Challenges of Brand Differentiation

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

In capturing today’s market of savvy travelers, design professionals are challenged by the numerous hotel brands that have emerged. With a focus on brand identity, creating authenticity while addressing the particular design standard of that brand, requires a balance between what the brand represents and the client’s design vision. Ultimately, the creation of a memorable guest experience, both personal and unique, is the goal in bringing a traveler back to that brand. 


This month we’re chatting with a trio of pros that have all helped create brand prototypes, and are well versed at the art of bringing new concepts to life. Plus, they’re all masters at balancing brand demands with owner wants. Here’s how they maneuver this complicated thicket.


Interview with Jacki Arena, Designer and Owner of

JAI - Jacki Arena Interiors


How do you learn the particular needs and requirements of a brand and what differentiates that brand?

We study the brand standards and requirements at the start of each project. We find that updates and changes to prototypes can be usually quite extensive. It is typically within these standards that the brands note their key identifying elements which must be included in the design; sometimes very subtle from brand to brand, others more obvious and recognizable. 


How does this impact your design process and choices? We start with brand standards and then take the client’s vision and see how closely they fit together. When they fit well, we stay close to what the prototype suggests. If there is conflict with the vision, we get into modifying and customizing while making sure we remain aligned with both party’s direction.


When designing a new prototype or location for a brand, how do you anticipate technology changes? A lot of that review leans heavily on the brand and the research provided by the brand. A company such as Hyatt has studied the user of the specific brand. Then we get familiar with the most current products from our different manufacturers.


What elements are important to the design now, that was never on the radar before? In the case of Hyatt, they require lit bed bases, so we needed to retrofit a motion sensor for guest safety when getting up in the middle of the night. Additionally, mirrors in the bathroom are no longer just lit, but also have nightlights, clocks and Bluetooth built in.


How do design elements trickle down within the different brands- how long does it take a trend to go from Luxury to Upscale?

It doesn’t take long today because we are all exposed to so much instantly. We tend to keep our designs very classic and timeless, but also current, so the trends won’t impact our client’s ROI.


What design elements are most important to your guests? It’s all about convenience and a memorable experience. Whether it is created by bringing the local flavor into the room using different art elements, accessories and patterns, or with the newest technology, it must be memorable.


When a hotel tries to encourage greater use of public areas, how does this impact guestroom design? It requires us to do more in public spaces, not less in the guestrooms. For the past few years we have focused on creating public spaces with many options to be “alone together”. The key is options. That has to carry into the guestroom design as well.


How do you think outside of the box, when there’s really no box anymore? Everything we are creating must be unique. However, “the box” represents standards to an extent, and we go beyond what is standard and expected in order to create a one of a kind memorable experience the guest will want to share with others and repeat.


How do you balance design intent and budget?  Awareness of the brand in addition to 20+ years experience helps us know which manufacturers are within the right price point. Many times, we don’t receive a budget until we exceed it. That is when relationships are critical as we can go back to our reps and manufacturers and ask them to work with us on a solution that we can all be happy with.


How does designing an airport location differ within a brand design?  The guest end user is much different, especially in Orlando where we worked on the in-terminal Hyatt Regency. The average stay is 1-2 nights, and specifically between vacations or international travel. Our goal was to provide tranquility upon arriving to the guestroom so no matter what time zone the guest came from or may be going to, there will be a peaceful transition while there.


List 3 adjectives to describe the Hyatt brand Sophisticated edginess, Forward thinking, Experiential.


Interview with Abby Bullard, Designer

Stonehill & Taylor


How do you learn the p