New brands … for the sake of it?

I was at lunch the other day with the PR director of a hotel management company and a representative from their PR agency. Mid-lunch, they turned to me and asked what my favorite hotel brand is. It wasn’t a loaded question, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I stalled. I hesitated, didn’t know how to answer and probably looked like I was dumbstruck for a split second or two. And it wasn’t because it was my first time meeting them or because I didn’t want to offend anyone, but because I was genuinely confused by the question.   

In Asia, international hotel management companies offer an extensive shopping list of brands to developers who want more, want the best, want the cheapest, the most luxurious, the most exclusive, the newest, tallest, shortest — whatever it is (superlatives are huge out here). But as markets get saturated with all the brands under the sun, hotel management companies are developing new brands to cater to developers’ demands. Take an already cluttered brand architecture with existing brands that might have confused identities and positioning, and throw a few new ones in the pot. You get the idea.  

While new brands certainly have their appeal, are they always the right approach? I often question the need for new brands with overdeveloped concepts. I question brand integrity when a luxury brand enters a second-tier city with rates that are a notch above its cookie-cutter competitors. I question the group whose 4-star brand gets a higher rate than its 5-star sister property down the block. And what about hotels that simply have no brand standards? Take, for example, a hotel chain in the West that is generally unremarkable in every sense. Then look at its Asian properties, which have chandeliers and mosaic tiles shining in all their glitz and glamour. 

Am I thinking too much? Does anyone else have trouble keeping track of all the new brands and understanding what they represent?

On the flip side, branding has started to become a hot topic in China for the domestic players too. Owners and other stakeholders have observed the rapid expansion of American and European brands and wonder whether the time is right to revitalize existing domestic brands or develop new ones. While the effort of developing a new brand might be a waste of resources for some of them, I certainly look forward to the homegrown products that will develop. After all, who knows the domestic market better?   

What are your thoughts?