Every year, the leadership team of practically every major brand eagerly awaits the results of the “100 Most Valuable Brands” by Interbrand.
While every ranking has its shortcomings, Interbrand's list is important enough to be proudly presented by brands that claim a spot, especially those that gain points and move up the ladder. Over the last few weeks, my inbox was filled with press releases and LinkedIn posts from brands, including Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, celebrating significant gains in brand equity and desirability.
When looking at the list, I was not surprised that one category was missing: hospitality. If we exclude Disney — which includes theme parks, hotels, and cruises among a plethora of other businesses — there is no hospitality brand among the top 100. Not one.
Why was I not surprised? A few years back, just before the pandemic, the hospitality publication Skift interviewed me about exactly the same topic: Why is there not even one hospitality brand on the list? My answer: “[Hospitality brands] don’t want to compete with themselves, so they create false divisions [by creating a sheer endless array of brands with little to no differentiation].
"They define user groups and create products around them — a rational process, but people aren’t rational consumers. The internal differentiation makes little difference, because the other major hospitality companies are doing the same thing. That’s why many hotel brands become empty umbrellas. Everything gets hollow because there is no substance to brand definitions.”
I would repeat the same answer today for many brands. When brands are merely trademarks with certain design cues that fundamentally promise what everyone else does, there is no value. Therefore, not having any hospitality brand in the top 100 is not an oversight but rather a stark warning for the entire luxury sector. In an age where brand value is intricately tied to customer perception, emotional response, and human experience, the hospitality industry's failure to make the list is a clear indication of deeper underlying issues.
In an age where brand value is intricately tied to customer perception, emotional response, and human experience, the hospitality industry's failure to make the list is a clear indication of deeper underlying issues.
At the core of this omission lies a fundamental disconnect in client-centric brand storytelling and experience delivery. Despite all the promises of creating a home, hotels often fail to place guests at the center of attention. How often have you truly been treated as a human during check-in? How frequently did the check-in staff genuinely inquire about your feelings, ask about your plans and goals for your stay, and then offer to create an experience that makes your stay unforgettable? It’s the exception, even in luxury hospitality. And it is an exception in many luxury realities across categories.
The essence of luxury hospitality is about crafting unique, memorable experiences. Yet, many brands in this sector have shifted their focus inward, centering their operations on efficiency and profitability rather than guest experience. This subtle shift has significant repercussions. It dilutes the brand narrative, making it less about the guest and more about the business, thereby eroding the very foundation of luxury hospitality: making guests feel special and valued.
Another critical factor contributing to this decline is the inconsistency in delivering a consistent brand experience. Luxury is synonymous with precision, consistency, and attention to detail. However, numerous brands in the hospitality sector struggle to maintain these standards across different locations and touchpoints. This inconsistency leads to a fractured brand image, leaving guests with varied experiences that often fail to meet the high standards expected of luxury brands.
It's imperative for hospitality brands to realize that what they are doing today is simply not enough. Creating a compelling brand story is not a one-time effort but an ongoing process that requires continuous nurturing and evolution. This story must be deeply embedded in every aspect of the guest experience, from the first point of contact to the last, and repeated consistently. Furthermore, rigorous training and development of staff are essential to ensure that this narrative is delivered consistently and authentically at every touchpoint.
In my view, training is the luxury superpower. Having personally trained thousands of luxury personnel every year, from CEOs to salespeople, I can confirm that it is the single most powerful investment a company can make. And yet, it’s often more realistic to get the renovation of a lobby approved rather than sales training that could dramatically change the luxury perception and the value of the brand. It’s a superpower that the best brands in the world consistently harness and that many others neglect.
Delivering a luxury experience is hard. I often compare it to an opera. You can have the most beautiful opera house and the best singers. But if there is no script or rigorous training, the performance will be a disaster, and the guests will leave disappointed. Most brands do exactly the same. They overinvest in the tangible and neglect the intangible. In many sales trainings, I witness again and again how hard it is to identify the emotional triggers of clients.
Luxury is pure emotion. When brands don’t invest enough in training and fail to create a script through the brand story, then there is no luxury, period. And then there should not be a surprise of not making it into the Top 100.
Claiming that the client is at the core means nothing if they are not truly at the core. A dramatic shift is needed for hospitality players to claim their rightful place among the world's most valuable brands. This is a crucial moment for introspection and action for all in the luxury sector.
This is an opinion piece by Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at NYU, New York. He’s authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker. Daniel frequently conducts masterclasses on various luxury topics across all continents. He’s a sought-after luxury expert, appearing on platforms like Bloomberg TV, Forbes, The Economist, and more. Holding an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, Daniel has received education from Harvard Business School. All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.
Follow him: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drlanger, Instagram: @equitebrands /@drdaniellanger