Hotel Branding – Or is it Customization?

hotelbrandsBrandchannel.com has an interesting article on the proliferation of hotel brands.  Noting how difficult it is for a consumer to differentiate among all of these brands, the article states:

This is just one aspect of the branding problem. The larger hotel companies seem to spawn brands whenever the mood strikes. And the problem is getting worse. “The hotel industry has launched several new brands in the past 18 months,” says Jeff Weinstein, editor-in-chief of HOTELS magazine. “Not only is it hard to create the critical mass necessary to make these brands relevant, but these new hotel brands have to create a very distinct identity and then deliver the matching experience to have any chance of resonating in the mind of the consumer. Creating that identity, making sure there is enough demand, and then actually delivering the goods is not at all easy.”

It’s hard to argue with the notion that hotel brands aren’t what they used to be.  The days of a few major hotel chains (e.g. Marriott, Hilton, Ramada) with clearly differentiated value propositions, seem to be gone.  Now, if you consider a reservation at a Hilton, for example, you have to find out if it’s a good Hilton or a crummy Hilton (or Marriott, Ramada, etc.).  Crummy Hilton!  The very statement would seem an oxymoron 30 years ago, but now it’s possible.  With so many brands trying to reach so many segments, consistency has become a problem along with differentiation.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is the article’s contention that “the hotel industry seems to be moving in the direction of very customized offerings.”  In this view, brand proliferation is seen as the industry’s attempt to customize.  Customization is a long-term consumer trend that’s been impacting all sorts of businesses for some time now, and it seems smart for hoteliers to try to capitalize on it.  As with so many things, it’s all about the execution.  If you don’t know what a brand stands for, it’s hard to see it as customized for you.  Maybe the winning formula is a customizable brand – a hotel chain that allows guests to customize their rooms.  Or maybe a brand that offers different characteristics at different locations (e.g. green, long-term, business traveler, etc.), but with a clear, overarching value proposition (e.g. customer service, family friendly, luxury, etc.).  It’s an interesting challenge, but one that doesn’t seem to be met with the current over-branding approach.

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