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.
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.
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.