Industry Update
Opinion Article13 January 2021

The Disconnect Between Brand and Reputation

How the hospitality industry can close the gap

By Adele Gutman Milne, Founder and Guest Experience Expert, Host of the Hospitality Reputation Marketing Podcast

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Successful reputation optimization is a key form of branding. Your brand is far more than your name and your logo; it is your identity. You may have worked hard to build a strong or relevant brand, but your work is not done yet if your public reputation doesn't validate your brand with credibility. Most hotels and restaurants would stand to see strong financial benefits from revamping their reputation management process into a reputation optimization discipline.

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Online reviews are powerful and credible social proof of how well your brand is living up to your brand promise. The reviews your guests share about your business are a real-time reflection of how successfully you deliver on your mission, your culture, your values, and your unique point of view- all of which comprise your brand identity.

Acknowledge and Abhor the Gap

There is always a gap between what you say is your brand and what your guests say about their experience with you. If you want to make that gap a positive one, where the chorus of reviews are more passionate and enthusiastic about your hotel than your marketing is, listening to your critical reviews will serve to point you directly to the pain points where you need to place your attention.

We've all seen it. Hotels use phrases like "unparalleled service" and "unmatched experience," or "wonderful amenities," and some reviews agree. Still, then they are plagued with other reviews that read, "terrible" and "don't stay here," or worst of all, "not clean or safe." We can dismiss these comments that contradict our brand as a fact of life and ignore them at our own peril, or we can make a choice to embrace the voice of the customer and welcome it into our long-term planning and our daily decisions in our quest for more successful years ahead.

Set Goals and Track Your Progress

Reputation is an important KPI- Key Performance Indicator. As one of my favorite hotel owners and hospitality leaders, Rupesh Patel has emphasized on his show, Hospitality Live with Rupesh, "If you are not paying attention to Guest Reviews, you are losing money. Review Scores should be on the Profit and Loss Statement." I fully agree and add that reputation awareness and goals should be deeply embedded in the corporate culture. Ratings and rankings should be posted on the daily report and displayed along with reviews in the back offices and staff lounges along with the mission statement and the reputation goals you aspire to.

Watch the Numbers Not the Labels

If your hotel has a 3.5 or 4.0 out of 5 on Tripadvisor, Tripadvisor labels that as "very good". But over the last few years, the average score from hotels has gone from 4.1 to 4.4. So, in reality, 3.5 or 4.0 is below average. In one city with about 500 hotels, properties ranking "Average", 3.0 out of 5.0, begin to appear on the list in force in the early 400's. Is being in the lowest 20% average? These flattering labels help hotels feel better about their scores, but they lull us into complacency.

If you want progress, face the truth and follow the data. A 5-point scale is probably not as sensitive a score as you would want to properly inform you of your progress. In addition to that score, also follow your Tripadvisor "Traveler Ranking" in your market. Best of all, it's not expensive to use Revinate, Trust You, or Review Pro, or other reputation monitoring apps to get scored on a 100-point scale to help you and your team celebrate your growth and compare it to your comp set.

Take Charge

Our businesses indeed lost some control of our brand story when reputation missteps gained influence as reviews went online. But while we can't control it, we surely can influence it. Look to the hotels with extraordinary guest satisfaction scores. You will find a methodology for creating an environment that optimizes team performance, knowledge sharing and collaboration, expressive communications, curiosity, and creative problem solving, therefore continually diminishing friction and inspiring volumes of 5-Star guest reviews.

The most common myth in the hospitality industry is that Reputation Management is about composing written responses to reviews, but this is a minimum standard that on its own cannot achieve a significant lift in guest satisfaction or revenue growth.

Instead of simply handling problems and apologizing for them, savvy marketers and General Managers will work together to identify friction points and fix the problem's root cause. Surprisingly, many times changes in communication, process, or mindset are all that is needed to make significant lifts in guest satisfaction, increasing sales conversions, ADR, and loyalty without incurring any significant expense.

To begin elevating your team to deliver higher levels of guest satisfaction and loyalty, you need to embrace feedback. Celebrate and expand on the positives and use insights from the negative and neutral comments to explore with your team the opportunities to implement tiny touches of continuous improvement that enhance the guest experience.

Even a lack of enthusiastic reviews or a minimal number of reviews can reflect that the guest was not enthusiastic enough about your property to bother to help you by sharing a positive review. If this is the case, focusing on what behaviors have delivered 5-Star reviews in the past and how to multiply those connections can create a guest journey of "Wow" moments that your guests will respond to with positive online reviews.

"Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast" - Peter Drucker

Elevating your public reputation requires leadership, diligent collaboration between Operations and Sales and Marketing, and teamwork -starting from the c-suite and including every employee. To ensure guest-centric communications and a reputation that supports the goals of sales, marketing, and revenue, the marketing and operations must lead that effort in partnership.

But while leadership involvement is key, the executive office cannot deliver the experience; the line staff does. Businesses that challenge and support their teams with a creative and collaborative work environment are the ones with teams that are empowered to fulfill brand promises. Happy, engaged teams who feel challenged, cared for, appreciated, and respected are the ones who encourage those same feelings in their guests and customers.

While this article is clearly a 30,000 foot view, and the work to be done is complex and requires a daily discipline and philosophical commitment, rest assured that there is a proven path for businesses to take back some control, get 5-Star reviews, and align great brands with equally great reputations.

Adele Gutman Milne

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