Branding Basics for Boutique Hotels

Boutique hotels can be considered the new kid of the block. Although they’ve been in existence for several decades, operating under the banner of ‘independent’ hotels, it’s only recently that the world has exploded in its fascination for boutique hotels.

Today, more than ever, travelers are looking beyond the usual frills and fancy that are offered up in the name of hotel stays. They want a more intimate, more unique experience that brings them closer to the community the hotel is located in. In such a scenario, boutique hotels stand in direct opposition to their flashier, empire-like counterparts – the chain hotels.

But, despite their general appeal, boutique hotels have to make the same effort, and sometimes more, to establish their brand. Without a strong identity to guide them, it’s all too easy to lose themselves in the crowd.

Why Branding?

Brands can no longer be faceless entities for the consumer. We live in the age of information where the customer has access to all kinds of resources to facilitate his buying decision. These days, brands have a life and existence of their own, and customers interface with these identities on a daily basis.

Take yourself. What comes to mind when someone says the word “Marriott?” You’ll immediately conjure up an image of something intensely luxurious and opulent. Large foyers, gilded ceilings, soft-spoken yet crisply smart waiters, silver tureens and state of the art facilities. Why does your brain associate all this with one simple word?

That’s the magic of a brand. And the value of building it.

Think about the concept of identity, like your name, or who you are. All those things that go into making ‘you’ are also the things that set you apart from the rest of humanity. The same goes for a brand. It is an entity that is distinct from other entities in the same industry. In business-speak, this is called differentiation.

So, what differentiates one hotel from the other and why should we even engage in differentiation? The answers to these questions are altogether simple. Danny Meyer, the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), states that ‘recognition’ is the primary reason why guests wish to return to the same hotel.

Recognition only stems from uniqueness, and if you want to cultivate a battalion of loyal consumers, you’d better engage quickly. The reason why boutique hotels have been on the rise in the last decade is because the modern traveler does not want a monolithic experience that he will get in any typical chain hotel. They want a uniquely curated experience that they can fondly remember, and if they get that, they will come back to you.

That brings us to the next aspect – what differentiates one hotel from the other? Experience differentiates. All that your guests are exposed to, that they feel, that they’re touched by when they interact with the tangible aspects of your brand constitutes its ‘experience’.

A strong brand is that which stands completely apart from its competitors. Think about it: A thousand others are vying for the consumer’s attention, essentially promising core hospitality services. Mergers and acquisitions have made it even more confusing for the customer today.

The world’s 10 largest hotel chains now offer a combined 113 brands at various price points, 31 of which didn’t exist a decade ago. This makes differentiation more important. IBISWorld also pegs the boutique hotel industry at 7 billion as of June 2017; rising at a CAGR of 4.8%.

Therefore, the essence of your brand needs to be different, and it needs to percolate down to all aspects of the brand – from your design, to service, to logo and so on. Let’s now run you through the standard elements that make up a brand.

Brand Elements

As things stand, the boutique hotel is distinguished from other hotel sectors by its uniqueness, personalized service, authenticity, quirky, aesthetic elements of surprise, and enhanced customer experiences that extend beyond the hotel space.

We’ll start with the basic, longstanding suggestions for brand building before getting specific.

Logo: This is the sign and signifier of your brand. It’s also one of the most integral parts of the brand experience, since it fosters recognition and familiarity. Good logo design is always driven by strategy unless you want people to get the wrong message. Testing your logo before finalising it is always a good idea.

Tagline, and Brand Message: Construct a strong tagline and underline key attributes of your brand, which you then use to add to your brand essence. Highlighting this without being too invasive is necessary.

Percolation: Your brand identity needs to show through in all aspects of the hotel experience. This distinction will appear from the way you answer phone calls to the way your staff greets people. All communication, offline and online, needs to consistently portray a message that contributes to the brand essence.

