Breathing Life into a Brand
In 2016, Luxury Branding was appointed by Belmond, formerly Orient-Express Hotels Ltd, to help the 40-year-old hospitality company accelerate its transition from a loose collection to a brand proper; a brand with true purpose, salience and promising tangible value for its global, high net worth customers. Although this process had been initiated during 2014 with the renaming of the global collection and parent company to Belmond, with the departure of the CEO and Chief Marketing Officer, the rebranding, which had been poorly received internally and externally, and ran little more than skin-deep, had faltered seriously. The firm was appointed on the strength of its experience in luxury hotel branding, in particular with collections.
No less important was a requirement to reposition the brand away from old-fashioned notions of opulence ensuring its continued relevance to a new generation of travellers.
Working closely with Interim Brand Director, Eva Ziegler, we reviewed and refined the draft brand strategy framework and supported her presentation and communication of a new brand-centric approach to a global gathering of the company’s senior managers. Once their engagement and approval had been secured, we collated the feedback and compiled a database of existing on-product experiences that best supported the new positioning. Finally, we articulated the Belmond brand promise in the form of a simply written narrative: a succinct encapsulation of what in the future would make Belmond different, special and better.
Next, we assisted with the formation, mandate and agenda setting for a cross-product team of creative and practical individuals comprising General Managers, Sales and Marketing representatives and head office personnel. The individuals selected for this Brand Steering Group were charged with driving the new brand thinking forward and into an organisation that had previously been highly independent, devolved and left to its own devices, a situation that was sometimes emotionally difficult to relinquish despite the understanding of a greater good that was building slowly.
Applying our proven guest experience models, we identified and mapped key touchpoints in the customer journeys across the Company’s hotels, trains, cruises, and safaris. This matrix was then populated with existing customer experiences, which were refined to dramatise the new brand promise. We also led the generation of an innovation bank of brand new ideas for Branded Differentiators – special interactions and experiences that would make the brand strategy real and uniquely Belmond’s for its customers.
We created over 70 discrete Branded Differentiators, which were consolidated into a final set that very deliberately involved a degree of difficulty calculated to make them defendable and ownable by the brand.
Throughout this process, we contributed to the design and facilitation of quarterly Brand Steering Group meetings and teleconferences and partnered closely with Belmond’s central operations team to engineer an effective method of distribution and development of the Branded Differentiators, at all times balancing operability and feasibility with maximum brand impact.
We were also asked to review the Belmond brand architecture and to make recommendations for how to optimise the portfolio’s structure and product naming while providing the flexibility required to accommodate the ambitious growth plans announced by CEO Roland Vos. In terms of naming, there was also a need to combat the emerging commercial and reputational threat posed by SNCF (the state-owned railway company of France and, since 1977, owner of the Orient Express brand) who are in the process of relaunching a luxury Paris to Vienna service as the foundation of its own intention to develop the Orient Express brand as a byword for luxury through a range of related products and services.
With a new strategic direction, an innovation bank of ideas for potential Branded Differentiators and an internal structure to manage execution, Belmond continues its journey to transform a marque that was more real in name than in nature into a leading global brand of luxury travel experiences.