Online Hotel Branding Strategies and How to Pull Them Through
What is branding?
Before embarking on a brand-building journey, an understanding of the “branding” concept seems mandatory. In 1995, the American Marketing Association defined the brand as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” But this definition is simplistic by nature, and it doesn’t address the main role of branding, which is building reputation and humanizing a company.
Whatever name and symbol a business may use to present itself on the market, it cannot make an impact without reputation, and this is the hardest part of the branding journey because, as Benjamin Franklin once said:
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
In other words, after the design process of the brand, building and maintaining brand equity are activities, you must sustain as long as your business lasts online and offline.
Our society today is a society of connected consumers, who are fully aware of corporate machinations designed to sell for profits and, fortunately, still open to new, ready to embrace the promise of a better, more humane way of business.
By their design, hotels cater to consumers from all walks of life. Ideally, a new hotel brand should appeal to as large a demographic as possible. But, with so many types of tourists and possible guests, where do you start? Would the same hotel satisfy the needs of the business traveller and the religious tourist? Then, you have incentive tourists, cultural tourists, adventure travellers, health and medical tourists, sports and recreation tourists, and finally, leisure tourists. If they were all looking just for a roof above their heads, things would not be so complicated. But today, different tourists expect different things from the hotels they choose, and there’s no “one hat fits all” solution. So, how do you create a hotel brand to appeal to most travellers?
Accepting that the brand is a ubiquitous principle, its purpose must be to establish trust, authenticity, and value. A brand is not just the name you give your hotel, the logo you design and the colours you choose, but also your business philosophy and ethics. The moment you launch your brand you give your business a “soul.” This is valid for all businesses of some renown.
Marriott International has a strong tradition of “putting people first.” J. Willard Marriott’s original goal for his business was “good food and good service at a fair price.” The brand still stands by this principle.
Hilton’s core branding philosophy is “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality,” and now, they express this credo through a program called be hospitable™.
The core values of Hyatt Hotels are “respect, integrity, humility, empathy, creativity, and fun.”
Golden Tulip, a Louvre Hotels brand, is focused on “long-stay suites, relaxing resorts, state-of-the-art meeting facilities” “for business travel or leisure travel – who demand international standards but seek authentic hospitality and local flair.”
These stellar brand examples are indicative of the special spark that transcends naming and logos to touch the heart of the customer and to convert casual guests into passionate brand advocates.
Branding today is a process of humanization, especially for hospitality businesses. Digital Doughnut defines this process as the “anthropomorphism of a brand.” As Dr. Islam Gouda puts it:
“Brands are living beings; they breathe, feed, age, and sometimes vanish with time if not provided the care they need to flourish. What makes a brand a living being is the customers; how they connect with the brand emotionally, and how they perceive and understand what it represents of values.”
So how do you create a hotel brand from scratch?
When you create a hotel brand from scratch, you must consider several factors: your geo-location and the local culture, consumer expectations and behaviours, local competitors, as well as value, novelty, integrity, individuality, and originality. These are the main things that will influence the name and the logo of your brand, but also your brand philosophy in the long term. Start with the basics: name your brand, choose your brand colours, and design your logo.
It sounds easy, right? Wrong. You have to compete online, and most often than not, if you choose common names for your brand, the competition will crush you before you start. Common names will make it costly for you to claim your domain and to establish your online presence. They will make SEO (search engine optimization) a hard, long struggle, if not impossible. You are likely to find that all usernames for your “common name brand” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, are already taken. As an example, let’s call your brand “Hotel Zur Post.” There are hundreds of such instances in Germany and Austria, most of them unrelated entities – “Zur Post” is not a chain brand. Their only chance to compete is geo-location.
The original Hotel Zur Post, built in 1889 by innkeeper Johann Heinrich Christian Schaunhorst in Bremen, is now a Best Western. But, because he didn’t protect the brand, there are hundreds of “Zur Post” hotels and guest houses all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. And it’s hard to stand out with an ordinary name.
Start your journey right: either hire someone to name your brand – a naming expert – or brainstorm with your friends and family to find the right name. You can even use a business name generator like the one provided by Shopify, Oberlo, or Namelix to come up with something unique. Namelix is useful because you can perform a search for “domain available” too. This is an advantage because it saves you research time and it allows you to register the desired domain on site.
Search for available domain - Namelix
Whatever you do, note that some words are tricky. You will want to avoid naming fails like “Hotel Ass” in Cologne. “Ass” is German for “ace,” but the name is very uninviting for English-speaking guests. So, before you decide on a name for your hotel brand, try to find out if it has funny connotations in other languages.
Then, perform a google search to see whether there are other hotels with the same name in your country or abroad. You don’t want to engage in legal battles with entities that used the name before you.
Hire a designer to create a professional logo for your new brand. You want a symbol that is meaningful, memorable, and versatile enough to stand on your façade, but also on business cards, brochures, corporate documents, promotional gifts for your guests and business partners, and online.
