“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” I’m not sure Jeff Bezos was talking about hospitality brands here. But he should have been.
Logos, typefaces, colour palettes, paper stocks, social media strategy. All that stuff matters. But hospitality brands stand or fall on experiences. Get that part of the brand right, and you’ve got a hit on your hands.
If we want the hospitality sector to take our industry seriously, we need to think differently about brands. Here're five reasons why branding in the hospitality sector is important.
The brand is the experience
“You really must visit this new restaurant - their menu design is exquisite,” said no one ever.
Nowhere is the distinction between ‘brand’ and ‘visual identity’ more crucial than in the hospitality sector. A strong brand - in the true sense of the word - will turn guests into regulars, and regulars into advocates. It’s often the difference between success and failure. But the visual and verbal identity is only a small part of that.
Food. Service. Ambiance. They’re the things people tell their friends about. So, they’re the brand. Get them wrong and you don’t have one.
Go, go, go! – It’s already too late
Ok, so we agree that your brand should sit at the heart of your business. But the lead times in hospitality businesses often mean it’s the last thing people think about.
Let’s try and change that. If you’re opening a restaurant, a bar or a hotel, the first thing you should do is get clarity on the brand (What you stand for. What you look like can come later). Once that’s set in stone your menu development, your service experience, your interior design, and - yes - your visual identity, will all be coming from the same place, and pointing in the same direction.
Appointing the interiors guys without a clear brand is a recipe for disaster.
Collaborate like your life depends on it
If you’re just talking to marketing people, you’re doing it wrong.
Getting everything working in harmony means working closely with every part of the business. In hospitality, this means paying much more than lip-service to the F&B team, HR and the interior architects. You need to actually work with them. And you’ll need to put your ego aside. Because like it or not, the food and drink is more important than the logo.
Do things differently. Genuinely, noticeably differently
Like most categories, hospitality brands have a set of conventions they cling to like limpets. When we worked on Qbic and Assembly, it was easy to find ways to stand out in the affordable hotel category, because hardly anyone else was taking any risks.
If people can’t find a meaningful difference between you and the competition, it’s just a race to the bottom.
Can you articulate the difference between your brand and the competition, in a way guests will understand and relate to? If you can’t, you don’t have a brand.
Make booking platforms your friends
Chances are, you’re going to get way more customers though a booking platform than your lovingly designed website.
The problem is, Booking.com or OpenTable and the like have created a commoditised marketplace. Your job is to disrupt that.
So, when you’re defining your brand, think about how you’re going to stand out on those channels, where you have much less control. Most don’t even give you the chance to show off your logo.
Perhaps that means you must be brave with the name or find a distinctive art direction style that allows your imagery to cut through.
Be creative. Be bold. Be different.
Max Ottignon is co-founder at London-based branding agency Ragged Edge.