Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In Search Of Brand Mallorca

Mallorca has some pretty serious brands. To Marriott and Hilton are being added Hyatt and Virgin. What do these have in common? Apart from all being in the hotel business (which will be the case with Virgin), they are all foreign. Moreover, they are global brands. Their recognition takes them around the world.

The strength of a brand doesn't happen by accident. It isn't solely an achievement of clever marketers. There has to be considerable substance for a brand to be imbued with the consumer confidence and trust that stem from this recognition. And this substance is created by doing things well and innovatively: even the comparatively small things. Take Marriott, for example. With its acquisition of Starwood, it is poised to become the world's largest hotel concern. A giant of the travel and tourism industry, I can recall how - many years ago now - Marriott was pioneering the use of what would nowadays be referred to as to the exploitation of Big Data. Its innovation in data capture was such that it created personalised attention. The collection of client preferences was stored and then shaped into what would be presented to the client on his or her next stay.

Such detail, such service is what goes towards the establishment of the attributes that mark a great brand out from others. Too often, or so it can appear, it is the visuals of the brand that are believed to suffice. They do not; it is what lies behind the hotel facades, logos and advertising messages that matter.

Virgin is a very different case. It is a peculiar organisation in that it appears to be a vast conglomerate chewing away at more or less every available sector going. And yet its style has always been essentially decentralised. It is more like a franchise system, unified under a brand name that carries with it values that inspire confidence, rather than one massive and faceless entity. 

To no small extent, the Virgin brand is an abstraction from the attributes assigned to its founder, but it would not have succeeded in the way that it has if these were all that it relied upon, and a clue to that success might be found in one word that Richard Branson has uttered in respect of ambitions for the Son Bunyola hotel: "best".

It might seem simplistic, but an aspiration for being the "best" is what impels businesses to seek and to attain brand superiority. The whole structure is designed with being the best or the best possible. And with this being-the-best come the ultimate aims of branding - customer loyalty and trust as well as profit, recognition and/or market leadership.

For all the success of Mallorca's home-grown, global hotel companies, none of them possess the same brand powers as a Marriott, a Hyatt, a Hilton or a Virgin. Up to a point, this is a question of scale. Meliá, as an example, may be big but it is dwarfed by others. But it, as with other Mallorcan hotel companies, were slow to appreciate the benefits of strong branding. This isn't just me saying so, they've all pretty much admitted as such.

As they play catch-up, and none better than Meliá, what might this mean for Mallorca? Superior brands of ever greater recognition, they should, they will have a rub-off effect on the island. But to what degree might these major hotel chains create a type of de facto brand for Mallorca? One that is cast in their collective image, this collective being a combination of the home-grown, leading hotel chains and the foreign ones, to which other names and brands - from the Middle and Far East - will follow.

Gabriel Escarrer of Meliá has spoken of the need for Mallorca and the Balearics to become an "elite" destination. This is one in which the global, "best" brands will succeed, but is it this process of re-branding that inspires so much resentment among some politicians and, so it would seem, the public at large? When Alberto Jarabo of Podemos opined that the hoteliers act against the best interests of Mallorca, a staggering 80%-plus agreed with him (according to one survey).

The politics of current tourism harbour philosophies opposed to fundamentals of strong branding. For Podemos, "sun and beach" is obsolete, when it is Mallorca's primary brand attribute. The tourist tax does nothing for loyalty developed over decades. Neither of these envisages a strategic vision of Mallorca as "best", only Mallorca as defined by specific political interests. The hoteliers, meanwhile, disconnected from this political process, follow their branding initiatives which ultimately make the island secondary: it is the brand and the loyalty to it which matters and not the destination.

Who will step up and argue for brand Mallorca? Perhaps no one, because while such tensions exist, there can never be a unified brand. Someone should talk to Branson.

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