Based on the colours of the logo, you will also build your company stationery, presentation brochures, and ultimately website. Consider all the places where your logo will represent your business: Facebook company page, Twitter, Instagram, Google My Business, LinkedIn, your website’s favicon, and so on. The most versatile logos can fit well in a square avatar or profile picture on social media.
Then, register your brand and protect it with a trademark. You can use a trademark registration service like Marcaria.com to speed up the process and to register your brand internationally. The U.S. trademark registration process is done through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and every country in the world has a similar institution to register brands. Whatever you do, do not leave your new brand unprotected. In the long term, protecting your brand with a trademark will safeguard your brand against brandjacking.
To summarise, the first things you do when you create a hotel brand from scratch are:
- Know your competition
- Understand your customers
- Establish your brand philosophy and personality
- Name your brand
- Register your domain
- Design your logo
- Register your brand
- Protect the brand with a trademark
Many businesses complete the brand naming process with a slogan or a tagline. Some good examples include:
- Sheraton Hotels and Resorts: Meet you there.
- Kempinski Hotels: A collection of individuals.
- Holiday Inn Express: Stay smart.
- Hilton Hotels & Resorts: Take me to the Hilton.
- Hyatt Regency: We've thought of everything.
- Ibis Hotel: Room to play.
- Fairmont Hotels & Resorts: Places in the heart.
- Omni Hotels & Resorts: An ideal world. If only for a night.
- Courtyard by Marriott: Make room for a little fun.
The list goes on. What you can note with these slogans and taglines is that they are short, catchy, and impactful. Some are fun, others sombre, but all are full of personality and human.
Grow your brand
Branding is a continually evolving process. It doesn’t stop with the naming and the trademarking. You will continue your branding efforts for as long as you stay in business. It is essential that you remain in control of your branding message, marketing, and customer service. In fact, everything you do or say can impact your brand. While you cannot control the way your guests perceive your brand, you can definitely give them a little nudge in the right direction.
“Brands are like a group of friends for every occasion that you can always count on," according to AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin cited by Hotel Management.
To grow your brand online, you must develop a good website. This is a critical vessel for your brand. It showcases your best features for your guests, but it is a powerful tool for generating revenue. Familiarize yourself with the most important UX (user experience) features today and learn what to avoid when you build a new hotel website before you plan it.
Consistency is a crucial factor when you build a brand from scratch. Therefore, establish a brand presence on social media to meet potential guests where they like to spend their time to communicate with family, friends, peers, and like-minded people.
Facebook and Instagram are the most popular social networks relevant to hotels. Twitter can be great for communication and customer service. Google My Business is a must – you will use it to control the way your business is listed on Google maps, to reply to customer reviews, to publish company news and events, and so on. You should choose the right channels and find your social media voice: authentic, truthful, relevant, and relaxed, or fun. Even if you cannot manage a social media presence on all channels, to prevent brandjacking, claim your name on all of the most important ones. Knowem.com searches over 570 social networks for your brand name or username. You can easily see if someone else is using your brand without permission and you can take proactive steps to protect it.
Whatever you pick, keep your tone consistent and gracious. Building the voice of the brand will take time, but, if you learn what guests expect from your hotel, you should be able to craft your messages right.
Develop a content sharing strategy for your social media branding and post regularly. Learn how to create a social media strategy for success and don’t limit your efforts to broadcasting. Use social media to connect with guests where they are. Like and comment on their posts as often as you can, reply to their comments, answer questions, and reward their involvement with discounts and special offers. If you want to know what customers want from brands on social networks, SproutSocial has answers based on surveys and statistics:
Finally, harness the power of reviews to grow your brand. TripAdvisor is an essential channel to build trust and brand equity. The moment you open your new hotel business you can expect guests to turn to TripAdvisor to review your rooms, facilities, services, location, and so on. Reviews are incredibly powerful in growing your reputation. There are many tools to help you monitor reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, and other sites, but TrustYou is the most complete. In fact, Google is using meta-reviews generated by TrustYou in its search results.
When harnessing the power of reviews to grow brand equity, remember are the rule of the four Cs: commitment, competence, communication, and consideration.
- Always deliver on your promise: that means commitment, or, in other words, do what you say.
- You also should be able to do what you promise, meaning that you have to be competent for the job.
- To do what you say means to always say what you mean, which is clear communication, another rule that will help you build trust.
- Finally, always be considerate to the people you are talking to.
Don’t reply only to negative reviews: take the time to address happy guests too. They will appreciate the effort. It’s a matter of good customer service: it shows that your commitment to your guests expands after the stay.
Reviews are also an important ranking factor for local search. So manage them actively, especially on Google My Business:
”The prominence of reviews isn’t particularly shocking, as it’s a way for Google to crowdsource ranking factors, it’s hard to spam, and the most problematic type of abuse is illegal.”
These strategies will lead to increased brand trust, which translates into higher occupancy rates and better ROI.