Let’s talk about “Brand Essence.”
Brand Essence derives from a brand-business’ Brand Promise. To be relevantly differentiated, every brand-business must have a Brand Promise. Brand Promise defines the relevant, differentiating, trustworthy expected brand experience the brand-business will deliver time after time. Brand Promise describes what a brand is intended to stand for in the mind of a specific group of customers.
The Brand Essence is essentially a short-hand, compelling way in which to communicate the Brand Promise Internally. For example, Forever Young was the Brand Essence for McDonald’s Brand Promise. But, it also served as a rallying cry for employees around the world.
Brand Essence must capture the motivating intent of the Brand Promise and the true core of the brand-business.
Sadly, as a phrase, Brand Essence is developing a bad reputation. Brand Essence is marred by many marketers’ mismanagement of their brand-businesses’ relevant differentiation. There is also the issue with marketing itself: a function that has devolved from a profession into a trade. Marketing has, unfortunately, become the trade of managing and executing marketing communications.
One of the worst industries for Brand Essence mismanagement is the hotel industry. As noted in The Wall Street Journal recently, there are “Zillions of Hotel Brands Now.” And, as noted, the growth of these brands are really designed to keep owners (who franchise the hotels) happy. Happier franchisees, happier – more profitable – brand-business owners.
Hotel brand-business owners, such as Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and IHG, all defend the numerous brands as satisfying guest needs. The hotel executives support the explosion of hotel brands by saying that each one has its own Brand Essence. But, a closer look at the brand-businesses provides little, if any, significant relevant differentiation.
The Wall Street Journal highlights a new entry from Hilton called Spark. As we pointed out earlier this year, Spark is a new hotel brand in Hilton’s Elevated Essentials group of hospitality offerings. The Elevated Essentials category comprises Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton and Spark by Hilton. The overarching description of the Elevated Essentials group is “Signature amenities and services in all the places you want to be.” This is a description based on features, not on benefits, emotional or social rewards.
Hilton executives interviewed for Wall Street Journal reporting rave about Spark by Hilton. But, as one professor in hospitality stated, the more fractionated the hotel brand-businesses become, the more guests face a “confusing sea of sameness.”
For example, here is a snapshot of the brands in Hilton’s Elevated Essentials portfolio:
Spark by Hilton
Spark by Hilton: “Practically inspired. Simply delightful. A budget-friendly stay offering the best of everything you need, done just the way you want.”
Spark by Hilton’s elements are: thoughtful simplicity, reliable service, unexpected touches and consistent quality.
Hilton Garden Inn
Hilton Garden Inn: “Offering upscale accommodations and unexpected amenities to open up the brighter side of travel and out the best in you.”
“Our goal is to make your stay better and brighter. If something isn’t just the way you like it, simply let any hotel team member know, and we’ll make it right. Guaranteed.”
Hampton by Hilton
Hampton by Hilton: “Always delivering an exceptional experience you deserve with thoughtful service, free hot breakfast and a warm, friendly smile. Every time.”
Every Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites is committed to the 100% Hampton Guarantee providing an exceptional guest experience and consistent, high-quality accommodations and amenities.”
Tru by Hilton
Tru by Hilton: “With free pancake breakfast, a playful lobby packed with games and cozy nooks, and fun-sized rooms, you’ll get true comfort and more value.”
“At Tru, we’re rethinking hotel design to deal in trade-ups, not trade-offs. That means more space to spark creativity, more opportunities for connection and thoughtfully redesigned guest rooms that concentrate on comfort. Add in a must-see lobby and you’ve found your favorite cost-conscious hotel.”
What are the relevant differentiation of these brand-businesses? No wonder, people think Brand Essence is a marketing throw-away term.
Brand Essence is so much more important than the hotel industry appears to understand. Here is a true story about how Brand Essence actually works to guide all thought and action on behalf of a brand-business:
In the late 1980s, after its privatization by the Thatcher administration, British Airways (BA) reinvented the trans-Atlantic flying brand experience. Under the stewardship of Sir Colin Marshall and a first rate marketing group, BA made some big decisions about how it wanted passengers to feel about the BA total brand experience throughout the entire customer journey.
BA created a Brand Promise and Brand Essence for each service class. BA decided to focus on highly profitable business travelers who travel frequently back-and-forth over the Atlantic Ocean.
BA recognized the limitations of what can be delivered in-flight after people are fed and settled in for the trip. And, eastbound flights to the UK tend to be overnight flights, so most people try to sleep.
With this reality, BA turned to the on-ground experience, particularly the branded BA lounges. The idea: Start your journey by experiencing BA’s hospitality before you even step into the plane; differentiate the classes of service by lounges providing different levels of catering. End your journey refreshed and ready to go to work by showering, having clothes pressed and proper breakfast.
A 1993 BA booklet available in BA lounges, titled –Step into a new world, It’s the Way we make business travellers feel that makes us the world’s favourite – defined the new business class, first class and Concorde class services. The Brand Essence and Brand Promise for each service class are extrapolated from the brochure:
• Club World (Business)
Brand Essence: Time to think. Time to relax.
Brand Promise: Why? Because you need time to prepare yourself for business.
We offer you a new world of service and comfort in Club World—in the air and on the ground.
• First Class
Brand Essence: Space to sleep. Space to unwind.
Brand Promise: Why? Important decisions affecting your company’s future? Sleep on them.
Our First Class service is now truly in a class of its own. We give you space to take time out from your hectic business life. We give you time to reflect before you act.
Brand Essence: Speed—the conquest of time.
Brand Promise: Why? Concorde recognizes the value of your time.
Concorde creates more time for you. Depart London 10:30am arrive New York 9:20am.
Brand-businesses are promises of relevant and differentiated experiences. The total brand experience (functional, emotional, and social relative to its costs – price, time and effort) defines the relevant distinctiveness of the brand. A Brand Essence is how to easily, persuasively and powerfully communicate this relevant differentiation.
Having brand-businesses that are undifferentiated are neither consumer-focused nor brand-business healthy. As one Marriott loyal user told The Wall Street Journal, “his recent stay was a perhaps SpringHill Suites or a Residence Inn,” he was not certain.
Egregious Brand Promise and Brand Essence overlap or genericization is detrimental to the health of the brand-business portfolio. This type of marketing mismanagement can lead to customers perceiving brand-businesses as commodities with no relevant differentiation, putting enduring profitable growth at risk.