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Brand Love: More Essential Now than Ever Before

At the beginning of July, Talkwalker released its Brand Love Story 2020 results which found those brands around the world who elicited the most love from consumers and for U.S. brands. At the top of their list were three hotels: Four Seasons, IHG and Hyatt. The report from Talkwalker, a social listening and analytics company, has come at a pivotal time, as brands adapt to a post-pandemic world. Brand love is known to improve consumer loyalty and advocacy. So the question becomes, how can hotel brands improve their brand love during COVID-19? To find the answer to that question, HT spoke with Todd Grossman, CEO – Americas, Talkwalker.

Why is brand love so important for hotels, especially during COVID-19?

The hospitality industry is super competitive, and hotels need brand love to stand out from the pack. Brand affinity and loyalty is an important way of making your brand stand out. This is all the more true when it comes to a return to travel and hotels have to win consumer trust all over again. The hotels that already have a strong brand loyalty from consumers are a step ahead since they don’t have to start from the ground up. 

How is brand love measured?
Love is of course, impossible to measure. Talkwalker measures instances of different terms that people use to express their love on social media and in the news media. We look at parameters such as joyful emotions and specific terms like "I'd love it if…" or "I loved it when…"  near mentions of a brand on our platform. Using our AI technology we also looked at the sentiment around brands. However, we wanted to provide more depth than a simple positive/negative metric and used these other determinants.

What are some examples of hotels who are doing a great job at creating brand love specifically during COVID-19?
It’s been interesting to see which partners hotels have teamed up with to provide reassurance about things like cleanliness to customers. They can’t all partner with Lysol, which Hilton has done, so they’re thinking of other ways to give their customers peace of mind. For example, the Four Seasons, recently announced a new health and safety program in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine International. They were also the first to offer free rooms to healthcare workers. 

What should other hotels keep in mind as they begin the process of creating more/better brand love?
It's important to embrace the totality of hospitality. All hotel staff should be as willing, if not necessarily as well versed, as the concierge in giving guests recommendations or meeting their needs. Going out of their way to provide what guests want can be the key thing a guest remembers about their trip. That can be as simple as just a thoughtful response to a question asked. In Talkwalker’s Brand Love report we identify the 11 traits of loved brands, which include corporate social responsibility, employee advocacy, engaging social media strategy, and more. A hotel doesn’t need to take on all of these traits to create more brand love. They can simply start by taking a look at the areas in which they excel and double down on them to really make a difference. 

What should hotels avoid doing that can diminish brand love?
Brands need to listen to their customer concerns and acknowledge their shortcomings. I think the switch from single-use plastic soaps best exemplifies this idea. Frequent travelers have said that they don’t like the idea of switching to a locker-room style soap dispenser within their hotel showers. There were questions about security and about cleanliness of the dispensers even before COVID-19. Customers accused some hotels of “green-washing” or claiming the change is to be environmentally friendly when really it was meant as way to save money. I wonder if this action will hold some would-be eager travelers back from jumping right into travel during a pandemic. 

Does brand love go above and beyond sales/marketing?
Brand love goes way beyond sales and marketing, it's about affinity. It's how Lego can be the most loved brand in the world, even though parents curse them every time they walk around with bare feet. It's because that association is not first in their mind when they think of Lego. They think first of their own happy childhoods creating (and destroying!) little blocks of plastic. In the world of hospitality, that affinity and association might be reserved for the brand where a customer spent their honeymoon, or the brand that employed that legendary concierge, or did the impossible during an emergency like a hurricane. 

What kind of jobs should a hotel brand staff to help create and foster brand love?
Given that part of our rankings are social, having engagement managers on social media to monitor and create unique moments is going to help drive that brand love forward. At the property level, it's more of a mentality than a position to be staffed: Are you willing to do whatever is needed for your guests’ comfort? Some hotels may find events managers or other roles are well suited to reaching out proactively and anticipating needs.

Do you have an example of a hotel brand that was able to significantly improve their brand love score by using technology?
I've mentioned it before but Four Seasons must have a serious PR tech stack because they ranked highly in the US given their frequent, well-timed, and impactful press releases that generated real buzz. 

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