The Caterer

Brands: for cows or cowards?

05 August 2009
Brands: for cows or cowards?

When Jeremy Rata, managing director of Bovey Castle and a Master Innholder, was little, if you were branded you were either a cow or a coward. Then came Daz, Shell and Esso. Overnight, branded meant good, unbranded meant bad. But has it gone too far?

In the hotel sector, the past 20 years has seen growth in the UK of "brands" - we all know who they are.

In the past, managers dreamt up ideas to give their brand its USP, teams of marketeers and PRs were put in place to build it, and swathes of sales people were recruited to sell it. Brand managers were recruited, guidelines developed and, extravagant launches held. New websites with expensive photography showcased the brand, assuming that the great unwashed would follow it. Just remember one thing they were told - NEVER deviate from the brand, it is all powerful.

But now it's not quite like that? Many brands are struggling but my business is booming. Why? In the middle to upper market too often brands paid lip service to the words "experience" and "value", equating this contemptuously of the public as meaning cheap. They got fat but now the public is voting with its feet.

Discounting is even more aggressive as brands slide ever deeper into trouble, an inevitable consequence of the mediocrity they peddle. Branding has bred laziness and stifled creativeness.

It doesn't have to be this way. Not all brands disappoint - the better ones tend to be collections under a brand image. Examples? Mr & Mrs Smith, SLH, Pride of Britain. They only accept quality applications and retain individuality and freedom within the strength of collective action.

Individuality is at the very heart of all that I love in this industry. The freedom and innovation this creates is intoxicating. Ask yourself: How would Robin Hutson, Nick Jones and Gordon Campbell Gray fit in a branded corporate giant? Think of some of the leading hoteliers, from Ian Taylor and Richard Ball to Jonny Slater and Andrew McKenzie, all innovators, all successful, none part of a corporate brand. Long may they prosper!

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