National Report – Without belonging to a multinational chain, how can independent hotels communicate their identity and message to as many travelers as possible, turning their property into a recognizable brand? The third webinar in Hotel Management’s Independent Voice series, “What Your Brand Says About You,” tackled that question by reaching out to branding experts and hoteliers for the answers.
The first panelist, Michael Tall, president & CEO of Charlestowne Hotels, was adamant about the importance of creating a clear message. This process starts with identifying an opportunity in a market and providing a signature item or service that gives your brand a competitive advantage or sets it apart from the pack.
“Understanding the core competencies of what it is you are building or creating will be at the core of your message,” Tall said. After that, he said, maintaining the consistency of your message becomes important, and he suggested developing brand standards and 40- to 50-word descriptions of your brand to have on hand at any moment.
One key to this, Tall said, is performing online searches as if you were the guest, to try to anticipate the avenues travelers will take to meet your message. One of the best ways to have a strong, easily identifiable message is by establishing powerful imagery and logos to better convey your brand’s ethos.
Tall conceded that reputation management and social media have a way of getting out of control, meaning hotels often rely on their ability to create a unique experience as a way to remain consistent in the eyes of guests. Your brand can also be strengthened by designing touch points to specifically target certain guests and create the experience they desire.
➔ “The notion of branding was something that was really foreign to us, we knew what it was, but it wasn’t something we thought of on the front end.”
president, 21c Museum Hotels
One example of successful branding through specific touch points came from the webinar’s second presenter, Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels, who said his brand started as a singular project to revitalize one corner of downtown Louisville, Ky. The founders of 21c were passionate about the use of urban revitalization as a means to prevent suburban sprawl, and they also loved contemporary art. Those two passions created 21c, and the brand still draws on that focus for its branding decision-making.
“The notion of branding was something that was really foreign to us; we knew what it was, but it wasn’t something we thought of on the front end,” Greenberg said. “This is a home-grown concept and brand.”
21c uses the concepts it was founded on as its main thrusts, looking to provide “art experiences” as the core of its brand. The brand’s art focus is found not only in its guestrooms, but also in public and fitness areas, and embraces guest favorite artwork as a means to better establish its identity.
Greenberg suggests interacting directly with guests over social media as much as possible. “We have a social media squad,” Greenberg said. “We allow our properties a lot of free rein to interact directly with the guests. The kind of life-long loyalty you can create on social media wasn’t possible before.”
With only four hotels open in Louisville, Cincinnati, Bentonville, Ark., and Durham, N.C., and two more under construction, 21c takes advantage of experiential marketing to get the word out. In one example, the brand displayed a 35-foot gilded statue of David in New York before making it a permanent fixture outside its Louisville property.
The third presenter, Caroline Michaud, director of public relations for Preferred Hotels & Resorts, went into detail on how to promote independent properties through public relations and communications strategies.
Hear more online
➔ Hear more from these presenters and many more on our website, where you can access this and all webinars hosted by the magazine. Just visit www.hotelmanagement.net/research/webinars.
“People are not going to understand or engage with your brand if you are not talking about it,” Michaud said. She added that, while every public relations campaign is different, an independent hotel’s brand story is only as strong as its ability to deliver it in a way that generates a positive emotional response in the recipient.
In terms of best practices for brand public relations, Michaud suggested identifying three key messages for your brand and one key message per program, creating a way to guide the conversation while building interest. After this, operators should identify their audiences and approach them in a way that answers a question in order to hold their attention.
➔ “After determining why your news is relevant to your audience, close the loop. You need to be sure you are both teeing up the brand message … and giving your audience something to do with it.”
director, public relations,
Preferred Hotels & resorts
Michaud also said to latch onto a property’s novelty factor as a means to endear guests. “Novelty can be newsworthy,” Michaud said. “Think about what a guest might feel compelled to brag about seeing on Instagram. Novelty is how viral news stories are born.”