The brands are coming! Their arrival has been evident in our supermarkets and on the main streets of our towns and cities for some time now. It started as a trickle, led by the makers and the retailers of consumer goods, but it has more recently become a fast moving torrent that races headlong through almost every business and walk of life. In certain respects, it has come later to the hospitality world than to many others but now that it has arrived it is clearly planning to stay.
Make for the high ground! For many in the industry, it is something to be
viewed uneasily as it threatens to burst its banks and overwhelm everything that
stands in its way. Others are out constructing canals and reservoirs. For us,
branding offers something new and exciting; a fresh flow of ideas that will bring
renewed direction and vigour to our business.
So, to brand or not to brand? This is just one of the questions facing Irish
business owners in 2003 as we regard the landscape and consider our choices.
Any unease that we may feel in the matter is readily understood. The B-word
has been bandied about a great deal during the last few years and has been blamed
(most famously in Naomi Klein’s recent book No Logo) for some of the worst
excesses of globalisation. It is often presented as invasive, almost colonial, in its
intent, something that we are particularly sensitive to on this island. (Ironically
perhaps, two of the more prolific brands sweeping hospitality in the UK – Jury’s Inns
and O’Brien’s Sandwich Bars – are Irish).
Branding too is often associated with a cookie cutter approach to business and
thanks to the efforts of brands such as the global burger chains it can seem to offer
only faceless uniformity and hopeless mechanical repetition (albeit whilst helping to
deliver huge profits).
Smoke and mirrors! At times, it can seem to be nothing more than a navel-
gazing exercise that promises much and delivers little, or at least little of any
Finally, our unease probably owes a great deal to our native resistance to some
of the worst excesses of marketing-speak, particularly that which has its origins on
Madison Avenue. For some of us, the recent fuss about brand culture seems to
provide yet more evidence of US-style marketing gone mad.
Brand As Opportunity
But branding is too valuable a tool to be dismissed out of hand. It is vital to the
good management of reputation and relationships. Consider any of the great
businesses – including the independents and the family-owned – and you will see a
great brand at work. The great business leaders use it intuitively and
unselfconsciously. Like all tools, it can be pressed into service in a variety of ways.
Used properly, branding offers a business the opportunity to marshal its resources,
play to its strengths and gain significant competitive advantage.
It is a tool that can be used to great effect in those areas where it is difficult to
offer something truly distinctive and influence choice. We have seen how brands
such as Kelly’s of Rosslare and Derry Clarke’s L’Ecrivain can offer their owners the
opportunity to own a niche in a fiercely competitive market. For businesses
operating in hospitality and tourism branding offers a powerful way forward.
Brand Influencing Choice
As we have seen, during these past ten years, the hospitality and tourism
landscape in which hotels and restaurants operate has changed almost beyond
recognition. These years have seen huge growth, both in terms of market size and
choice, and this growth has been matched by considerable investment at all levels.
As a result, we can truly say that the customer is spoiled for choice. At the same
time, recent events internationally and at home have contributed to a falling market
(although certain parts of that market, e.g. the leisure break, have typically
remained strong). In the current climate, hotels and restaurants in Ireland are now
faced both with opportunities for further growth and with significant challenges to
Where the customer is spoiled for choice, many of the features and benefits
that are on offer are no longer influential. In a market where there are few functional
differences between products or services, the customer choice is driven largely by
emotional factors. What you do has become less important, it merely brings you into
play. What increasingly influences choice are the values that drive your business, in
other words, who you are, what you stand for and how you deliver.
And yet, for many hotels and restaurants, product features and functional
benefits continue to provide the basis for all marketing and communications.
Say something! Anything! Think of the rash of advertisements and directories
where hotels and restaurants slavishly list the central location, the number of
rooms, the genuine hospitality and the fusion cuisine that fail to distinguish one
offer from the next.
Clearly, something extra is required in order to gain competitive advantage. A
distinct and well-defined identity gives a business something significant to say to
the market whilst providing a clear blueprint for the development of all
Brand Driving Strategy
Branding as an activity is seen principally in marketing and communications but
its effect is soon felt throughout the business. In addition to giving a business
something to say about itself, the identity of a business provides it with both
purpose and direction.
In order to successfully make any business stronger than the sum of its parts, it
is vital that the organisation support and direct its business and management
strategy through the development of a strong brand identity that enables it to
establish a clear, compelling and competitive presence in the marketplace.
In business people buy people and good business management is primarily
concerned with the effective management of business reputation and relationships.
This is especially true of hotels and restaurants.
At the same time, the business identity enables the team to accurately reflect
the long-term goals of the business (particularly in terms of positioning and
behaviour) whilst helping to drive the business strategy to achieve those goals.
Central to this role for the brand (and to the strategic and management
decisions that this prompts) is the requirement for a robust brand model that
enables the business to manage the identity and which is able to withstand the wide
range of demands that are being made on it by the various business functions.
Active management of the identity using a brand model or framework enables
the business to make a clear statement of intent and focuses all effort on the
achievement of business goals in a consistent and credible way. It also delivers
economies of money, time and effort as it streamlines decision-making throughout
Brand Delivering Benefits
What then does branding deliver to the hotel or restaurant business?
– It enables the business to build its reputation, manage its relationships
(especially its relationships with its customers) and play to its strengths.
– It levels the playing field. One of the beauties of brand development is that
the small business is at least as well equipped as the national or global chain to
build and maintain reputation and relationships (albeit at a more modest level).
– It provides a guiding principle and organising framework for the business and
takes the guesswork out of business decisions relating to relationship management
– It allows business owners to make a clear statement of intent with regard to
their business direction and behaviour. It offers a common language for the
business team and a means by which they can readily describe what they do and
what makes them different.
– It enables a business to lead through its values and enables business owners
to trust to the intuitive leadership that distinguishes many of the great businesses.
– It makes for fresh and compelling communications that engage the customer
and provide a basis for long term business relationships.