Having a strong brand is just as important to smaller businesses as it is larger firms as more and more consumers seek expert advise from travel sellers, Kuoni marketing director Dean Harvey warned delegates at the 2019 Advantage Travel Partnership conference on Sunday (19 May).
Harvey said the process of developing a strong brand started from within, and should place equal focus on ensuring that brand is a welcomed and accepted within a company before attempting to market it to consumers.
"We’re already seeing massive change on the high street set against the pace of technological change," said Harvey. "Winners and losers are appearing faster than ever before. Too many businesses jump straight into that ’colouring in’ stage with a logo and streamline.
"Don’t spend too much time worrying about the look and feel of your brand. A brand is represented by its people. Having a strong brand is like turning a logo into a flag everyone can rally around. Ask your customers what they think about you and your brand – why do they choose you over everyone else?"
Harvey said the advent of the internet in the early 1990s had left "no place for brands to hide".
"Anyone, anywhere can have their opinion published," he said. "It was a panacea for consumers. As a consumer, I don’t know who to trust. So we [as consumers] are going out of our way to seek opinions from experts – consumers are seeking our advice as travel experts."
For Harvey, the process starts with businesses defining a brand story, a brand vision, an essence, target market and crucially, a viable proposition that is evidential, has its own personality and embodies that particular company’s brand values.
"You should be able to very simply describe what your brand vision is," Harvey told delegates during a breakout session at the conference in Cadiz.
"Defining your proposition is one of the hardest things to do – [it] should answer why people should choose you over your competitors. A lot of brands have gone south because they have not been able to accurately describe their proposition."
Harvey said customers were increasingly turning to testimonials to back up "reasons to believe" in a brand, underlining the importance of being able to back up a business proposition with evidence.
He added while there would always be branding catastrophes, too often businesses shake things up and fail to give consumers adequate time to adapt to new branding and accept it.
"Long service to a strapline or logo does pay dividend long-term," he said.
Focusing on store or retail experience, Harvey said consumers now expected high standards of retail environment and advised agents to "declutter windows and shops".
"Neat and tidy shops please. Brand is very important to smaller businesses, first impressions do count. It creates trust and credibility, people are more likely to buy from companies that appear more polished.
Harvey’s key missive though was to place employees at the scene of a brand and a philosophy. "It’s my belief you and your people embody your brand," he said. "And it’s my belief this will become even more important over the next five to 10 years."