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Brand Value, Power and the truth about Loyalty

BY Piers Schmidt

Recently published is a piece of typically rigorous research by the redoubtable David Haigh and his team at Brand Finance.

Reported in The Caterer and more fully in FTN News, the provocative news that Premier Inn is the world’s “most powerful” or “strongest” hotel brand raises important questions about the definition of a brand and its attendant value and power.

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I’ve not reviewed the methodology behind the firm’s Brand Strength Index beyond what’s to be gleaned from the articles, which list marketing investment, familiarity, loyalty, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation as the main criteria of measurement. What seems to be missing, however, is a true measure of consumer sentiment or, more precisely, the value placed by real people on these hospitality brands yet alone the power which they attribute to them. Although this should be reflected in ‘loyalty’, we all know that when it comes to hospitality and airlines, in particular, rewards programmes are more systems of discounting and bribery than reliable indicators of fidelity. How many loyalty cards do you have in your wallet right now? These schemes encourage and reward habit and feed our addiction to collecting points and miles. In true Up in the Air style, successfully they prey on our fear of missing out – on that self-affirming gold card status for the next 12 months, the abject terror of losing our precious lounge or club floor access.

I’ve always preached that ultimately brands are fabricated in the minds of individual customers on the basis of their own personal experiences – a combination of direct and indirect interactions and touchpoints. Premier Inn itself would appear to agree with this interpretation of ‘brand’ as their promotional material proclaims theirs to be “a place made by you”. If the place is made by us, then is not too the brand?

I have heard good things about Premier Inn but as Ozgur Tore, the FTN reporter concedes, “the mass-market, UK-focused brand’s top billing may come as a surprise to some.” Tore reminds us of the brand’s pioneering advertising campaigns and strong financial performance but while these may, in turn, be enjoyable and commendable, I wonder if they really justify the claim of “strongest” in the minds of either its customers or the global hospitality market as a whole?

I’m reminded of Richard Armstrong’s banal, eponymously titled but also strangely addictive television show Pointless, the BBC quiz in which contestants try to score as few points as possible by testing their general knowledge to come up with the answers no-one else can think of based on pre-conducted public surveys of 100 people. If we asked 100 members of the UK population to pick their “strongest” global hotel brands, I strongly suspect that Premier Inn would result in a round-winning ‘pointless’ answer for the contestant venturing the brand as their pick.

Premier Inn’s commercial success suggests that it is indeed a brand with many virtues. I just contest that it can possibly be the world’s “strongest” hotel brand by any reasonable or generally accepted definition of that term. Perhaps Premier Inn can be touted as the world’s “strongest” hotel company but, as I’ve said, a company does not a brand make – the customer does.




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