How to… improve your image

14 September 2012
How to… improve your image

While those promoting the likes of breakfast cereals, shampoos and cars have always understood the power of brands, it's our contention that many hotels hold a slightly different perspective.

Although every hotelier we've worked with understands the importance of great customer service, the power of noteworthy interior design and the intangible effect of "getting the little touches right", what's less understood is the need for a strategy that ties all of these experiential gestures together in a way that's as inimitable as it is desirable.

Successful brands stand out because they stand for something. They have at their heart a big idea that explains to their customers, their staff and their suppliers what makes them different.

So, here's our five-step guide to using the principles of brand strategy to help bring some real focus to your hotel experience.
Simon Cotterrell, brand strategist, Goosebumps Brand Consultancy

Five steps to using the principles of brand strategy

1 Ask questions As with any brand, the first question to answer is: "What is it that we do best that our clients want most that our competitors offer least?" Whether you're building a new hotel, revamping an existing one or simply wishing to clarify a direction, the first step is to understand yourself, your audience and your competitors.

Interview guests and make sure you talk to dissatisfied customers as much as you do the happy ones. Interview your staff and don't just go to the usual suspects at the top of the organisation. Lastly, immerse yourself in your competitor's products, pretend you run their hotel and pitch to your team why their hotel is better than yours, then get your team to counter-argue: a sure-fire way of getting to a real set of differentiators.

At this stage your aim is to gather interesting insights: strengths and weaknesses that exist but can't necessarily be seen from your vantage point.

2 Try on some new outfits Taking what you've learned, try to construct a handful of alternative statements that describe what your hotel will be famous for. Use absolutes, preferably ones that no one has claimed before: "the most up-all night hotel", "the biggest escape from reality", and so on.

Under each idea write down what you do at the moment that substantiates it and above each idea write what you'll need to do more of to really take ownership of the claim in the future. Think of these statements like sets of clothes: try them on, see how they feel, some might be a little itchy and tight, others will fit just right.

3 Believe in the power of one The next step is to put all the options to one side and get total conviction and commitment behind one idea: the one that is the most motivating, most truthful and most spiky (you'll know it when you see it). Single-mindedness, it's what all great brands have in common - standing for one thing and maintaining that essence over time.

4 Personify your strategy As you start to use the statement as a filter for how you define your hotel's experience, you'll need to make sure your staff and suppliers know how to bring it to life. A good technique to accomplish this is to describe the brand as if it were a person. Is it, witty, philosophical, reserved or raucous?

Find a handful of characteristics and then use those characteristics to determine how the brand would behave. If it were witty, for example, how would it welcome people? How would it serve people? How would it chat with people? How would it tell people off?

5 Get granular The last step is to take the new strategic thinking into every single part of the hotel experience. From the doormat to the placemats, what little touches could you add to these inanimate objects to breathe the life of the brand into them?

When you can hold up a branded pencil and smile at the message it sends out, you'll know you're on the right track.

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