Hotel organizations have always invested heavily in their brands. For that reason, both hotel groups and independent properties are highly protective of their brand identities, which is understandable since the brand embodies their reputation in the market. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Thankfully, following the disruption of the hotel and travel industry over the past few years, it’s clear that the value of the world’s top hotel brands is on the rise once again. A report from brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance put a value of $12bn on the Hilton brand. That’s up 58% on last year, and it reflects the group’s strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hilton now has a brand value which is far greater than the second and third most valued hotel brands. That includes Hyatt, which has seen its brand value rise 26% to $5.9bn; and Holiday Inn, which is up 10% to a brand value of $4.2bn.
Not every hotel group or property has the budget to turbocharge its brand like Hilton – but every hotel does have an opportunity to build its brand and earn the trust of its guests. To do that, hotel operators and marketers must first recognize who their ideal guests are. They then need to identify messages that resonate with these guests. The final step is about delivering these messages, using technology to spread and amplify them, and to ensure that guests hear them at every step of their journey. Regardless of their current size and value, all brands need strong roots before they can grow.
Technology and the guest
Hotel marketing is primarily designed to build awareness, drive online traffic, and increase direct bookings and revenue. However, there are other objectives for hotel marketers – including competing with OTAs; retaining loyal guests; maintaining a consistent cross-channel brand identity that cultivates a strong branding and improves recognition; and developing a better understanding of guests to provide personalization.
The question for hotels is which technology features help build brand value across the guest journey to achieve these goals and maximize return on investment?
As with most things in the hotel industry, it all boils down to the guest. More specifically, the relationship your guest has with your hotel brand.
Marketing spend should increasingly be about building the brand at a personal level, and that means focusing spend on technology to ensure that you are deploying the correct tools at every step of the guest journey. From search to booking, pre-arrival, check-in, stay, check-out, and post-stay – your branding must be clear and consistent, integrated and seamless, personal and positive.
Adopting a fully customized digital experience for your guests is key to letting your brand shine through. The software is there – and an increasing number of hotels are investing in it.
The goal is to develop a symbiotic relationship, a virtuous circle whereby branding supports the guest journey, which in turn provides actionable data, which in turn enhances the brand, which in turns supports the guest journey, and so on.
Consistent visual branding breeds reassurance, trust, and loyalty. Every element of your guest journey – from browsing and booking on your website, to pre-stay emails, online check-in and check-out, post-stay emails, loyalty programs – should be consistent in look and feel.
Maintaining the visual relationship with the main website through the use of important brand identifiers, such as logos, colors, fonts, web page headers and footers, indicates to the guest that they are still in the same place. This gives credibility to your booking engine and other digital experiences. If the customer is being asked to take out their credit card, then trust is incredibly important. If the branding on your booking engine is weak or non-existent, that credibility and trust will be damaged.
Image personalization allows the guest to really see themselves at the hotel. If a guest is booking a family holiday with their children, for instance, the images they want to see are children playing in the pool, families eating breakfast, etc. They will not relate to an image of a corporate guest with a briefcase because that will not allow them to visualize themselves in the environment.
Speaking your guest’s language
Tone of voice can have a measurable impact on your customers’ impression of your brand, and their willingness to recommend it to others. There is no one size which fits all. The best tone for your content will depend on your customers, your message, and your brand, so make sure your copy communicates the messages you want it to.
With online check-in, it could be casual: “Hi Stephen, we're guessing that you hate to wait in line. So, use our online check-in to get sorted quickly and skip the queues when you get here!” Alternatively, it could be formal: “Dear Mr. Smith. We would like to invite you to complete our online check-in service before you arrive, to customize your stay, let us know your preferences and avoid delays at the front desk.”
Including reassuring copy throughout your guest journey, such as where the customer must enter their card details. “Don't worry, your card is only to guarantee the room, it won't be charged!”
Together with visuals, tone of voice and language speaks to the level of honesty and transparency of your brand and will engender trust from end-users.
Functionality to meet guest expectations
The functionality you choose to include or omit from your booking engine should also reflect your brand. If your brand identity is cheap and cheerful, and you know your guests appreciate a good deal, then larger strikethrough pricing and urgent messages such as ‘One room remaining’ might be the way to go.
For an upper-scale luxury brand, product rather than price might be at the forefront of customers’ minds. You might choose to reduce the prominence of the pricing in exchange for larger room images and more enticing descriptions
Providing an option of interconnecting rooms at the booking stage and images of leisure facilities would be a good way for a hotel to demonstrate its family credentials and enhance its brand accordingly.
Similarly, a hotel which facilitates split bills at the online checkout stage would be considered a supportive brand by those who are part of group bookings.
Adopting appropriate functionality shows guests that you respect them, and it says that honesty and transparency underpin your brand.
The starting point to customizing your digital journey for guests is understanding why people choose your hotel. Is it price, location, service, convenience, loyalty, or something entirely different? If you don’t know, then you need to find out using some of the methods detailed here.
The more information you gather, the greater your understanding of your guests and your brand will be. Embrace those learnings and deploy them across both the digital and physical aspects of the hotel. Ensure that the reasons people stay with you are front and center on your website and booking engine, so that the wheel keeps turning on the symbiotic relationship between the guest experience and branding success.