Branding is a central component and a powerful tool of an effective marketing strategy. It is a long term project that involves communicating the values, the mission and vision of the company to both employees and customers. It is about endowing products and services with the power of a brand. (Kotler p. 241).
A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, design or a combination of these elements intended to identify the products or services of a seller and differentiate them from competitors. “It is among a company’s most valuable assets…more than just products and services…It is what the company does and more importantly what the company is…what it stands for” as Scott Davis in Brand Asset Management states. The brand is the company’s image as seen from the outside.
A successful brand strategy uses various marketing principles and follows certain steps in order to achieve its objectives. It develops a brand identity through which it communicates the values, the mission and the vision of the company with the purpose of building its strength, and then positions the brand in the market place, aiming at a positive perception in the mind of the consumers.
Key concepts to be examined first are the vision, the mission and the values of the brand. The vision starts with understanding the market’s demand and the company’s position. It is the brand’s guiding insight that is shared by all stakeholders and potential consumers. It refers to what the company wants to be in a few years time, what to achieve to target customers and what values are to be delivered for this purpose. The vision can be expressed in a statement around which the customer value culture can be built. Furthermore, before projecting the brand to the outside world it should be adopted by the insiders. Employees need a vision so that they are aware of what to deliver. It is a motivating factor that inspires employees to cooperate, to communicate, to be productive and loyal and consequently generate customer loyalty.
The mission describes the way the brand will act on its insight and refers to the company’s major purpose of existence, to the way it plans to achieve the vision. As far as the core values are concerned, they define what the company stands for, the way it behaves. The values must be characterized by durability and relevance. Furthermore, they should be salient, they should deliver messages that are differentiating and exciting and resonate with the consumer.
Once the company has developed the foundations of its existence in the inside, it projects its image and identity to the outside, to the customers.
A brand identity is not only the name and the logo, but also the overall philosophy and culture behind the brand, a unique set of associations, that are to be created, as well as the way the brand communicates these ideas to the stakeholders. It is the means of consumers’ recognition and the symbol of differentiation from competitors. The brand identity answers questions :
ü about the company’s purpose of existence,
ü its reaction to the competition,
ü about the dreams and goals that are to achieved
ü the company’s target customers, their needs and preferences and the way to be fulfilled by the company
The image is the set of beliefs held about a particular brand. It is an objective perception, an emotional and intellectual response derived either from practical experience or from impressions, attitudes or beliefs on the part of the target audience.
A very important step further is building up the brand’s strength by focusing on four elements: differentiation, relevance, esteem and awareness. Analytically, the branding strategy establishes a competitive advantage e.g. innovation, independence , quality expertise etc and creates the perception that the product or service in the case of the hotels, is something exceptional, unique, differentiated from the competitors’ even if it seems to look very much alike. This differentiated product or service should be relevant and appropriate to the audience the company wants to target and positioned. It must also enjoy high degree of regard in the market place resulting in increased social visibility, esteem and prestige and finally high degree of awareness of the potential consumers, bringing the recognizability the brand wants to achieve. In addition to the above mentioned advantages that a strong brand enjoys, we should also refer to fewer price comparisons on the part of the consumers and the product or service quality, which results in less risk for the buyers. We must not forget that much of the brand value is connected with the ability to lessen consumer risk. High quality brands provide greater risk reduction value for their clients.
The STP process (segmentation, targeting, positioning) is a customer – driven marketing strategy that builds the right relationships for the right customers. Segmentation means dividing the market into distinct groups who might require different products and/or marketing mixes. The company identifies different ways to segment the market and develops profiles of the resulting market segments (Kotler p. 199). Each segment has common characteristics and needs and display similar responses to marketing actions. The purpose of market segmentation is to ensure that the elements of the marketing mix – price, distribution, product and promotion – are designed to meet particular needs of different customer groups (Oxford University Press).
Market segmentation is based on geographic, demographic, psychografic and behavioral characteristics. The geographic segmentation refers to units such as nations, countries, regions, cities etc and to customers with geographical differences and preferences. The demographic segmentation takes into consideration factors such as gender, age, income, occupation, religion, education etc. The psychographic segmentation divides the market into groups according to their social class, lifestyle and personality and finally the behavioral segmentation according to the buyers’ knowledge, attitude, and use of the product.
The step, following segmentation, is market targeting. Market targeting is the process of evaluating each segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more (Kotler, p. 199) to aim for. Three factors must be taken into consideration:
- Segment size and growth, that is sales rate, growth rate and profit margin
- Segment structural attractiveness which is shaped by the number and the strength of the competitors, the buyer’s bargaining power and the existence of powerful suppliers who can play games on price and quality
- Company objectives and resources. A segment must be appropriate to the company’s objectives and goals as well as to its skills and resources.
Upon selecting the segments to serve, the company must decide among undifferentiated, differentiated and concentrated market. Targeting the undifferentiated market means that one same product is offered to the entire market. The differentiated market enables the company to provide separate products for each segment. The concentrated market allows the company acquires a large share in one or few small segments.
In conjunction with targeting decisions the marketing strategy will identify the desired positioning for the brand to occupy in the target customers’ mind. Positioning sets the brand apart from its competitors. It is the way the product is defined by consumers on important attributes – the place the product occupies in consumers’ minds relative to competing products (Kotler p. 213). Positioning presupposes the creation of a competitive advantage, a key benefit that is differentiated and superior to that offered by the competitors. The competitive advantage may refer to lower prices or benefits that justify higher prices, to quality or expertise.
As far as the hotel industries are concerned a differentiated competitive advantage is a key element to successful operation. Differentiation that excites the consumer…can lead to excellent public relations opportunities, customer loyalty and greater profit (Kotler, p.215). Differentiation can be a result of various elements such as the hotel location, its unique architecture and interior design, the service provided, the personnel, the image. Service improvements, even if they are simple, can bring large rewards to the brand. Furthermore, the hiring and training of better personnel is very crucial. Skillful, respectful, aware, friendly and consistent customer – contact employees can create the spirit of the brand. As for the image, we have already mentioned that it should convey a singular or distinctive message that communicates the products major benefits and positioning (Kotler, p.218) and thus differentiating it from competitors.