In today’s fickle consumer landscape, the question of how to build customer loyalty and brand ID is more important than ever for commercial clients. Here we ask four top commercial Interior Designers about the important role that Interior Design can play in this and how to ensure the success of each project.
We spoke to Vince Stroop, Principal at Stonehill Taylor; Gilberto Vizzini, UK Manager and Strategy Director at il Prisma; Hamish Brown, Partner at 1508; and Maria Vafiadis, Founder and Managing Director at MKV Design, all designers for this year’s ‘Sleep Set’ at Sleep (The Hotel Design Event). This is a particularly relevant topic for them as this year’s show theme is ‘Loyalty: Lessons in Love’.
Do you think it’s harder today to earn loyal customers than in the past?
VS: I do. Due in part to the dependence we have on social media and its ability to instantly introduce a “shiny key” that diverts attention to that next hottest thing. We have become increasingly “experience based” and that makes it more of a challenge to retain repeat business.
GV: Yes, definitely. In the past, brand loyalty was almost a given. Hotels and their guests trusted brand names and if a visitor had a bad experience, the effect was limited to them and their immediate circle of acquaintances. These days however, due to the sharing economy typified by Tripadvisor, social media, and rating sites, hotels can no longer hide.
HB: Yes, without a doubt. The hotel industry has been through a huge transformation, especially within the past decade, that has brought a new sense of awareness and a higher standard of expectations from hotel guests.
MV: In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. Above all, loyalty is earned – as it always has been – from being honest and genuine. Where it is harder now is that as a hotelier today, if you cut corners or make mistakes, social media and the speed of communications mean that this is going to be made visible very quickly.
How important is creating a strong brand ID to earning loyalty in a customer?
HB: Creating a strong brand ID is absolutely critical and is one of the most important elements in capturing and securing customer loyalty. The interior design portrays a visual representation of the brand’s core identity and through interaction allows its guests to develop a deeper understanding of the brand, through which the basis of a loyal connection can be made.
MV: It is very important, whether you are considering a single, independent hotel or an international group.
VS: Many of the decisions we make on a daily bases are predicated on a strong brand presence. It is important however that those brands remain fluid and flexible to keep us all engaged.
GV: It is vital for brands to have a strong personality. This doesn’t mean that their identity has to be unusual or wacky, but it cannot be bland. People crave connection and whilst brands used to be as neutral as possible so as not to alienate anyone, this is no longer an option. Brands must be true to their values and personality if they are to attract guests and earn loyalty within their niche.
What are the key factors to winning a commercial project?
VS: Being able to listen. The ability to Listen to what the Client expectations are; the ability to Listen to what the Market expectations are; the ability to Listen to what the future might bring. And then outline a process for crafting what you hear into something that is both pragmatic and yet transformational.
GV: To win a project, a designer needs to connect with the client and a project, understanding their needs and bringing a different approach to the table that is fuelled by passion. To create a winning concept, you need to consider not only the interior design, but the business and service design models. in doing so, you will deliver not just an interior design concept, but a whole experience.
HB: It all comes down to understanding the client, the brief and the site location. The designs must be crafted individually for each project.
MV: Ultimately, the key factor is to be professional. Of course creativity is essential but I am taking this as a given amongst design companies. What makes the difference is professional advice and professional judgement; these help deliver projects that are both beautiful and commercial. Professionalism certainly helps win the second and third job from the same client. You could say it creates loyalty.
Is the client’s brand ID more or less important than it used to be for commercial clients?
MV: It’s certainly more important for our hotel clients as competition increases, not just among hotels but with other types of accommodation, and all these offerings are there for guests to see at the click of a mouse.
GV: In the past, the brand identity held centerstage and were more or less untouchable. Companies were convinced that if you had a strong brand that was promoted through advertising and marketing, it would be successful. Today, brands are no longer alone in a spotlight and are instead required to connect with their guests on a more equal level and evolve with the changing markets.
VS: Absolutely, this is their identity, who they are, who they want to become and being able to tap into their DNA and continue build and evolve it is critical.
HB: It is imperative, more than ever, for the client’s brand ID to have strong clarity. The core identity and brand message must be intricately woven into every detail that the guest interacts with. Specifically for hotel operators, design is a clear manifestation of the brand, the service it provides and how their staff engages with its clientele.
What do commercial clients need their interior designer to deliver?
VS: Our role in the design industry is to keep our commercial clients up to speed on how important the visual environment has become to remaining relevant. Guests are always looking for sensory experiences and it’s our job to help bring those to the forefront of any project.
GV: Design on its own is not enough. Clients require interior designers to work with physical spaces, brand identity and guest expectations to devise and deliver a full-service experience that brings the best out of the venue through considered space-planning, the development of a sense of place, and the anticipation of the needs of both visitors and operator.
HB: Ultimately, a commercial design should be considered, sophisticated and functional in order for the space to operate as smoothly as possible. The narrative and the design itself needs to be intelligent and should not only provide the client with a practical solution but also a refined, unique and attractive setting in which memorable experiences can be created by its users.
MV: Creative and professional design solutions.
How did you approach and respond to the brief in your Sleep Set?
VS: Our approach to the Sleep Set design brief was to inspire loyalty to the “us” in everyone. I believe we have achieved this by creating a flexible, user driven experience. We felt that it is important to provide a tool box of elements that are cross cultural and would help allow the guest to create either an experience that is familiar to them or perhaps one that unfamiliar but unique and could appeal to that sense of one’s inner adventure.
MV: With a very open mind. I think that as you become older and more experienced in what you do, conversely you become more aware of the broader community and, as immersed in design as we are, you become concerned about the issues that affect everyone, such as the condition of our habitat. These issues go beyond design but as designers we can play our small part in trying to resolve them.
GV: We took the Sleep Set as an opportunity to really focus on the relationship between the brand and the customer. This threw up the question, “How do you turn a one-night-stand into a long-term love affair?” The conclusion that we came to was that this was impossible without extending the connection in some way beyond that initial night. This could be achieved by combining physical and digital worlds into a new ‘phigital’ paradigm, where the hotel gets to know the guest’s passion points from their stay, and then remains in touch with them through the internet, suggesting events and news that may be of interest to them, so that it can become a knowledgeable and trusted friend, instead of a one-night memory. Our goal here was to slowly foster loyalty through emotional connection, shared loves and confidence in the word of an almost personified hotel.
HB: Under the theme of loyalty, our design narrative was strategically developed using measured principles. A combination of empathy for the hotel guest coupled with a strong commercial understanding allowed us to tailor our approach in defining how we felt brand loyalty should be achieved and portrayed. Through creating and highlighting intricate details within the space, we allow the guests imagination to play a part in subtly weaving those details into a room and journey that is personal to them. Our design is about the unexpected details that create a strong response and imprint a lasting memory. A memory that sparks familiarity, trust and intrigue that grows stronger through new discoveries made on returning each time.
Sleep is the Hotel Design Event held 21-22 November at the Business Design Centre, London, UK. The trade-only event welcomes interior designers, architects, hotel owners, hotel developers, hotel operators and hotel investors to discover the latest advancements in hotel design through their fantastic list of suppliers and conference programme. Click here to register for your trade ticket in advance.