If you are sensitive to and recognize that you must address the needs and wants of your web site users and create a user-friendly web site, you most certainly will also create a site that enhances your organizations traditional brand. Failing to recognize the unique challenges of building a hospitality property on the information superhighway means that in addition to failing online, you also run the risk of negatively impacting your traditional brand.
Think about it for a moment. A visitor comes to your site and has to wait what seems like hours for your home page to download. That same visitor then waits an additional 30 seconds or so to view photos of your rooms. If your site is poorly constructed, they will also have problems navigating through the site and will most likely get lost a few times. Finally there is the endless wait for the virtual tour to load and do its thing. When your visitors are finally ready to make a reservation, the “Confirm Your Reservation” feature crashes and they are faced with the prospect of having to start the process all over again – or even worse, they now have to contact a customer service rep to find out if the reservation they made was actually recorded somewhere in your system. How do you think this reflects on your brand? What does it say about your commitment to being a forward thinking proprietor or running a customer centric company? How will the user feel the next time they see an ad for your hotel on television or in a magazine. The answer is “probably not very good”.
I would like to suggest that you view your online brand as a reflection of the heart and soul of your organization. The quality of your hotel and the level of service excellence that you deliver in the bricks and mortar world must likewise be mirrored online. I would guess your organization constantly monitors guest satisfaction as it relates to their stay or a visit to one of your restaurants. Can you say the same for your online initiatives? When was the last time you stopped and listened to what your online visitors were thinking? Do you have a way to track their level of satisfaction with your site? Do you know how well you stack up when it comes to delivering on your brand promise compared to other hotels in your sector? Online is no different than offline. You know everything there is to know about your guest’s “in-hotel” experience, but I’ll bet you don’t know everything there to know about their “online experience”.
Call these next few paragraphs Web Branding 101 but it’s important for you to understand and recognize the impact your online branding and web site have on your overall traditional brand. Online branding can be defined as “the sum of the expectations that users have when interacting with your site.” In essence, your online brand is an expectation or a promise waiting to be fulfilled. Brands are shorthand for trust.
Inherent in your online branding is your online brand promise. This is a statement of assurance, and a perception of future excellence. Your goal in making this promise is to create a customer relationship. If you can build a successful relationship with your users, you will also generate user loyalty. Think of your web site and ask yourself how it contributes to the following three key areas tied to branding.
What can you be doing at the site to increase brand loyalty? If you don’t know, you’d better start thinking about how to get the answers. It is common knowledge that for every dollar you spend keeping an existing customer, you have to spend seven to get a new one. Think about that the next time your marketing team wants to invest $25,000 to learn more about your exiting site visitors and what makes them tick.
Brand Name Awareness
Does your site enhance the overall awareness of your brand? Do you have benchmarks in place to measure online brand awareness? What other channels can be exploited to build brand awareness?
Have you used the Internet to create links to other sites that might bring added value to your site’s visitors? Are there opportunities to extend the reach of your brand with strategic alliances?
You may ask, why worry about my online brand when I have invested all my marketing dollars in traditional branding and I’ve been very successful. The answer of course is that by building a strong online brand, you not only support your traditional branding initiatives, you also are opening up new channels to build and strengthen user loyalty and are creating increased shareholder value – not to mention increasing your organizations chances to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace. Your online branding initiatives tied to your web site, if executed properly have the ability to increase market share, accelerate growth and reduce customer erosion.
In summary, I suggest you put down in writing the online branding objectives for your site. Write down the key messages you want to convey. Make sure your team is all working with the same vision and mission. And make sure you have a way to measure what you are doing. We have in our past work with some of North America’s most aggressive online marketers seen organizations revise and change their online branding initiatives without first understanding how their online customers perceived their brand. Not a good idea...
Jerry Tarasofsky is CEO of iPerceptions Inc., a business intelligence company headquartered in New York that provides metrics to analyze User-Relationship Satisfaction© – a unique measure of user loyalty that helps organizations align their web initiatives with the needs, wants, and preferences of their targeted user groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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