Build a brand – not just a hotel

The hotel sector is changing and with that brings opportunity and challenge in equal measure. With increased competition from online accommodation websites like Airbnb and Homestay, hotels are having to reposition themselves and diversify to tap into a generation of guests who are looking for a more unique and immersive overnight stay. It’s no longer enough to rely on the heritage of well known hotel names, regardless of the associated luxury.

Many hotels are expanding beyond the comfy bed and full English offering into experiential offerings and collaborative spaces: yoga, meditation rooms, gyms, coffee shops, delicatessens, co-working spaces, blow dry bars and even cinemas showcasing local independent films are all ways to provide a personalised local stay. The historic hotel chain Marriott now offer Moxy, an affordable alternative with smaller guest rooms and large communal spaces while the boutique hotel chain citizenM boast collaborations with local art exhibitions and the retail of selected “collectionM” products in their lobbies.

These “add-ons” differentiate hotels from the likes of Airbnb by strengthening and adding value to the hotel experience. It has never been more important to ensure that you build a brand that stands out and grows with your offering, making sure that you can diversify without diluting your pulling power.

Establishing and adequately protecting a strong brand early on in your business journey will help attract the investment you need to continue to scale. The brand is the platform from which to grab investors’ and guests’ attention alike – that’s what they are buying into.

Here are our top tips.

  1. Ensure you are free to operate

It’s important to conduct freedom to operate searches of third party brands as early as possible. You need to make sure there is nobody else out there with the same brand or one sufficiently similar who would be able to prevent you operating in a certain market segment or geographical area.

Take the recent High Court case involving Titanic Spa in Huddersfield and Titanic Hotel in Liverpool. Ultimately both parties were permitted to continue trading under brands incorporating the word TITANIC but only after lengthy court proceedings and stringent requirements set by the court to ensure the businesses could be distinguished by consumers.

Start with your own checks (such as informal UKIPO and Google searches) early on, and then employ a professional to run more detailed checks – the investment of time and money at the outset is well worth it.

By conducting these searches in the early stages of brand development you will know the risks associated with adopting your trade mark before you invest precious time and money in advertising and marketing to build your brand. If a serious problem is flagged you may make the decision to change the mark – far easier to do so early on than to continue, only for problems to arise down the line. A worst case scenario could see a forced rebrand once you have gained valuable commercial traction, something which is financially costly and damaging to your hard earned reputation.

  1. Secure ownership

Be proactive and secure protection for your brand – if you don’t someone else might do it for you. The chef James Cochran of the BBC show Great British Menu learnt this the hard way when he left his eponymously named restaurant “James Cochran EC3” only to find that the new owner of the restaurant (renamed Rayuela) continued to use the name James Cochrane in relation to an online recipe plan subscription associated with the restaurant.

Obtaining registered protection and keeping records of when works were created will help you protect your business against competitors and copycats, or even licensees and franchisees. Many aspects of a hotel brand can be protected with IP including interior design aspects and in some cases even layout, as well as the text, logos and designs on menus, websites and signage.

  1. Know your market

With knowledge of your market and competitor brands comes awareness of potential issues before you take a brand forward and avoids problems before they arise. Be sure to look outside your immediate service category for potential conflicts – clashes across segments (such as hotels v restaurants) can still be problematic, particularly if you are looking to expand into other offerings in the future.

A dispute arose between the restaurant chain Wagamama and the instant noodle brand Wakayama. Even though Wakayama were seeking trade mark protection for ready meals rather than restaurants the UKIPO refused their trade mark on the grounds that it would cause confusion to the average consumer.

For more information about clearing, registering or enforcing your hospitality brand, get in touch with Alice Anderson via alice.anderson@gje.com.

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