Monday, January 24, 2011

The Battle for Brand Supremacy

I think we’re in an era where the value and identity of your brand is going to take on a whole new level of importance, especially as it relates to building and maintaining loyalty amongst your customers.

Contrary to that statement, I do still believe that there is also a large sector of the average consumer segment that, while they may consider brand when choosing a hotel, are much more driven by their quest to achieve the lowest possible rate, the best “deal” when staying at a hotel. 

Then, once they are armed with their rate information, they will secondarily look at the brands where they have found the best rates and ask themselves how they perceive the value relative to the brand that they have initially chosen and ultimately make their decision – rate first, brand second. 

Let’s put that group of consumers aside for the moment and talk more about the importance of a clearly defined brand identity.

Arguably, there are many, many brands to choose from when selecting a hotel, and the number of choices is continuing to expand as well-established hotel companies create new sub-brands to try to capitalize on changing consumer interests and trends.

That, I believe, in and of itself is part of the problem, as companies are striking out with new sub-brands in pursuit of additional revenue, but perhaps at the potential expense of their previously loyal guests, who felt that they knew what to expect from their brand, and are now concerned that they have taken their eye off of the ball, to chase after the “new” guests, the new shiny pennies.  And I would say the same about those hotel owners, who have also put their faith in the brand and are now wondering if they, and their long-term loyalty, are as important to the brand as the new owners that they are chasing after to open the new sub-brand hotels.

It all comes down to focus, consistency, confidence in what you are doing, the path that you have chosen, and then continuing to refine and improve, but doing so from the basis of what you stand for, and continue to stand for, where your brand is concerned, so that you do not lose your loyal guests, those guests that believe in what you’re doing and actively, consciously, choose your brand over the others, again and again.  

At the upper end of the brand spectrum, I believe there are a couple of clear winners:

Westin – successfully tapping into our senses . . .

I think Westin has been on to something ever since they rolled out the heavenly bed.  That, to me, was the start of something, and clearly they saw it too.  Since then they have rolled out the heavenly shower and other heavenly options, and that’s great, but it’s not my point.  In and amongst those product introductions, I believe that they came to see something else – the value of focusing on the senses, and that’s what I think they have really excelled at over the last several years, and they continue to do so now.  

Some of our strongest memories are triggered by smell for example and whether it’s the different fresh, natural smells that they have permeating through their public spaces, at different times of the day, or the changes in lighting and the addition of simple candles in the latter part of the day and evening, they have got this figured out and they have expanded their focus on the senses, on their customers’ “whole body & mind wellness” into every facet of their business, and people are taking notice. 

I see other brands trying to catch up and keep up but that’s exactly what their doing, trying to catch up, to emulate Westins success in this area, instead of focusing their efforts on what matters to their existing customers, trying, unsuccessfully instead, to be all things to all people.

Four Seasons – relentlessly focused on service. . .

One of the things that I love about Four Seasons is that they are very, very clear on their brand identity, and for them it is also about uncompromising service, from beginning to end.  Sure, there is much more to any Four Seasons than just great service, but the foundation for everything that they do is still their commitment to service.  And their actions are always consistent with that commitment, right down to their choice not to be listed on discount booking sites such as Orbitz, and the like.  They are clear that they do not want to be listed as “on sale” or “deeply discounted” and devalue their brand as a result.

They know who they are and what they’re good at, and they’re sticking to it, and for that, they get my vote.

There are other examples of hotel companies that provide great service, but I highlighted Four Seasons because of their unwavering commitment to service as evidenced in their brand identity.

Who do you think will win the battle for brand supremacy?  What hotel brand stands out for you? 

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