We all know that the hospitality industry is highly competitive, so it's essential to stand out - and to stand for something. So how do hotels, bars and restaurants go about achieving this?
One of the first steps is to take a serious look at your branding. What are your company's values and who are your customers or potential customers? If you can't answer these questions, the chances are that you lack the clear brand identity that is so important in hospitality. After all, if you don't know what you have to offer, how will the consumer?
Inevitably, large chains have more money to spend on developing their identity - but throwing money at the issue doesn't guarantee success without the necessary clarity and focus. However, larger hospitality companies can create brand awareness by breaking the business down into sectors and sub-branding for specific client needs.
In the hotel industry, for example, a company will often have distinct brands for each sector - business, luxury, budget, and so on - to ensure that the brand reflects the sector's values and meets the target customers' needs.
Hilton Hotels is an example of how a global company breaks down to appeal to a specific audience. The Waldorf Astoria range positions itself as offering "classic elegance", "unparalleled service" and "exquisite accommodation". A more modern take on the luxury brand is the Conrad division which espouses a "contemporary" feel, while the Hilton Hotels sector markets itself in a more generic way as the "global leader of hospitality". Lower down the food chain, the Hampton sector has the more humble offering of "friendly service" and "clean rooms".
Independent venues may be able to pool resources and strengthen their presence by co-branding with outsourced services or by working with organisations that have similar brand values. An example could be a hotel renowned for its gastronomic excellence allying with a local luxury spa, or a mid-range family hotel linking with a local babysitting service. This also facilitates two-way customer referrals.
The arrival of spring, traditionally a time that fills people with increased energy and drive, is as good a time as any to take a fresh look at your brand, decide how well it works for you and make changes.
The hospitality industry touches a wide diversity of businesses, but everyone has its place and branding for each area should be measured and appropriate.
While creating a successful identity is only part of the marketing story, it is a significant one. Your brand should have emotional appeal and guarantee a certain standard and experience. This way you can attract the right people through your doors - and keep them coming back.
Mark Gray is a director of Tassell Design
10 ways to refresh your brand
1 Move with the times Tastes and trends change rapidly in the hospitality industry and what was the must-visit eatery in 2010 can easily start to look dated as tastes move in a new direction. What was bold and contemporary can quickly look stale to your target customers. So, it's worthwhile spending some time looking at your image from the perspective of current and potential customers. Do you offer shabby chic or a bolder and innovative look to go with a similarly brave menu? In the hospitality industry, the surroundings and image you create is (almost) everything.
2 Identify your customer If you don't know who your ideal customer is, how can you create an identity that will draw them to you? Are you aiming to attract a young, hip crowd with an edgy, daring look or is your brand classic and elegant, appealing to upmarket guests? Are you offering luxury or value for money? You need to decide because one brand cannot effectively convey all these different qualities.
3 Consistency Once you have identified who your customers are and what your brand values are, these values need to be applied throughout the organisation. So, bathrobes, menus, toiletries, logo, taglines, adverts, websites, decor and signage should all reflect the image you are trying to create.
4 The devil is in the detail It's important to get the little things right. For example, the font you choose to use on your stationery may seem irrelevant but different typefaces can create completely different looks. Similarly, the images you select for your website or visual materials are crucial to the overall image.
5 Mix and match If you have changed design agencies several times over the years or come up with different ideas in-house in an effort to move with the times, the end result can be a confusion of styles. Perhaps you can't remember what your pantone colour references are, so each time a poster or card gets printed it's a slightly different shade. Look at your website, your menu, your adverts and your brochures - does it seem as if a dozen different restaurants are competing under the same name? If so, you are creating an incohesive message.
6 Sell by date If your brand is particularly contemporary, you may have an additional problem that more classic establishments don't. The problem with creating a design that is very current is that it doesn't stay current for long. If you want to avoid redecorating and reprinting every couple of years, it's possible to stay current while opting for a more subdued look that will last longer, evolve over time and adapt to different trends.
7 Square peg Your image may have been created when you were catering for one market - but now customers are looking for something different. What started out as a mainly eat-in audience is now largely taking it away, or regional regeneration may have resulted in more affluent visitors. Revisit your customer demographic and their requirements. If they have changed, it might be time to revisit elements of your branding.
8 Patchwork division Companies change hands over time. If you have been bought and sold or exist within divisions of a larger restaurant or hotel group, this variation can lead to a confusion of styles. Decide upon the distinct identity of your specific sector, chain or organisation and promote this.
9 Clashing colours Decor, fashion and colours all date quickly. So, a particular colour combination may have seemed cutting edge in the noughties, but may no longer create the effect you are aiming for. It's well known that contrasting colours can create an attention-grabbing statement - but the theme doesn't have to follow through on everything. Colour needs careful consideration, particularly when used in different environments.
10 Logo If you have gone for a bright logo that commands the attention of the passing customer, how much of that do you need to carry over into your interior? Take care not to give people a headache. If you have gone for bright colours throughout it might be time for a tone down - even if your logo stays largely untouched. This approach has worked well for McDonald's - famous for its red and yellow logo. Over the past few years, their decor and menus have taken a far more subtle approach to reflect the changing image they are trying to create.