Better Brands Start Early: Indie Hotels Must Lead with the Brand

March 20, 2024
Jeremy Wells

Independent hotels – done well – offer unique, localized, and personalized experiences beyond (arguably) every other hotel asset class. Yet, when executed poorly, I’ve found that there is often a crucial element overlooked. In my experience, it’s the early consideration of branding and brand development. At Longitude, our journey in collaborating with independent hotel projects has taught us the significance of integrating branding discussions from the very beginning. Let’s delve into why we believe this matters.

Building Identity: Establishing a Unique Proposition

For independent hotels, differentiation is paramount in the competitive landscape of the hospitality industry. Early branding discussions empower hotels to carve out a distinct identity that sets them apart. In a crowded marketplace where consumers are inundated with options – hundreds of brands, soft brands, and more – a unique brand identity can be the key differentiator that attracts more guests and fosters brand affinity and loyalty. By defining what sets them apart early on, hotels can position themselves as the go-to choice for travelers seeking an authentic and memorable experience, and align every decision along the way to that positioning strategy.

This alignment is essential for ensuring that a hotel’s branding efforts are effective and cohesive. By defining brand values and standards from the outset, hotels can ensure alignment with their vision, mission, and target audience. This alignment fosters authenticity and consistency in the brand’s messaging and positioning, which is crucial for building trust and credibility with guests. When every aspect of the hotel’s branding is aligned with its core values and objectives, it creates a unified and compelling brand story that resonates with guests on a deeper level.

When you truly understand the desires and preferences of your ideal guests, you can create a brand that resonates deeply with them. Early branding discussions allow hotels to conduct thorough market research and gather insights into their target audience’s needs, preferences, and behaviors. Armed with this knowledge, hotels can tailor their branding to speak directly to their target market, crafting messaging and experiences that resonate and connect on an emotional level.

Early branding sets the foundation for long-term success by equipping developers and stakeholders to filter their decisions through the development process and beyond. By establishing a clear brand identity early on, hotels can make informed decisions about everything from design and marketing to operations and guest experience. This ensures that every aspect of the hotel’s development is aligned with its brand vision and objectives, laying the groundwork for growth and profitability.

Creating Cohesion: Aligning Design and Experience

Consistency plays a pivotal role in shaping the guest experience at independent hotels. By integrating branding into the design process early on, hotels can ensure consistency across all touchpoints, from the physical space to its digital presence. This means that every aspect of the hotel – from the decor and signage to the website and marketing materials – reflects the same cohesive brand identity. Consistency instills a sense of trust and reliability in guests, as they know what to expect no matter where or how they interact with your hotel.

These immersive experiences are what sets independent hotels apart from the rest. A cohesive brand identity creates a seamless and immersive experience for guests, enveloping them in the hotel’s unique atmosphere from the moment they arrive. Whether it’s the carefully curated decor, the personalized amenities, the lobby music playlist, or the attentive service, every aspect of the guest experience is designed to evoke the brand’s essence. This immersive experience leaves a lasting impression on guests, enhancing their overall perception of the hotel.

Consistency leads to clear and quick brand recognition. (Just like when you hear McDonald’s famous, “ba-da-ba-ba-baaaa” jingle, and immediately associate it with the golden arches.) Brand recognition is essential for independent hotels. Consistent branding elements – such as logos, colors, and typography – help build brand recognition, making it easier for guests to identify and connect with the hotel. Whether they’re browsing online, walking past the hotel, or seeing an advertisement, guests can quickly recognize the hotel’s brand and associate it with positive experiences and emotions.

When you have consistency, this will lead to better emotional connections; which must be at the heart of every successful independent hotel. Thoughtfully designed spaces infused with brand identity evoke emotions and foster a deeper connection with guests. From the warm welcome at check-in to the personalized touches in the guest rooms, every interaction is an opportunity to create memorable experiences that resonate with guests on an emotional level. This emotional connection goes beyond satisfaction – it creates a sense of belonging and loyalty that inspires guests to return time and time again, and to share their experiences with others. In this way, branding becomes more than just a visual identity – it becomes a powerful tool for building lasting relationships with guests.

Engaging Audiences: Connecting on a Deeper Level

Building a strong identity is crucial, but it should go beyond mere ambitions of attracting guests; it should foster enduring relationships with guests, staff, and the broader community. A well-defined brand communicates the hotel’s values, ethos, and unique offerings, resonating with guests on a deeper level and creating a sense of connection and belonging. This connection extends to staff members who embody the brand’s values, fostering a positive work environment and enhancing employee satisfaction. Moreover, by actively engaging with the local community through events, partnerships, and initiatives aligned with the brand’s mission, hotels can build trust and goodwill, further strengthening their relationships with stakeholders in an authentic way.

In an era of skepticism and information overload, authenticity is paramount. Authentic branding communicates transparency, sincerity, and integrity, building trust and credibility with guests. When hotels authentically embody their values and deliver on their promises, they reinforce their reputation and enhance guest satisfaction. Authenticity extends beyond marketing messages to encompass every touchpoint of the guest experience, from the warmth of staff interactions to the thoughtful design of guest rooms.

Ultimately, you want to establish a brand that isn’t just attracting customers… but loyal guests and enthusiastic advocates. Your brand advocates will share their positive experiences with friends, family, and colleagues, amplifying the hotel’s reach and influence through word-of-mouth marketing. Their advocacy serves as a powerful endorsement, instilling trust and credibility in potential guests and attracting new customers to the hotel. Moreover, brand advocates often engage with the hotel on social media, leaving glowing reviews and sharing user-generated content, further enhancing the brand’s visibility and reputation.

A Final Word

The early integration of branding considerations into independent hotel projects is not merely a matter of aesthetics; it’s a strategic imperative with far-reaching implications. From establishing a unique identity and guiding strategic direction to fostering flexibility, gaining a competitive advantage, and ensuring long-term sustainability, branding plays a pivotal role in every aspect of a hotel’s development and operation.

When hotel owners recognize the importance of branding from the outset and involve branding experts at every stage of the process, independent hotels can set themselves up for a much greater chance of success.

Jeremy Wells

Partner at Longitude°

Jeremy is the author of Future Hospitality and Brand Strategist at Longitude°. As a member of the Education Committee for The Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) and a content contributor to Cornell University’s Hospitality Vision and Concept Design graduate program, he is a committed thought leader in hotel branding, concepting, and experience strategy.