Mixing business with pleasure

There has always been a strong distinction between business and pleasure, and for many a strong commitment to never mix the two. For our industry this frequently leads to treating customer groups very differently.

Over the past three decades I’ve observed many hospitality firms treating a business client like a company rather than a person. And perhaps this is reasonable since that business planner is in fact representing a company — an account worth more revenue to the hotel or resort than the person planning a vacation. But really now, they’re not a company. They are a person. And that person is making decisions on behalf of other people, be they fellow employees, fellow business associates, the boss or their client. When they’re evaluating the best place to gather for the purpose of conducting business that is either more convenient (an airport property, for example) more relaxing (a peaceful retreat on a beach) or more fun (incentive travel to a golf destination) their selection process is not too dissimilar from the leisure traveler.

After working with every kind of property — from an 850-room airport hotel with 100 meeting rooms to a luxury resort on a tropical island — I have come to the conclusion that leisure vacation planners and business meeting planners are shopping with the same two sets of basic criteria. The difference is which criteria they use first versus second.

Leisure travelers typically start with a vision for the type of experience they are seeking. Do they want a peaceful “let’s be a vegetable in a hammock” type of vacation, an “I want to try repelling down a mountain” adventure or perhaps a “wine on the beach every night watching the sunset over the ocean” romantic escape. Then, after finding options that promise the emotional state of mind they seek, their consideration gets practical. How do I get there? How much will it cost?

Meeting planners’ purchase process is basically the reverse. First, they typically examine the practical issues. How will this property accommodate our group? How many breakout rooms are there? Will the accommodations work for our mix of execs and associates? Then, after their short list of options is defined, they reflect on the overall emotional experience and determine if it is what the boss is seeking and whether it will please the attendees.

You may wonder, how does this relate to branding? A well-conceived brand idea must speak to the common thread that runs through all consumer target sub-segments — business or leisure. It is this insight that best informs a differentiating proposition that works for all customers. But in order for it to work it in application, the brand idea must be interpreted for each consumer target sub-segment. Thus, you can say something specific to each target group while maintaining consistency and building equity in a single brand.

Here are a few examples. For a hotel whose brand idea could be summarized in the word “legacy,” its interpretation of that idea for business was about offering the perfect venue for being inspired to leave one’s mark on the company, while the leisure guests was addressed from the point of view that a relationship with the brand helps to create personal traditions that could be passed on to one’s children.

Another boutique property embraced the brand idea that its blend of classic and contemporary pleasures fostered balance in one’s life. For corporate clients it promised a retreat with programming that helped groups incorporate fresh ideas about how their workplace functioned and its impact on their associates’ lives. For leisure guests it presented a blend of offerings designed to restore balance in each guest’s daily life.

A year-round mountain resort positioned its brand for friends, family or work colleagues as a sanctuary in the mountains devoted to celebrating active living in the most inspirational way. In this case, for members of leisure and business groups alike, the brand promise became the ability to bond in the inspiring backdrop of the majestic mountains. It was all summed up in a tagline: Come as friends, leave as family. Or vice versa.

When purchasing travel there are two sides to every purchase decision, which can be labeled practical and emotional — or, if you prefer, business and pleasure. So, look at your brand and ask how you’re mixing the two. Is it in the most effective way for building equity in your brand while attracting customers to your door?