The Immersive Performance Art of Hospitality Branding
By Stephen Barry
Tuesday, 5th September 2023

Hospitality people get branding, they understand its profound influence on revenue and whether a single property, a chain of properties or a multinational multichain, brand is core.

We know creativity is key to effective brand building. How can we stimulate and inspire creativity in hospitality product and brand development? One way is to see it as immersive performance art. A performance starring your guest.

Marketers typically think of guests as “audiences”. By casting them as stars we see they need special treatment. Every star has unique characteristics and preferences.

The immersive performance we create for them must gratify their tastes and expectations – and advance their progress in life.

Get their hero’s journey right and they will reward us with occupancy rate, RevPAR, revenue growth... hurrah!

KPI – the P stands for Performance

One performance benchmark is Disney, whose hospitality products seamlessly flow into an entire proprietary fantasy universe.

The analogy does have limits. The Force was not with their Star Wars windowless box theme.

Still, we can learn from the Mouseketeers – producing artistic immersive experiences requires documentation, design and discipline.

Great performances aren’t produced by chance

We need to deeply understand our stars. Their desires, their idiosyncrasies. It’s at the heart of hospitality brand building.

Whether we drop our pin in a tropical paradise, urban hotspot, gritty industrial outpost – anywhere on the map, the importance of location is obvious.

How about the set? Are we building a single uniquely branded boutique? Reimagining a faded brand? Launching a new chain? A chain of chains?

Immersive performance art requires a script

All these factors, and many more, influence production development. We need to get it all down on paper as soon as possible. In the world of hospitality, this means aligning business and brand strategy.

An effective brand strategy guides better decision-making on everything from global multinational brand architecture to the shine on a server’s shoes.

Yet many hospitality ventures only consider branding after the location is chosen, and sometimes even not until the set is built. That’s like thinking about a show just before the curtain rises.

When creating memorable performance art, the more time you get to carefully develop it, the more successful it’s likely to be. Branding early leads to better outcomes.

Soft stories well told and beautifully illustrated

Guests respond to compelling brand narratives that connect on an emotional level and further their aims – they are our stars after all.

An effective brand strategy identifies a brand DNA – a high concept upon which a relevant cohesive, consistent hospitality offering can be constructed.

Hospitality business strategy starts with location, property and brand – these guide a host of things, including customer experience, market segmentation, pricing and rev mgt, marketing, operations, tech, sustainability. The list goes on...

Creating an immersive experience means designing everything from the physical environment to the perceptions of all involved. That means developing guidelines and SOPs to create the consistency of a quality performance.
“Hotelier’s who imagine and consistently stage a performance that makes guests feel like stars in their lives will be rewarded.”

So many paths to the heart

The perfect brand guidelines create a two-way mirror. One side displays the reality of the star’s experience and physical aspects of the property and brand.

On the other side of the mirror, a production crew follows the guidelines to direct the performance and maintain its delicate balance.

Every aspect of an immersive experience can be shaped. Guidelines should consider less tangible dimensions such as scents, sounds, foliage and imagery.

Also important are the values we share with our cast members – our team – as well as our guests. What do we believe in? How do we express it consistently and convincingly? Get it right and the right people will be drawn to your offering.

Cast and crew

Have you ever seen the credits that roll after a movie? There’s a lot of people involved. Producing hospitality immersive performance art takes a big team too.

Architects, interior designers, storytellers, artists, creative directors, brand designers, chefs, F&B and operations directors...

All those creative types have their own ideas and a tendency to be distracted.

They need clear direction and close management by people who understand how to get the best from their talent. People in HR, finance and the C-suite.

Choose your production team with care. Pay attention to the successful performances they have been involved in previously. Get them in early.

Top movie directors prefer to work with people who have previously contributed to their success. When defining or redefining brands, hospitality brand building procurement processes may push out ideal collaborators in the name of controlling costs. Ironically this can lead to waste and expense through misunderstandings and missed opportunities.

From bland to grand

The wonderful thing about hospitality brand building is the sheer variety of offerings – and offerings within offerings – F&B, MICE, wellness, leisure....

You may be part of a leadership team for a cheap and cheerful budget accommodation. Or at the helm of the most exclusive resort. Or run an understated chain that exists mainly to soothe the stressed business traveller. It can all be usefully imagined as performance art.

Hotelier’s who imagine and consistently stage a performance that makes guests feel like stars in their lives will be rewarded. You’ll get more likes, selfies, sharing, positive reviews, applause, and the most effective influence of all, word-of-mouth.

And that can only have a positive effect on KPIs.

Key takeaway: Inspire hospitality KPIs with immersive performance art

Stepworks has contributed to the brand development of numerous hospitality properties facing pivotal change. Offering brand strategy, messaging frameworks, design, campaigns and digital, we aim to put performance into your KPIs. We’re happy to share our views about your hospitality branding.

Stephen Barry, Managing Partner
19/F, LKF29, 29 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong

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