While attending a recent event for the boutique segment of the hospitality industry, I was fascinated by the way speakers from companies large and small described how they brand their properties. There was a common thread: a focus on the property. There was little discussion of the customer, and when that was addressed, it was primarily in the context of service standards.
Many independent boutique hospitality brands have been positioned in their respective competitive marketplace based almost solely on the property and its attributes. Here is where the owners and operators are missing their biggest opportunity to be most successful against the big brands with their deep pockets.
Imagine the branding discipline for a hotel as a bull’s-eye with the outwardly moving rings representing the touch points between the brand and the customer. With almost every property I have supported, I arrived to find the hotel in the middle of the bull’s-eye. The model for success was simply to surround oneself with plenty of customers — a bit of a scattershot approach.
Now consider what happens if this is turned inside out. Instead of the hotel being in the center, the middle of the bull’s eye becomes the customer. What is it that makes this a more dynamic and potentially successful business proposition? The answer lies in basic human needs. No matter what a marketer may do to motivate a customer to buy, the customer will always be thinking (consciously or subconsciously), “What’s in it for me?” In response, the most successful brands go beyond logical and superficial emotional benefits to resonate with people on a deeper level — the level at which individuals define who they are and what they want. This is not just about other people’s perception of them, but more importantly, their perception of themselves.
Today, relationships with brands make meaningful contributions to self-actualization. For example, my father was a Ford man, and my wife a Prada woman. Each identified with these particular brands. While working on the Colonial Williamsburg Resort Collection I once saw a couple dining at the Williamsburg Inn wearing reproductions of 18th century attire, complete with antique spectacles and handcrafted shoes. How’s that for a brand becoming part of one’s identity?
The biggest opportunity for a property to gather a community of loyal customers is to make them the focus in order to discover more deeply personal insights. This approach becomes the basis for what is shared by both the brand and the universe of customers upon which the brand depends for success. Instead of brand loyalty being tied to amenities and service, which a competitor can duplicate, a more deeply rooted bond can form that competitors cannot break.
Now, how do you go about gaining that valuable consumer insight? It isn’t easy. Let’s explore that in my next post.