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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.