Brand as Culture: Training in a Transparent World

By Steve McKee President, McKee Wallwork Cleveland | May 31, 2015

Branding used to be something that was thought of as separate and distinct from other corporate functions like finance and operations, and certainly from the HR-centric world of employee training. But as the Internet (and particularly mobile media) has become ubiquitous, brands have been forced to operate in an increasingly transparent world. Today everything is marketing and marketing is everything, which means that corporate culture-and the behaviors it fosters-is as much (or more) a driver of brand perceptions as advertising ever was.

A recent hotel experience of mine illustrates it well. In March my wife and I participated in the Cowtown Half Marathon, one of the biggest events of its kind in the nation. 30,000 runners participate in two days of activities, making it a terrific tourist attraction for the host city, Fort Worth, and all of its downtown hotels. It's such a well-run even that many people return year after year to participate. That should mean good things for the host hotels. Except, perhaps, the one in which we stayed.

It's not because the rooms were small, or dirty, or noisy. They weren't. And it wasn't because of some light construction that made the lobby experience less than ideal. Everybody understands (and appreciates) the need to renovate. It was because of a simple decision made by a hotel staff member.

Our race was slated to start at 7:00 on a Sunday morning, and I figured we would finish up with it and the post-race activities by about 10:30, giving us just enough time to get back to the hotel to clean up and check out by noon. But there was one hitch: an ice storm hit the area in the days leading up to the run that was so bad the organizers considered cancelling the event for the first time ever. After much hand-wringing they decided the show would go on, but that they would delay the start by an hour to allow things to warm up just a bit. We, along with all the other runners, were notified late Saturday afternoon.

No big deal, right? As soon as we learned of the delay we asked the front desk clerk if we could get late checkout-just an hour, mind you. She politely told us that she couldn't make the call, and that we would have wait until morning to request it because they would have to gauge the following night's occupancy.

I thought that was a bit odd. They had to have some sense of their occupancy at that time, and since the following evening was a Sunday (at a downtown-not an airport-hotel) there weren't likely to be many surprises. Even if the hotel was at full occupancy the following evening, and even if other guests were making the same request, a smart general manager would understand the ramifications of the race delay, recognize the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, and take the initiative to beef up the next day's crew. But I didn't think it was worth arguing about and I agreed to try again in the morning.

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Coming up in February 2019...

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.