Brand Clarity or Confusion?

In many respects, there has never been a more challenging time in the hospitality industry.  Yes, many markets are cycling downward and competition has never been more fierce.  To succeed in this environment, we must be on top of our game, taking better care of the customer, executing better, and ultimately providing even more value to our guests than ever before.  With all of this, the messages and the principles that define our brands are also now more convoluted than ever.  New hotel brands appear on an almost daily basis, and the ability for the customer (and even ourselves !) to distinguish between brands becomes increasingly challenging as well.  As an industry, we cannot lose site of the fact that customers do not necessarily accept ‘new’ as ‘better’ and if the definition of that which is ‘new’ isn’t clear, that customer will likely revert to that which they already know.

Across our industry and across the globe, hotel companies continue to launch brand after brand and even sub-brand after sub-brand.  With the recent completion of Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the Marriott family alone can lay claim to 30 brands.  Clearly, there are differences between some.  A JW Marriott bears no resemblance to a Fairfield Inn, a Waldorf=Astoria experience is nothing like a Hilton Garden Inn experience.  In these cases, the distinction between brands, and perhaps even the justification for so many brands, seems reasonably clear. 

Which leads us to our quiz…

Quickly, without using Google or any other search tool, answer this question:  what is the difference between a Hyatt Place and a Hyatt House?  Not quite sure?  Try this one; what’s the difference between a Luxury Collection property and a St. Regis hotel?

Make no mistake, the goal here is not to belittle these brands.  Rather, the issue at hand is far more basic.  If the hotel industry professionals reading this article are the least bit hesitant to answer these questions, what chance does the customer have?  The brand assault that has taken place in our industry over recent years stems from our ongoing efforts to distinguish ourselves from one another.  In doing so, our goal is to gain any possible market share advantage that we can.  While this is understandable from a business perspective, it becomes less viable as a strategy when one realizes that the distinction between brands becomes less clear with each new entry into the competitive marketplace.  Hoteliers and branding experts don’t necessarily see this blurring, as we are creating the issue in the first place.  The missing piece here is the fact that we take for granted the fact that the customer will immediately grasp the intended distinctions that we are selling.  This is clearly a large assumption on our part, and we all know what happens when we “assume.”

What is the solution to this problem?  Appreciation for the distinction between brands and loyalty from customers still comes from our ability to execute against the basics that have always driven our business.  Customers react to quality and they respond to value for price paid.  The continued introduction of “new” brands does not, of itself, ensure either of these components will be enjoyed by the guest. 

The best way to for us to capture, or perhaps recapture the loyalty of our customers is by resisting attempts to dilute our products and offerings by calling them something else and putting a different sign on the building.  Instead, proper pricing, excellence in service, and ultimate value for price paid will always be the strongest deliverables with which we can expect to steal market share from our competitors.