Interview with Jay Schwartz on Branding for the Hospitality Industry

Today, we are happy to unveil our recent interview with Jay Schwartz, founder, chief creative officer, and visionary behind IdeaWork Studios, a full-service branding and interactive agency from the USA. Jay kindly accepted to share with us his insights and expertise on branding, and more specifically: branding for the hospitality industry!

#1 The Branding Journal: Hello Jay! Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts with us today. I thought you could start by telling us a few words about yourself?

Jay Schwartz: Thanks for inviting me. I’m the Chief Creative Officer of IdeaWork Studios (, a branding and interactive agency. We’re a 16-year-old agency with offices in Santa Barbara, New York, Austin, and Las Vegas.

#2 TBJ: How did you come up with IdeaWork Studios and its specialization in the hospitality industry? What fascinates you about the industry?

JS: IdeaWork was born from my freelance design company; It grew organically. I wanted to build something bigger and knew that I needed to build a talented team in order to get there.

The hospitality experience came from the fact that we were based in Santa Barbara and worked with the local tourism industry. I’ve always loved the concept of hospitality and the opportunity hotels and restaurants have to provide enjoyment and memories for their guests.

#3 TBJ: Do you see a major difference between developing brand strategies for the hospitality industry and consumer products? What are the challenges in branding a service?

JS: There’s definitely a difference—they’re two different animals. The hospitality industry–thinking solely of hotels—has so many shifting variables. A hotel room is not a commodity. There’s decision-making variables like location, experience, and price, but also capacity/availability and sub-options within room types. Price elasticity is a huge factor, too. You can’t think of a hotel room as a “product” because pricing can vary wildly depending on external factors.

When developing brands in the boutique hotel sector, which is where we excel, we’re establishing an identity that will represent a lifestyle—which is what a boutique hotel is ultimately selling. Branding a consumer product has its own challenges, but the product, once created, doesn’t change.

#4 TBJ: Would you say that the lifecycle of a hospitality brand is shorter compared to other industries (i.e. nightclub brands need to be rejuvenated more quickly)?

JS: Nightlife is its own beast and, for the most part, that branding needs to change frequently—not the branding of the club, but certainly the introduction of new nights or events. When thinking of nightlife as a hospitality segment you’re constantly competing with the new kid on the block—club goers want new and exciting experiences, their attention spans are short, and there’s usually no loyalty.

There are lasting brands that can stand the test of time in nightlife/daylife, and we’ve been fortunate to be part of some of those. For hotels and restaurants, the brand should stand the test of time and be flexible enough to grow if the brand concept expands to other markets or spins-off.

#5 TBJ: I heard that you recently branded BORO boutique hotel in NYC and that you were involved in the branding process as the hotel was being built, on-site. This sounds very interesting, could you tell us how this experience helped you develop the brand?

JS: It was a rare and exciting experience—most of the time with hotel brands we’re brought in to rebrand an existing property. Being able to be part of the brand before there’s a “product” gave me an opportunity to play with different techniques and be inspired by what the construction crews and interior designers were doing on-site.

My work was influenced by patterns and visual elements from the construction direction and uses colors and stylistic elements that we pulled from what they were doing with the rooms and public spaces. We probably toured the property 6 times before the branding was done and I made some last-minute modifications once the furniture and fixtures were installed.

#6 TBJ: Is there any hotel/restaurant/bar that you would like to rebrand?

JS: Ha! Yes, there are many that could use my expertise. We’re actually in conversations with a few amazing properties that I’d be thrilled to work with, but can’t discuss pending projects. The right client is a boutique hotel with a story to tell or any cool new restaurant.

#7 TBJ: How do you inform yourself about trends and how do you keep your marketing knowledge up-to-date?

JS: We’re always doing research for clients and sometimes work with more formal research they’ve done. To be completely honest, a lot of what we do is instinctual, and our approach is very common-sense. I feel that the most effective solutions are often the simplest.

#8 TBJ: What is your best professional advice for a brand strategist?

JS: If someone’s a brand strategist, they definitely don’t need any advice from me.

If they’re just starting out, though, I’d say that they should always put themselves in the end user’s position when deciding on how to craft a client’s story. Not that the client doesn’t matter, but the client oftentimes either doesn’t know what they’re looking to convey or is too close to the project or too emotional.

If it’s a rebrand, look at statistics and analytics. Talk with people in the space. Talk with employees. Learn everything you can about how people really perceive the brand, and then you can tweak the message. If it’s a ground-up branding project it’s more challenging but sometimes more fun. Put yourself in the guests’ shoes and look for things that YOU would like and for ways to make your experience memorable through various touchpoints. Then go and create those things.

TBJ: Many thanks for your time and insights! All the best from The Branding Journal.

JS: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

About Jay Schwartz:

Jay Schwartz is the founder, chief creative officer, and visionary behind IdeaWork Studios, a full-service branding and interactive agency with offices in Santa Barbara, New York, Austin, and Las Vegas. IdeaWork prides itself on being the antidote to the big-agency experience; the team focuses on excellence and efficiency, delivering big-agency quality work, but without the big-agency bureaucracy. IdeaWork specializes in hospitality, nightlife, gaming, and luxury industries. For more information visit them online You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts