Sustainable Differentiation

By Steve McKee President, McKee Wallwork Cleveland | May 19, 2010

Traveling is hard. Being away from home, eating out, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed-not to mention the nightmares of airports and airlines-make even the most hardened road warrior appreciate small niceties.

It was one of those niceties that brightened my life one day in March, 2003. I was attending the Inc. 500 conference in Palm Springs, California and I rolled out of bed before dawn to get to an early seminar. I shuffled my sleepy feet into the bathroom and turned on the water. Stepping into the shower, I tugged on the curtain. To my surprise (and delight), there was no vortex of air sucking six feet of sticky vinyl into me, the usual behavior of unruly shower curtains. In fact, the curtain wasn't crowding me at all. I had room to move.

I looked up and saw what struck me as one of the most brilliant inventions of all time: The curved shower curtain rod. What a brilliant concept, I thought. How simple. How obvious. How come nobody ever thought of this before? I was happy - and grateful, not only to the brilliant inventor who came up with the concept but also to the hotel that was thoughtful enough to install it.

Now here's the bad news. I don't remember where I was staying. This terrific invention, this fabulous innovation, this morning-making milestone which could have made the difference next time I booked a room didn't have a lasting impact. Other hotels started adopting the feature and I lost track of who was first. The curved shower curtain rod was great news for the frequent traveler but provided no lasting differentiation for any one brand.

That's the problem with product improvements. Shower curtain rods, new beds, special pillows, free breakfast buffets-all are nice features, but none offer sustainable differentiation. Sure, they can offer tactical advantages for a period of time, but like any successful innovations they will be duplicated if they can't be patented. And even if they are patented they can usually be matched by crafty imitations.

So what's a hotel brand to do? How can it achieve differentiation that is real, meaningful and sustainable? The answer lies not in pursuing left-brain benefits but in fostering right-brain connections. Successful differentiation takes place not in the minds of your target, but in their hearts.

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.