Dog-Gone Good Hotel Marketing
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | December 18, 2009
Don't you love how every industry has its own language? Buzzwords that insiders use to make what they do sound as though it is something new and mysterious. Computer gurus talk about RAMs, WANs, and gigabytes. Financial experts tout SmallCaps, IPOs, and Leaps. Hoteliers banter back and forth about rack rates, REVPAR, and room blocks. And marketing folks? Well, we toss about AIDA, Positioning, and TOMA as part of our secret lingo. And, of course, one of the hottest buzzwords in the marketing dictionary is Branding.
Branding. It's a term that carries an image for the guest and means equity for the hotel. Yet not too many of us really understand how this thing called branding works. Branding isn't new and it certainly isn't mysterious. In fact, it dates back more than a hundred years to when Ivan Pavlov won a Nobel Prize for his research into branding. What, you say? Pavlov? Wasn't he the guy with the dog and the bell?
Exactly. Day after day, Ivan Pavlov would ring a bell and, at the same time, he would rub meat paste onto the tongue of a dog. In time, the dog came to associate the taste of the meat with the sound of the bell so that it would salivate every time it heard the bell – even without tasting the meat paste. In other words, salivation became the dog's conditioned response. In psychological terms, this is implanting an associative memory. In marketing terms. It is branding.
Branding, then, is simply the implantation of an associative memory in combination with a recall cue. Now that we know what it is, the next question – and really the important one to your bottom line – is, how do we do it?
Successful branding requires three essentials. The first is consistency. Pavlov would never ring the bell without giving the dog food and he would never give the dog food without ringing the bell. The two elements became the ham and eggs, the 'burger and fries, the ying and yang of the association. You couldn't have one without the other; they went together. It is the same in marketing. The message your hotel sends out has to be consistent. One of the easiest ways to do this is to build your ad campaign around a theme that can be used across media. Look at the success of the Taco Bell Chihuahua. That little dog helped establish the Taco Bell brand as a fun, causal, inexpensive place for Mexican food. The AFLAC duck, the Nike swoosh, and long porch of the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island, Michigan are likewise winners.
The second key is frequency. Day after day, and week after week, Pavlov would ring the bell and rub the meat paste on the dog's tongue until the dog formed the associative memory. To establish your hotel brand in the consumers' minds, you have to do the same thing. Creatively repeating your message has become even more important in this digital over-saturated communicated business environment. Consumers are hit with thousands of brand impressions each day, from TV commercials to brand logos on clothing. You have to break through that clutter to be heard and seen. While there is a host of other creative aspects that go into making a message memorable, without frequency, you have little chance of firmly establishing your hotel's brand.