Commentary

Why Hotel Brands Are 'No Shows' On Customer Engagement

Of the leading “Experience Brands” featured in Group XP’s study quantifying the financial value of exceptional, 360º brand experience, one major industry is a surprising “no show” on GXP’s Top 30 list: hospitality.

The irony, of course, is that few brands literally own their customers’ total experience for extended periods of time as completely as hotels and resorts do. Yet no hotel brand has made GXP’s Experience Index’s Top 30 list since its initial report in 2016.

1Pampers (-)147.5416YouTube (NEW +15)118.65
2Facebook (+3)13917Ecover (+2)117.92
3PayPal (-)137.5618adidas (+8)115.77
4Disney (-2)134.6119OMO (+3)115.32
5FedEx (+8)127.820Coca-Cola (NEW +17)114.97
6Google (+1)126.3621Microsoft (NEW +14)114.17
7Apple (-1)125.7322McDonald's (NEW +10)114
8UPS (+1)125.5723Colgate (-2)113.76
9IKEA (-1)124.3524eBay (NEW +9)113.7
10DHL (-6)124.0625IBM (-)113.23
11Visa (-1)121.5626Tesla (-6)113.05
12Samsung (+5)120.6227Ferrari (+3)112.26
13Huggies (-1)120.5528Gillette (NEW +8)111.39
14Amazon (+2)120.0629Mercedes Benz (-1)111.21
15Nike (-4)120.0630BMW (-7)110.42

So we followed the thread to e-context, the world's largest general semantic text classification engine. E-context was asked to comprehensively scour the digital landscape for conversations on hospitality and the major hospitality brands. The most prominent results: “Rewards,” “Rates” and “Coupons,” a sure sign of commoditization.

Perhaps Simmons Research offered the most succinct and revealing statistic of all: Domestic U.S. respondents who stayed in a hotel this past year indexed at a virtually flat 102 when it came to choosing brand vs. price. That’s the statistical equivalent of “meh.”

What’s up with that?

In today’s “age of experience,” the holy grail for brands worldwide is to identify and mine the emotional/rational connection that links customers to their products, services and shareholders — and to do it effectively across an ever-expanding array of experiential touchpoints.

Why have the great global hotel brands failed to master this objective?

A logical place to begin is to identify what it means to make an emotional connection with clients and customers so they will consistently choose, use, rave and return to one's brand.

The most foundational way to understand emotional connection and to align with consumers as “whole humans,” is to recognize what determines their emotional predisposition.

In a recent Columbia University study to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers have identified “character strengths” as a universal hybrid tag that can be used to align consumers to content and ads. 

Character strengths are the most comprehensively researched taxonomy of values from positive psychology, and “character-fit” has been shown to be predictive of purchasing behavior.

For hospitality brands, the key is to match the character of the property (brand) experience to the individual guest (consumer), wherever, whenever and however possible.  


Aligning Hotel Experience & Guests’ Character Strengths:

Character strengths include personality dispositions like bravery, fairness, prudence, love, appreciation of beauty and excellence and curiosity. Most of us engage the world around us through five such character strengths that make up our personalities. For example, a guest strong in prudence would appreciate nothing more than a minimalist deal, while the guest strong in appreciation of beauty and excellence will pay twice as much for the right ambiance.

What both guests have in common is their proclivity to rave and return almost four times more than the average guest, according to at least one study. There are digital mappings of where to find others like them.

A suggestion for hospitality brands of all sizes might be to find the right character fit between property, room, amenities and guests as part of the brand experience in itself, to create one that's personally meaningful and worth seeking out again and again.

GXP would further advise tighter brand portfolio management to ensure clear, relevant differentiation, based on well-defined franchise character standards.

There are lessons to be learned here for all of us. The opportunities to build better emotional connectivity between brand and customer through exceptional experience have never been more prolific or intriguing.

It’s time for the hotel industry to schedule its own wake-up call.

4 comments about "Why Hotel Brands Are 'No Shows' On Customer Engagement".
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  1. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, November 19, 2018 at 12:41 p.m.

    This is an interesting article to me for the reason that it calls into question the whole premise of "experience brands" and the concepts of "character fit" and the "emotional/rational conncection" of brands and customer personalities. Several research studies are cited but apparentaly with inconclusive results or explanations of what is happening. 

    Of course there are some practical reasons why the hotel industry is somewhat immune from these considerations. For example, location is often the most important factor in hotel selection. Also, hotels are normally licensing the brand and there can be some inconsistecy between properties of the same brand. Pricing among properties of the same brand is subject to various influences. Etc., etc. 

  2. Hayes Roth from HA Roth Consulting LLC replied, November 21, 2018 at 4:33 p.m.

    [Re-posting my response as it seems to have been lost]. Ron-- very much appreciate your thoughtful comments. Unfortunately space didn't allow for us to elaborate beyond what you read. As for the data, we'll stand by it and happy to share the larger studies. However you are correct in that one of the core challenges for the hospitality industry is that so many of the great chains don't actually own the facilities they brand. Can make it very difficult to completely "own" an experience delivered by non-employees in space you don't fully control. Another problem is that, for most of us, even the booking relationship is owned by a third party-- be it Expedia, Travelocity or the like. So creating and nurturing a differentiating and emotionally engaging brand experience with target customers becomes a difficult gauntlet to run consistently and persuasively.

  3. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, November 21, 2018 at 4:59 p.m.

    Thanks Hayes for your response. We may not be that far apart. I am a real contrarian about  the concept of "experience" (and related variations), especially when it comes to retailing, where people seem to think retail stores need to focus on aspects of entertainment and/or hospitality to help draw customers and keep thiem in the store. 

    The key aspects of a good retail experience (well organized and presented merchandise, knowledgeable staff readily available to counsel and answer questions, easy check out, nice interior decor, etc.) are not being addressed and improved as they should be. 

  4. Hayes Roth from HA Roth Consulting LLC replied, November 21, 2018 at 5:28 p.m.

    You’re right— we’re not at opposing ends here. And there’s no question that “brand experience” has joined the realm of marketing ”buzz” vocabulary in recent years, though I don’t think that entirely negates it’s relevance. In fact, as you point out, “relevance” is the key to effective brand engagement and experience and still the too often elusive goal of everything we strive to achieve in this business.

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