Have you ever visited a hotel website or saw any luxury product that made you feel: “I want this…”?
That feeling is not a coincidence. That feeling of desire is triggered by precisely designed product presentations and brand experiences, tailored to your interests – and to other to people with interests and preferences similar to yours.
You can be sure that the company invested significant efforts to develop that desire-provoking first impression experience and went out of its way to make sure that you (among hundreds of thousands of similar people) will see it.
As you know, hotel sales and marketing channels overlap to varying extents. It is a truly omnichannel environment, where having a great product presentation benefit not only your website and direct booking business but also your OTA and travel agency channels.
Crafting a “wow” hotel brand experience starts with understanding the desires of your target guest segments
How could you communicate effectively without knowing what your audience is interested in, or how do they perceive you?
It is easy to come up with brand positioning and marketing communication ideas based on a few subjective opinions – that’s what most independent hotel management teams do. And this is what makes them average and forgettable.
Understanding the public perceptions of your hotel is as essential as looking into the mirror every once in a while. And going one step further, understanding consumer expectations is the basis to craft brand experiences and product presentations that speak to the hearts of your potential guests.
Most hotel marketing people will agree to this, but there is a problem. Market research is expensive, and independent hotels are often on a tight budget. Expecting high costs, most independent hotels do not even think of carrying out professional market research and analysis. Because of this, hotels use less reliable information, such as generic market reports, “expert” opinions, web stats, social media insights, and guesswork.
Today there are various cost-effective approaches to do a proper hotel brand analysis. The SME focused market reserch company Brand Auditor offers a hotel and resort-specific solution:
The four categories of hotel brand management approaches
Not all hotel brand experiences are crafted equally. During our ten active years of working on hotel brand growth and digital marketing management projects, we noticed that most independent hotels fall into four categories based on their approach to branding and product presentation:
Hotels that put continuous, professional efforts into being impressive
It won’t surprise anyone, but hotel management teams proactively seeking ways to improve their product presentation and brand experience make market-leading brands. In practice, this means regular market feedback analysis, photoshoots, frequent content updates, continuous website improvements, and following guest expectation trends to optimize their marketing communications.
Typically, these hotels work with progressive brand guidelines. They provide room for optimization, but the basics such as visual characteristics, tone of voice, and the overall brand identity will remain loyal to the initial concept.
This approach requires skills, dedicated attention, and resources. In return, the hotel will enjoy increased demand and ability to above market-average room rates, higher marketing ROI (return on investment) while also receiving organic media attention.
Hotels that rigorously stick to their opening concept and photos
Hotels in this category have opened with a proper brand strategy that worked excellently in the first few years. As time goes by and external factors change, these hotels start to seem increasingly outdated. A great example of this is The Langham, London. A fantastic hotel that looks miserably outdated online.
Such external factors are travel trends, product presentation trends, marketing communication trends. Or a new competitive environment that would require repositioning the hotel brand to remain attractive.
Hotels that are branded to look good to the owners
I guess lots of hotel GMs and hotel DOSMs will feel this. There are hotels where owners regularly interfere with how the hotel brand and marketing communications. They will demand abrupt changes based on their personal preferences instead of consumer insights. It is a sad, unfortunate situation.
Hotels that don’t care at all
These are the ones who choose $400 websites, do the “photoshoot” in-house with mobile phones, and do everything as they feel. Typically, their management and marketing team seriously lack aesthetic skills and are even incompetent to realize that the product presentation of their hotel sucks.
Here are some examples of these horrible hotel brand implementations.
Getting started with crafting an impressive hotel brand experience
In this article, we discuss the steps and stages of crafting a powerful brand experience for your hotel – that grabs the attention of your ideal guests. Without going into too many details, we will cover the basic ideas of:
- Your hotel won’t attract everyone
- Crafting a product presentation
- Creating a desire-inspiring brand experience
1. What is a hotel brand experience?
What do we mean by “hotel brand experience” in a branding and marketing context? In a nutshell, brand experience is how the viewer or potential guest feels when engaging or interacting with a brand.
