Sounding Off: Reality checks for brand loyalty

Steven Taylor, Accor Hotels

“People don’t have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands.”

Quote from Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer at Accor Hotels, in a story on PhocusWire this week on the evolution of the marketing discipline in travel.


Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered on our site that week.

Apple has got to be one of the best examples of the modern brand loyalty concept, but what came first: product or brand?

Arguably, customers fell in love with the product, wanted more of it in their everyday lives, then the ecosystem and love for the brand developed around that.

In travel, it’s a harder concept to grasp. Purchases can be infrequent in leisure and business travelers can be pushed down a specific path because of company travel policy.

When you add price as one of the top drivers in online travel planning, as well as the fact that many consumers are just shopping around, then it’s hard to see where that brand loyalty comes in.

But to Accor chief marketing officer’s point, once a customer experiences an aircraft or a hotel, apartment or resort, then that’s the opportunity to turn the customer into an advocate.

Steven Taylor talks about the customer experience in the context of Accor’s new ALL loyalty program and the idea of “engaging members beyond the traditional travel cycle and to also add value in our guests’ everyday lives.”

It’s an interesting idea, at least in terms of driving deeper engagement with customers to keep the brand top-of-mind in a highly competitive market.

Strategies from large hotel companies such as Accor, which are aiming to offer something for everyone – from the modern tech-savvy business traveler to the budget conscious family – reflect that desire to foster some form of deeper engagement.

But hospitality – and travel more widely – has a long way to go in terms of these deeper relationships with customers and marketing is key.

Yet there is a shift as some travel brands are now creating emotional campaigns with a real story behind them, which is recognition that consumers have changed.

Many airlines, for example, used glossy images of female cabin crew to promote themselves in the past. Now some carriers, such as Air New Zealand via its various storytelling initiatives and JetBlue’s recent “Just Alright Doesn’t Fly Here” campaign mark a step change in thinking.

At the recent SITA Air Transport IT Summit, Bernard Gustin, a former CEO of Brussels Airlines and now chairman of Elia Group, told airlines that they need to “market like a fast-moving consumer good.”

What those consumer goods seem to have in common these days is the way they engage their customers by creating a story and emotion around the brand.

And that, lest we forget, is the travel experience in a nutshell.

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