Design: This does not simply extend to logo and communication design. Of course, you need to be consistent with all your creatives and colour schemes, but we’re also referring to architectural and décor-based elements, which have to carry the brand identity on their shoulders.

Promise and Delivery: This is perhaps the most important. While boldness and in some cases, cockiness may be appreciated, don’t promise things that you cannot deliver. Customers shy away from such farcical engagements. For example, if your hotel is a budget hotel, then adding features that don’t exist or putting up fake pictures are extremely bad practices that you need to avoid at all costs.

Boutique Hotels, Take Note…

While branding guidelines may remain the same more or less across the board, boutique hotels may not always enjoy the flow of cash that bigger chains do. But, despite your tight budget, it is inadvisable to compromise on your branding efforts, or you might end up in a penny wise pound foolish situation.

Phase out your expenses, by all means. Prioritize certain elements of branding over the others, but don’t ignore them completely. You don’t have to go for the most expensive options, but you must consider the most effective ones

Here are a few more suggestions that boutique hotels should keep in mind before getting started with their branding efforts.

Do not be inconsistent. I understand that boutique hotels are all about personalisation, but that can be reflected in the services you offer. The brand essence needs to be unique and reinforced as such. Too many logo and design changes are also a hindrance when it comes to establishing a recognizable identity.

Segmentation: The best thing about boutique hotels is that it really is a place for everyone. From those who’re seeking comfort to the rugged backpacker, everyone can find what he wants here. And your hotel should strongly communicate that. Customize different packages for different kinds of travelers – businessmen, couples, families, etc. – and let it also reflect in your rates.

Networking: This is one of the strongest strategies for the hospitality world. Networking generates more referrals, and increases legitimacy drastically. Having a good, symbiotic relationship with the locals and the environment will be an invaluable help.

Brand Extension: Apart from your core services, you can engage in outsourcing a little. Toiletries, cutlery, linens, can all be sourced from others but branded for your benefit. Or you can indulge in co-branding, where you may tie-up with spas, décor companies and so on. This not only boosts your presences, but also gets you subsidised goods in the process. You can also invest in experiences beyond the hotel space, like customised nature walks, workshops, and more. However, choose your partners with care. They should not convey messages that are dissonant with your brand’s tone, essence, and image.

Show Restraint: Do not overemphasize, or be too wordy with your communication, unless the format demands it. You may have a lot to say, but consider presenting it in a manner that isn’t always text heavy, like videos, infographics, or newsletters.

While these are only a few suggestions when it comes to the incredibly vast field of brand building, they are an effective starting line for you. In an industry that is so full of players, brand identity and experience will be key differentiators that need careful attention and cultivation. So, get started, and build a brand that you will be proud of one day.

Luxury Condos Will Change The Way You Look At Booking Accommodations

You hear it time after time from just about everyone you talk to about what plans they have once they decide it’s time to retire – they want to travel. At one time or another, it may have seemed a bit far-fetched to think that something as posh-sounding as luxury condos would be within financial reach for the common man, but booking accommodations have certainly changed quite a bit in recent years.

Now, it must be stated that the idea of luxury condos seems a little redundant considering that we tend to afford a certain luxuriousness to a condo by default. However, travel experts are quick to note that from a real estate standpoint, a condominium is nothing more than an individually owned property that’s part of a multi-unit property.

So, the question will often come up – what’s the big deal when it comes to booking a condo when you travel? You have so many other options, it just seems a little unnecessary. But when you consider what a condominium technically is, you, the smart & savvy traveler, should approach the property in the same way you’d approach booking any lodging for your travel.

After all, one of the primary reasons that luxury condos are so popular is that they afford you and your family privacy. Think back to the motor lodges & hotels of your past travels. One of the things that stands out is how little privacy you had from other families. Luxury condos give you a chance to enjoy each other’s company and only each other’s company. This is great because you can decompress after a long day of sight-seeing, have less interruptions when you talk the day over, and above all else, not dread having a room near a stairwell.