By “hotel product presentation” we do not mean a sales presentation that you do for travel agent partners and tour operators.YOU MAY ALSO LIKEPrepare for the New Hotel and Travel Marketing Challenges of the 2020s DecadeMoments May Pass But Feelings Last ForeverService Excellence: Transform Your Customers Into Superherosview allHotel product presentation in this context means how you demonstrate and communicate the unique features of your hotel product to potential guests. In practice, this is about photos, videos, content, PR, reviews, and other means of communication.
One might argue that brand experiences are subjective. This is true, as people have different experiences and associations about a brand or product. Others might go on and say that there is no “right” or “wrong”.
2. Your hotel product is not for everyone – neither is your hotel brand experience
Some segments of your target guests will love the visuals and messages your hotel brand communicates, while others will reject it. And this is the very reason why crafting purposeful hotel brand experiences specifically for your target guests is so important.
Business-first city hotels will not attract vacationing families, meanwhile, super-fun family resorts with multiple kids pools, teenagers, and nightclubs will not attract guests who prefer peace and total relaxation. Simple as that.
A classic “boomer” luxury hotel with cigars and golden woodwork will not attract wealthy young adults who prefer modern, casual luxury – while a fancy nouveau-rich influencer playground resort will not attract people with class. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your hotel not being the best fit for everyone.
If you manage a 3-4 star hotel, there is nothing wrong with admitting that your hotel is not fit for “luxury guests” whatever it might mean. Simple and modest properties can also do amazing business and become popular by being good in something that has a market.
3. Define customer segments that you will focus on
As a first step, you need to think about what kind of people would appreciate your hotel product the most. Hotel marketing segmentation is a way of dividing potential guests into groups, based on a set of shared characteristics.
Basic marketing strategies will point to age and nationality. In reality, these are very irrelevant for branding and marketing communication purposes. Depending on your market and property type, you should define segments based on cultural affiliation, income, travel style, travel purpose, and general personality traits when creating these groups.
Your job at this stage is to identify which groups of guests would like your property the most, based on its location, features, facilities, and other unique variables proprietary for your hotel.
- Who would enjoy your hotel concept the most?
- Who would like the food in your restaurants?
- Who would like the design and decor of your rooms?
- For whom are the standards of your hotel suitable?
- Is the price suitable for your target groups of guests?
These questions cannot be answered by you, your owners, neither the hotel marketing team. The best way to seek real answers to these questions is by doing market research, collecting thousands of product perception insights from your target groups.
As a result of your research, you will see that in which segments your hotel will have a strong product-market fit.
4. Define your internal positioning statement, and figure out how it will be communicated
Once your market research results are in, and you understand the brand and product perceptions of your target segments, it is time to work out your internal brand positioning statement. This will be the backbone of your brand, marketing as well as product presentation strategy.
A positioning statement has the following variables:
- Your audience: Who are your ideal guests? Why do they travel, and what are their desires?
- Your market: What is your market category? How does your hotel product relate to your audience, in comparison to your competition?
- Your brand promise: In the eyes of your audience, what are the greatest benefits your hotel product or hotel brand offers?
- Your evidence: What irrefutable evidence can you offer to demonstrate that your brand delivers on its promise?
At this stage, you already know your ideal audience, as your market research previously answered that. The next step is the realistic evaluation of your competitors, and where you stand against them.
Which are the hotels in your region that try to attract the same guests? You will need to look better than them. This will require identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and see what features your property has that can become a differentiating factor.
Based on these, it is finally possible to craft a positioning statement that is true, valuable, and most importantly relevant to your potential guests.
A positioning statement sounds like this:
Your hotel is the best choice for (your ideal travelers) in (your destination), because of the (unique features) and (other qualities).
Until now, we have been talking about internal positioning statements. This statement should not surface from your offices in any form of public communication. This statement will be the cornerstone of your brand communications, and your hotel marketing will be centered around it.
As soon as you get settled with a positioning statement based on your insights, we can move on to explore how this will be communicated to the external world.
5. Crafting your unique hotel product presentation for your target guests
Product presentations consist of two primary elements: product description and visuals. Secondary and external elements are equally important, such as reviews and context.
