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How to Brand Your Small Business

From Dan Schawbel:

How do you brand your small business? Entrepreneur, and owner of successful Luxe Hotels shares his insights….

How to Brand Your Small Business

In order to understand how small businesses create successful brands, I spoke to Efrem Harkham, founder and chairman of Luxe Hotels, which provides both business travelers and vacationers access to the best hotels on the planet and the ability to book them.

To his surprise, Efrem had no intention of working in the hospitality industry. He was perfectly content working in the fashion rag trade as president and CEO of Jonathan Martin and Hype clothing manufacturers. In 1983, he purchased what is now the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel and despite major obstacles, he made it profitable. This success fueled his new passion for the hospitality and hotel business, purchasing the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in Beverly Hills and helping other properties improve profitability. He is now the first hotel owner that has created a hotel representation company and a global brand. I sat down with Efrem to understand how he’s created his brand, differentiated it, incorporated social media to fuel it, maintain it and his advice for other small-business owners.

OPEN Forum: How did you come up with your brand name? What inspired it?

Efrem Harkham: The inception of the Luxe Hotels brand name came about in a very organic way. I always wanted a short, four-letter word, that was easy to remember and that represents quality. A friend of mine who works in branding for a well-known entertainment company came up with a list that met this criteria. The moment I heard Luxe, I knew it was the perfect fit for the identity of this hotel brand and everything fell into place from there.

OF: How have you differentiated your brand from your competitors?

EH: We offer the right balance of distinct personality and global exposure. Luxe Hotels epitomizes a strong sense of place, style, exceptional service and attention to detail. We meet customers’ search for individuality and service and provide relief from the chains that offer sameness and impersonal service. As a hotelier of nearly three decades, I am intimately aware of what independent hotels need and want—and what will ultimately increase their visibility, volume and viability. Chains that have over 500 hotels in their portfolios can’t make a difference with that many properties. We’re delivering something of value, something unique here. Our members see our efforts and they tell us all the time how we have given them the tools to change their business for the better. In terms of our branded properties, our level of service, individualized attention and one-on-one interaction with our guests really sets us apart from the bigger, corporate chains.

OF:How have you used social media tools to communicate your brand? What other marketing tactics do you use?

EH: We have a holistic approach to social media that’s integrated with a complete multichannel marketing plan. Our goal is to listen and then engage in conversation with our customers—authentically and consistently hearing them, being responsive and adding value. The beauty of social media is that it evens out the playing field for small businesses and big businesses alike. Some of the best social media campaign strategies have been born from independent hotels.

We use Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and YouTube, Weibo in China to engage in conversation with our past, current and potential Luxe Hotels guests. In terms of other marketing tactics, there’s a nice balance that involves content creation, a customer loyalty program, strategic partnerships, speaking platforms, creative packages and promotions, community events, and a strong traditional and new media presence.

OF: How have you been able to maintain your brand since you started it?

EH: What it really comes down to is maintaining your brand promise—this is how you keep guests coming back visit after visit. Luxe Hotels has always been about the unique independent hotel experience, exceptional service, individualized attention and great locations. We have stayed true to this through rigorous training, a superb leadership team, and by constantly innovating and listening to our guests, without negating our brand identity.

OF: What 3 pieces of branding advice would you give to another small-business owner?

EH: What is critical in making your brand seen, heard and felt, especially when you’re up against bigger competition with more resources, is to identify your unique brand offering and really enunciate it through a multi-pronged approach. Realize that you’re not a lone soldier—reach out to your peers, tap a global network, build lasting partnerships and surround yourself with very smart people. Most significantly, listen to your customers and maintain your brand integrity.

What strategies do you use to compete with bigger business in your industry?

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and management-consulting firm. Subscribe to his updates at

Photo credit: The Dylan hotel, part of Luxe’s Elite Collection of Hotels, courtesy The Dylan Hotel

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