Refreshing, Re-articulating, Re-branding or What? Fixing the Tired Brand

By Laurence Bernstein Managing Partner, Protean Strategies | August 07, 2016

Just when we thought the "branding" fetish of hotel owners and operators had retreated into the back-reaches of the mind, replaced by design fetishes or mobile fetishes or OTA neuroses – just when we though we'd wrestled the branding beast to the ground – just when we thought we had branded all that could be branded (and sub-branded, co-branded, extended, and the rest), the wretched word reappears, wrapped in the disguise of "re".

Re-brand; re-fresh, re-position, re-frame, re-articulate, re-contextualize – an entire universe of "do-it-again-branding" to confuse, confound, and just plain con hotel owners, operators and marketers. The reason is not complicated: branding is an ongoing process, and as tastes competitive environment changes, so must the hotel's brand change.
The question is: how much does the brand need to change, and how profound does the change have to be. In other words, is a re-brand, re-positioning, refreshing, re-articulation or re-what?

Before we can get into a discussion about fixing the brand, we need to review the basics of what a brand is and how we get there. At its most basic, a brand is a construct in the mind of customers and stakeholders, based on multiple interactions (direct and indirect, conscious and unconscious) with the brand and its products, filtered through their own pre-existing bias and life experiences.

That's fairly technical and esoteric, and is important only to brand-heads like this author. What is important to owners, brands and operators is "what the brand does." And what is does is fundamental to the success or failure of the enterprise.

The brand (the way people think of the organization and its products and services) determines how the product or service is experienced (the same service delivered by different brands will be experienced differently); it determines how the experience is evaluated (we evaluate experiences not on absolute rational things that happen, but rather on a collage of rational and emotional filters that are directed by expectations, previous experiences and personal state of mind – in other words, the brand); and importantly it determines whether we tell our friends about the experience (turn experiences into remembered experiences) and whether we want to repeat the experience. It is not too much to assert that a strategically formulated, brilliant executed brand can make any product or service a success, regardless of the real quality of the product or service! Of course, it's easier and more authentic if a great brand enwraps a great product. But it isn't always so!

Clearly, the brand is an essential component of any hotel. It is, as we say, the very business itself. So it is essential that the brand be as great as it possibly can be at every moment in time. And this is where the "re" starts creeping in. A well crafted brand results from a stringent exercise that looks vaguely like the info drawing.

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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.