to adjust to this new spotlight shining on them. To fail the humanism test today, is to lose your business to the competitor who understands. This is the simple reality of modern branding strategy. Be real, or get out of the business of hospitality. In our next segment, we will discuss how to grow your hotel brand.