As we career into the latter stages of 2017, the trends and buzzwords of the year are becoming ever more apparent. One concept that is firmly on the list, and only appears to be growing in momentum, is brand-customer experience. Experience isn’t confined to one industry or another; its ubiquity only strengthens the case for its necessity within brand strategy, as companies try to differentiate from the competition and gain that fundamental customer retention. When investigating the key drivers of growth and development within the hospitality and they all pertained to improving experience.
But what exactly is brand experience? A more formal definition is provided by the American Marketing Association, wherein they state “brand experience is conceptualized as sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli. Such stimuli appear as part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.” For those without a marketing degree, and probably some that do, the jargon associated with experience can be a little confusing. Essentially, as the number of options and brands increases and with the continuous introduction of new technology, the expectations and demands of consumers have reached an all-time high. It is no longer viable for businesses to rely on communications, moreover, it is the customer journey as a whole and the positive or negative impression the consumer forms during this process that dictates a consumer’s opinion.
And how does this relate to hospitality? Hospitality is a sector that has always been reliant on positive customer experience, recommendations and word of mouth. However, now more than ever, if companies want to survive, they have to go above and beyond to provide for their consumers. An interesting revelation made by Deloitte in their Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook report for 2017 is the impact of everyday brands such as Starbucks, Amazon & Seamless on consumer perceptions of the industry. Though on first consideration there may not be an obvious link between purchasing a coffee and booking a flight, it is the frequent contact consumers have with the Starbucks of the world, which often get to showcase their level of service and innovation to consumers daily, that are driving up expectations across all service led industries. Although your consumer may only be booking a hotel room three times or even once a year, they are used to the streamlined service of purchasing, receiving and eating a pizza in a matter of 30 minutes to an hour. Therefore, hospitality needs to ensure it is also streamlined. We’re seeing this in some forms already, mainly fuelled through the use of new technologies. Self-check-ins, self-scans, easy online interfaces for bookings are all becoming commonplace. As we become more mobile-tech dependant brands can take this a step further and harness the power of Bluetooth through the use of beacons. This is a means of sending a push notification when consumers are within a certain range of a location, this could be a restaurant highlighting there menu, or a bar with a two for one drinks incentive. Geo-technology is not exactly new in comparison to other techs, but its capabilities within marketing strategy still have the ability to be leveraged further.
But technological capabilities go beyond a simple check-in, and more and more it is the behaviours that can be predicted from technology use that brands need to be focusing on. There’s no doubt that data has become a brand’s best friend, and this extends to travel and hospitality. Ever improving CRM allows brands to collate greater depth of information on their consumers, and can reduce the amount of time required for administrative tasks. Data can be pooled from a range of sources including online search behaviour, air traffic, competitor sales and future reservations to better forecast requirements and demand. This has the positive knock-on effect of improving guest experience, as their needs are observed and actioned upon before they necessarily know themselves. Personalisation and custom-recommendations are becoming expected and necessary for brands to stay ahead, consumers want “authenticity, personalization, removal of friction, and on-demand functionality in their travel experiences.” According to Deloitte, and this is only going to increase.
With this in mind, investment in technology, data, and individuals that are able to interpret key trends and analyse is crucial for ongoing or newfound success. Personalisation is the best way to capture consumer’s hearts, but wants and needs are constantly adapting so brands can’t afford to be passive when rolling out strategy. They should always be looking for new ways to enhance the customer journey, looking to the big players within the services industry that consumers base their perceptions on so they can improve brand experience.