‘Loving change’
is a big driver of success

An interview with Joanna Fisher,
Group Sales and Marketing Director
Kew Green Hotels

As well as achieving metrics, marginal gains and clear communication

Key points
  • The challenge is communicating that Kew Green Hotels is the management company of choice to a B2B audience of hotel brand owners.
  • The company meets the metrics and standards as defined by these hotel brand owners and blends them with their own values to be financially successful.
  • They continually make marginal gains just like Olympian rowers in their pursuit to be the best they can - moving from ‘good’ to ‘better’ to ‘outstanding’.
  • A new brand value ‘We love change’ has been added to help keep up the energy levels, re-invigorate the business and deliver transformation.
  • The brand tone of voice is less corporate and more conversational than traditional hotels and video is their communication tool of choice with a multi-generational workforce.

In much the same way that a car dealership group has a brand, but what it predominantly ‘sells’ are the brands of specific manufacturers, Kew Green operate franchised hotels of other, better known, brands, mainly Holiday Inn, but also Hilton and Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton by Hilton, and voco, IHG’s new flgship brand.

The company has grown from owning one hotel in 2001 to owning or managing a portfolio of over fifty in the UK. With the only hotel carrying the Kew Green name located in Hong Kong, growth has brought the challenge of how to develop and communicate a brand that is not hotel customer facing, but reflects having one management company which operates multiple hotels across multiple locations – in other words to a B2B audience. Which has been an issue from the perspective of building a brand which presents Kew Green as the hotel management company of choice, explains group sales and marketing director Joanna Fisher.

Joanna Fisher

 

Joanna Fisher, Group Sales and Marketing Director,
Kew Green Hotels

The starting point of course has to be consistently meeting the metrics and standards as defined by the hotel brand. For example, at the IHG group, Holiday Inn requires the delivery of ‘an affordable, enjoyable hotel experience where guests are always welcomed warmly’. At Crowne Plaza the requirement is ‘ready 24/7 with premium accommodation, business-ready services and spaces, and fast and fresh food’. “Then,” says Fisher, “it’s about setting our own company culture and values in line with our brand to drive success. “At one of our leadership conferences we had a talk from an Olympian rower who said that even when they win, they review the spreadsheets when they get back in the car and think about how they could’ve done it better,” explains Fisher. “I tell my guys the same thing: it’s about getting back in the car and reviewing the spreadsheet to see where we can make those marginal gains. For us it’s about ensuring we are pursuing outstanding.”

Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays

As the business grows it has had the challenge of integrating new hotels, and for that to happen, Kew Green’s own values have to at the very least chime with those of the corporate brands.“Then once you have established a track record as a management company, which means you already have an example of ‘good’, you can then see what great would really look like,” suggests Fisher. “And then it is about our brand making the journey from good to great to outstanding.”

In 2015 Kew Green Hotels were acquired by HK CTS Metropark Hotels, a state-owned Chinese enterprise and that country’s largest travel corporation. Kew Green are their first overseas hotel platform and the two organisations are working closely not just to expand the business in the UK and Europe, but to learn from and assimilate some of the best practice that our company brand has introduced.

One particular communication medium which has been deployed by Kew Green to promulgate the brand is video. “It’s a tool of choice in communicating with a multi-generational workforce,”

explains Fisher.

“For example, we filmed employees telling us in their own words what our core values of outstanding means to them.” And social media is mission-critical in communicating the brand to the new, millennial customer. “The challenge is knowing how they want to be spoken to,” muses Fisher.

“They can spot generic marketing blurb a mile off; they will do extensive research on us, looking at customer advocacy and user reviews, because they want to experience brands as they are, not through gimmicks.

“It’s interesting that research has shown that young people couldn’t match hotel brand names to slogans because they were so similar.”

The tone of voice adopted by Kew Green is a lot less corporate and a lot more conversational than from a traditional hotel company, says Fisher. A job advertisement for a sales position featuring a photo of her laughing and chatting – as opposed to the conventional corporate mugshot – generated seven applications in the first couple of hours after its appearance, Social media is also important from an internal communications point of view and the company has a Facebook group for staff, which gives a voice to employees who might not have an internal email account. Fisher tries to participate in the group herself.

“It makes a massive difference when a director comments,” she says. “Imagine, a maintenance man from Warrington posts about something he did and the managing director gives him a hand clap. It makes a huge difference to people if they feel they are making a difference, and it’s appreciated.”

Fisher sees an intrinsic part of brand-building as inevitably involving what she calls the “hearts and minds piece” internally. “People want to feel they are making a difference,” she explains. “So ‘help’ is a word we use a lot as a management team. Rather than ask the question ‘what are you doing’, in effect ‘what are you not doing’, we ask how can I help?

It’s about motivating and supporting our employees so they know we are all in it together, and they in turn then become ‘the voice of Kew Green hotels’, spreading their positive experiences out in the market with no bland corporate speak.”

This helps to achieve something important if a brand is to have that real resonance. “We want our people to feel they are the business,” says Fisher, so that they talk about Kew Green in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘they’.”

Does she believe brand values are resolute? “I don’t think anything is set in stone,” observes Fisher. “Brands provide an operating framework but values can shift. As well as trusting our teams, the pursuit of outstanding, and that details matter, we have also added we love change. That’s because this is the world we live in, and if you are going to survive and be the best and continue to be the best, you need to be able change and more quickly than ever before”.

Which kind of suggests that in a sense, a successful brand needs to be ‘disruptive’. “Or the people delivering the brand have to be,”

qualifies Fisher.

“It’s almost about internal disruption, the ability to deliver transformation. Psychometric testing is being used to improve performance and risk-taking. It means when a business is picking up the pace it can more accurately and quickly map people to the right role. Young employees love the process as it’s online and it has an element of gamification.

“If a company is to continue to evolve its brand, it will need to keep up the energy levels and re-invigorate the business. But we don’t lose sight of our purpose - hospitality is what hotels are about, and it is important to protect the DNA which enables us to deliver that well.”

Researched and written by Decision Magazine as part of a special report commissioned by Greenfisher, called ‘Business As Unusual - Secure the Future of your Brand’.

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