What Defines a DMO’s Brand?

By Camille Leonard

What Defines a DMO’s Brand?

Your destination’s brand is NOT an ad campaign and it DOESN’T happen overnight. The brand is an expression of the essence of your community. Read about what defines a brand and discover how your DMO can harness it to appeal to visitors. Read time: 6 minutes

There is so much confusion, even among marketing professionals, about what the term brand means. Many want to attach the term to a logo or slogan. We often get assignments named “XYZ Rebrand” where the scope of the project begins with some analysis of the client's current communication materials and ends with a new logo. That job should be renamed “Logo Redesign for XYZ.” Although such efforts do help capture what makes your community different from other places, branding should be thought of as a deep, holistic and ongoing effort.

Your destination's brand is an expression of the essence of your community.

Naturally, as a destination marketing organization, you perceive your task as offering an appealing experience to potential visitors that will result in an overnight stay—generating tax revenue. And you want to accomplish this while making all your stakeholders feel represented by the marketing dollars you spend. That effort is marketing and managing your client—your community. But understanding how to put your best brand forward is a tougher, more disciplined commitment. Branding your community requires a DMO to choose messages that reveal the truth in an appealing way. And stakeholders, from DMO board members to front line staff in area restaurants and everyone in between, need to believe the brand message is true and be able to support that message with every interaction. We found some great information about branding from research firm AYTM’s Susan Gunelius that clearly defines the factors that frame a brand. We took the meat of her blog post and tailored it to apply to destination marketing efforts.

1. The Brand Promise

At its core, a destination's brand is a promise to visitors. Its purpose is to communicate what they will experience when they visit your community. Apart from your marketing efforts, your brand is largely defined by the feelings that visitors experience when they spend time in your community. Those feelings, whether positive or negative, will determine their likelihood to return and/or recommend your destination to others (the BEST advertising of all!).

Example: Think about your favorite destination and how that brand delivers on the promises it has made to you. If you’re a Las Vegas fan, the brand might represent the slightly naughty, over-the-top, indulgent entertainment, celebrity place to be. Your destination's brand promises something to visitors. What is it?

2. The Brand Perceptions

Contrary to popular opinion, your brand is built by visitors more-so than by your own marketing efforts. The way a visitor perceives your destination's brand is what defines it, even if that perception is contrary to your brand promise. With that in mind, it’s important to work towards fostering visitor perceptions that accurately reflect your destination's brand values in order to maximize growth potential.

Example: What are visitors’ perceptions of Asheville, NC (did I really need to write NC)? You can bet everything Asheville promotes is meant to create specific visitor perceptions.

3. The Brand Expectations

Visitors develop expectations for your brand based upon your brand promise—it’s what encourages them to visit your community. Should their experience fall short of these expectations, they will become disillusioned with your brand and choose to spend their time and money in another destination—one with a brand promise they feel they can trust.

Example: Imagine Miami Beach launched a campaign touting “get close to nature” in Miami. True, there are beautiful beaches, but the “wild life” there is a bigger draw during the high season with the fashionable party scene far out-weighing the typical sandcastle building visitor.

4. The Brand Persona

Thinking in terms of “who” instead of “what” is how successful brands are developed and maintained. Every destination's brand has a persona. So, think of your destination as a person. What are the characteristics of that person? What can you expect when interacting with them? From appearance to personality and everything in between, your brand persona is one that visitors will evaluate and judge before they decide to book a trip.

Example: Think of it this way. Who would you rather spend time with — Oprah or Katy Perry? These two brands have very different brand personas. And your brand should have one, too. Avoid being generic, focus on the attributes that distinguish your community from destinations like yours.

5. The Brand Elements

Once substantial thought has been given to the intangible elements of your destination's brand, consider how they will influence the tangible aspects, such as brand logo, messaging, graphics, and so on. All of these elements work together to deliver your destination's brand promise as well as shape perceptions, meet expectations and define your brand persona. If even one element is out of sync, your entire brand can suffer.

Example: First introduced in 1977, there is a reason this has become an iconic image that has endured for so long. It means something to visitors and communicates the pride locals take in their community. Incorporating this sense of pride into the city’s brand elements is partly responsible for reshaping negative perceptions of NYC from the 60s and 70s and transforming "the city" into the universally appealing vacation destination over 50 million people now enjoy every year.

In the end, your destination’s brand is not an ad campaign you roll out in order to draw attention to a set of offerings or trends. Brand development doesn’t happen overnight and leadership from the DMO can’t carry the flag alone. It must live at the heart of everything you do as a destination and work to cultivate meaningful experiences for the visitors who will ultimately associate the integrity of your brand with how it made them feel in the moment.