What makes the rooms in your hotel different than the rooms in the hotel down the street? If the only difference is price, then you are in a race towards diminishing revenue. There are hotels built on the basis of being the most affordable in the area and that is fine. There is a market for those hotels. What about those hotels trying to increase their revenue? What about those hotels wanting to charge more for their rooms? The answer to solving these problems is in unique value propositions.
What Drives Buying Decisions?
Have you ever gone to the grocery store to buy table salt? In the United States, there are a few major brands of salt. Knowing next to nothing about each brand and when faced with a buying decision, it would boil down to price. Salt is salt, right?
Salt is a simple commodity. Unique variations of salt ‘de-commoditize’ it. Pink and black salts, salts from the Himalayan mountains, and salts from France differentiate it. This differentiation allows the manufacturers to sell the salt for more money. Price is no longer what sells the salt.
Hotels can become a commodity, supplying a room for a night for a price. It seems like the OTAs and even Google push hotels in that direction. When you search for a hotel in Chicago all you see is a map filled with prices. There is no sense of the experience you will have at any of these hotels. You only know how much it costs and where in the city it is located.
The map implies every hotel is the same except for location and price. A room is a room, according to these services. If salt can have differences allowing it to be sold for more money, then certainly hotel rooms can.
A lot of service offerings are perceived as commodities in the mind of the customer — this one seems no different from this other one. When everything is perceived as equal, the cheapest option usually wins.
Your customers are out there asking themselves, “Why should I spend more?” or “Why should I choose this hotel that’s farther away from where I’d ideally like to be?”
Dilapidated motels along rural highways, whimsical bed and breakfasts, and luxury metropolitan high rise hotels with stunning views of the city offer dramatically different experiences. Price and location are important factors, but hotels cannot ignore guests’ desire for a unique and personally rewarding experiences.
To explore the concept of unique value propositions, we used Blue Magnet’s database of U.S. hotels and randomly selected five hotels. These five hotels are random examples. The fact they were selected at random shows this is a problem for a lot of hotels.
Charles Town, WV Brand Hotel
Calling out “affordable rates” is fine as it is part of the brand message. This brand is known for affordability. The brand has chosen to make price a key aspect of its value proposition. What is missing is any sense of what else this hotel can offer. If this hotel doesn’t offer ‘the most affordable rate’ then it has nothing else to offer.
We can see the standard list of amenities. We see a brief mention of the historical significance of Charles Town, but nothing else.
The hotel could offer more insight and opportunity into the local history. Instead we get content which could be used on almost any hotel website.
Hallandale Beach, FL Brand Hotel
This hotel’s website makes an attempt at highlighting a unique value. It is close to the action at Hallandale Beach, which is an enticing header. Unfortunately, the copy fails follow through on the promise. “Action” in this context evokes images of body surfing, kiteboarding, beach volleyball, and other fun physical activities. The reviews of the beach paint a more serene picture. The expectation established in the heading does not match the reality a prospective guest will find on the beach.
The hotel missed the opportunity to provide the potential guest with a sample of what staying in the hotel near Hallandale Beach would actually be like.
Medford, OR Brand Hotel
Hotels reliant on brand.com for their web presence are limited in how they are able to market their property because they are trapped in a specific template.
Finding the unique value of a brand hotel is a challenge. This hotel’s page starts with a promise, “Stay Better in Medford” but, once again, we can see the copy that follows does not expand upon the promise.
The copy also mentions Crater Lake National Park is nearby, but the hotel is nearly an hour away from the visitor center. The hotel should mention this, but because of the distance, the site will not rank well for ‘hotels near crater lake national park’. Google uses words like ‘near’, ‘close to’, and ‘around’ to signify a local search. ‘Hotels near crater lake national park’ centers the search on Crater Lake National Park, which will only show hotels and lodging within a small radius of Crater Lake National Park.
St. Louis, MO Independent Hotel
Hotels using a vanity site, like most independent hotels, have an advantage in how they present themselves and communicate their unique value proposition. Unfortunately, the design of this website prevents this communication.
The copy on the page is insignificant. There are a few images. From right to left we can see a tiny sliver of a room, a tiny picture of pretty decorations, and a larger image showing the exterior of the hotel.
The initial images are enough to draw attention deeper into the site, but there is a missed opportunity to speak more directly and quickly to the potential guest with a simple block of text highlighting the unique qualities of this property. What makes this hotel compelling to a potential guest?
Laurel, MD Brand Hotel
“You’ll leave…feeling at ease.” It is not the worst tagline, but the communication with the guest should be about their stay, not about when they leave. The copy beneath the header fails to back up the promise being made.
Additionally, the copy suffers the same problem most brand.com hotel copy has, it is a boring block of text.
Buried near the bottom of the home page are the “Highlights” for the hotel. Some are generic, like “Start your morning in Laurel with our free hot breakfast buffet…”. There is one that mentions the alumni and families of students at a nearby university staying here. Since this audience is worthy of being mentioned specifically, maybe the hotel should be doing more to discuss what it is doing that is unique to appeal to this target market.
