Jump on and off the brand bandwagon

Jump on and off the brand bandwagon

It seems like the distant past, but every time I read an article in the press about hotel brands or branding, it reminds me of my old days in Procter & Gamble’s brand department. Yes, it was called the BRAND department, not advertising or marketing. Why? As BRAND managers, our responsibility was to manage the critical equity of the company — namely, its brands.

Here’s an example from Crest toothpaste, a brand I managed for several years. When P&G wants to market a new oral care product, it doesn’t create a new brand name. Rather, it uses the “umbrella” brand — Crest 3D Whitestrips, Crest ProHealth, Crest Rinses and so on. All have a common purpose: better oral care. This makes sense to consumers, as they recognize the brand and make purchases of related products based upon their core knowledge. This is the essence of branding: being instantly known for some attribute. This is why brands have value in the marketplace.

Now, let’s talk branding in the hotel marketplace. You would think the Marriotts, Hiltons and Starwoods of this world would pound the success of their respective brands into the psyches of travelers. This, after all, would leverage those countless years of recognition amongst the traveling public. Alas, this is not the case, as each of these corporations seems hell-bent on cluttering the hotel landscape with even more brand variations, each requiring its own logo, positioning and, ultimately, marketing support.

This very issue became a discussion topic at ITB-Berlin. It was widely reported that Osama Hirzalla, vice president for brand marketing/eCommerce, Europe, for Marriott International; Cassidy Morgan, CEO, Central/Eastern Europe, for Interbrand; and Bernold Schroeder, CEO, Jin Jiang International Hotels, met to review hotel brands. While not putting words in anyone’s mouth, even these supposed “gurus” were expressing their concern at the proliferation of brands facing the traveler today.

Their dismay is not surprising. We have too many hotel “brands” chasing travelers who lack the knowledge necessary to differentiate between them, since marketing support of these products is seriously insufficient. Brands need to be rationalized so appropriate marketing efforts for those remaining can be effective.

It cannot come soon enough. Scary as it may seem, a recent survey I conducted amongst young business travellers named EXPEDIA as their third choice as a hotel chain! That’s what happens when the distribution channel outshines the underlying product.