Hotel product descriptions are slightly more different, as opposed to regular products, you not only need to sell the room, but also the hotel experience. Guests who might like your rooms but do not like your concept will not book, and the same applies in reverse. There are many great hotel concepts with underwhelming rooms.
A product description is the marketing copy that explains what your hotel is all about, and why it’s worth choosing. The purpose of a product description is to supply guests with important information about the features and benefits of the hotel so they’re compelled to book.
When you write a product description with a huge crowd of travelers in mind, your descriptions become wishy-washy and you end up addressing no one at all.
The best product descriptions address your target audience directly and personally. You ask and answer questions as if you’re having a conversation with them. You choose the words your ideal buyer uses. You use the word you.
Purposeful photography and visual storytelling
I was recently reviewing the photography brand standards of Audi. Although it’s not a hospitality company, its photography and visual guidelines are excellent examples of how to plan your photo guidelines. It clearly shows how Audi drivers would like to imagine themselves. Young, dynamic, progressive, culturated and understated.
Arguably, photos and videos are among the most important elements of brand and marketing communications. Your imagery will be used on your social media platforms, on your website, blog posts, and also in press releases.
Hotel marketing teams often make the mistake of commissioning photos and videos that they like or think to be interesting. As we established earlier, photo compositions should be conceptualized for your target guests. Pay particular attention to various food items and alcohol, do not risk alienating groups of people by showcasing food that they don’t eat. Risky choices are prawns, seafood, or pork.
Choose your models carefully and capture situations that your target guests want to imagine themselves in. Plan your photography concept well, as this will make or break your brand communication success.
- Show similar people to your target guests
- Show how people want to imagine themselves in your hotel
- Show features and details that matter to them
Cut the cliche, be factual
When we are stuck for words and do not know what else to add to our product presentation, we often add something inauthentic and bland like “luxurious” or “pristine beaches”. Travelers read the same expressions on every hotel website. These words won’t impress anyone.
To enable a stronger connection between your brand and your future guests, eliminate all the cliche and give what they are truly interested in. That is valuable, honest, and useful information.
There is a fun little tool called “Blablameter“. It is free to use to benchmark the nonsense in your content.
In general, a good practice is to use photos and videos for visual storytelling, and leave written content to be factual and information focuses. It’s a well known fact that people don’t read long paragraphs, and it is significantly more pleasing to process information from images.
Leave lengthy text content for blog posts.
6. Brand experience
Brand experience goes a bit beyond the product presentation. It is a mixture of UX design, a guided customer journey, and drip-feeding just enough information that keeps your viewers increasingly interested.
By definition, brand experience is conceptualized as sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.
In the case of hotels, this can be broken down to:
- First impression experience
- User experience
- Brand mood or “vibes” as Gen Z calls it
- Discovery experience
- Booking experience
- Pre-stay customer service
The internet has changed the way we interface with brands. Our interactions with the brands we love—and with new ones—have become much more complex than ever before.
In modern brand management, it is essential to maintain a uniform, consistent brand experience across all channels.
All the information in this article might be overwhelming. As a hotel manager, you might wonder why things need to be this complicated? The truth is that crafting a great brand experience is not so difficult if you follow the process.
I hope this opinion piece will inspire you to review your brand and marketing communication management. Based on our experience, even small efforts go a long way, especially considering that most independent hotels and resorts do not put any thought into these things.
Stay tuned for more articles, in the next article we will see some insights about how luxury consumer philosophy has changed in the past years, and what luxury travelers expect today.
This will lead us to the new generation on the block. The Gen Z travel market share is growing rapidly, and they do things differently. They see hotel marketing as ridiculously outdated, so we need to brace for fundamental changes for the current decade.
Daniel is the founder of Daniel Diosi & Partners, a hotel brand and marketing consulting group. He is an author of BrandingMag, Money Inc., Thrive Global, and Asia Times. Since 2010, Daniel has helped dozens of 5-star luxury hotels and resorts worldwide to became market leaders by embracing forward-thinking and progressive brand and marketing management.