Birthing the brand with the venture

Brands are like humans. They are born, they evolve and they mature. These cycles can be defined with many different names, but for this discussion I’ll look at them in terms of being launched, repositioned and strengthened.

For this blog post, let’s look at launching a new brand.

When a new business venture is launched, so is its brand. Whether one is proactive or not, branding just happens. The most marketing-savvy business owners understand the extent to which a brand that is aligned with the business can give liftoff to the venture, maximizing its potential for success. So while the business and the brand are two distinct realities, they should be developed together — yet often they are not.

Case in point: I was invited to meet with an extremely successful entrepreneur who had decided to enter the hospitality industry with a new hotel that he planned to develop in the Caribbean. He was clear about the investment he wanted to make and had a strong rationale for the potential value of his real estate development. His business-centric thinking was solid, but when my questions forced him to step from his own shoes into those of his potential guests, he went off-kilter. His customer-centric thinking was virtually non-existent. He hadn’t given serious thought to the very people who would provide the revenue he sought. As I probed for his vision of the experience he would deliver — the reason for his brand to exist, be sustained and make money for him and his investors — he was at a loss.

Many of the new brand ideas I encounter working with hotels and resorts are based on internal factors — location, facilities and service, for example. But the most successful brands are about the customer, not the business. They are inspired by single human truths about people. The internal aspects of the business are proof points of the brand and its inherent promise to the customer. When the connection between the business and the customer clicks, it means the business has delivered on its brand promise, fostering loyalty and repeat business.

What I encounter repeatedly with individual new properties — especially independents — is a development team that is well into construction or has completed the hotel or resort, and then decides to brand it. At this point, there is often a weak connection between what is being built (or has been completed) and the experience ownership wants to deliver. Incorporating brand planning into the development process is far more intelligent, efficient, cost-effective and sustainable over time.    

Here’s an example of a client that did it right from the outset: The owner of a portfolio of independent hotels and resorts decided to make a large investment in the development of a 5-star property in a quiet, pastoral valley. We worked with the owner to define an articulate platform for the brand, which positioned the venture as dedicated to not only providing guests a peaceful escape from life’s pressures but also a nurturing environment that could be transformative. Since the property’s group business base would be corporate retreats and destination weddings, the brand platform inspired the development team to design within the resort’s footprint several haciendas that would integrate very high-end luxury suites with more discreet guestrooms along with courtyards and special amenities, including private spa facilities and food and beverage venues. Both walled and open plans were created to accommodate extended families for weddings and executive teams for working retreats. The facilities also proved ideal for individual leisure guests. This thoughtful planning and development of a brand promise supported a higher price point, strengthened customer loyalty, fueled extensive and positive press coverage, inspired strong promotional opportunities, and contributed to garnering a Five-Diamond rating while adding to the value of the brand.

In certain cases brands are born of existing entities that evolve as they grow. When the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation sought expertise to create brand clarity to encompass its entire portfolio of hospitality assets within the historic destination, we worked with their marketing team to develop a brand platform built on a singular truth about their customers. We determined these visitors not only wanted a powerful experience — feeling inspired and a sense of pride — they wanted to belong to the essence of America. The brand platform served as a guide to the hospitality division. It showed how to make history relevant to today’s consumer and provided a whole new perspective on how to design, build, operate and market components of its hospitality portfolio, which consisted of five hotels, three golf courses, two conference centers, five historic taverns, 40 retail outlets and a new spa.

In my next post I will look at what I frequently view as a mid-life crisis in a brand’s lifecycle: repositioning.