Luxury condos are also great because they try to think ahead to what you may need while you stay there. This attention to amenities is nice if you & your family happen to be poor planners or maybe just might miss a detail here or there. A good rule of thumb, in general, is to be aware of your travel needs before you start searching out any type of luxury condo. However, do always make it a habit of making a plan for what you need or want because if you aren’t sure of what you’re looking for or need, there’s no way to come to clear, concise decisions on a property that suits you best.

Finally, you’ve made a list of your needs & wants, and you’ve started to contact the various properties you’re considering. The nicest thing about luxury condos is that they really do take to heart the idea of making your travel lodging experience a true “home away from home”. With the ability to choose floor plans that accommodate your family, as well as offering the comforts of your own home, travelers really do feel at ease when on the road.

The smart traveler understands that luxury condos, while still just a manner of lodging, afford you the chance for nicer surroundings while giving you a sense of home. They certainly are worth your time in considering for your next travel booking.

Importance of Social Proof for the Hospitality Industry

There are 7 billion plus individuals in today’s world. Every day, more and more of them appear on the digital grid, the omnipresent network that the Internet happens to be. Increased smartphone penetration, internet access and technology at large simply indicates beyond doubt that yes, humans are social animals, and as such, we love to share our experiences with each other.

Long ago, marketers realized that word of mouth was one of the best ways to get news of their products and services out there. It holds true in this time and age as well, but it has evolved to keep up with advancements in technology. A term that you may have heard bandied around quite frequently is ‘social proof’, and it’s nothing more than word of mouth in its new, digital avatar.

For instance, we’ve all been ‘persuaded’ to try out a new restaurant or a holiday destination after we’ve seen our friends posting pictures of their dining and travel adventures on social media. On the same note, we’ve also been dissuaded from staying at a hotel because we spotted nasty review that was left by some disgruntled customer online. That, my friends, is the 21st century version of word of mouth in action.

What is Social Proof?

Human beings have this deep rooted instinct to be swayed by other humans and their activities. Consumer internet has shown, time and again, that people implicitly trust other people’s reviews and feedback when it comes to brands and their services.

Social proof is everywhere. When you’re shopping on Amazon, you tend to check out the reviews on the product. If enough people in your office recommend an eating joint, you’re bound to check it out sooner or later. Positive reviews have managed to draw in crowds for the most hopeless of movies, while lack of reviews have caused stellar cinema to fade into oblivion.

Simply put, if enough people like it, the product or service has to be good

Social proof is now a valued dynamic used by marketers and companies the world over in order to influence consumers. Companies have taken to prominently displaying reviews, testimonials, ratings, approval seals, expert opinions, ‘popular items’ and what not on their website. And why? Because we’d all rather go by what others have to say about a particular business than trust the brand itself.

The hospitality industry is particularly influenced by social proof. Most people rely on customer reviews and opinions they come across on social media. More and more people turn to Trip Advisor and similar sites to read what other customers have to say about a specific hotel. And, only if the overall perception and feedback is positive do they actually go ahead and book a room in the hotel.

Types Of Social Proof

On the face of it, social proof might be an all-encompassing phenomenon that overlaps a variety of fields and industries, but from a marketing perspective, it can be classified into 5 specific categories.

1. Expert Social Proof

Humans trust authoritative institutions, and reputed personalities. Before we believe any claim, we need reassurance and the expert social proof offers just that. You find the words ‘expert opinion’ under articles giving advice and instructions as a means to legitimize it. Ads for toothpaste and tooth brushes are ‘bolstered’ by opinions of leading dentists while beauty creams will usually have a skin specialist backing them. And once a restaurant or hotel gets a thumbs up from a renowned critic, you can be fairly certain that people are going to flock to it by the hundreds.

