Growing your hotel brand is not for the faint of heart, requiring years of dedication to a singular purpose with broad strategies that affect all departments and operations from the ground floor all the way to the corporate oversight. Personally, I see the development of a strong brand as integral to a hotel’s long-term success — whether that hotel is independent, semi-independent or part of a global enterprise.
It is with this gusto that I sought out Larry Light, the global chief brands officer for IHG, to elaborate on his background, his reasons for entering the hotel industry and some of the moves he has made to help steer the massive ship that is IHG towards future branding success. As my background is in the marketing, branding and advertising fields, I was delighted to hear what he had to say.
Larry Mogelonsky: What strategies have you championed and ideated since joining IHG?
Larry Light: IHG is institutionalizing some very important new ideas. IHG is aligned behind an overarching goal of building brands that are preferred by guests and by owners. This simple statement is having a huge impact on how we allocate our resources, how we build our strategies, how we organize worldwide and how we measure progress.
We changed the roles and responsibilities of global and regional marketing. We eliminated the title of global brand manager; ultimately, brand management happens at the hotel level. So, our global brand people are now “brand leaders.” Our function is defined as brand leadership marketing. In this new world, the global leadership team defines the brand ambition and the overall framework within which the ambition will be realized. The local brand leaders refine and activate the brand strategy to assure local relevance. Our process is a collaborative approach that eliminates the top-down or bottom-up planning approaches to global marketing. It is a joint plan, jointly developed.
Who is the brand manager? We have instituted a program that identifies the hotel general manager as the ultimate brand manager. Who better to understand the brand and the brand’s guests at the local, hotel level than the general manager and the hotel staff?
LM: What do you believe is at the core of a good brand?
LL: At IHG, we are not looking to build good brands. “Good enough” is not good enough; our aim is strong brands that are the first choice of our guests and our owners. We are all aligned — the company and the franchisees — around building preferred brands. Whatever we do, we do with this single-minded goal in view. Brand preference is built on a foundation of four basic principles: consistent brand identity, familiarity, relevant and differentiating promise, and trust.
LM: A job at your level can often include a lot of worldwide travel. How do you balance work and home life?
LL: This is definitely a challenge. In a global marketing world, travel is not an option — it is an imperative. There is no substitute for face-to-face interactions with the local world including local owners, local hotel managers, local guests, visiting local hotels (ours and competitors), meeting with local employees, discussing local challenges and socializing locally. Email, Skype or conference calls cannot accomplish this.
I love my present career experience. On the other hand, it is important to balance work and home life. My goal is to be home every single weekend, wherever in the world I may be during the week. To adjust my mind, I withdraw from the everyday pressures by escaping on my boat, whether fishing or cruising or visiting various islands.