Benefits of having unique hospitality brands can only be achieved to the extent that employees are knowledgeable and capable of aligning with, and demonstrating those brand values in their thoughts and actions during service encounters. To facilitate this, informed by organizational learning literature, motivation and social exchange theories, we propose and examine an employee brand internalization mechanism with a US-based hotel employee sample. With strong results, we suggest that regardless of organizational size or resources, hospitality organizations that seek to build a respectful and trusting social environment which promotes positive social exchanges with employees, stimulates employee internalization of the brand which enables the development of employee extra-role brand-aligned attitudes and behavior.
As products become more homogeneous and customers become more skeptical towards advertising, the differentiation effect accented through unique brands becomes more important in helping organizations stand out in the market (Chen, Lam, & Zou, 2011; Keller, 1998). This effect is even more prominent in the hospitality industry (King, 2017) as a strong brand can help define the service product, indicate potential service quality, and ease customers' anxiety in making purchase decisions before actual consumption (Buil, Martínez, & Matute, 2016; Grace & O'Cass, 2005). However, it can be challenging for hospitality organizations to “prove” externally communicated brand values to customers considering the final brand experience is co-created by customers and employees, making brand experience transactions more dynamic than tangible goods transactions (Berry, 2000; Brodie, Whittome, & Brush, 2009; Henkel, Tomczak, Heitmann, & Herrmann, 2007; Kim Jin-Sun, & Kim, 2008). As such, the importance of employees' brand-aligned behavior, which provides immediate evidence of brand reality to customers, is emphasized (Hartline, Maxham, & McKee, 2000; Xiong & King, 2015). When employees deliver service that is aligned with customers' prior brand expectations during “moments of truth”, customers are more likely to perceive consistency between the externally communicated brand promise and their brand experience, such that they will be more likely to maintain and carry on their prior positive attitudes towards the brand (Henkel et al., 2007; Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011). For example, in seeking to inform customer brand perceptions, Virgin America promotes the brand characteristics of clever (smart, cheeky and witty), provocative (bold and unconventional), and friendly in their advertising. However, the branding effort doesn't stop there. Virgin America also provides corresponding brand training and guidelines to help align employees' job performance with the externally communicated brand (e.g., highlighting certain vocabulary and communication styles that accentuate the clever, provocative, and friendly brand characteristics to employees).