How we took a lodge in Japan to a #1 on TripAdvisor
Kuma Lodge is owned by three Australian partners and is located in Madarao, in the region of Nagano. Madarao is a quaint, authentic Japanese ski village that retains much of the charm that larger ski resorts in Japan, such as Niseko, often lack.
The below case study is the process we went through for Kuma Lodge (along with the team at BONSTA), and the three key phases we followed. Who are we talking to? What are we trying to say? And how will we deliver it? By applying this three-phase approach to how you treat your brand, marketing and customer experience, you will discover opportunities to develop a better relationship with guests, expand your business and stand out from your competition.
PHASE 1 WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?
01 DEFINE YOUR TARGET MARKET
Before we looked at building a brand we needed to define who we were talking to, and essentially who the perfect guest would be. The team at Kuma had thankfully done a lot of their own research to find a gap in the market. They found that there was nothing else in the village that was suitable for young families or couples from Western countries. They also knew their market would be passionate about world-class snow conditions, but wanted to discover authentic local culture away from the overrun ski resorts in the north of the country.
PHASE 2 WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?
02 ESTABLISH A BRAND PURPOSE
We started the creative process by asking the team at Kuma some simple questions that would help us better understand their brand purpose. Their answers would also inform our decisions on the brand, marketing and guest experience and set them apart from their competition.
What are your business goals?
“To build brand awareness and attract new guests to our ski lodge in Japan.”
Who is your target audience?
“Young families and couples who love to ski and share together in the experiences of a different local culture. Predominantly from Australia, Europe and America.”
What feature do you want to highlight?
“From the ski lodge you can see the kids area and directly access the beginners lifts. There is an abundance of great restaurants, bars and cafes within an easy walk.”
What is special about your brand and product?
“Our lodge is in the heart of a traditional ski village, but has all the creature comforts of the Western world.”
What other activities and attractions will most likely appeal to your guests?
“Plenty of transport, restaurants and array of après-ski and family-friendly activities.”
03 WRITE A CREATIVE BRIEF
From the brand purpose we were able to write a creative brief with the team at Kuma before any creative work commenced.
The most effective creative ideas in the world always say one thing, and they say it well. In the brief above you will see the 'single minded proposition'. To us this is the most important section of a creative brief. It's essentially the sum of all the other sections. It's also called 'single' for a reason. It should ideally never contain the words 'and' or 'or'. Be strict to find the one most important thing you need to say. Failing to do so, will confuse your audience and risk losing them.
Writing a good creative brief is the secret key to a successful idea. With this in mind, find the best agency or consultant you can for this. We work with Al Crawford to formulate all our strategic planning into a concise and researched format.
04 DEFINE THE VALUE PROPOSITION
From the creative brief we were able to establish a value proposition that would differentiate us from the competition. We didn’t want to lose the beautiful local Japanese culture that the ski village of Mt Madarao offers. What makes the village so special is the old-world charm mixed with some of the best skiing conditions you’ll find around the world. However, the owners of Kuma had invested a lot of money to bring the lodge up to Western standards. This was also a unique selling point in the village as other accommodation on offer was catering to the Japanese market.
The value proposition became "the place that offers world class skiing and local Japanese culture with Western creature comforts that has to be experienced to be believed".
The next step was to visualise the value proposition. As part of the creative process we used mood boards and rough computer-generated visuals to present to the team at Kuma for their input and approval.
All good ideas usually happen on paper (not the computer). So at this stage of conceptualising, it's important to pick up a pen, not a mouse.
PHASE 3 HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT?
05 BUILD A BRAND IDENTITY
It was now time to establish a brand identity that was unique to the lodge and delivered on the value proposition.
When the team at Kuma bought the lodge it was called 'Andersen Lodge'. We discussed a name change at length and decided to find something more relevant and appealing to our audience.
Kuma is the Japanese word for ‘bear’. There are local bears in the area so it was relevant and it had an internationally friendly sounding name without losing any Japanese heritage. Most importantly, the creative and design felt like they could bring the bear to life in the form of a cheeky character. This would work perfectly to help establish the tone of fun, quirky and approachable.
