One benefit (?) of having our kids strewn across the country - one in Clemson, South Carolina; one in Sewanee, Tennessee; and one working in New York City - is that my wife and I have the opportunity to visit and experience lots of hotels.
I am struck by their various branding tactics. (Or sometimes, lack thereof). Don't know if you have noticed or not, but there are lots and lots of choices when it comes to hotels. How do you distinguish one from the other? How do these hotels do things that promote a stronger relationship with their guests? Is there a distinct hotel 'branded experience' with any?
In most all business categories these days, an interesting strategic branding trend is happening - big is bad, and small and intimate are good. In fact, I heard one branding expert exclaim: "It's amazing how much big companies are spending to try and look small."
People don't trust big and impersonal. People relate to and trust small and human-like (There's the ol' 'people believe people' thing again.)
It's a paradox that can definitely be seen in the hotel industry.
Take Hampton Inn - part of the behemoth Hilton Hotel empire.
I stopped by a new Hampton Inn in Morristown, Tennessee on my way to Sewanee last week. (Richmond to Sewanee - one-way - 9.5 hours - Yikes! Requires a one night, bed rest layover - especially when you leave the office at 3 in the afternoon.)
Once I entered the automatic sliding doors at this Hampton Inn, there seemed to be an obvious and strategic message at every point I turned. With all the personal touches, this Hampton Inn seemed dead set on shuttering any 'chain-like' feel. They were more local. More human. Part of the Morristown community.
The key is for the guest not to necessarily SEE the message (as in the old marketing days). But, creatively, guests needed to feel and EXPERIENCE it.
I think this Morristown Hampton Inn has accomplished their goal.
Inside the hotel, everything (and I mean almost everything) reinforced this 'highly personal and approachable' positioning (aka 'strategic branding')
Two energized women in their mid-twenties greeted me as I checked in. These energized ladies informed me that they are students at Walter State Community College and they love working at this Hampton Inn. They seemed genuinely "into it".
The two check-in clerks set a 'tone of voice' that was evident throughout my short overnight stay.
I jumped on the elevator and as the door closes, I am looking straight at a great fun shot of a Golden Retriever with shades and the caption "selfie".
Now how great is that? You just have to smile. Using the 'dead space' on the back of elevator doors to show you have a sense of humor...show that you're....human (even though they are using a canine to do that)
Enter my room and find a note from the maid, "I hope you find that everything is squeaky clean, Doris" Now I am sure that "squeaky" is hardly part of the Hilton corporate lexicon. But, there it is - in all it's human-ness - describing how much effort Doris personally put into making my room as clean as possible. It was like I was a guest at Doris's home.
The sign indicating my room number? Hampton Inn did not miss such an opportunity. Mine had a picture of a downtown crossing found in the middle of Morristown. Yep, this inn did not feel just like another cookie-cutter piece of a hotel chain. They went to the trouble of having each room marked by a different local visual. These signs point to the idea that this hotel - though part of a bigger chain - is an integral part of the local Morristown fabric.
But, here was the real 'kicker' for me.
There, the next morning, on the breakfast buffet was a bunch of personalized bananas.
Personalized bananas. Who has ever heard of such a thing? Wow.
The staff at this Hampton Inn had written on each banana a personal motivation note to help their guests get through their day. In their handwriting. ON the bananas.
"Work Hard, Dream Big"
"It's going to be a great day. Go for it!"
I overheard one of the guest comment to one of the kitchen staff how impressed they were with these personalized positive messaged bananas. The kitchen staff lady responded by saying how much the staff loves doing that every morning and watching the guests' reactions as they reach for their morning banana.
Simple, but genius. Just sheer brand genius.
Now, I loved the clear brand feel that Hampton Inn orchestrated for my stay. My one question - why didn't they carry this humanness feel through on the "outside"?
The week prior to my Hampton Inn stay - when I looked on their web site to book my Morristown room - none of this personal, human feel was there? Photos of a "human-less" Hampton Inns were displayed on their web site . Pics of empty, hotel rooms and people-less eating spaces. Same sterile rooms as the other guys. Now, this felt like 'cookie-cutter.' Where did the 'brand' go? Kind of felt like the old corporate Hilton bigness had taken over their web site in an effort to - one of my least favorite brand directive expressions - 'look more professional'. In other words - indistinguishable from the competition.
To be credible, it all matters. Brand consistency and strategic alignment is mandatory throughout the customer journey - beginning with the search for the hotel.
I would suggest that their exterior brand presence is totally out of line with what is truly there. Perhaps, Hampton Inn should check this out because what is going on inside the hotel is terrific. Carry it all the way through.
But here's the real question...
How can you make your organization more human? More approachable?
It is certainly something to think about as being a little more human may mean a lot more personalized and inspired engagement from your customer.
And, isn't that where we all want to check into?
Be brave, go bananas, push your humanness.