What is Your Hotel’s 20%?
The concept of ‘20%’ comes from the book, The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time by Allen Gannett. In the book, Allen Gannett talks about innovation coming from ideas 20% different than the status quo. The idea is being innovative and unique cannot be strange and unknown. There needs to be a certain level of familiarity mixed in with the new.
This concept works well in trying to identify what is unique about your business compared to your competition. All hotels are trying to provide a room for a night in a specific location. This is the familiar. The location can be part of what makes the hotel unique to its competition. Amenities, access to the community, level of service, and the staff can all be part of your hotel’s unique value.
The 20% can be almost anything so long as it is not puffery. If you want your 20% to be a great night sleep, your amenities need to support this so when the potential guest reads the list, they are further convinced you mean it. Show the guest you can follow through on your promise.
The Challenge of Finding a Unique Value Proposition
“A lot of businesses struggle with the process of defining their UVP. It can feel like a monumental challenge to define exactly what makes you unique,” Taughnee Stone said in regards to helping her clients find their unique value propositions. “What I like to say is that you don’t need to be a unicorn–you only need to be perceived as unique in your little corner of the world, and your customers aren’t comparing you to every option that’s out there. (More than likely just a handful.)”
“An effective UVP is clear, expressed in human language (not industry jargon or clever slogans), and is easily understood very quickly. Let’s say 5 seconds, because that’s realistically how much time you’ve got to grab your customers’ attention,” she continues.
“So think about what you really want to become known for and then be brave enough to put your focus on it: “We’re the one that ______.” It really doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.”
The following are a selection of hotels doing a great job in highlighting their unique value to their target audiences. Some of these are so unique they are consistently written about in marketing studies. These are examples to demonstrate what it means to market your unique value and to help inspire some radical thinking about your hotel.
A Disneyland Hotel’s Unique Value
Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel & Water Playground‘s location is right next to Disneyland and their site and additional marketing does everything to highlight this favorable position.
The website makes the promise of being an 8-minute walk away from Disneyland, and offers a webcam where potential guests can view exactly how close they are.
On their social media, they have some videos of hotel employees walking from the hotel through the gates of Disneyland, proving over and over their promise has merit.
A Family Friendly LA Hotel Gives Guests a Unique Experience
The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles already is a unique destination, but they offer a popsicle hotline which guests can use to summon a staff member to deliver a popsicle. Social media is filled with pictures people have taken of their kid ordering a popsicle on the hotline.
Dan Heath wrote about the Magic Castle Hotel in his book The Power Of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact because the marketing was so compelling.
Heath comes to the conclusion, “Customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as you deliver some magical peak moments.” The psychological studies done on how we process experiences point to our mind not averaging out our experience, but it focuses on peaks and valleys. We remember the highlights and the lowlights.
A hotel does not need to be the best on each and every element of a stay, but it needs to make sure there are no extreme lows and a few highs to really resonate with the guest. These great moments will then be shared on guests’ social media.
Disneyland Hotel Gives Guests a Fairytale
Majestic Garden Hotel is in a highly competitive Disneyland market and found a way to compete with Disney powerhouses by creating their own fairytale. Without paying Disney for licensing, Majestic Garden created a unique story starring its own Princess hero, complete with dragons and an evil sorcerer.
Now the hotel has something unique, but familiar, for families choosing to stay with them on their Disney vacation. On the hotel website, they showcase their fairytale with elements of the hotel woven into it.
When we do a backlink audit for this website, we can see a lot of people’s personal blogs, travel blogs, Disney blogs, link to this site. The hotel has created something people want to share.
An Oregon Hotel Provides a Book Lover’s Retreat
The Sylvia Beach Hotel located on the central coast of Oregon makes no bones about who they are. Sylvia Beach was a bookseller and this hotel is named in her honor. The copy on the homepage promises, “Catch your breath at the beach – unplug, decompress, and rejuvenate.”
The copy then demonstrates how they will fulfill this promise. “There are no telephones, TVs, or WiFi in rooms at Sylvia Beach Hotel.” This is a hotel for book-lovers. The copy on the page gets a little cheeky by suggesting you take your favorite author to bed with you.
This hotel has a library. No cell phones are allowed in the library. This library has a cat. The hotel is doing everything to let you know, do not stay here if you are not a reader. They have clearly identified their target audience and are doing everything to delight them.
A Milwaukee Hotel Provides A Destination for Motorcyclists
The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee has devoted itself to providing an upscale hotel experience for business travelers and motorcycle enthusiasts. While the home page copy makes the promise, a web visitor does have to dig in a bit to understand how this hotel is accomplishing their goal.
When the hotel was designed, there was an active decision on the style of furniture, more rugged than most hotel furnishings to withstand the occasional whack of buckles and helmets, yet being stylish enough to be considered elegant.
The rooms are build with tile entrances, custom hooks for the hanging of leathers, and a workbench for the removal and storage of boots and helmets. The aesthetic of the rooms is upscale but not dainty or fragile. There is a masculine feel to the rooms without turning them into man caves.
