Eight Principles for Strengthening Your Brand

October 11, 2010

By Lulu Raghavan

Are you looking for ways to jump-start your brand building plans? Read through and you may be pleasantly surprised by the ideas you’ll generate from learning about what others do. We’re in the thick of the strategic planning process at Landor right now and as I think about our priorities for next year and where to focus our initiatives, I found it incredibly useful to revisit Landor’s eight principles for building strong brands. Each of the principles opened up my mind to critical actions to consider across the strategic, creative and operational aspects of building a professional services brand. In this article, I apply these same principles to brand building in the hospitality industry.

Principle 1: Be selective and disciplined in targeting guests
It’s very tempting to be all things to all people but rich rewards await brands that are very focused. Who is your product intended for? The more specific the answer to this question, the better. W Hotels would not answer this question by saying “business travellers.” They might describe their target as “business travellers who want instant gratification and thrive on high energy experiences.” What this specific target allows them to do is to build a highly differentiated guest experience that better connects their guests to the brand.
Principle 2: Uncover a unique and actionable guest insight
How well do you know your desired target segment? Can you describe them beyond demographics? Can you write a vivid character portrait of your ideal guest? Do you know what her greatest fears and delights are about the hotel experience? Insight about guests gathered through a variety of formal and informal processes (customer research, feedback forms, intelligence gathered by guest facing staff) can unlock a variety of innovations that can entirely transform your business. Recognition of a business traveler’s key moment of satisfaction – collapsing on the bed – led Westin to develop the Heavenly Bed. When it launched in 1999, hotels were trying to outdo each other with amenities such as mini-bars, cable TV, toilet-side telephones, and whirlpool baths. No one was thinking about the bed and the fact that more than anything else, guests want a good night’s sleep. This single innovation from Westin is credited with reviving the hotel chain.
Principle 3: Make and keep a distinctive promise in the marketplace
Can you describe your brand’s promise in one pithy statement? How well is it driving the guest experience across all points of touch, online and offline? One&Only Resorts reinforces its name by promising at each resort “the finest experience on every possible level” complemented perfectly by the resort’s “unique design and ambiance that embraces the local surroundings”. The brand uses every touch point as an opportunity to subtly remind guests of this promise. Making the promise is the easy part but delivering it requires a tremendous investment in both hardware (product) and software (people) to execute well.
Principle 4: Drive a unique image in the marketplace (consistent with the promise)
While defining your brand promise is important, it is equally important to drive a unique image in the marketplace that communicates this promise. Brand image in a guest’s mind is a cumulative collection of perceptions based on both identity and reputation. A hotel brand would do well to pay equal importance to both. Peninsula Hotels’ “Enriching your life” collection of programmes and activities on offer at all hotels is a great example of an initiative aimed at driving a unique image of the brand through an enhanced guest experience. According to the hotel’s website, this is a theme that provides guests and those important to them with an integral collection of experiences designed to enrich, enlighten, and educate. Topics will include “The Art of Hospitality,” focusing on hotels’ art, antiques, and programs with local art establishments; “Milestones of Life,” in celebration of life’s special occasions; and new Peninsula Academy programs, fundraising, volunteering activities, and much more.
Principle 5: Organise the brand architecture from a customer perspective
Do you have a clear structure and relationship between brands in your portfolio? Can customers easily understand your offerings? Well defined and customer driven brand architectures have the potential to grow your business. The recent brand portfolio restructuring at Indian Hotels Company Limited allows the company to fully leverage growth opportunities in segments other than its traditional luxury stronghold. The company now has four clearly defined brands; Taj in the luxury segment, Vivanta by Taj in the upper upscale segment, The Gateway Hotel in the upscale segment and Ginger in economy. Each of the brands has a clear raison d’etre, a relationship with the Taj brand (dominant, endorsed or invisible) and a customer experience to match the promise. Prior to this restructuring the Taj brand (which stood for luxury) was stretched right up to the upscale segment (now The Gateway Hotel) without a corresponding delivery in experience leading to mismatch of customer expectations, slippery ground for the brand.
Principle 6: Balance constancy and change
Brands must evolve in a way that stays true to their roots. They must embrace innovation and be committed to staying in touch with the times but do so in a manner that does not dilute their brand equity. The Pierre, a Taj Hotel, in New York recently re-launched after a US$100 million renovation to contemporise and enhance the guest experience without losing its legendary iconic status and elegant personality. Have you defined your DNA and values that will remain unchanged even as you embark on change?
Principle 7: Influence and change behaviour
In almost every industry except perhaps fast moving consumer goods, your employees in fact are the brand. This is more so in the hospitality industry where guest-facing staff have the incredible power to build or destroy brand equity in a single interaction and in a matter of seconds Which is why employees may be an even more important stakeholders than your guests. How special do your employees feel? Do they know exactly what their role is in delivering the brand experience? And how engaged are they to your brand? One company that pays a lot of attention to its employees is Four Seasons. Their Golden Rule says that you must treat people the way you like to be treated. And the same rule applies for their employees as well who are inducted in a very special way and made to feel like an important member of the family which in turn charges them up to deliver amazing experiences to guests.
Principle 8: Influence business systems, processes and policies
A lot of brand investment can go down the drain if the brand is seen as just a marketing initiative and not a strategic business imperative. How well seeded is your brand in organisational systems, processes and policies? Does your recruitment process factor in brand criteria? Is your feedback form measuring guest satisfaction on brand metrics? Ritz-Carlton’s Gold Standard are truly the gold standard here ( setting the tone and tenor of all employee engagement.

This blog was originally published by Hotel Management magazine (October 2010).

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