Often in the hotel industry, branding is perceived as the “art of putting a logo everywhere”. By placing their logos on every napkin, pen, bathrobe and amenity, hotel brands have become so ubiquitous that they have somewhat lost their soul and uniqueness.
In the meantime, several small hotel companies such as 25h Hotels in Germany, The Standard Hotel in New York or Yotel in London have dragged a lot of attention by branding themselves differently from the mainstream brands. They are known globally but are not global brands. Unlike the latter, these companies often operate in their home market. As a result not only do they have a better understanding of local tastes but they also benefit from stronger community ties and cultural identity.
In order to differentiate themselves, it is likely that global brands will seek inspiration from these smaller companies that manage to attract equally successfully, both international and local clienteles. Global brands are and will remain relevant; Global branding, however, is likely to change significantly in the next years. The future belongs to hotels which are able to rethink completely the way they look at themselves and, consequently, brand themselves.
To be fully attractive, hotel outlets must have their own identity, as opposed to being treated as sub-brands of a main hotel brand. This is what I call Micro-Branding. Unlike the centralized and hierarchical brand architecture, through Micro-Branding, distinct points of sale are positioned as different brands, each with their own value proposition.
Mix and match cheap and chic
The great thing about Micro-Branding is that it allows the targeting of different segments under the same roof in a coherent way. In the fashion industry for example, Louis Vuitton does not target the same customers with its travel luggage line than with its range of small leather accessories. Following the same logic, a hotel doesn’t have to target the same customer segment with all of its outlets.
The Standard Hotel in New York, micro-branded its outlets very successfully: its expensive night club Boom Boom Room attracts celebrities and wealthy individuals while its Biergarten is popular among locals looking for a casual beer with friends. Using this logic of mixing and matching different value propositions, we recommended to a luxury London hotel to turn one of its F&B outlets into a gourmet fish & chips restaurant.
Two ways to get there
There are essentially two ways to pursue a Micro-Brand strategy: Develop micro-brands in house, or bring established brands in. The Opposite House, a design hotel in Beijing, has been very successful at developing home grown micro-brands. The Punk, a bar/club located in the basement of the hotel is a meeting point for young hip Chinese and expatriates, while the Sureno – located next to it – is a contemporary restaurant known as one of the best Italian addresses in town. A short cab ride away, Park Hyatt’s Xiu Bar cultivates its independent branding: it has its own website, a private elevator with street access, and it does not always accept in-house guests.
Developing a stand-alone brand for an outlet bares its fair share of uncertainty. As such, hotels may decide to partner with other players to share the risk (and consequently the return). Casinos were among the first to bring in celebrity chefs to run their restaurants. Today, we see a growing number of hotels featuring known chefs or established restaurant brands like Anne Sophie Pic at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne or the Nobu at the One & Only in Cape Town, respectively.
While Micro-Branding in hotel restaurants is being increasingly explored, its application to other outlets is still to be discovered. Room service, for instance, could be branded as an independent dining option with an offer differentiated from the usual lounge bar menu. Why can’t room service be positioned as an exotic pizza delivery service or as the ultimate Spanish tapas dining option?
Kids-club and sports facilities are other outlets with a huge potential for Micro-Branding. We advised a leading hotel in Abu Dhabi to brand its kids offer separately from the hotel by creating a dedicated area featuring a playground, a toyshop, a video-game room and an ice-cream stand. In the same way, hotel sports facilities could also be branded separately.
A while ago, we asked: Why not imagine a Nike fitness centre? Now, you can enjoy this outlet is marketed independently from the shops, using different communication channels and targeting various segments!
Finally, hotel lobbies, for long considered as functional empty spaces without a soul, have a great potential to be branded as hybrid lifestyle destinations. For example, the lobby could become an open space featuring a florist, a perfumery, (like in upscale department stores), a bookstore, or even a gourmet food court like the Mercado San Antón in Madrid.
The examples above give an insight on how branding is likely to evolve in the near future. Not only small independent hotels but also global chains can benefit enormously from a Micro-Branding strategy. For creative managers who are able to think differently, the potential of Micro-Branding is both limitless and extraordinarily exciting.