It’s all in the Mythical Mind…


It is said that the corporate wars are fought in the minds of the guest. The ever perceptive, ever ethereal and ever changing cells of the mind of the guest and so we say. The real competition is in the mind of the guest. Brands are not about standardization procedures, they’re about emotional and intellectual connections that influence purchase behaviors by guests. Contemporary brand thinking in the hospitality sector takes the role of the brand into the realms of corporate strategy and intangible management.

Psychology behind brands stems from Carl Jung’s work where he described the four functions of the mind – thinking, sensation, feeling and intuition. The secret to successful branding of hotels is to influence the way in which people perceive the product. Brands influence guest decisions to buy in any of the above ways, or through combinations of them, sometimes with tremendous persuasive appeal. It helps in forming a perceived value, which is the real driving force behind market leadership.

The global traveler’s deep-rooted psychological trigger is embedded in his subconscious and the subconscious mind is a major influence on conscious decision-making, which leads us on to delve into the dynamics of psycho branding.

The concept of Psycho Branding is supported by three research models/studies.

  • Goodyear’s model of Brand Evolution
  • Moment of Identity
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Branding takes advantage of the subconscious mind as it creates its messages. They act as extensions of the personality (the third stage of the Goodyear’s Model of Brand Evolution – Brand as Personality). It says that incorporation of personal characteristics into the brand makes it more appealing to guests who are more likely to affiliate with brands possessing desirable personalities. Thus, the personalities of the guest and the brand begin to merge and the value of the brand becomes self-expression. Holiday Inn Express hopes to distinguish itself by providing customers with the emotional benefit of feeling like “a smarter business traveler” and attempts to convey a brand personality that is “fun,” even a bit “wacky.” For the road warrior whose expense account has been cut, an opportunity to be “smarter” and “fun,” at the same time is very attractive. Westin Hotels & Resorts is trying to differentiate itself from Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton by becoming a “serene and efficient brand.” Four Seasons on the other hand seeks to distinguish itself by providing what it calls an “escape from the ordinary” and a personality of “calm sophistication.”

Another model is the “moment of identity”, which explains how the post-modern guest tries to match her own identity with the identity she relates to the brand. It therefore becomes necessary for the marketer to understand the underlying relationship the guest has with the brand. In the words of Gary Loveman erstwhile Harvard professor and now CEO of Harrah, “a brand is something a customer wants to be associated with.”

Maslow’s need hierarchy is the driving force for choosing any particular brand…the one which identifies with self-actualization. The desire to fulfill one’s potential. Self-Actualization is our most deeply felt need as we are evolving as a society.

We can thus safely assume that the guests are looking for service experiences that complement their lifestyle and brands that say something about their aspirations. Defining a hotel as a brand involves emphasizing its key benefits and attributes for guests. To do so, brand managers must recognize that a brand consists of more than a bundle of tangible, functional attributes; its intangible, emotional benefits, along with its “identity,” frequently serve as the basis for long-term competitive differentiation and sustained loyalty. For example, Holiday Inn Express seeks to provide clean, fresh, comfortable facilities, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts tries to offer all the business services its customers might need. The most successful brands emphasize features that are both important to consumers and quite differentiated from those of competitors. We refer to these features as “brand drivers” in psychological terminology.

Understanding the psyche of guests enables companies to deliver brands messages at critical “touch points”, which for a hotel include reservations, check-in and checkout, frequent-stay programs, room service, business services, exercise facilities, laundry service, restaurants, and bars. Holiday Inn Express delivers its “smarter” and “fun” brand through touch points such as quality breakfasts, assurances that its on-line rates are the lowest publicly available, and zany advertising. Westin provides “serenity” for business travelers with its Heavenly Bed. Ritz Carlton relies on personal touches, such as a staff that always addresses guests by name, higher-powered employees who understand the needs of sophisticated business travelers, and at least one best-in-region facility, such as a premier restaurant or spa. The thrill of exuberance is what the brand seeks to attach itself to.

That is the “Branded Customer Experience” whose potential benefits to the organization are enhanced loyalty, higher margins, and an increased share of spend. “Branded Customer Experience” causes a psychological comfort level of safety in the brain of the customer. A psycho brand gets into the guest’s mind. Insight is the route to understanding the guest – going beyond mere demographics into the psychographics. What makes the customer tick, his interests, and aspirations. Blackston argues that “brand relationship” is a logical extension of “brand personality” and if guests form associations with a brand’s emotional dimension, then it follows that they can form a “relationship” with the brand.

For hotel chains wanting to satisfy the needs of guests and beat the competition, then building a psycho brand provides an opportunity which, if realized, could do not only this but also defy the test of time – for psycho brands have no limit to their life expectancy.