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Bringing brand to the forefront of digital guest experience

Cierra Dobson, a strategy director at design and technology agency, Rufus Leonard, explores a brand-led approach to digital experience strategy for hotel brand leaders, from design, to implementation, and measurement.

According to Mintel, the tourism industry can expect the shake-up of travel behaviours, preferences, and expectations spurred by COVID-19 to reverberate well into the future. As accommodation brands rush to adapt to trends like remote ‘workations’, sustainability consciousness and in-room wellness and entertainment, the digital parts of the guest experience will be an important battleground.

But it’s not enough to roll out mobile room keys or a room-service ordering app. Brands that use digital to simply remove friction from the guest journey risk becoming forgettable and commoditised. Hotels aiming to truly differentiate their brand are faced with the daunting task of investing in the right digital experiences to provide a modern, seamless journey that also feels distinctive and delightful.

How can brand leaders ensure their digital experience, from awareness to in-room to post-travel is both seamless and memorable in all the right ways?

Establish Trust Moments vs. Hero Moments.

Think about the moments in which speed, ease and clarity are most important to the guest using a digital channel. Booking a room or requesting toothpaste from the front desk are examples of Trust Moments—where the goal is to build trust and confidence by meeting the guest’s needs quickly and seamlessly. For example, The Student Hotel created a custom booking engine to allow its diverse group of guests and customers to book any kind of space they might need—hotel room, co-working desk, restaurant table, meeting space or event space—from a streamlined booking experience that is quick and easy to use. Trust Moments are about anticipating and removing potential frustrations from the journey.

Hero Moments deliver distinctive and memorable digital experience that delights guests. But it’s important that Hero Moments feel like a manifestation of the brand promise and personality. When Florida’s Legoland Pirate Island Hotel added Alexa for Hospitality smart speakers to guest rooms, they made the experience wow-worthy with pirate-themed bedtime stories, pirate jokes and an in-room treasure hunt. Hero Moments give your guests unique digital experiences that distinguish your brand from competitors.

Use branding to ensure the guest experience and marketing reinforce each other

Though the brand positioning and personality is the shared strategic foundation for both marketing and guest experience, they are often internally siloed departments. Category-leading hotel brands ensure communications and experiences across the entire journey build on each other to form a complete and unforgettable story for guests. 

According to Booking.com, 75% of accommodation providers say they have implemented at least some kind of sustainability practices at their property, but just 1 in 3 communicate their efforts to prospective guests. Hilton has made sustainability a unifying theme for its hip neighbourhood hotel brand, Canopy. Signature orange bikes are offered free to guests as a more sustainable transport option, but they also feature as memorable visual cues in the brand’s lush Instagram, marketing and website imagery. All hotel brands can learn from Canopy’s expert connection of distinctive guest experience and marketing to attract sustainability-minded Millennial travellers.   

Roadmap digital experience activities by aligning them to business KPIs

Ultimately, investing in digital experience should net returns either by increasing revenue or reducing costs. After envisioning potential Trust and Hero Moments, the next step is to create a prioritised roadmap based on how those moments will likely impact key metrics like customer ratings, Revenue per available Room (RevPAR), and lifetime customer value (CLTV).

In general, Trust Moments tend to be first priority because they solve known pain points, while Hero Moments are most impactful once the core journey is free from frustration and friction. But all digital experiences should be prioritised in terms of their expected cost and potential impact on business KPIs.

As 2021 continues to unfold for the battered tourism industry, a strategic brand-led approach to digital experiences will help CX leaders differentiate their hotel brands and turn guests into passionate advocates.

Cierra Dobson, a strategy director at design and technology agency, Rufus Leonard

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