An article by ReviewPro’s CEO RJ Friedlander, originally published in The HOTEL Yearbook Special Edition – Digital Marketing 2020.
In a time when it seems like every other week another hotel brand launches, consolidates, or diversifies, how do you differentiate and maintain your brand image?
Travelers are loyal to branded hotels because they promise a consistent guest experience across the portfolio regardless of the city or country they are located in. Consistency is also important for independent hotels in terms of delivering on expectations. Consistency builds trust (or lack of) with travelers and is reflected in online reviews and post-stay feedback, which have a direct impact on bookings and revenue.
The significance of hotel brand
A 2018 study by Cornell University found that brand was a more reliable indicator of online reputation than either chain scale (segment) or star classification. This makes it imperative that hotels pay attention to brand image. “Over time, brands that consistently deliver on expectations across their portfolio will carve out an increasingly higher market share,” said Chris K. Anderson, Professor and Director of the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Guest experience must align with expectation
Hotels and hotel brands wishing to build and maintain a strong reputation must not only pay attention to how they market their brand, but also ensure they set expectations correctly, and deliver on those promises once the guest arrives.
The renowned Hans Brinker Hostels in Amsterdam and Lisbon consistently delivers on guest expectations by managing them with a playful marketing campaign aimed at highlighting the properties’ limited amenities rather than exaggerating them, as so many other hotels do. According to the website, “At the Hans Brinker Hostel, you get what you pay for. And because you don’t pay much you won’t get any of the following things: a swimming pool, room service, honeymoon-suites, a gym, tiny bottles of shampoo, a spa-bath or bellboys in silly hats.” By being completely transparent, the hostels ensure that guest expectations are in line with the experience.
Harnessing brand advocates
At the very opposite end of the scale, the Library Hotel Collection is a brand that became legendary for placing its four boutique properties in the top-four positions of New York hotels on TripAdvisor. The brand places high importance on the happiness of guests so staff is given the freedom to do everything within their power to ensure that guests have a truly exceptional experience.
Library Hotel Collection believes that its best marketers are happy guests and leverages this by encouraging brand advocacy in the form of ‘earned’ or user-generated content. This includes earning 5-star online reviews by providing memorable guest experiences as well as curating a network of relationships with qualified social media travel influencers and bloggers to help spread the word when the company has news and special offers.
Even if a hotel doesn’t want to delve into influencer marketing, the strategy of harnessing happy guests can still apply. It is no news that the majority of people look at online reviews when shopping for their next holiday, and happy guests are a major resource to be leveraged for positive feedback. One of the many ways to encourage guests to leave reviews is to employ a review collection program as part of guest satisfaction surveys. Research from TripAdvisor in 2018 found that a collection program not only increases the freshness and volume of reviews, it actually drives more positive reviews. Guests prompted to leave a review via the program gave an average rating of 4 to 6% higher than those who left a review on their own accord.
Negative feedback is also closely scrutinized by prospective guests, and especially management responses. People understand that things may go wrong from time to time; it’s the manner in which the situation is managed that is important. This is why management responses play such an important part in communicating brand standards.
Guest feedback is key
Powerful brands are driven by great guest experiences. By paying close attention to negative feedback in online reviews and surveys, hotels can make the operational and service improvements needed to continually strengthen the product. By identifying the positive messages in guest feedback, hotels can hone in on what keeps guests happy and what sets the property apart from competitors. These strengths can also be woven into marketing and sales campaigns and used to pitch to new clients, like testimonials, and as negotiation tools when bidding for groups, corporate contracts and events.
By aligning brand messaging with guest expectations and guest experience, you can create and maintain a strong brand presence, whether you operate an independent budget property, a small hotel group or a large franchise. Monitoring and acting on guest feedback will ensure that you continually improve any shortcomings and leverage your strengths. The resulting loyalty and trust in your brand that you earn from guests are key to continued bookings, revenue, and profitability.