BRANDING CASE STUDY | EFFECTIVE WEBSITE DESIGN TIPS FOR HOSPITALITY BUSINESSES
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Example #1 | A Functional, But Tired, Motel Website That Forgets To Tell A Story
At first glance, the The Lakeside Village Inn has a decent, if dated, website. It looks to me like something a small business owner who didn’t know anything about websites or design paid a local person to make for them years ago. Maybe that business owner doesn’t really know how to update it - maybe they think a website is a static thing that doesn’t need updating.
The website inspired some confidence in me - a potential customer - right off the bat. I believe that this is a legitimate business. But I don’t think staying there would be the highlight of my trip.
The actual layout of the page, with the box that doesn’t reach across to the margins and the different textures of background feels very early 2000s to me. That leads me to assume that the inn itself hasn’t been updated or really cared for in a long time, because the website has been left to languish. If the taste level of the website is mediocre, I’m left to assume that the aesthetics of the inn will be pretty mediocre too, and there’s a lot of competition in that category. My honest reaction to this website is that it looks fine, but I’d only want to stay here if I could get the room for a very cheap price.
Another feature of the website that leads me to think that the business isn’t very well tended is the News section - this is meant to be a blog, but it’s only been updated twice - once in 2013, and once in 2015. It would look better for this inn if it didn’t have a News section at all, rather than having one that’s so pitifully neglected.
It’s unfortunate, because this business is really missing a trick, by not sharing imagery and information about all the brilliant things to do in the area. If they did write posts about those types of things, then when people who plan to be in Wellington country search for places to eat, drink, and do fun things in the area, they could be bringing up this Inn’s website on Google and falling in love with it for their accommodation… But that can never happen because the owners of this business are not actively posting useful content that helps potential customers to choose them and get the most out of their experience when they do.... Which is the point of a website.
Let’s look now at the branded elements a bit more closely to see what overall impression they’re creating. The colour scheme of this website is actually very appropriate. I like the simple white, grey, and black colour scheme punctuated with blue and green - The colours aren’t complicated or garish, and they make sense for a leafy, lakeside retreat. I’ve mentioned that I don’t love the background textures because they feel dated, but overall the feel of the page is simple and easy on the eyes, which is good.
The heading and body fonts are all the same simple sans-serif, which is a bit of a non-design statement. It’s plain and easy to read, which is good. But that plainness probably adds to the overall impression that this inn isn’t going to wow a visitor looking for a really chic, aesthetically pleasing place to stay. The fonts come across as functional, and nothing more.
The logo feels a little dated, but I’m not so worried about that… with other updates to their branding, it could be charming in a way that harkens back to the kinds of motor inns we know from childhood family road trips.
I do think that the imagery is particularly letting this motel website down, and if I were to advise this business owner, I’d urge them to spend a little on a decent photographer. The cover image doesn’t tell a story about this place - it’s vague, there are no people in it, there’s no building in it, it doesn’t give a sense of what it feels like to enjoy staying in this place. It comes across as rather detached.
They actually say here on the front page that the inn is close to all amazing activities, but there’s nothing that indicated that context.
The rooms themselves, I think we can agree, are a little tired looking, but, if they’re priced right, I’d still stay there… I’d just recommend not leading with those pictures… Larger photos, styled with people enjoying the spaces would be much better.
As a general rule, small photos that are hard to see… I kind of have to squint to look at these, even on my laptop… are an anti-trust cue. Also, photos that don’t match in their dimensions throw off the symmetry of your site and make it look less professional, so I would have all these photos much bigger and cropped the same.
In terms of whether this site looks and functions the way I’d expect a hotel website to look and function… I’d say it does. The information I need is easy to find, the navigation is actually good and clear. The site is simple, and I appreciate that about it.
This website doesn’t take full advantage of its opportunity to build the know/like/trust factor with potential customers. The about page doesn’t say anything about who the owners are, or show a picture of the team. There’s no story to the place. They have a video, which is great for showing the location, but I wish it was bigger, more prominently positioned, and more connective. It consists of aerial drone shots and pans around the property, but there are no people in it enjoy the place, so it really doesn’t give a sense of how lovely it would be to stay at this inn. It has been viewed 4,718 times since it was posted in 2014, which is brilliant, and goes to show that people really are hungry for more information about this business.
