My friend Chris, top dog at Magellan Strategy Group, knows a lot about tourism and marketing…more than me. So, I’m always happy to see something from him in my in-box. Recently, he sent me a copy of an interview with Al Ries (an even more famous marketing guru) about hotel branding in which the point is made that many hospitality brands are “muddy” and unclear resulting in market confusion and sub par performance. He goes on to say that you need to focus on “owning a word in the customer’s mind”, a la Volvo, “safe car”. According to Ries, at the end of the day, that simple strategy is what branding is all about.
Similarly, one of Chris’ seven C’s of branding (I must confess that I don’t know them all) is “clarity”. I think what Chris and Al are talking about is the single most important concept in starting anything new, especially a business. I call it knowing what you want to be before you grow up. In other words, “how” and “what” do you want your guests to feel when they experience your service. Failure to develop this mantra and a plan to support it at the very beginning is one of the most fundamental and unfortunately one of the most common mistakes made when starting a new venture. Hotels are often developed on the auspices of serving all types of guests, doing it better than someone else and at a better price. You see it all the time, hotels lacking a clear identity, trying to serve multiple audiences with numerous pitches and product offerings. You see PR companies spinning stories which lack focus and have very little to do with the “real” experience. You hear sales people telling clients anything they can think of to get them to sign a contract. In the end, these mixed signals just create confusion, a lack of trust and less revenue.
Instead, be very clear to yourself, your colleagues and your prospective guest. Start by developing something you’re passionate about and that you can be the best at. Create an image that’s very clear and “in focus” for everyone. Then, stick to that idea and support it at every turn with everything you do. If there are enough guests who want to feel the same way you do, you’ll have a winner. If not, you’ll have an expensive hobby.
No matter what you do, decide what you want to be before you get started. There’s way too much at stake to make wholesale changes along the way.