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  • Andrew Thacker


Branding & the Guest : Hospitality in Japan series no.3

In 1988 Mr Adrian Zecha opened Amanpuri in Phuket and changed the hotel industry forever. What started out as a holiday home project for a group of friends became a small but perfectly formed hotel brand. If you chat with Mr Zecha about Aman, the one recurring theme is the value of the Aman brand – not the properties, even with the exceptional architecture, but the brand and what it stood for, namely the Aman experience – the discreet luxury, exquisite attention to detail, otherworldly service, famed staff-to-guest ratio, breathtaking locations…


This is the Aman brand, encapsulated in its name, the Sanskrit word for “peace”, but without a professionally designed identity in its early years, or indeed any advertising. Their marketing consisted of a printed newsletter mailed to the “Aman Junkies”, a group of passionate, dedicated, repeat guests who would follow Aman anywhere in the world, and told all their friends about it – even as the rest of the industry grappled with the new digital landscape.

Eventually, inevitably, under new ownership, as more sophisticated, tech savvy competition appeared – who would always reference Aman and “Aman Junkies” in conversation, by the way – they also had to evolve with the times, so now you see a more conventional approach to branding. But the hard work was done, the foundation deep, built on the understanding that a brand was the whole experience, managing every touch point on the guest journey, each step a reflection of the brand vision.


In this respect, Mr Zecha had a clear brand strategy. He may not  have gone through the kind of formal branding process the rest of us need to work through, but then he is an outlier, the exception to the rule, that extraordinary individual with a singular vision who understood implicitly the power of the brand, and built his business accordingly

If explaining branding was simple, there would not be so much ambiguity around it. A good understanding of branding means a good grasp of business, communications, marketing and even human behaviour. A brand strategy, therefore, is the process that defines and articulates all these components into a system that ensures all parts of the brand are working and moving in synchronicity to the same end, like the movement in a Grand Seiko watch.


And if branding is a perpetual process, and a brand is a “living and breathing” entity, then it needs structure to flourish, a framework in which we can first identify who or what the brand wants to be to its stakeholders – its guests, employees, partners, shareholders – and position itself accordingly.


Once positioned, the entire business is then geared to constantly manage everything that influences that positioning. These are the brand assets and the brand promise – the visual identity, content, product, and the experience, customer service, guest relations – and how effectively a brand manages this drives its perception, its reputation, what the public thinks of your brand.


Now, a brand’s reputation, good or bad, develops regardless of whether or not a business does anything about it. Understanding branding and applying it across all business practices means you are trying to take control of what your reputation looks like, so naturally the best time to consider it is at the very beginning.


However, if you’re a little late to the party, there’s no need to panic! Like any great hotel bar, the party goes onlasts for as long as guests are still enjoying the hospitality, and because the process is perpetual, branding, that is proper branding as we now understand it, can be introduced and integrated at any time, in a sensible and reasonable manner, for long term benefit to your business.


Branding increases the value of your product, what your customer is willing to pay for it, and is important to its sustainability, by generating new business and attracting new customer cohorts. A strong brand increases the value of your business, making it more appealing to investors by virtue of its reputation. A strong reputation means a strong brand, which in turns generates value.


This is Brand Equity. It means influence, mind share and often, a premium in price – top of mind = top of wallet! – and becomes an asset in its own right.


A good brand means more business and drives the holy grail of branding – Word Of Mouth. WOM is the spontaneous loyalty and advocacy of your customers because they trust you, they trust your brand to keep the promises it makes to them. And this is not just good for business, it is also good for your business. It builds employee pride, and satisfaction, it builds belief in the hearts and minds of your people, which means they go the extra mile for you – important for any customer facing organisation, but essential for hospitality businesses.

Diagram 2 - The Branding Wheel. This outlines some the key branding components that combine to create your brand, in a perpetual cycles of management, appraisal and evolution, to meet the ever changing needs of your market.

 As ever, we leave you with some things to think about.


The diagram above – branding people love diagrams – outlines the perpetual brand cycle, starting with your understanding of your customer and the market, who they are and what they want. It continues with your brand/business, understanding who you are and what you offer, and then how you engage your guest, what your relationship looks like and how you connect with them. The process turns full circle with your experience, ensuring how you communicate not only represents your brand but also reflects the needs of your guest. And since this is a perpetual process, you continually evaluate your market, how your brand is positioned, the experience you deliver, so your brand is always relevant, and successful!


So, here are your questions:


  • Do you have a clear brand strategy?

  • Does your branding reflect your brand strategy?

  • Do you feel your brand is properly prepared for the future?



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