The issue of brand differentiation (or rather lack of) among hotel operators is a key industry challenge that is examined in our new in-depth report on branded residences, “Branded Residences: An Overview“. Below Laura Powell, Luxury Editor at Skift, highlights the same issue.
Why don’t luxury travel brands resonate among consumers the way that high-end fashion or automobile brands do? As we report in today’s top story, according to Interbrand’s new and closely watched ranking of the world’s top brands, luxury travel names don’t make it into the Top 100.
Now there are some methodological reasons for the exclusion. But methodology aside, the study’s finding may suggest that, particularly in the hotel space, brands aren’t doing enough to distinguish themselves from one another. A Ritz-Carlton feels the same as a Four Seasons, which feels the same as a Sofitel. While Asian luxury hotel brands, as a whole, do have a different feel from their North American- and European-based counterparts when compared to each other, most share similar vibes.
Maybe brand-loyal customers would disagree, but to the average consumer, most luxury hotel companies serve up the same product. On the other hand, serious consumers of high-end fashion can easily distinguish between Chanel and Celine, while any gearhead worth his or her salt can spot the difference between a BMW and a Lexus from miles away. But even from close up, it’s difficult to distinguish a luxury hotel brand.
Oftentimes, when big hotel companies acquire brands, they spend a great deal of time internally taking pains to create individual niches for very similar concepts — here’s looking at you, Marriott. “They don’t want to compete with themselves, so they create false divisions,” said luxury branding expert Daniel André Langer. “They define user groups and create products around them — a rational process, but people aren’t rational consumers.” The internal differentiation makes little difference, because the other major hospitality companies are doing the same thing. That’s why, Langer said, “Hotel brands become empty umbrellas. Everything gets hollow because there is no substance” to brand definitions.
For hospitality brands like Marriott and Hilton, which have previously made the list but whose asset-light strategies work against Interbrand’s financial metrics of brand value, building up loyalty offerings could be the key to boosting brand strength.
Laura Powell @dailysuitcase