The turn of the wheel. Over the pandemic, brands now want to build direct relationships with customers for the first time in decades.

It used to a core central pillar of all business, a real connection between the consumer and a brand. One only has to watch to the adverts of the 1960s and 70s to see how brands tried to connect on a personal level. As brands became more sexy, so they stood back a step and the brand almost became the story. It was felt that the brand could dominate the narrative and even improve sales through strong brand marketing. One could almost visibly see many companies become less accountable their customer over time. So many were talking at their audiences and an increased disengagement was already building before the pandemic.

However the pandemic has seen the narrative change. No longer are brands seeking to lead the narrative but want to listen and connect directly with the consumer. For whatever reason, the wheel has turned full circle as many brands want to once again connect with their audiences on a personal level. Some leading brands would prefer to invest in a direct relationship, in building an immersive experience which connects the two together rather than through traditional marketing. It is one of the amazing feats of the new Abba experience in that it has opened up Abba to new generations and audiences plus developed a new experience.

Why the shift back in emphasis?

Traditional marketing had gradually become less effective and it has all become more than just promoting a product. Results showed that consumers wanted a see a story be told; one which was authentic and connected the consumer to the real world they could touch. Brands needed to not just talk but to actually start to illustrate how their product could connect. Brands needed to connect with the emotions of the consumer and what better way to achieve than via direct interaction?

This all applies to hospitality just as much as any business. Companies all across the sector need to start asking the questions they have only paid lip service to for years:

• What does our brand mean to the customer and guest?
• What makes our brand different and authentic?
• What is our offer?
• What is our service offer?

This is important as there are some amber lights flashing across all sectors. There are many beginning to ask questions over some of the room rates being charged across city centres. Is it a sustainable model? Many restaurant groups have not passed over the full cost rises to the consumer because of a concern of being the first to really raise their prices. This is building a pressure in the market and research is suggesting that only 33% of operators are currently making a profit. If ever there was a need to build stronger relationship between customer and operator, it must surely be now?

There are many today talking about the experience but without truly understanding what it means. It is first and foremost about an authentic relationship between the guest and the operator which actually is authentic and can be trusted. The irony is that guests trust A.I today before they trust human interaction. This has been the failure of traditional branding and is what is most in need of change. This will be built again through good pricing and great service levels coupled with modern advancement. It is estimated that less than 10% of companies have strategies which are ahead of the curve so there is much work to be done.