Every destination has a story tagged to it; a bouquet of compelling facts, a unique slice of history, myths and legends integrated into its persona. The sole objective of a destination branding exercise is to communicate the captivating story of the destination and give a glimpse of the unearthly experience that awaits the visitor.
At first, the destination branding concept seems very simplistic in its approach and intent—brainstorm a brand that captures the essence of the destination, project a verifiable image of the destination, and finally create a mental imagery that can be utilised across all marketing initiatives. Get your best brains on the drawing table and magically announce a ‘dream destination brand’.
But, this is far from reality and Return on Investment (RoI). It dawns on most Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) that what was being touted for a cohesive branding campaign is in fact an orchestrated slogan campaign, broadcast consistently across all the channels. Destination branding, prior to the surface-level branding exercise, requires a much deeper level of stakeholder understanding and involvement of community, governing bodies, local bodies and organisations and the local media. Once the branding study is completed, the brand is as good as the brand ambassadors.Why a Destination Branding Strategy?
Destinations are dynamic entities, a representation of a thriving community, symbols of human endeavour and innovation. Most importantly, destinations represent an economic ecosystem. A minor change in the equilibrium sends out distress signals.
Destination Branding Strategy is required if:
Destination Branding: Keeping it simple
- The destination has lost its pole position in its most leading strengths
- A resurrection of outdated or inaccurate image is required
- There is a complete absence of marketing focus, the message consistency or the market relevancy of the branding
- Marketing resources are disoriented and uncoordinated, leading to inefficiency
- There is no rationality between the marketing investments and the RoI, or
- There has been a major shift in the core strengths of the destination, the potential audience and the competitive landscape
We live in a highly networked society, and the community of travellers is at the top of the networking chain. Travellers share every trivial experience on the go. Thus, destinations are being cliqued and critiqued at every second. This means that consumers rely more on personal experiences than a DMO’s marketing panorama. Potential travellers find word-of-mouth channels like YouTube, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram more trustworthy than the planned advertising blitz of DMOs.
It is time DMOs and destination marketers realised and welcomed the arrival of the most influential stakeholder in a destination marketing campaign, i.e. the traveller. The alignment of the marketing message with this new stakeholder’s experience is indispensable. So, understand and respect the VoC (Voice of Customer).
The illustration below provides a better clarity of the concept of ‘Destination Marketing’, clearly identifying the major elements of the branding exercise:
- External Facing Destination Marketing Elements (Brand Management): Destination Offering + Destination Symbols + Destination Attributes + Destination Image/Perception
- Internal Facing Destination Marketing Elements (Brand Identity): Destination Cultural Affinity + Destination Persona
Align the above points with VoC.
With a bottomless appetite for travel and information sharing, the competitive landscape for destinations has been getting challenging with each passing day. It’s a known fact that destination/brand superiority and tactical branding strategy alone might not guarantee success. What drives RoI is a trustworthy and compelling differentiator for your destination.Branding = Differentiating
Today, every destination seems to have an ‘out-of-the-world’ differentiator, and every country and region claim to have the most unique culture and heritage. For DMOs, the most compelling challenge is tied to the truth that destinations are also societies, which are in a state of constant evolution and which are also repositories of rich heritage and history.
- The trick and complexity lies in giving a 'meaningful difference’ to your destination.
- The branding of a destination should not commence with a country/city itself, but with the consumer community and the marketplace.
- Ideally, majority of your consumers should become your brand ambassadors. They should be compelled to broadcast your story, share the differentiating factor for your destination. Remember, an experience shared by a fellow traveller always carries more trust and desirability.
- Destination = Perception: This perception is not created overnight by a marketing blitz, but is instead nurtured passionately over a period of time; nurtured for differentiating.
Prospering in a demanding and an extremely unforgiving segment needs a 360-degree outlook of the current and the forecasted tourism landscape in order to establish a destination brand. (The author is the Founder and Head - Business Strategies at CopperBridge Media, a business solutions provider. It offers web app development, mobile app development, and maintenance and support, among others.)