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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do brands deliver?

Today I checked out of a Doubletree Hotel in London. My stay of four nights was not happy. The hotel's record of my reservation was incorrect upon arrival. My room had no heat -- and a colleague's room at the same hotel had no heat, either. My laundry was delivered a day late. Twice my room key quit working. Even in the UK where tolerance for things out of service is a national virtue, this was excessive.

Why was I at this particular hotel? Because I was attending a trade show at a Hilton in London. The host hotel was full, so they referred my employer to a Doubletree -- which is part of the global Hilton brand. Only through this brand connection was my woeful stay arranged.

Earlier in the week I had stayed one night at a Conrad Hotel in Brussels. It's an upscale variant of Hilton, who have so many brands that you might not know them all (Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites).

Branding is a mainstay of marketing; and like so many other aspects of modern business, branding has gone thoroughly global. From Coca-Cola to the BBC to Sony, global brands are ubiquitous. When I first went to France and China, it was funny to see McDonalds. These days, it's difficult to escape global brands even when one wants to.

Aside from diversity, execution is the question. It's one thing to attach a brand name to a storefront. It's quite another to live up to the expectations that people have of that brand name. Sheraton hotels often don't, or so I've found. Most corporations -- at least, the wise ones -- measure how well their brands deliver the expected customer experience. Marriott, an exceptionally well run company, often sends me a survey after a hotel stay. I'll see if Hilton does.