Implementing Brand Standards as a Pathway to a Memorable Customer Experience

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The Senior Director, Brand Management EMEA at The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group discusses the importance of brand consistency to deliver memorable guest experiences.

We bring brand consistency to life through every single interaction and through the memorable experiences our guests have with our brands, delivered by our people. The interactions are delivered by over 40,000 of our colleagues who live our unique ‘Yes I Can!’ approach to service and quality in each and every one of our hotels.

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Brand consistency ranges from the subtle details of the unique, thoughtful set-up in the room to offering of our Super Breakfast at Radisson Blu hotels in the morning, from the guests’ ease of access to complimentary WIFI at all of our hotels, to great meetings & events experiences, and from the benefits of technology through, for example, our OneTouch App to the basic expectations of cleanliness and a good night’s sleep.

Our ability to deliver consistent brand experiences across our global portfolio of hotels is the foundation for our colleagues to deliver memorable guest experiences. Without strong consistent brands our guest experience will always fall short. To help us do this, we now have a team of Area Brand Directors in each of our area support offices who are the "guardians of our brands".

Developing a Guest Centric Culture

Any quality and guest experience programme is only effective when directly linked with employee engagement and our active listening to the voice of our guest. Across the industry we excel at the measurement of brand consistency touchpoints and capturing the voice of our guests with our brand survey and through a social sentiment aggregate.

Where few brand consistency, quality and guest experience programmes succeed is the ability to implement processes that help to action the guest feedback swiftly to drive performance improvement and address areas of opportunity.

The continuous improvement cycle must be linked to employee rewards across the matrixed organisations, all the way to the executive committee level. To use a clichê, what gets measured gets done, and more importantly holding people across organisational layers accountable for guest experience and brand consistency drives and delivers results.

I’d like to believe we’ve moved past the need to convince our boards that outstanding guest experience and brand consistency yield stronger business results. The next step is to ensure that guest experience goals are equally weighted in their importance as our people engagement and financial targets, all together underpinned by responsible business.

Developing a guest centric culture is critical. The synchronisation of brands, people, our guests and responsible business operation sets a strong foundation to building customer loyalty.

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Implementing Brand Consistency

For strong brands, consistency is a balance between the freedom within a framework and control.

For example, freedom to deliver stylish, iconic and sophisticated design across our Radisson Blu hotels within a carefully crafted design framework that allows flexibility in response to local market needs.

Or transferring the open-minded ‘Yes I Can!’ service philosophy of the Park Inn by Radisson hotel brand into a friendly, vibrant and uncomplicated atmosphere.

Equally we must maintain control through the consistent use of our core brand assets and the consistent use of our logos across all channels and partner communications. The biggest opportunity is to align the brand voice across all guest touchpoints.

The look and feel of the brand must be same in our online communications, for example, our localized hotel wedding toolkits, the booking websites, to brand assets displayed through our partners and affiliates.

Overcoming Design and Output Challenges

You have to be clear on how you will deal with non-compliance and implement accountability processes across all levels of the organisation to drive improvement. The measurement of the guest experience and brand consistency is the easy part.

Designing such programmes is comparatively straightforward next to the governance of the programs, the required culture shift needed to place the guest at the heart of what we do across all sections of the business. The follow up accountability processes needed to drive improvement is the challenge.

Formulate a belief by which brand consistency and the guest experience are everyone’s priority. Know your customer and have a strategy – this may seem simple but challenge yourself to let go of past beliefs and ground your strategy in recent robust research.

A selfish view perhaps, however a detailed guest-centric stakeholder mapping exercise, an illustration of the processes, people and systems, engagement points across the customer journey will prove priceless. The output will show the link to guest experience across most if not all relevant business functions.

Incentivise the desired behaviour, for example stop building incentives around the pass or fail of a quality inspection rather the hotel’s ability to address deficiencies through management action planning post the visit. Incentivise improved consistency over time vs. a single snapshot.

How to Build Effective Brand Standards

There is a natural tendency to view brand standards as something that is owned by the brand team. Soon you end up with hundreds of brand standards to measure and often very little follow up. The less is more mantra applies to brand standards – help those who deliver the branded experiences each day focus on doing few things exceptionally and consistently well.

In principle you must treat all standards to be of equal importance. Be clear about which function of the business is accountable to improve compliance levels of a particular standard.

For example, digital marketing standards, human resource, training standards, accounting, information security, etc. all have content business owners. Hold the brand standard owners across the business accountable for the performance of the standard (compliance levels), in doing so, it’s incredible how effectively one can streamline and improve.

More broadly speaking, the effectiveness of brand consistency starts with building a strong culture where everybody knows what our guests are telling us, we are clear on the actions we must take to improve, and our colleagues are empowered to deliver for our guests. Brands no longer have customers, rather brands belong to the customers and they personally choose the strength of their love of a brand.

Brand Consistency as a Driver for Customer Advocacy

You have to manage expectations, be clear about what the brand is and is not, what it does and does not do. Then deliver on that promise. Customer advocacy in any company is not easy; to do what is right for the customer is intuitive and easy to say, in reality very difficult to do if customer experience as an objective is second to financial performance or growth targets. And to manage expectations, improved customer experience in a vacuum alone is not a silver bullet if the improvement doesn’t link to stronger returns.

Although we’ve spoken about guest and customer experience, brand consistency, the output measurement of ultimate success in my view is customer loyalty linked with profitability. Nurturing a loyal customer for life. When I hear people say "I love that brand", my ears perk up and I want to know more. Who, what, how and why. Anytime a brand develops an emotional connection as strong as "love" – job done!

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Brand management does not happen in the corporate office, at the store, the outlet, or the hotel, it happens when one of our colleagues engages our guest, when a guest enjoys an incredible meal, has the best meetings experience, or simply lays down for a good night’s sleep. In those everyday moments it is when "brand management" comes to life.

Any work to future proof a brand, specifically during the pilot stage must always have voice of our operations and the guest, otherwise it will fall short on implementation and most likely will not resonate with the target guest.