Branding is at the heart of every touchpoint of a guest’s interaction, from initial searches and booking, to their arrival, departure, and beyond. The impact of branding spans all manner of properties, from boutiques and independents, to economy and luxury resorts.
“A brand sets the expectation for the guest experience and the service we provide,” says Andre Giannandrea, regional vice-president, Franchise Development, Canada, for Sonesta Canmore, Alberta. “It’s all driven through their experiences. One negative review at one property can disproportionately impact perception across the brand.”
Over the past five years, a number of operators have been re-focusing their branding efforts to accommodate a rapidly changing, increasingly competitive industry.
For some, branding strategies are focused on diversification and building in more flexibility for a more diverse audience. For others, it’s about carving out a unique space in oversaturated markets, reinforcing value propositions that have stood the test of time, or striking the right balance between standardizing and personalizing the guest experience.
When Sonesta acquired Red Lion Hotel in 2021, the group diversified overnight, driving a need for more brand segmentation into new segments, says Giannandrea. “Before the pandemic, the primary focus was on upscale branding with Sonesta. We realized we had to push pause and define who we are, what we stand for, and why guests choose us.”
Branding has never been more important, he says. “The competitive landscape has changed. There are new players. Even existing competitors are adding more products and new brands. We have to work hard to keep differentiating our brands.”
“An essential aspect of the branding challenge was ensuring frontline staff were powered to consistently deliver on their expectations of our standards at every touchpoint,” explains Giannandrea. “We put the same investment in training and services as the physical [brand] standards based on guest feedback and constant communications with our people in the field.”
Giannandria distills branding down to these important essentials: define your brand promise; align your services, amenities, and experiences to that promise; deliver consistently at every touchpoint along the customer journey, and align your messaging through advertising, public relations, and social media. “All of that starts with a deep understanding of your guest.”
Since its founding in 1981, Kimpton has always taken a human-centric approach to hospitality with a focus on heartfelt care and a personal, boutique philosophy, says Kathleen Reidenback, Chief Commercial Officer at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants in San Francisco. While each of the more than 60 Kimpton properties around the world offer a unique experience based on its neighbourhood and local culture, there are key Kimpton features that resonate with all properties, such as additional perks, complimentary pet services, and the Forgot It? We’ve Got It! Front-desk amenities program.
“The thread that weaves all of our Kimpton properties together is that while they are all individually unique, they all embody the authentic Kimpton approach to heartfelt care and connection,” says Reidenback.
Kimpton has dedicated teams that ensure all social-media assets, websites, marketing materials and branding uphold the Kimpton aesthetic of “luxury without the attitude,” with each property putting its own unique and personalized spin that works best for its location, she explains.
Branding also comes to life in the partnerships it selects, from the in-room products and bath amenities to partnerships with groups such as Talkspace and Wag!. “We ensure other companies we work with are not only brand aligned, but also provide an added benefit and service to both our guests and employees that amplifies their experience.”
For Chelsea Hotel Toronto, digital communications across all channels are playing a key role at a time when it is increasingly challenging to carve out your own space in an oversaturated marketing, says Desha Sampson, director of Marketing and e-Business. “A brand has to stay relevant and keep people engaged over an ever-changing market atmosphere and maintain consistency across multiple platforms, personnel changes, and various strategies.”
It is essential to know your competition and your target audience in order to develop your offerings and integrate consistency and flexibility, she adds. “You don’t want to confuse customer, but you also need to show you are growing with their needs.”
It can be challenging staying relevant and keeping people engaged in an always-changing market, says Sampson. “But there are always opportunities to write your own brand message.”
By Denise Deveau