Search for boutique, upscale hotels near San Jose, Calif., or Nashville, Tenn., and an array of options appear. Search for the same in New York City or Los Angeles and the results become overwhelming. With all this visual noise and endless consumer choices, how can you ensure that your property will stand out in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace? While great service, in-demand amenities and positive consumer reviews are important, it is not always a guarantee for high occupancy. Often, success comes from a combination of factors that are led by an impactful visual identity that connects with your target audience.
Creating a successful brand is not simply designing an eye-catching label or logo. It requires the development of a powerful narrative that authentically resonates with and motivates your existing and potential customers. What is your brand story? What promise are you making? What are your key attributes and fundamental pillars? What is your hotel’s personality? Are you refined and sophisticated? Are you bold, edgy and sarcastic? Are you heartfelt, understanding and caring? Maybe you are a combination of all these traits.
Brands aren’t born iconic, but they do need to be strategically and meticulously crafted and launched with intention so as to allow for the opportunity to become widely recognized and well-established. With this in mind, the first step in developing your brand is understanding who you are, what you stand for and what values you wish to convey. As you solidify these fundamental tenets, you also need to dive head-first into the world of your customer base. Who are your guests and what are their wants, needs, preferences and expectations? The cost-conscious traveling family on a strict budget likely has different priorities than the posh couple on a romantic weekend getaway.
Does this sound overwhelming? Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be. Whether you’re preparing to launch a new hotel, renovate a budget chain into a more elevated experience to demand a higher room rate, or refreshing a tired property to keep up with the competition, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence to guarantee that the brand you cultivate is the correct brand for the market. Here’s how to do that:
1. Understand the Sandbox You’re Playing In
Knowledge is power. Gather all available data on your marketplace, customer base, competition and if you’re an existing hotel, your own history of successes and failures. What is your guest looking for? What are your competitors providing? What is the market demanding and missing? Conducting extensive discovery and market research will allow you to make more informed and better decisions as you craft your own brand. Nothing happens in a vacuum and ignoring external factors as you craft your own image is a recipe for failure.
2. Beware the Lure of Trends
Trends come and go, so while you can ride the trend train in some of your marketing efforts, it’s best to ignore that tempting, low-hanging fruit as you develop your property’s core identity. If what is popular in the moment is fundamentally tied into the foundation of your brand, the minute those trends go out of fashion, your brand will feel old and outdated. Brands that last feel timeless.
3. Strike the Right Balance. Be Different. Feel Familiar.
Your brand needs to stand out from the crowd, but it should also feel like it belongs. Be new and fresh and different, but not to the point that it feels completely out of place. Strong brands differentiate themselves from the competition but also evoke a sense of familiarity and connectedness.
4. Don’t Try and Be Everything to Everyone
Know who you are and connect with your target guests where they live through shared values and common sensibilities. While you want to cast the widest net possible to maximize revenue and bookings, you also need to drive in the appropriate lane and take the right route to get where you want to go. Sometimes, trying to create a ubiquitous brand that is everything to everyone makes you nothing to no one.
5. Verbalize and Agree Upon Your Company Goals
It is essential that you and your branding team are on the same page. Work together to ensure a mutual understanding of your short and long-term goals. Do you want to create a brand for a single location? Do you have lofty goals of eventually replicating the concept in new markets? While this may not necessarily influence your brand narrative, it’s important to fully understand the factors that require consideration.
6. Set Brand Boundaries
To guarantee that the brand remains consistent over time, it is important to develop strong brand guidelines that will ensure proper representation of the brand through the various channels of execution over the life of the property, such as advertising, public relations, digital, signage, etc. If these brand boundaries are not firmly established, the brand can easily veer off course as you implement new campaigns and diversify amenities.
7. Don’t Let Your F&B Branding be an Afterthought
During the pandemic, on-site restaurants and bars that were a draw for the local community and had a strong, independent brand that extended beyond the walls of the hotels fared far better than those that simply catered to guests. Make sure that your F&B brands complement the brand of the hotel, but when possible, also stand firm on their own to maximize patronage from your neighbors, giving the always important gathering spot a more authentic and vibrant vibe.
Launching a successful brand requires the same level of care and attention to detail as making a guest feel at home for the duration of their stay. It also requires slight adjustments throughout the branding process to ensure that the end result is what you want and need. So assemble the right team and develop a property that will be the place to stay for years to come.
Story contributed by Scott MacKenzie, president and founder of Gaslight Studios, a branding and marketing agency specializing in hospitality and consumer product branding. Learn more at gaslightstudios.com.