For Sleep & Eat Virtual, branding agency, Delight, will be collaborating with ReardonSmith Architects to create a new, bespoke hotel brand for their Guestoom set, specially designed for the hotel guest of 15 years time. Visitors will be able to explore the guestroom set, and others, via lifelike 3D virtual tours, with voiceovers from the designers. This article was written by Creative Director at Delight, Will Shorrocks.
Think about your favourite hotel. How well can you recall what its logo looks like? You’ve seen it above the entrance, on the stationery in your room, the menu in the restaurant and on the website. But you are far more likely to remember the comfort of the bed, friendliness of the attentive staff, quality of the food, and the style and atmosphere of your surroundings.
Is this a branding failure? If it were a wine label, a pair of running shoes or a beauty brand designed to be instantly recognisable on theshelf, then it certainly would be. Consumer brands are locked into an aggressive competition to be at the top of their customers’ minds. But with hotels, it’s more nuanced, with the wealth of the brand being held in their experience and reputation. The essence of a strong hotel brand is more about how they make us feel.
As the Creative Director of a lifestyle brand agency, this is always the most important question we have working with our clients: How do you want your customer to feel about you? We call it the heart of the brand and use it to build a richer emotional narrative to connect with the customer. This doesn’t mean that the logo has no importance, or that the name isn’t crucial to achieving strong brand recognition (we’ll come to that). We think of brand as an emotional experience, where every touchpoint and encounter is an opportunity to convey your brand message in a more joined-up and holistic way. This is where brand starts to push into areas beyond a traditional brand identity, into a set of values and key messages that can influence everything from operations to interior design, to approach to service and hospitality. With that in mind, we have set out seven recommendations for building a strong brand for any new hotel.
1. Involve a branding agency early in the process
Sometimes branding agencies are only brought in at the end of the process to package the hotel with a new brand aesthetic and collateral. But branding can provide more than a decorative veneer. It is a far more powerful tool when it plays a central part in the foundations of the business. It’s important to determine how you want to position yourself in the market, establish who your customer is and the experience you wish to provide them with. A good branding agency will help you explore and identify a unique position in the market and find a way to stand out from your competitors. Establishing your key messages and brand vision will provide you with a blueprint so that every aspect of your business will pull in the same direction.
2. Use your brand vision as an integral part of your decision making
A strong brand vision will make your decision making far easier. It will provide you with a clear road map and point of reference when thinking about everything from the name of the hotel, style of architecture and interior design, style of hospitality and service, style of food in the restaurant, through to your website, brand identity and logo. Gut instinct and personal opinion will always remain in the mix. But if you think of any strong brand, it’s their clarity of message and vision that comes across in everything they do that makes them successful. The devil is in the detail.
3. Choose a strong name that people will remember
This is more important than your logo. Your name should embody the essence of your brand and be unique enough to remember. Again, where do you start if you haven’t established a strong brand vision? What is your point of reference? You want something that communicates the mood and personality of the hotel, perhaps drawing on some unique aspect of the location and history. Ultimately, it needs to be strong enough to remember, unique enough to own in terms of availability, and easy enough to pronounce.
4. Invest in your website
Your website is your shop window to the world and should be at the centre of your brand communication. All your social media, PR, sales and marketing activity should lead the customer here. Many hotels have become increasingly reliant on online travel agencies for their sales and visibility. The reach of OTAs cannot be denied, but it’s easy to become trapped by high commission rates and lose a direct and intimate relationship with your customer. Having a well designed and easy-to-navigate website with a seamlessly integrated booking engine will help tip the balance back in your direction. Websites don’t have to cost the earth. A fully bespoke website is the ultimate goal, but if budgets are tight there are many good template options available to keep your costs down. We recommend to many of our clients to focus their budget more on the content of their website rather than expensive bespoke web builds. Having good quality brand lead design, photography and copywriting will always make your website feel more high end and bespoke.
5. Don’t skimp on photography
A strong collection of high-quality images will provide a wealth of content for your website, print materials, social media, PR and marketing. Always make sure the photography is in line with your brand and captures all your key messages. While it’s important to depict the obvious and practical features of the hotel, don’t forget the incidental details, mood and atmosphere, or location, community and surrounding attractions. Avoid cliches. While we all enjoy cocktails at sunset and the romance of travel, they can easily cheapen your brand when captured badly. If style and fashion are at the heart of your brand, you have a greater allowance to be bold and directional. Otherwise, approach your imagery in a more natural and authentic way. Ultimately, getting it right boils down to having a good understanding of the tastes and preferences of your customer. The right choice of photographer, casting, styling, and creative direction can make or break this.
6. Build an authentic relationship through social media
Building a strong relationship with your customer through social media is crucial to the success of your brand. While its main objective is to drive bookings, you will create far more engagement if your content can inspire, inform and entertain. Again, refer to your key brand messages and attributes, whether that’s your location, interior design, food, history, nature or mix of all of them. Many social media businesses can boost your profile, but robots talking to robots offer nothing to your business. Equally, working with influencers might grow your reach, but will you reach the right audience? Ultimately, what matters more than numbers is engagement. Use your content to open up a conversation, making your posts and newsletters something your customer will look forward to rather than more clutter in their inbox.
7. Prioritise sustainability and community at the heart of your business
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the travel and hospitality industry. Many speak of adjusting to a new normal, while some hope that everything will return to the way it was. In truth, we all know this should be a catalyst for change, forcing us all to question our relationship with travel, for both business and pleasure. Saving the planet can feel like a daunting task, which is why local is always a good place to start. Hotels offer a valuable link between the tourist and the community. Therefore, they need to educate their customers on ways to lessen their impact on the environment and support the local community. Building strong ties with local people, businesses, producers and resources can only have a positive impact on the authenticity of your brand and the quality of experience for your customer.
So that wraps up our recommendations. It’s important to note that even when you have a very clear vision for your brand, staying true to that vision isn’t always easy. Other influences can have a strong impact on how the project develops. There could be differences between key stakeholders in the business, unexpected changes to the market and difficulties managing your budget. Anyone in business will know these challenges and the need to respond to them in a flexible and agile way. Strong brands have strong foundations and can grow, evolve and pivot themselves to meet the needs of their customers. This is far easier to do when your brand heart is in the right place and can offer strong guidance in the right way forward.
Words by: Will Shorrocks, Creative Directer at Delight