It’s difficult for me to tell by looking around this website who the ideally qualified customer for this business is. If it’s families, I wish there was more information about staying with kids and photos of families having fun on the motel grounds. If it’s for city people on weekend getaways, that could also be represented in helpful blog posts and lovely imagery. At the moment, the website is purely functional and pitched from the perspective of the business owner - it say - here’s our business. Here’re our prices. Book here. It doesn’t take the perspective of a customer who wants to know if this place is perfect for them.
Does this site stand up to its competition? Well, sort of. There are a lot of small motels with no website, or worse websites, so in that sense these business owners are doing better than most. They have some photos. They have a video. Their site is easy to use. But it’s not sophisticated or particularly design savvy, so compared with businesses who really “get it” no, they’re not competing in that same league.
Example 2: A Beautiful And Effective Website Design That's Irresistible To Urban Millennials Looking For A Weekend Getaway
Let’s contrast that website, now, with The June Motel. This place opened in Prince Edward County in the Spring of 2017. The physical motel and all the branding around it have been designed with the internet and social media savvy customers in mind - they’re making your instagrammable dreams come true in this place - and the strategy is paying off. This motel is constantly booked out and the freshness of their approach has been so noteworthy that they’re garnered an incredible amount of free publicity, just for looking great, and having really smart, connective messaging. So let’s look at how they’ve done it…
Immediately, the first impression this site makes is that it’s like a breath of fresh air - this is a brand what GETS IT. The design elements are beautiful and perfectly calibrated to drawn in a particular kind of customer who loves a particular kind of aesthetic. They’ve made some bold choices - but to me this says, if you can’t round up your girlfriends and get away to palm springs for a weekend, this is the next best thing.
The general layout of the webpage is punchy and modern. The colours and patterns the designers have chosen mix vintage and modern elements in a feminine, sophisticated way that makes me expect that the whole experience of staying at the June Motel would be really chic, laid back, and beautiful. This is the perfect place for someone who cares about how things look!
The fonts and the logo mix handwriting with a light and sleek sans serif - the handwriting font feels bespoke and personal, while the body font feels modern and tailored. That pairing is a good trick for getting an overall impression that’s cool, not cutesy.
Big, beautiful images up top show exactly who it is this place is courting - or rather, they depict an aspirational vision of how that customer would love to see herself. Rather than just putting up pictures of the rooms, The June leads with images that evoke feelings, stories, and a lifestyle that appeals to each of the senses.
On the front page, the website’s navigation features categories for each type of thing their customers might enjoy doing… so again, rather than focusing on selling you a room… they’re showing you everything else that comes with the experience of staying at The June.
As you scroll down a little, you then are told a story about why the place is so special… and how special you’re going to feel when you stay there. The designers of this site build so much anticipation about this beautiful place by propelling users to delve deeper into the website to find out about rooms, rates, and availability. They’ve made me feel like I’d be lucky if I could get a room here, because it’s so beautiful and unique.
Scroll down further to the bottom of the page and look at the social media links... they’ve even included a link to their Spotify so you can listen at home to the playlists pumping in the bar at the June. Talk about setting a mood - it’s genius!
If you look at their blog, it’s constantly being updated… the latest post is about things to do in Autumn in the country (I’m recording this in October) and the posts feature local businesses and activities that the kind of people they’re attracting to the motel would enjoy. So, if I’ve never heard of the June Motel, but I think it might be nice to visit wineries in Prince Edward County, and I did a google search for that, it’s likely that I would find this page’s content either in the search results page or on google images - because a lot of people flip straight into google images when they search… that’s why it’s important, by the way, that all photos on your website have been described properly in the alt text. That means that not only does this blog help the June’s customers plan their trip and get the most out of their stay, it’s also a marketing tool to drive new prospective customers to their site. Smart.
I also want to call out the June Motel’s About Page, because it actually features a photo of the owners, and as much as a lot of business owners don’t want to plaster their faces all over the internet for a variety of totally sane reasons, I’d argue that building trust is one of the most important functions of any branded assets, like a website or your social media, and that people are more likely to get to know you, like you, and trust you as a brand if they can are aware that there’s a face and a real live person behind that brand… so that’s something to keep in mind. Certainly, these ladies are not all over the June Motel website, but I think their choice to show up on the About page is really smart, and I’d urge all business owners to consider doing this.
This website succeeds by unapologetically attracting a particular kind of customer - and designing everything about the business, from the website and the services actually offered on the ground, to appeal to her.