Friday, August 6, 2010

Branding: what you do not know will probably hurt you!

What do we mean by branding? It is choosing a brand to identify a service. In the Spa World it usually means picking a well-known brand of cosmetics and associating it to the specific Spa one is operating. There are many as most of the cosmetic brands have jumped on the Spa “band wagon”, so you have Clarins Spa, Decleor Spa, Shiseido Spa, Pevonia Spa, Guerlain Spa, etc. The list is long but I think you get the point. The reasons hoteliers or Spa operators do this is quite simple: first they usually choose a well recognized consumer brand that advertises a lot in magazines, T.V. and other media, so as to garner through the label some notoriety. Ideally, they have chosen a luxury brand and thus hope that the quality of the product, or at least the image of quality that the brand spends millions to project, will be perceived as theirs.

There are markets that are more sensitive to brands than others: North Africa, the Middle East, Asia…but overall it is a planetary phenomenon! Often consumers judge the quality of a product by its brand image. This all sounds good, and one would be tempted to think that this is the way to go and in some cases it may very well be. However there is another factor that one must consider first and foremost and that is: what is the subliminal message of the brand? And they all have one! We all know that subliminal messages are a lot more powerful than straight messages. This is why subliminal insertions of images in T.V. commercials, for instance, are prohibited by law in most countries. For instance, everyone understands the underlying messages of automobile brands: Ferrari’s is speed, jet-set, exotic; Rolls-Royce’s is luxury class, expensive; Volvo’s is solid, safe, reliable, etc. When choosing a brand for a Spa, one must understand clearly the message behind the brand and make sure that that message will be compatible with the Mission Statement of the Spa (if the Spa has one. And that is another issue!).

Most cosmetic brands are associated with women’s products! Male Spa clientele in some countries are 75 to 80 % in European hotels 55% in the U.S. 42% and climbing! A large number of men would probably not patronize a product that is primarily identified as a feminine product! The choice of such a brand will appeal to the female clientele but the Spa will probably only attract but a few men and thus not be as successful as it could be otherwise.

Many Spas in resort hotels in exotic destinations such as Tahiti, Morocco, Dubai, etc., have gone the branding way and yet have also missed the point completely! Clients who choose to go to these destinations are looking for dream vacations and exotic experiences and are not at all impressed by sophisticated French, Italian or even Asian lines that in no way represent the exotic environment of the region in which they find themselves! These Spas will (not surprisingly) not do very well with their retails sales! Do you really think that someone going to the Mamounia in Marrakech is going to buy Shiseido products to bring back home, or Decleor products in Brazil, Clarins from Dubai or Phytomer from the Dead Sea? They are more likely seeking to test and bring back local products. It is an interesting and somewhat fun experience that clients seek when they go to a Spa and particularly when they go to a Resort Spa. Therefore, it stands to reason that a brand that they associate with home is not the one that will make them dream!
Cosmetic brands will tell their potential clients that not only do they bring the recognition of the brand, but they will also provide training for the staff! That sounds good to an hotelier, but in fact the training is mainly geared towards trying to sell the products and not towards client service satisfaction. The bottom line is this: the choice of a brand is more complicated than it seems and it requires a good analysis of the hidden messages as well as the appropriateness of the brand to the business. Few consultants even understand this; Aspen Spa Management has always included such research in all its feasibility studies.

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