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The Power of Branding in Hospitality: Lessons From an Accidental Hotel Owner

with Brigette Harenda, President at B&Co.

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Today, we’re learning why all of us should care about branding, why it's much more than you might think it includes - and the process branding superstar Brigette Harenda uses to help hospitality providers create a brand and guest experience that stands out, creates loyalty, and inspires people to tell others - all of which, of course, helps your business thrive.

We’re also learning about:

  • Friendship bracelets

  • Giving experiences instead of gifts

  • …and much more

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The Power of Branding in Hospitality: Lessons From an Accidental Hotel Owner

with Brigette Harenda, President at B&Co.

Brigette Harenda

I'll never forget the first time I heard our guest today, Brigette Harenda, President of B&Co. It was about a decade ago, and she was at a conference recounting the story creating the Iron Horse Hotel - which I found fascinating because she became a hotel owner almost by accident during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 - and has created hit after hit in hospitality since then.

A few highlights from our conversation today:

The Iron Horse Hotel project

Iron Horse Hotel // Credit: Iron Horse Hotel

It was about the duality of the business traveler and the motorcycle enthusiast. How do we appeal to both and not alienate either? And so when we thought about the arrival experience. You still needed to have a proper porte-cochère for cars that were pulling in and valet. We wanted to make sure that business traveler was taken care of. But if you're arriving on a bike, we created a turnaround. We have overhang parking for all the motorcycles. We created custom bell carts that had huge drawers because when you show up on a bike, chances are all of your shit is in the saddlebags and you have to put it somewhere. And we did that throughout the whole experience of the hotel. You walk into the guest rooms and there's giant hooks on the wall. If you've got a coat, you hang it up there, but it's really designed for a 200 pound leather setup of chaps and a vest and a jacket. We wanted to make sure we appeal to both segments of that clientele and made them both feel welcome, but in a way that they would recognize.

Being an owner shapes Brigette’s view of branding

I think it changed everything. When you sit on both sides of the table, you realize that everything has to have an ROI. And if you think about a hotel like a developer thinks about a hotel, you're making an investment in something and it has to be a long-term investment. So our process is designed to create a long-term sustainable marketplace advantage for our clients.

I think about that because I'm an investor in a couple of hotels. I always think about have we created a brand that the management company, the marketing team, and the sales department can all run with? Or have we created something that just terrific on day one and then it falls flat? So we really think about that ongoing sustainability of our client brands.

The ROI of branding

We think that the ROI on branding is probably the best investment you can make in a property. And when I say that, I'm not just suggesting that you put all of your money in branding for selfish reasons. I'm suggesting, for example, on a $40 million hotel project, branding all in might be less than $200,000 - but that brand is the core of the property.

It defines who you are, how you speak to your customer, what you look like, what your personality is, and all of that has serious longevity.

So when we see clients that recognize the value of branding for us feels like it has some permanence to it and that the client is making a serious investment in the long-term success of that property.

But that’s not all - we also covered:

  • Brigette’s crazy story to becoming a hotel owner for the first time

  • The process Brigette and her teams use to develop a brand

  • The role of experience design in branding

  • Operational considerations for branding

  • ….and much more

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