Branding is dominated by emotion

A study conducted last year by Protean Strategies, working in conjunction with the research firm Hotspex, has shed some new light on how consumers are engaging major hotel brands as well as perhaps a fresh perspective on where to take your brand in the near future.

Using Hotspex’s proprietary MarketSpex methodology and a sample survey of 800 North American travelers, the researchers found that choosing a hotel is dominated by emotional drivers (67% of the decision process) such as connection, warmth, excitement and pleasure over rational features and benefits (33%).

When it comes to the hotel landscape, how people feel is far more important than what they think — by a factor of two. The study also showed that a hotel decision is more emotionally charged than for comparison studies in choosing an airline, a beer or a smartphone. Moreover, the researchers found that the three most powerful hidden drivers of these emotional choices were excitement, surprise and acceptance, of which hotels have plenty of room to improve.

A further derivation of the analysis distinguished eight major hotel chains by class with premium “inspiring” brands (Hilton, Hyatt and Westin), middle-tier “competent” brands (Marriott, Sheraton and Wyndham) and discount “familiar” brands (Best Western and Holiday Inn). The study identified what each class was doing right and where it can develop relative to the three chief drivers of emotional decision-making.

With the inspiring brands — that is, ones that already excite and amaze akin to a rousing leader — gaining acceptance is the biggest challenge. For luxury hotels, there’s not enough balance between the exhilarating aspects and the personal connection. As such, many brands come off as pretentious and arrogant. If your property falls into this category, think about how you can bridge the gap between guests and your services and ease people into your hotel experience.

For the competent brands, the problem appears to be a dominance of rationality. These middle-of-the-road hotels are perceived as hardworking, discerning and trustworthy. However, while the expectation holds these brands are of quality value, they are coming off as unpleasant. There’s a definite lack of emotional connectivity. More should be done to instill a sense of warmth to foster personal relationships with each hotel.

Familiar brands are almost a mirror image of the dilemmas faced by inspiring brands. Discount hotels relish in acceptance but lack excitement, and consumer boredom sets in. The study finds that these brands need to add some flair and rethink how they deliver modern thrills. Such hotels need to be more active and bold in their presentation.

The main extension of this research pertains to how you can differentiate your brand on an emotional level. Aside from familiarity, competence and inspiration, other key emotional contexts to lens a hotel through are fun, friendliness, interest, nurture and trustworthiness. As major brands, think about how you can excel in two or three of these categories, and as niche hotels, think about how you can become a leader in one particular stream. Moreover, as a major chain with multiple brands, how does each brand fit into and differentiate itself across one of these seven emotional niches?

Hotel brands are about feelings no matter which way you try and sell people on benefits and otherwise logical choices. Aim to make your décor, staff attitudes, amenities, features, website and advertising copy all congruent around one dominant and emotionally charged theme.