When developing the branding we looked at ways of incorporating katakana, a component of the Japanese writing system with a stylised and Japanese-inspired illustrative 'Kuma' graphic device.
The final logo was developed to be flexible and can be applied in a number of different forms (2D and 3D), to best represent the channel and tone we need.
Signage was a great opportunity for us. In an area with traditional monochromatic aesthetics, we had an opportunity to stand out in the village. The inspiration was taken from traditional Japanese rice-paper lanterns and 'Tokyo-neon' lighting. By mixing two contrasting styles, we were able to create a sign that is essentially a piece of sculptural artwork.
“It’s all well and good to have a cool logo, but if you haven’t thought the brand through properly, it all starts to come undone when you need a marketing plan, or start posting to your social channels.”
— Scott Aggett, Kuma Lodge
06 TAKE THE BRAND ONLINE
Like most accommodation businesses, the heart of Kuma's online activity is through their website. Therefore, the main requirement of a good accommodation website is the ability to make a booking easily. Once we made this front and centre, we designed the site in Photoshop and built it with Squarespace. The rest of the website is designed to deliver potential guests information on the lodge, rooms, rates, features, guest reviews, latest deals, contacts and local advice. It is brought to life with lodge and local photography and a marketing video is prominent on the home page.
The brand extends into Kuma's marketing and social strategies by maintaining a fun, playful and at times cheeky tone of voice. It was imperative that we maintained a level of consistency with the messaging and visuals to avoid guests being misled or confused along their buyer journey.
07 TELL THE WORLD ABOUT IT
Most of your guests will conduct research into where they want to stay. Video is an extremely effective platform to deliver information to them at scale and it almost doubles the chance of them making a booking with you. According to YouTube, mobile video consumption grows by 100% every single year. With staggering growth such as this, video marketing is a channel that can’t be ignored.
Below is the process we went through with the team at Kuma to develop a marketing video / film for them. Kuma use their video at the top of their buyer funnel with their social channels (Facebook, Instagram...) to generate interest in their brand. They also feature their video on the homepage of their website as a lower funnel conversion tool and to show potential guests how easy it is to travel to.
4. Film / Edit / Sound
08 THE ULTIMATE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Your brand should never stop with a pretty logo and a marketing campaign. Up until this stage we have concentrated on increasing bookings. Once your guest arrives it's important to extend your brand strategy into the customer experience you deliver. Consider all the senses here - what they see, touch, smell, hear and taste.
We worked with a local interior design agency to blend traditional elements of Japanese architecture with Western comforts into the guest rooms and lounge areas.
Merchandise including tees and caps are sold at the lodge to generate more income
The brand extended into poster art around the lodge. We also suggested sourcing local artists who fit with the brand and offer to showcase their work and even act as a gallery space for them. Bringing local art into your accommodation destination is a great way to offer guests a unique experience and connect with your local community.
09 LOVE YOUR BRAND
How you execute your brand can sometimes be the difference of a new booking or losing one to your neighbour.
As a creative, we call this the final 'craft', AKA "the icing on the cake".
An example of craft is when a photographer correctly retouches your images. See the below example that we asked our retoucher Ben Greenfield to apply to the photo of the Kuma living space.
Adding the final craft is often where the little things, make the big difference. Adjusting the logo to work within the Facebook profile space (above right) brought the bear character to life and added to the playfulness of the brand.
HAS IT WORKED?
Watch the short video below from Kuma Lodge owner, Scott Aggett and hear about his ups and downs along the way.
• Kuma Lodge is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for the area
• 200% increase in revenue from 2015/16 to 2016/17
• 300% increase in audience engagement on social media (shares, likes and comments)
• The guest experience continuously delivers 5 star reviews
The above process is aimed to demystify the creative process and make your lives easier to deliver a cohesive and effective brand, marketing plan and customer experience. By understanding you need to define who you are talking to, what you need to say and how you are going to say it, will make the rest fit into place much more easily.
When looking for the right agency or consultant to help you, do your research. Ask your professional network for recommendations, and then check that they will be right for your brand by the work they have done previously, and speaking with them about your business objectives.
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