AirBNB and Other Rentals Rely on Unique Value
When you visit AirBNB you get a sense of what is meant by the 20%. Each listing is trying to distinguish itself from all the other offerings in the city.
Netflix even launched a show directed at helping short term rentals highlight their unique values and how to provide unique experiences for their guests.
The premise is simple, make the rental something worth the risk of trying something different and make the stay an experience that the guest wants to share with others.
Usually when hotel digital marketing agencies talk about the Stages of Travel, we focus on the Dreaming, Planning, and Booking stages because they neatly line up with Awareness, Consideration, and Action parts of the search funnel. Experiencing and Sharing are put firmly in the hoteliers’ hands.
The hotel needs to provide an experience beyond a place to sleep — an experience worth sharing.
How to Audit Your Hotel for a Unique Value Proposition?
It is possible to list examples of how hotels create a unique value and transform their hotels from a commodity chosen for price to a location chosen for the experience. It is also true many businesses, including hotels, think they are already presenting a unique service to their customers but are falling short.
We asked Taughnee Stone about how much energy should be spent looking at your competition in trying to determine your hotel’s unique value.
Have you ever noticed this? In any given industry everyone is saying pretty much the same things.
That’s because it’s human nature to not want to stand out from the crowd, it’s in our DNA. We look at what our competitors are doing, we think they’ve figured something out that we haven’t yet, and we model our marketing messages accordingly.
This is the opposite of what we need to do to differentiate. (And therein lies your opportunity!)
You likely already know enough about your competition. (And besides, they don’t have all the answers.) The challenge is really in better understanding you and owning what makes your experience special and then telling people about it.
Take this challenge to see if your website is promoting your hotel’s unique value.
- Create a list of three hotels in your area, not necessarily direct competitors, but three other hotels that come up when you search for ‘hotels in [city]’.
- Visit each of these hotel’s website and copy the text of the home page into a document.
- Visit your hotel’s website and copy the text of its home page into the same document.
- Find and Replace all the hotel’s name with the same generic name, like “Chicago Hotel”.
- Now let your staff, your family, or your friends read through the text and decide which one is your hotel.
If the people who know your hotel cannot pick the text relating to your hotel from this collection, then you have a problem in demonstrating your hotel’s unique value to potential guests. Additionally, you may have an issue with having a sense of brand and voice, but that is a different problem we are not discussing today.
Marketing Your Values, Not Rhetoric
We are looking to answer one question: why should your ideal guest stay with you instead of anyone else? The answer cannot be “because we are better”. Anyone can say they are better, but how many can demonstrate in the exact ways they are better?
What about your hotel is valued by your ideal guest? Bringing that value to the front of all your communication and marketing, backed up by guest reviews, visuals, and facts, will be how you promote your hotel using your unique value proposition to your target audience.
How Can I Find My Hotel’s Unique Value Proposition?
Some hotels have it easy. They have a clear unique value, either built with it in mind, lucked into it due to changes in the market, or developed with the help of branding agencies. Other hotels suffer from being one of many and struggle trying to not only find a unique value, but also a way to market that value on their limited brand pages.
These hotels are like that penguin in the old Far Side cartoon struggling to be unique in a crowd of similar looking penguins.
Finding the unique elements of your hotel is a challenge. Taughnee Stone discussed some of the process she used with her clients in helping them develop their unique value propositions. “I like to ask questions that get my clients out of their own heads and thinking like their customers to really get to the heart of it, like: ‘You’re in the market for your own service. Would you choose yourself instead of your toughest competitor?’ Of course you would! Why? What are those reasons?”
She concluded, “Maybe they do it faster or cheaper or have more bells and whistles, but you would still choose you, right? What are those reasons? Those are the reasons your customers need to know about, they’re the reasons they’ll make that choice too.”
It can help having someone from outside your organization discuss your hotel with you because sometimes you are too close to your property to actually see the unique qualities. At Blue Magnet we’ve seen instances of hotels working with community charities or with scheduled visits by the Easter Bunny and they didn’t feel like these things were that special. “We’ve always done this, it isn’t unique to us.” Not unique to you doesn’t mean it isn’t unique to your guests.
Additional Resources To Help Find Unique Value Propositions
Included below are several links to resources to help you learn more and develop your hotel’s unique value proposition.
- You Don’t Need to be a Unicorn: Defining Your Unique Value Proposition by Taughnee Stone
- Use These 3 Points to Create an Awesome Value Proposition by Chris Goward
- Useful Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One) by Peep Laja
- The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition by Corbett Barr
- 7 of the Best Value Proposition Examples We’ve Ever Seen by Dan Shewan
- 32 of the BEST Value Propositions (Plus How to Write Your Own) by Mary Fernandez
- The Beginner’s Guide to Finding Your Unique Value Proposition by Tony Khuon
Blue Magnet Interactive works with hotels from all over the world. We work with hotels in all types of markets. We have experience helping hospitality businesses like hotels, spas, resorts, and restaurants find and market their unique value propositions. If you are challenged finding and promoting your hotel’s unique values, then contact us and we will gladly lend a hand.