Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about the hotel spa business, today I realised something new. The next wave in Lifestyle Brands could very easily be spas. Fashion brands have done it. Tech brands have done it. Why not spa brands?
I have just taken two days out of my life, to fly to Hong Kong, stay overnight, attend the client’s office for a 30 minute presentation, then back to the airport for a late night flight back home. The client was not a company I was familiar with when they first approached me. Even after being in contact with them for almost two months off and on, I’m still not any the wiser about what they do. With the exception of this one specific project.
Now these folks are obviously a big deal. My meeting today was in one of the most exclusive office towers in Hong Kong and their offices comprised of one whole floor – that I know of. There may have been more. The project they’re currently working on is Stage 1 of what is planned to be a massive development in the Pacific Islands. The finished project will include 20 plus internationally branded hotels, a massive casino, and significant public areas.
As I was waiting to be called into the meeting room for my 30 minutes of fame, I was seated in a small meeting room off to the side. From here, I could see the scale model of the main building. Frankly, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. The developer describes it as ‘sophisticated ultra luxury’. If I was to describe it, I’d probably call it a blend of Chinese style, kitschy opulence. After the meeting I was standing with the company representative, just looking at the model. He asked how I liked it. My response was, “It’s very Versace!”. His response? “Exactly! That’s the point. The owner wants a luxury brand name like that for the spa. She wants a Chanel spa.” He could clearly tell from my less than enthusiastic hmmmm, that I didn’t think they were ever going to get that brand for their spa. Nonetheless, it did get me thinking, why aren’t more brands, especially luxury brands, putting their names on spas?
In my opinion, there are two main reasons why we do not see more spas and brands leveraging this type of branding opportunity. Firstly, spas for the most part have not really stood for anything specific. Spas have tried to be everything to everyone. Thus, just as the cliché would suggest, they end up being nothing to anyone. In other words, spas have not had a strong value proposition that a brand could get behind and associate their unique identity with. Instead, spas have been focused on keeping up with whatever has been identified as the latest trend of wellness, spa and beauty. The exception to this would be spas that are branded as product spas. For example, Bliss spas fully reflect the identity of the Bliss skincare line. The brand has a very specific identity. All throughout the brand journey you get the feel of fun, funky, cheeky, New York, etc. Walk into any Bliss spa around the world, and they will carry on that same theme.
And there’s another, perhaps less obvious reason that spas and brands haven’t come together more often. You see, spas have always been seen as a place you go to for an hour or two and then leave. It is a very short guest experience and there is no ongoing relationship with the spa once you have left your session. When we think of strong brands in general, these are the ones that are able to create more regular and ongoing relationships with their customers. These days it seems that all the big brand names are lifestyle brands. Many are also trying to position themselves, at least in part, as wellness brands. A big reason for this positioning is the ongoing, ever present nature of lifestyle and wellness. And this is where I believe there are new and exciting opportunities for brands and spas to come together.
The old spa model of being places for beauty, pampering and luxury are quickly fading. In this modern, time starved, results focused world in which we live, people are looking for more. Most seem to agree that the spas of the future will be a place that provides true wellness. Products and services will be focused on helping guests improve their overall health and wellbeing. Wellness will no longer be something you go to visit for a few days or weeks of the year. Instead, it will be about living well, in your everyday life. The spas of tomorrow will find ways to be more connected to their guests to help them live a well life. So, any brand that finds a way to associate with a spa, will now have a more permanent and ongoing connection with that spa’s guests throughout their daily lives. This is exactly what a strong brand needs. And a unique brand identity is exactly what so many spas need. Symbiosis!
When is the last time you went to a spa and thought, “Wow! That’s an amazingly unique spa experience! It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen!”. When? Probably never. Pick up a copy of your any spa magazine and flick through the pages with all the spas featured. How different are they? I mean really unique? From personal experience, I can tell you that every time we open a new spa, it is a struggle for us to come up with a more creative way to describe what are essentially the same basic features. I mean, how different can a spa treatment room really be? How unique can a steam or a sauna or a Jacuzzi be? The reality is that we end up stretching the limits of the English language (and sometimes others too) just so we can sell you what are by and large just features, not benefits. Benefits are what truly make a difference to our guests, not features. I wrote a bit more on this concept in Branding – The Soul of your Spa Business
Where is the Nestle spa? They call themselves a health and wellness company, so why not have a brand of wellness outlets where they do more than just sell us the latest iteration of low fat milk? Where’s the FitBit Spa? Guests would have a great new place to test new hardware and software of a brand they already love. Presumably, as the FitBit company evolves, it will need to focus not just the fitness tools they have, but to also extend into overall health and wellness tools. Imagine the strong brand connection that could be built if either FitBit or Nestle were to join forces with a wellness spa brand?
Just imagine how many other lifestyle and product brands could follow this same path…
From a hotel perspective, we have seen a few of the big brands putting a lot of effort into their wellness elements. Starwood have long been a bit of trailblazer here, especially with their Westin brand. A few years ago, the company launched their Six Pillars of Wellness, intended to provide a wellness focus point for each and every part of the guest journey. Hyatt Hotels recent acquisition of Miraval potentially positions their brand to also play a more active role in the lives of their guests beyond the hotel stay. Odds are it won’t be long before others will follow.
- There’s not many strong, stand alone spa brands.
- Many of today’s strongest brands are lifestyle and/or wellness brands.
- Spas are becoming more lifestyle and wellness focused.
- Brands, especially in the luxury space, have opportunities to create spa brands.
- Spas may well be next wave of lifestyle brands.