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Semantics of brands: evocations geared towards the new generations

What has happened to the suffixes and words “-tel” or “suites” or “inn” that served to identify a brand as belonging to a resolutely hotel universe? Are the brands Frantel, Novotel, Sofitel, … Quality Suites, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, … Holiday Inn, Premier Inn, Hampton Inn, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, Sol Hoteles, Hyatt Place, and the like now outdated? The question may be asked objectively in light of the emergence of new hotel semantics.

New brand names are deliberately striking, brief,…  and misspelled, so Jaz, Vib, Venu, Blu, Okko, Moxy don’t sound like they really have anything to do with the world of accommodations… What difference does it make? ask the new marketers! They evoke a style, a promise and a modernity that take priority over rational precision.

Brainstorming sessions at marketing agencies must be particularly unrestrained when it comes to finding the name for a new brand being put on the market by a hotel group. After a period of tightening ranges, customer segmentation took over and new areas are being exploited with specific offers that play on a combination: lifestyle, efficiency, technology, design, authenticity, modernity… and that primarily addresses Millennial clientele who surf the net, tweet, and text without much regard for spelling as long as the message gets across. And marketing gurus have leapt on the opportunity.

In just a few years, and in particular in recent months, brands have popped up that are as varied as Tune, Blu, Even, Venu, Moxy, Okko and Eklo, Vib and Centric and, still more recently, Jaz in the City. An unknowing consumer could have difficulty imagining these are hotel brands. Communications experts have begun to examine this phenomenon more closely with a few explanations about the new direction marketers are  headed in. Chekitan Dev, professor at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, recalls when brands were named after their founders (Marriott, Hilton, Magnusson, Barcelo…) or suggested a universe tied to accommodations (Holiday, Sleep, Comfort, Motel,…) in a certain logic of appropriation. But that was before…. Before the Y Generation upset all the codes with their mania for truncating and despising spelling.

In the new quest for identification with a customer experience, for a transposition of a series of promises that underlies differentiation with respect to the competition, the naming process shifted towards a need to evoke an attitude, a personality, a Style… Today psychographic segmentation is based on lifestyles, beliefs, values, consumer personalities. These criteria are more difficult to implement because they require complex studies of targeted segments. But now they take the place of socio-demographic segmentation in light of the first observation that customers may zap from one product to the next, no longer in function of social status, but also current behavior: leisure, business, business and personal expenses, alone or in company, as a couple or as a family. A paradoxical consumer, a subliminal approach.

Segmentation is increasingly sophisticated with laser-cut boundaries, an approach that could be in total contradiction with the need to rely on a market source that is big enough. But national frontiers explode with the arrival of the Millennium Generation that is connected and more or less shares common centers of interest on the single immense Web. All these new brands have a global vocation and are trying to establish themselves in major cities around the world, surpassing their country of origin. Thus the new brands must have a universal sound, that transcends language: Vib (pronounced Vibe) from Best Western is evocative of a vibrant, exciting atmosphere… Venu by Jumeirah rhymes with “Bienvenue”, which is widely understood… Radisson Blu is perceptible as such … Okko and Eklo recently responded to new customer behavior and have no other goal but to be remarkable and easy to remember.

Moxy, meanwhile, is an interesting case. After months of consideration in search of a short name, with clear resonance, with a feminine touch of pink in the graphic agencies, the Marriott International-Ikea duo proposed Moxie. Enter lawyers who checked that the name – which already belonged to an ancestor of Coca-Cola in the United States – could be registered in all languages on all continents. Spelling to the rescue and Moxy was born, presenting the advantage of being quick to write on Facebook or Twitter.

And this is just one of the demands of social networking: being concise with just three letters or even one like W when it joined the adventure. And W created its own universe around a single letter suggesting “Whatever, Whenever”. As the agency that worked for months before coming up with the name Vib says, these brands that are cut off from reality also create their own history, tell stories that start with the client’s attitude.

This is what led InterContinental Hotels Group to launch its new brand EVEN. Using the uppercase is important since it backs the brand’s graphics that don’t exactly represent a universe. Each of the four letters is in a different color that refers to a natural element: water, earth, fire, greenery,… since the brand targets wellness clientele, and those seeking a kind of balance… EVENness. The page is open to tell what the new chain offers as it unfurls in the United States before it finds its way around the world. It is IHG’s response to Starwood Hotels’ Element (which also evokes nature).  

One of the last “modern” brands to take root on the market is Jaz (spelled with one “z”) in the City by the German group Steigenberger. The first opened its doors in Amsterdam, an experimental city if there ever was one, alongside Istanbul and Brussels, due to the international variety of its clientele. Jazz evokes movement, rhythm, improvisation. It is a shift away from the rigid standards that drive the inspiration of the place. It is thus a new promise from Steigenberger, which is known for its precision and rigorous management. As its notoriety grows with the new openings, Jaz in the City will become Jaz, the trendy brand that lives to the beat of its environment.

We might bet that the next brands launched will also head in this direction until the day when this vein has been drained and will offer nothing new and meaningful to a clientele that is fickle by nature.

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