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The Ten Essentials of Building Productive Travel and Hospitality Brands (part 1)

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Great Travel Brands = Money in the Bank.

Bad Ones Need To Be Tossed.

While Social Media has forever altered how we communicate, the fundamentals of smart, productive travel marketing remain the same.  A well-conceived brand is still one of the most valuable business assets a destination, hotel or attraction can have.  And, it’s the one thing that can give a travel marketer a clear advantage over the competition while creating a distinct place in the hearts and minds of consumers.

The next few days will provide an in depth look at how travel marketers can build brands that grow business, foster consumer engagement and advocacy – and sustain staying power for years to come.

“Brand”

 I have a confession.  I hate the word “Brand.”

Not because I’m a disbeliever in the marketing power of “Brand.”  But rather, because it’s a notion that has become so bastardized, so abused, so over-used, it has become virtually meaningless.

“Brand.” It sounds so…. yesterday, doesn’t it?

Well, despite my hating on the word – and at risk of seeming woefully out of date – I have another confession:  Despite the marketing industry’s dilution of the real power, the real value of “Brand,” I remain a steadfast believer in the business legitimacy of well-conceived Brands.  But like all things, there are good – and bad – brands.  The good ones are money in the bank.  The bad are nothing short of a waste of a marketer’s money.  Delivering the former to a client is the highest value a good agency can bring to their client’s table.  Delivering the latter is – in my book – nothing short of unethical.

 So, how is a client to know the difference between good and bad when it comes to developing a brand?  It should be easy.  But all too often, and for far too many clients, it’s damn near impossible to truly know the difference.  Too often, the decision is based on vague intangibles, subjectivity, sketchy consumer “research” – all, the equivalent of a marketing Hail Mary.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Developing a Travel or Hospitality brand is an exercise made up of equal parts creative alchemy and disciplined decision-making.  Given that most agencies fail to arm their clients with concrete criteria by which to effectively judge the brand ideas they present, I’m taking it upon my self to do so.  And maybe – just maybe – in so doing, I’ll help travel & hospitality marketers become smarter in their decision-making, holding their agencies to a higher standard, letting them get away with less creative subjectivity in their brand recommendations, and in the end, result in more legitimate, responsible, business impacting brands to be developed, and fewer corporate dollars wasted. 

On to the first two essentials:

1.    No Navel-gazing: Your brand is not about you.

Rule number one:  Your brand isn’t about you.  It’s about your consumer.  Start by lining up the right questions:  “What does my hotel / destination / attraction / resort really mean to my guest?”  “How does the experience of my product impact their self-perceptions, their view of the world, their beliefs?”  “Aside from the obvious, (room, sights, meals, etc.) what does my product really deliver to visitors?”  “How can the experience of my product square with their life’s aspirations, needs and desires?”

 Far too many marketers spend entirely too much time talking about their stuff – their room amenities, their destination attributes, their amount of vertical (most of which are rarely truly differentiating in a meaningful way) – and as a result, seek to influence the largely emotional decision of where to travel with a rational argument.  This tact not only does not make sense, it is the path to marketing mediocrity, or worse.

2.     Know thy consumer.  Intimately.

Truth is, neither you, nor your agency are the real experts in the game of travel marketing.  The consumer is.
And while many marketers spend good sums of money on research, much of it is little more than a waste of money.  Put another way, when it comes to brand development, research that tells you what you already know is nearly worthless.  In order to gain intimate understanding of prospective consumers, your research efforts must dig much deeper than any quantitative survey can ever dig.

You must gain an intimate understanding of your guest’s deepest feelings about the travel experience – and all of their many dimensions.  You must spend hours talking with them, observing them – watching the nuance of their communication as much as listening to their words.  And don’t forget to spend time with your destination’s / hotel’s / resort’s / attraction’s front line employees as well.  Often, they have a more intuitive understanding of your guest than corporate office staff ever will.  There’s nothing quite like interacting with literally hundreds of guests when it comes to developing a nose for “human truths.”  As an example, we recently spent over 50 hours interviewing front-line members of a prominent western destination’s community in developing a new brand proposition for them.  The insights gained were remarkable, and led directly to the destination’s new brand proposition.

In short, quantitative data is King when measuring performance, trending, seasonality, etc.  But when developing your brand, use qualitative research techniques that give you a window to the deepest parts of a traveler’s heart.  After all, that’s the organ that really makes the travel decisions.

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The Ten Essentials of Building Productive Travel and Hospitality Brands:

 

Original image licensed under Creative Commons (flickr).

 

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