The conversation about branding is usually heavy on mystical mumbo-jumbo, and light on practical advice.
Spending time at the Westin in Denver this week I was surrounded by a real world example of what it takes to build a brand today. I thought I’d share it in the context of a clear, actionable, and simple explanation of what you need to do to build your brand, right now.
Ready? 3 things.
Reflect on your customer.
Step one is to think hard about who your customer is, and why you matter to them. Westin’s customer is probably a middle-aged, moderately affluent male or female manager or executive, someone who spends a lot of time on the road for business and travels for pleasure as well.
Westin’s rational value proposition for these folks is straightforward: A good place to stay for business. Delivering on that promise is the foundation of Westin’s success… the hotels are well designed and well kept, the rooms clean and modern, the service and food are great, desktops and wifi are abundant, and I can access it all conveniently and easily through whatever device I have in my hand. Delivering all of that consistently around the world isn’t easy, but at least the need to do so is clear.
The first branding failure point is the failure to apply the right level of executive leadership and front-line execution to deliver on an emotional value proposition, often because a company is so consumed by the struggle to deliver on a rational one.
If your product sucks, or your team does, your brand will not save you. Quite the reverse.
Amateurs treat their brand like contact paper, like a veneer that sells particle board at a profit, like lipstick for a pig. That doesn’t work, and it’s the reason branding gets a bad name.
Professionals know your brand lives out there, in the hearts and minds of individual human beings you have and want to have as your customers. It’s the reaction to you; the collective emotional response to your name, your logo, your identity.
Brands live on the emotional plane of customer experience. They’re built on foundation cornerstones of customer understanding, product quality, insight on the potential to add emotional value, and leadership from executive management in doing so.
Simplify your brand promise.
Every business has a range of viable options for their emotional value proposition, what Don Draper types call their “brand promise.”
The second branding failure point is the failure to decide on a single, simple brand promise for your customer… to evaluate the full range of options and pick one that is true, relevant, motivating, and distinct from those chosen by your competition.
Look… there’s no magic in this. Brainstorm a bunch of ideas with some smart and creative people, then pick one that seems right based on the criteria above. Check with a few customers to make sure they respond to it in the way you think they will, and then focus on it, explicitly.
By “focus” I mean two things here. First, I mean expressing your choice clearly and simply, as something you and everyone on your team can remember, share, and deliver in the details of every customer touch point. Second, I mean doing so at the exclusion of the other candidates from your brainstorm.
Westin’s brand promise meets these criteria. It’s probably something like this:
Westin helps me take care of myself on the road.
How do I know this? Well… it’s what I feel when I stay at a Westin. And that’s no accident.
Deliver it consistently.
My experience at the Westin in Denver mirrors my experience at the Westins in Boston, Chicago, Sydney, and Tokyo.
The lobbies are stylish but not grand, the bed is great, the people are kind, the colors and textures are consistent. That’s all rational value prop, and I KNOW (rational) that it’s there. But what I FEEL (emotional) in every one of those locations is that Westin actually cares about me.
Don’t all hospitality brands claim that? Well, no. Most hospitality brands don’t care about me, they care about something else. Here are 30 actual travel and hospitality brand taglines that prove it:
A very good place to be.
A world of wonders.
Across the street from the ordinary.
Beauty has an address.
Choose your travel partner wisely.
Discover the unexpected.
Everything except excess.
Hospitality beyond borders.
Kingdom of wonder.
Live like a king.
Love the land, Live the life.
Once is not enough.
One state, many worlds.
Pleasing people the world over.
See what a difference a stay makes.
So much more.
The best surprise is no surprise.
The land of wonders.
The sunny side of life.
The travel destination.
There’s more to celebrate.
Tourism is life.
Twice the comfort. Twice the value.
Where dreams come to life.
Where hospitality meets the bay.
Here’s Westin’s ubiquitous tagline:
For a better you.
Again, that’s not their brand promise, just another touchpoint where their brand promise is delivered.
Taglines are a particularly easy touchpoint to ignore. Customers are inured to them, because they’re so often bullshit.
When a tagline encapsulates a brand promise a customer experiences again and again, though, when it captures something customers can feel authentically in their interaction with a brand, it becomes more than marketing bullshit.
The third branding failure point is a failure of communications discipline in the delivery of the same brand promise at every point of contact with the customer.
Over the course of my stay here, I took a picture of every touchpoint with the Westin brand. Individually, I probably wouldn’t notice them. If they were all different, I certainly wouldn’t beleive them. But collectively? Consistently?
Here are the pictures I took:
Westin wants me to take care of myself on the road. That makes me feel good. It makes me want to come back.
That’s all branding is, folks. Get to work on yours.