2. Celebrity Social Proof

The name says it all. Celebrities have a swaying effect on the population, and they come with their own seal of legitimacy. If a celebrity endorses a hotel, the chances of it making it to the top ten establishments in the city are extremely high. That said, the most authentic and genuine celebrity social proof is the unpaid one.

3. User Social Proof

User social proof is found in any kind of user generated content that showcases their experiences. This includes success stories, pictures on social media, testimonials, and reviews on websites. User social proof is one of the most effective ways to boost the credibility of a hotel. One of the most obvious examples is Tripadvisor, where millions of users arrive every month to see and write reviews and recommendations.

4. Wisdom of the Crowd

“A million people can’t be wrong” is the saying most marketers abide by. And they use sheer numbers to sway prospective consumers. It can be subtle, or obvious depending on who’s doing the marketing. Take leading bloggers, for instance, who display their site hits and other numbers on their blog to establish their credentials.

5. Wisdom of your Friend

A consumer will always rely more on the personal experience of a friend than the word of a stranger. Also, the stats show that many customers rely heavily on recommendations from friends and family. This social proof has the potential to grow virally.

On the face of it, you might think that you’ve got a broad playing field when it comes to collecting social proof for your business. However, what works for one industry might not necessarily cater to your requirements. Therefore, you need to find the perfect concoction of different types of social proof to find out which ones are best suited to your brand.

Why Do You Need Social Proof?

In the hospitality business, building and highlighting social proof is essential to attracting attention and, subsequently, new customers. There is more than one reason why you should put considerable effort into spreading digital word of mouth. Here are top reasons why it’s essential to set aside a budget and make a marketing plan around generating social proof for your hotel

With the influx of genuine feedback (most of which would hopefully be positive), you will be able to build trust among your customers.
Social proof increases your credibility as an establishment and can help convert an unsure customer in your favor
Online reviews, ratings and testimonials are the best form of advertisement for your hotel and can rival the fanciest and most expensive marketing campaign you can think of launching.

Strategy for Collecting Social Proof

Like I’ve mentioned before, there are various ways in which you can collect social proof, the most common ones being asking customers to leave reviews and feedback, getting influencers to talk about you by offering complimentary stays, and encouraging interactions (like check ins) on your social media page. These should be integral to your online marketing and branding campaign. But I’d like to discuss a few other techniques to collecting social proof for your hotel:

Videos

There’s a reason why Facebook’s traffic skyrocketed once it started supporting GIFs and videos. Visual media has the ability to influence people and can go viral with the slightest impetus. A video highlighting the offerings of your hotel, sightseeing options in the city, places of local interest, and the culinary treats in store for your guests is bound to be met with great enthusiasm. And if it’s well made, with a dash of creativity in it, you can expect it to draw customers to your doors in no time at all.

Images

They say an image speaks a thousand words. Extensive research proves that posts with images are 35% more likely to draw engagement as opposed to the ones with just text. Research also reveals that people are more likely to believe statements that are substantiated with images. So, the next time you want to share customer reviews and testimonials, make sure to attach an image to draw more traction.

Infographics

Humans are visual creatures and infographics are the best option you have when you want to present data in an interesting manner without boring your audience with chunks of text and long paragraphs. Don’t forget to include them in your marketing campaign.

Final Words

Collecting social proof isn’t all that difficult, but any strategy is only as strong as its execution. Once you’ve used videos, images, and infographics to convince travelers that your hotel is a great option, give them a clear call to action (CTA) to follow. Route them to your website or landing page and in no uncertain words tell them what they’re required to do.

Don’t leave anything to guesswork. If you want them to leave a review, make that clear. If you want them to book rooms and earn a discount, make that clear. The minute you leave things ambiguous is the minute they’re likely to get confused and leave. Don’t let your hard work go to ruin. If you’ve crafted the marketing plan to collect social proof with great care, don’t let an unclear call to action ruin things for you.

Now go tap into the power of social proof and use it to your advantage. Get your past and present customers talking about you and use their goodwill to attract more visitors your way!