Why the daunting task of brand building can never be one-size-fits-all
Communicating your brand values and keeping these fresh is of paramount importance in today’s competitive market. Brand refreshment exercises can be useful to know what influences the guest experience and what it is that helps guests relate to travel companies. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to two groups in Asia to find out how they are approaching this challenge.
One of the greatest challenges to brand building is the increasingly discerning, on the move customer – as they travel more, their expectations increase and they have a very clear idea of what they want. The key to success lies not in fiddling too much with individual brand value or personality but in responding to the desires of demanding customer and communicating your offering effectively. Hotels should focus on effective communication and adapt operations to match the guest shifting requirements, while also taking into account what this means for the hotel in a particular market.
The heat is on
Kevin Croley, senior vice president, marketing and sales, Pan Pacific Hotels Group says the challenge isn’t only about handling an increasingly shrewd customer, but it also about their changing attitude towards loyalty. There is a “much greater propensity to switch between brands,” he says helped by the increasing influence of social media and the raft of information available online.
Adding to the discussion is Steven Pan, Chairman of luxury hotel group Regent Hotels & Resorts. Given that guests have so many choices, he says, where the information is delivered through so many channels there is an obvious shift in the nature of guests’ engagement. Against this backdrop, brand building has become more challenging.
For Croley there are two clear and specific challenges:
1. Matching expectations: Guests’ expectations for customisation and personalisation of experiences continue to increase. More and more people are saying ‘I am an individual and I want my hotel to recognise that I have certain preferences and needs’.
“This is something that is intrinsic to our brand proposition,” says Croley, explaining that the group has two brands – Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts and PARKROYAL Hotels & Resorts.
In the case of the PARKROYAL brand, the group ensures that its associates engage with guests and connect them with the best that a city or resort has to offer – giving them a unique experience rather than something straight out of a guidebook.
2. Handling different generations: “One other challenge that all brands face is that in the next 10 years, our workforce and consumers will span four generations – baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z – with each group having different preferences and make purchasing decisions differently,” says Croley. Brands must be able to speak to consumers – a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is not going to work.
So, for its second brand, Pan Pacific is employing a high degree of flexibility in different locations and regions, while at the same time still ensuring brand consistency.
One thing is certain, given the plethora of choices, being brand loyal is no longer the norm. “To better understand the lifetime value of a customer, we must better appreciate the ‘consumer decision journey’,” says Pan.
Six steps to brand engagement
Brand engagement happens in six stages: consider, evaluate, buy and enjoy, advocate, bond. “It is essential that the key in this brand engagement is to build post-purchase relationship and encourage advocacy. Our job is to ensure an integrated customer experience,” says Pan. “Brand engagement with itinerant, well-travelled and affluent guests involves not only marketing but also the rendering of bespoke services that makes every experience at a Regent hotel memorable.”
A brand’s strength can be defined by:
- Performance - Increasing visitor figures on website, staff retention, guests’ advocacy, longevity of vendor and partnership contracts, media feedback and so on are all clear indications of a brand’s strength.
- Partnerhips - Other than rankings by third-party service and luxury focused indexing companies and publications, a growing number of partnership requests from real estate and development companies are also and indication of success.
Pan Pacific participates in the annual BDRC Hotel Guest Survey. It provides a global comparison of its two brands among business travellers. In addition to identifying trends, the survey compares the strengths and weaknesses of the brand across regions and highlights attributes that are important in a particular area. It also also highlights the key marketing channels per region and how the brand is utilising these. At the same time, the group seeks guest feedback through an online survey that is emailed to all guests while they are staying. “Through this feedback mechanism we are able to gather insights into our guests’ needs and valuable competitor information as well as trends,” says Croley. This is then used to compare what the firm is witnessing on social sites which Pan Pacific also monitors and actively engages with.
Relying on digital
Making appropriate use of digital marketing and digital data to build a brand is a reality of doing business in today’s world. “As everything has gone digital, it is imperative for Regent to be at the forefront of this trend,” says Pan. He believes the company has been successful in making the shift by prioritising the need for ‘owned media’ in the digital marketing real estate, engaging all stakeholders with relevant, continuous and appropriate content, listening to feedback and realigning strategies to address the needs of guests. This means exceeding their expectations and constantly executing search engine optimisation and marketing processes.
Of course, digital channels are important in helping to build the brand but in order for that to be successful, there must be strong foundations in place – service excellence and clearly defined brand touchpoints are what build brand relevance and preference in the minds of customers.
To achieve this requires attentive staff but Pan is aware that given the small portfolio of hotels, career pathing may be quite limited and may also be an influencing factor when they are ready to fast-track their careers. But the group is committed to using all channels available to attract new talent and retain existing staff.