technology, hospitality, and plumbing…

Hotel Brands: Are Your Customers As Confused As I Am?

In General on October 5, 2010 at 15:24

Confused?Recently I stayed in a hotel that was part of the Marriott empire – not a Marriott itself, but one of its sub-brands. The experience was a constant surprise – some of the things I expected were missing, but other things I didn’t expect were there. I clearly didn’t understand what the brand was offering. So what was happening?

The more I thought about it, the more it came down to two things.

Firstly, in their efforts to serve different niches, the majors have created a plethora of sub-brands: Marriott has 13, Starwood has 9, Hilton has 10, Intercontinental has 7, and Accor has 17! Barry Schwartz wrote about the Paradox of Choice paralysing consumers, preventing them from buying, and i’m sure that’s what’s happening here.

Secondly, and this is not just the majors, they’re extremely ineffective at communicating the brand and the product.

Look at the flagship brands – Sofitel, W, Conrad, etc, and it’s quite plain to see what the proposition is. Get a bit further down, particularly 4-star brands, and it gets a lot more complicated. What’s the difference between a Novotel and a Pullman, a Westin and a Sheraton, a Holiday Inn and a Crowne Plaza?

Looking on the websites themselves is often no help. Several offer no clues at all. Some, to their credit, make an effort, but these end up being so banal that they really are no use to a customer booking a stay. And as for mentioning the positioning of the brand on a property main page, you can just about forget it: do these companies really think that people are going to read the “Our Brands” page when they’re searching for a hotel in Bangkok, Buenos Aires or Bali?

All this could lead you to think that the different sub-brands are purely for industry insiders to understand.

This is a huge opportunity: hotels need to clearly differentiate themselves in the eyes of the customer. Just a simple statement on the homepage or property mainpage would clarify and reassure the customer, and lead to increased sales. And by ‘simple statement’, i mean something meaningful, personal, heartfelt even, not some boilerplate corporate-speak.

Who is doing this well in the middle of the market? Independent properties are more likely to do this well — because they have to differentiate themselves. Some boutique hotels also do this well, but still the difference is often implied rather than explicit.

Who else is there?

Anthony Green – October 2010

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