Brand myth, magic inherent across price points
06 JANUARY 2016 8:28 AM
As the brand landscape becomes more crowded, chain flags are required to work harder and be more focused—but there is room for all.
LONDON—With most industry buzz at the tail end of 2015 directed at the proposed AccorHotels/FRHI Holdings and Marriott International/Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide mergers and the likelihood of portfolio reorganization, the hotel industry is actively and constantly reassessing the importance of branding, sources said.
Brands carry various levels of lore depending on their size and history, sources said, and loyal guests must be assured of the brand’s impact.
Graham Dodd, development director of the United Kingdom and Ireland for Hilton Worldwide Holdings, said brand remains an idea that is still magical, even though Dodd hails from a company with a huge, varied footprint.
“It’s about having the right product for the right guest and to both deliver an experience and profits for owners,” Dodd said.
As part of the December 2015 Sleep conference, Dodd and fellow participants of the “Hotel branding: Myth or magic?” panel said brands remain relevant.
This relevancy is despite the entire key count of the brands making up 7% of all hotel rooms, according to Angela Roper, professor and director of the International Centre for Hotel & Resort Management at the University of West London.
“That percentage is higher if you just take the (United States),” Roper said, “but the brands are fully aware of the huge swim lanes. The Marriott/Starwood deal is good for the hotel industry and is about scale to outflank the threats and being able to compete with the (online travel agencies) and metasearch companies.
“All of this will take time, and it will not be painless. Getting ownership on board remains critical,” Roper said.
For individual hotel companies, “brand” is something that has been defined in-house and thus differs from firm to firm, even brand to brand.
Philippe Perd, chief project development officer at Oetker Collection—whose hotels include Le Bristol Paris; The Lanesborough, in London; and Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, France—said that for Oetker, “brand” is very much entrenched in both myth and magic.
“We think differently to the larger chains, which I have respect for. Ours are one of a kind. Rarity is important,” Perd said, adding that the company is focused on development efforts in the Americas.
Mark Jory, founder and owner of creative branding firm Latitude Agency, said larger hotel chains are just as able to provide both myth and magic as the smaller, perhaps more nimble ones.
“The success of the larger chains’ brands have come about because they have inherently been able to deliver on their promises,” Jory said, “and the promise of the brand is delivered at every price point.”
Design on brand
Sources said design often breeds brand kudos and magnetism, but this is not limited to the small and trendy.
“Design is not the preserve of the boutique property. (Hilton offers) a range of design across price points,” Dodd said, adding that design needs to fit into each flag’s promise of delivering business to owners.
Dodd said it is important at his company to include the Hilton name in all of its brands when the company decided in 2007 and 2008 “to brand up,” except at its upper-upscale and luxury brands.
Jory added the large brands cannot start the process of marketing a brand’s myth with a blank sheet of white paper, which is how he considers the best way of starting the process, although he said there still is space for the behemoths.
“Few people think of Bulgari (Hotels & Resorts) is Marriott,” Jory said.
Flattery remains the industry’s finest compliment, Roper said.
“With copying, you rarely have a differentiation that lasts long. Also, consider customers, who will change their tastes again and again,” Roper said, adding the legacy brands seem to face the most pressure.
“The workhorse brands are the brands that have to work, as they are the biggest,” Roper said.
“We have to protect our brand standards, as most people coming in just assume Hilton owns it,” Dodd added.