Survive or Die – the do’s and don’ts of rebranding hospitality businesses

By Richard Samarasinghe, Head of Brand and Business Development.

The world moves rapidly, particularly in the hospitality sector. For example, in 2015, the appetite for burgers was growing with restaurants clamouring for a bite of the Artisan bun, today it appears that the burger bubble could soon burst as chains, such as Byron, scale back.  As trends and consumer needs evolve, we believe that restaurants, bars, and hotels constantly need to assess their brand and whether it meets market needs. Businesses should make changes, however small, to remain relevant and compelling, for example by updating products and services.

Businesses operating in the hospitality sector need to be constantly alert to shifts in the market and respond quickly. The industry is extremely competitive – the hospitality sector contributes over £140bn to the UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while British households spend approximately £45.10 on restaurants and hotels per week. To compete restaurants, bars, and hotels need strong branding that has the stamina, flexibility, and creative flair to stand out, remain relevant, build loyalty and take advantage of growth in the hospitality sector – this is going to become more challenging as change accelerates.

Rebranding vs brand evolution

Rebranding is a marketing strategy usually used in response to long-term substantial changes in consumer habits to create a fresh identity in consumers’ minds and key business stakeholders, including investors, suppliers, and employees.

Brand evolution is usually more about smaller changes through incremental innovations that reflect evolving market conditions, and changing customer needs – for example, updating your menu so it is line with food and drink trends.

Having recently rebranded Harrison to reflect its new direction and business strategy, we’ve provided our top tips on the dos and don’ts of rebranding and brand evolution:

Do build a strong foundation – You should always remain true to what your business stands for, and update your branding around these core values. However, company codes should not be buzzwords, but principles you follow and reminders about why your business was born, what it offers, and what makes it stand out. Starbucks, for example, is a global phenomenon yet remains anchored to creating a warm culture where everyone is welcome. Your core values should be constant but flexible within certain brand guardrails, so your business can grow and adapt to market conditions whist staying true to its essence.

Do look at customer aspirations – When refreshing your business, look at how your consumers see the world and how can you best meet these visions, creating something just for them. For example, more people are eating out as they want experiences and to socialise with friends and family, equally more people than ever are eating out for fuel – as a hospitality enterprise, your brand should reflect these aspirations, so you can continue attracting customers and remain relevant.

Do consider all customer touchpoints – Branding should seep through all areas of a business that a consumer encounters. For example, offering a quality menu means nothing if your customers are sat on chairs that are too low, in a dark room with mismatched or disconnected interiors, being served by unfriendly staff. Examine the consumer’s whole journey – from the moment they open the door, walk to their table, and even visit the toilets, and ensure your branding carries through – from the design, the menu, customer service, and even recruitment and training.

Do mature with your customers – Consumers don’t always remain loyal to one brand and can be unpredictable. Growing with your current customer base can add to your business’ competitive edge and help it to endure. A good example of this, is the changing demand of millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1997. This demographic has experienced a more sophisticated range of food service concepts, with emphasis on authenticity, quality, healthier choices, and greater food credibility, and will likely continue to demand these values as they grow into a family market. If your business doesn’t meet their changing needs, you’re in danger of appearing unattractive to the next generation of young families.

Don’t use unnecessary technology – While the digital revolution has evolved business’ relationships with consumers, customer service front of house remains critical. For some hospitality businesses the interaction between the server and guest is part of the whole experience, and for these brands, technology can have its limitations and could in fact alienate your customers.

Don’t forget about your employees – The key to any brand surviving is employing talented individuals, who can provide a fresh outlook and inject innovation. When rebranding you should also appeal to current and future employees, emphasising who you are, the direction the business is heading in and its future prospects.

Don’t rebrand for the sake of it – When reviewing your brand, ask yourself whether it is still relevant and fits the market and consumer’s needs. Don’t follow your competition and copy what they are doing, this can confuse consumers and create a brand identity crisis.

Eating, drinking out, short break hotel visits are increasingly becoming part of everyday life, not just for special occasions, which is fuelling growth across the hospitality sector. To navigate changing consumer mindsets, your business’ branding needs to be evolve with them, while remaining loyal to its core values so it endures. By evaluating your brand every year and making incremental changes every two years, it signals to customers and stakeholders that your business is moving forward as well as communicating both visually and verbally the right information to stand out from its competitors.

