The start-up diaries volume 3: The edge of the circle

In this series, "JJ", SAN's very own secret hotelier, brings us the ups and downs he encounters in his most ambitious challenge to date, the launch of a new aparthotel brand. Here he shares his thoughts on how the best brands come about.

I believe that great brands have huge power to influence and change the way we think and act within the world around us.

However, great brands start by appealing to the few, not the many. They focus on a group of individuals at the edge of the circle and appeal to these people in a very big way.

Think of any brand and how they started - Facebook - appealing to Ivy league students who wanted to connect, Nike - appealing to long distance runners who wanted a performance shoe (in the 1970s this was a very small number of people), Apple - appealing to designers who wanted more choice over the font they used!

For me, the key to a successful brand is to understand the opinions, values and beliefs of the target market. By understanding these and appealing to their core values, brands appeal on more than just price, convenience or speed, and create a strong bond and loyalty between what that brand is and what their customer really wants to achieve. 

Brands don't appeal to people on the basis of who they are, but who they want to be.

We all tend to hang out with people, who share the same values, beliefs and opinions as us, so if customers find a brand that shares these same views, guess what? They are going to probably migrate towards it and want to tell their friends about it. This brings in people on the edge of this circle who are not as full on (not Ivy league, or everyday runners or full-time designers) but who want to do or be a little bit more like them...or at least keep up with them.  

However, brands are not made, they are in nearly all cases, an extension of the values of their founder/founders.  In my case, I want to provide healthy spaces for guests to rejuvenate, nourish and connect away from the stresses of their life outside the walls of the hotel experience. I want to ensure that each hotel has a positive impact beyond the communities they serve.

To do this, the product and service needs to be excellent but also the philosophy of the brand needs to resonate through every touch point. This is a million times easier to do from the ground up, rather than retrospectively. Does anyone really believe that IHG is a sustainable hotel brand because it is reducing the number of shampoo bottles in their rooms or that BP is a sustainable energy company when they build wind farms?

If you know why you are doing something, then the what and how fall into place. This means your radar is tuned into one direction of travel – and you source and migrate towards individuals, suppliers and solution providers that enable you to achieve your brand standards.  

I believe that this starts with putting your staff before your guests and giving them the tools, training and empowerment to make decisions in the best interest of the brand. This resonates through to a better guest experience, a better relationship within the community and with suppliers, and ultimately, last but not least, into the returns generated to your investors.  

Investors will find this pecking order difficult to stomach, but the right ones will understand that their investment provides the tools for the team to deliver the branded experience. If it is delivered at every point of the brand journey it will result in increased brand loyalty, more direct bookings, lower operational costs, higher revenues and ultimately in assets that sell at lower yields and operational businesses that sell at higher multiples.

Brands that appealed to an initially small market and were built around their founder's values while empowering their staff include Tesla, Innocent, Airbnb, Red Bull and Patagonia.  

My aim is to build a brand that starts and ends with the opinions, values and beliefs that are shared with 'the aligned few' and to ensure this has a positive impact on the lives of the staff, the experience of the guest and on the wider industry to accelerate the move towards low impact solutions.  



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