In my decades-long experience in marketing for the hospitality sector, this question comes up often.
The branding exercise is complete, the appropriate box is checked, what comes next? Those asking the question appreciate a strong brand, have been deeply touched by a few in their personal lives, and yet aren’t sure how to build and sustain one.
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I would say the opportunity lies in changing the process from a branding exercise to a consistent practice of branding, where a logo and a tagline come last and branding takes a seat at the table in the heart of the business.
Hear more from Melinda Speck talking about the importance in authenticity when building a hotel brand
How do you build a strong brand?
Think about it this way. Branding starts at the beginning, seamlessly weaving through the business plan — the touchstone on which decisions are made. It is therefore an integral part of what the business does (mission) and where the business aspires to go (vision).
It should also influence how the company serves its employees, its customers, its shareholders, and its community. When each of these constituents clearly understands the brands’ promise(s), and the business delivers on those promises through behavior and messaging, a loyal customer base is formed. That customer base is connected by the emotional experience shared when all touchpoints are working together — and the brand image is solidified.
How do you sustain a strong brand?
Stripped down to basics, a brand is a commitment to deliver on a set of promises. These promises (pillars in business plan vernacular) serve as the guardrail and barometer for each decision. Consider one such promise, the “Whatever/Whenever” button on the guest room phone at a W Hotel. That button is a promise that as long as the request is moral and ethical, the W team will deliver what the guest desires. It doesn’t mean it’s free, mind you. But the stories of pressing a suit at 2 AM or finding a replacement for a lost engagement ring on a Sunday are legendary and clearly show the commitment to outside-the-box service the brand stands for.
A few good examples
There are many examples of strong brands in the hospitality space. To name a few in the fully independent arena: 21c Museum Hotels, The Hoxton, Ace Hotels, and 1 Hotels.
Let’s look at 21c Museum Hotels, founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. At the outset, the two sought to share their passion for contemporary art and revitalize an ailing downtown in Louisville, Kentucky. The original plan for a stand-alone museum turned into a museum within a hotel (stronger financial foundation) and has led to nine hotels in fourteen years and another soon to open. Their passionate commitment to providing a home for emerging modern artists — and their work — has been central to the culture and the success of the brand. This pillar permeates each and every business decision and is consistent across their properties no matter the location. The authenticity of this commitment solidifies 21c’s brand strength.
If you know who you are, your partners will too
An integrated brand practice is advantageous for partnerships as well. As pointed out by Lindley Cotton, President of GCommerce:“Enterprises that embrace their brand as the heart of their culture find that they can generate significantly more meaningful relationships with their guests as well as with their team members. This continuity creates trust and sparks genuine interactions both inside and outside the organization. In today’s world, it’s all about knowing who you are as a company and being true to that. It’s much, much more than having an interesting logo and a nice color scheme.”
In a nutshell…
Consider branding as a process, and integrate it seamlessly into the business plan. From there, outline the pillars by which your endeavor will adhere, and use these as touchstones for business decisions. Once this foundation is laid, the visual and voice (color palette, logo, tagline) will be informed by the previously created ethos and become a living, breathing part of the enterprise. Approaching branding in this way as opposed to seeing it as a one-off exercise will greatly benefit your organization and allow your brand to become natural, authentic, and believable to the consumer.
This principle is perhaps best expressed in the words of Jamie O’Grady, Founding Partner of J/PR: “When an organization has a strong brand commitment, people take note; a cohesive, clear, and compelling brand stays on people’s minds longer. In our crowded media landscape, there’s no question a unique and positively memorable brand attracts press attention, social media buzz, and ultimately a larger share of voice over the competitors.”