Establishing Brand Identity

By Richard Takach, Jr. President & CEO, Vesta Hospitality | June 14, 2015

Each hospitality group must establish for itself its own distinct identity in order to best achieve its strategic and financial objectives and make a contribution to a worthwhile undertaking. In this article, we will discuss how a hospitality management and/or investment group can achieve this end of creating a corporate culture, or what we sometimes call a corporate brand, in its truest sense. If we succeed, this corporate brand will speak clearly to ourselves and others; both measure and inspire performance; and serve as a platform for growth, profitability and, as already indicated, the immense rewards of "doing things the right way."

What is a corporate "brand" and how do we get one? First, any brand is not a slogan or a label or a logo. It is not something thought up by an advertising agency, although a good one should be able to discern in time what our brand is. It doesn't result from proclamation or wishful thinking. It is not something we can purchase.

Instead, a corporate brand is the sum total of what we do and what we intend to do as an organization. It is a pledge to our guests, our employees and our partners that we will deliver an extraordinary experience. It is the result of programs, systems and policies put carefully into operation. It resides quite literally in those systems and programs that establish, govern and measure our daily efforts. The programs and systems we rely on in running our hospitality organizations might seem technical on the surface. However, when we set parameters for those systems, everything from hiring and training to recordkeeping, staff evaluations and compensation, in reality, we are endowing them with values; the same values that define our expectations for all of our constituents, both internal and external.

As a result, what begin as systems transform into our instrument to create and maintain our organizational culture. Consider an organization like the military, with its manifold rules and regulations. Inherent in each one is a value decision, about how we should conduct ourselves and be accounted for in our behavior and about how we should treat others; in this case, including the enemy. These codified values govern behavior and lead, as much as possible, to predictable outcomes. Without such guidance, any "ship" is lost at sea, without compass or rudder.

Let's now look at some of the elements that endow a hospitality organization with its corporate culture, or brand. It always begins with people. Finding, training, motivating, properly compensating and retaining the best personnel for one's organization remains one of the keys to success in the hospitality industry.

One useful approach in the selection process is to derive a evaluative tool based on an easily administered, yet reliable testing device. This methodology relies on profiling the best people already within your organization for a given skill set, everything from housekeeping, engineering or maintenance right on to director of sales or general manager positions. The goal is to match a prospective employee's attitude and his or her abilities against those already known to make for success in your organization.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.