Painting the world red, white and blue: Delivering British creative design services in overseas markets

British design is famed around the world. Our quirkiness, quality and originality appeals to a range of consumers who desire unique and interesting concepts – from fashion, architecture, cars, furniture to interiors.

Without a doubt, the design sector is one of the UK’s success stories and is a key area for economic growth. We have the largest design industry in Europe and rank fourth in the world for design exports. While there is a world of opportunity for British design companies, taking UK designs internationally is not as simple as exporting your physical services – in fact it is a philosophy of working that is delivered and adapted locally to ensure it targets the relevant market. Every country has its own quirks, therefore having on the ground local experience and expertise is essential to understand the country and consumer needs – as is conducting thorough research and getting clued up on the full process from initial idea to implementation. Once you have this knowledge, you can begin creating a design solution that appeals to the target market.

To help your business go global, we have provided our guidance on taking British design to three core markets.

Sailing across the pond

With a notorious reputation, the United States is perhaps one of the hardest countries to crack. Despite strict regulations, there are a vast array of opportunities for the UK design sector and can be a fruitful market for businesses. Similar to the UK, US consumers have a growing appetite for experiences – therefore design concepts that incorporate entertainment and offer something different can go a long way to attract customers and appeal to multiple demographics.

Unlike some countries, businesses should not solely focus on their British credentials. Instead designs need to be confident and efficient, while slotting effortlessly into consumer culture and drawing out their inner child. In addition, creative design solutions should not compromise on their approach to create otherworldly experiences.

We opened an office in the United States over five years ago, and have become more savvy and streetwise on the American culture of doing business. One mistake British businesses often make, is seeing the country as one market. The United States is made up of over 50 states and four time zones, therefore its recommended to start small, focusing on one demographic or State, building up your expertise and knowledge. Once you have established a foothold in the market, then you can look to grow.

Having a good partner when expanding in the US can be a much-needed lifeline. Develop partnerships with companies already established in the country and speak “American” – therefore, have a firm understanding of the market and what is needed in order to succeed. For example, if you’re a British restaurant looking to open a chain in the US, partner with a business that’s already working with the hospitality sector and has the knowledge and know-how of opening new sites.

Cracking Europe

While uncertainty surrounding the vote to leave the EU hangs in the air, the market continues to remain substantial and offers a wealth of opportunities. In fact, nearly 60% of creative service exports are to Europe, including EU and non-EU countries.

While there are similarities between European and UK design, including stylish and bespoke concepts that ooze character, there are key differences. Individuality and craftsmanship are essential traits of European design – therefore, offering variations on designs can go a long way, as does quality and personalisation. National identity is another key concept across Europe – each city and country has its own personality and this should be reflected in design concepts.

Often Europe is seen as a valuable testbed for businesses looking to take their design concepts international, due to its proximity to the UK, similar time zone and relative ease of access. However, mistakes businesses can make is assuming cultures and traditions are similar if not the same as the UK. Therefore, getting clued up on business etiquette in each country is important, for example, learning key phrases in your target market’s language can help bridge relationships and emphasises your commitment.

 Establishing a gateway to the East

The Middle East is expanding and has a growing appetite for quality design, particularly British design concepts and style. The area is well known for being extravagant and has its own opulent style – therefore unique design and creativity is essential to tap into the Middle East’s insatiable appetite for luxury. While businesses should respond to consumer needs in the region, they should ensure it has a British twist providing something different that cannot easily be replicated.

The Middle East can offer your business riches if you go about it in the right way. Each country has its own challenges and opportunities. Culture, traditions, and languages vary from country to country, as do business operations, therefore conducting thorough research is crucial before looking to this market as well as building strong relationships with influencers.

Establishing and maintaining relationships is another important aspect of doing business in the Middle East. Face-to-face meetings are preferred to virtual contact, for example phone calls and email, which are seen as impersonal. Putting in the effort to create relationships can be extremely fruitful, if you successfully conduct business in one country it could open doors to others.

Taking your business global

British design is world-renowned and companies should take advantage of this strong reputation to find new markets and customers. If conducted in the right way, taking your design concepts global can open new doors from providing your business with fresh ideas, allowing you to constantly innovate and remain creative, to sharing knowledge and making new contacts. It’s always worth to take your business global, and regardless of current political and economic conditions, numerous opportunities still remain and it’s up to you to grab these with both hands.