What is your Brand Message?

16th Oct 2006

By John R. Hendrie Hospitality Performance

It is a good bet, “Dollars to Doughnuts”, that somewhere in your advertising and marketing, as you define your Brand, you use the term “Quality”. 

That is very reassuring, except, what does that term mean for Hospitality, much less Retail?  You may declare that you have a quality product or quality service or just plain utilize quality as a modifier.  We all use it. It is a comforting word, been around for years, and it has value, because “Quality” is good and a basic expectation for the Consumer.

The term “Quality” is not enough, however, because everyone has a different take on the definition, and, unless you explicitly define what you mean, it brings little distinction to your Brand.  That is what it is all about - differentiation.

If you brought three groups into a room - Management, Staff and Consumers, and asked each group, separately, to list and define the word “Quality”, this exercise would result in three very different sheets and laundry list of definitions.  Quite a disconnect!


Management may have framed their “Quality” message around an ambitious statement on service; the Staff, on the other hand, may have defined the Quality Experience based upon level of amenities.  And, our Visitor and Guest may have interpreted the term as a price point.  So, you now not only have a communications problem but also the possibility that you will not be able to deliver what you have professed within your Brand.  Expectations not met devalue a Brand, and your lack of performance will be broadcast.  The Internet is more powerful than word of mouth, and it can be deadly.

“Quality” is a terrific word - misused, abused and confused, if you leave the definition in the eyes of the beholder. Hospitality is not like other industries, such as Automotive, where “Quality” rings of craftsmanship, reliability and Customer Service, further refined with innovation, design, even speed.  Of course, they also have Standards which have been met.  We do not have Industry Standards, a distressing statement unto itself, although we are as fiercely competitive, proud and protective of our reputation.  But, for us, the term “Quality” can be amorphous.  There are some steps you can take to alleviate this descriptive problem and others within your Brand statement.

As you go through your Strategic Planning process, identifying what your story is in a compelling fashion, even on an informal basis, you do surface Mission and Vision language.  This exercise does not have to be sophisticated, but it absolutely is a requirement to compete.  And, this process requires simple, yet clarifying, words which capture your essence, transformed into a Brand declaration.  Each word needs to be carefully reviewed and considered, crafted to present exactly what you stand for and represent.  To again focus upon the word “Quality”, what do you want the Consumer to understand?  Do you mean Service, then explain what that means.  If it is Product related, what does that mean?  Do not leave the Consumer “wafting”, for the results will haunt you.

The next step is to bring your Staff into the picture, unless they have been part of the process to date, which would be highly preferable.  They are your Ambassadors.  We have learned that the memorable Hospitality Experience is based upon relationship building.  Your staff represents what you have related to the Consumer, so your Ambassadors must be armed, educated and skilled to transform any transaction into a relationship, which does resonate with your definition of “Quality” or for that matter any other expectation you have expressed. Do not let your Ambassadors spout at will what they think. Mixed messages absolutely spell disaster.  Coach them, instill your Brand message, and reward their performance. The communication must be ongoing!

Lastly, your Consumer will tell you exactly whether or not you have delivered on that “Quality” determinant, if you ask them.  Turn them into a partner, request their participation; make them loyal fans.  But, you need to ask them about their Experience.  We are a “wired” society, so the old-fashion Comment Cards have gone the way of the quill and parchment; they are not reliable or timely.  Now, there are means for an immediate response.  Some lodging companies can assess their performance right from check-in; restaurants can receive timely feedback directly from the dining room table.  The technology is available and competitively priced.  “How are we doing?  What do we need to improve?  May we have your suggestions?  And, by the way, thank you for your business.”

We are what we say we are, and that must be translated and delivered throughout the entire time our Guest is with us - the whole time, not just the welcome.  Everything we do is integrated into how we represent ourselves, and we must demonstrate this every minute, through our staff, through our business environs, and certainly through our Brand marketing.  Judiciously define yourself, craft your words carefully, perform with distinction, and prosper. 


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