Courageous Creative

Courageous Createive

Brand building involves more than logo creation. This daunting task, based on research and a Marketing Action Plan, involves all of the ways your target audience interacts with you (read more about what defines a DMO’s brand here). Building it isn’t just a checklist of sameness based on what has made other destinations successful. You have to tell your story in a way that makes sense for you and your target audience. Your strategy may have some of the same elements that others have, such as social influencers, print campaigns, meeting planner outreach, etc., but your overall content needs to set you apart from your competitors.

Don’t be afraid to be different by experimenting. Explore and find out what makes you interesting — what gives you your unique perspective and voice. Travelers will gravitate towards destinations they connect with — those that share their voice and worldview, exposing them to new stories and experiences. Don’t be afraid to recognize your strengths, weaknesses and reputation and own them!

Personally, as a creative, it’s exciting to force reactions with fun and original work that stands out. Using data to inform creative decisions rather than dictate them takes some guts — and possibly some board persuasion. Moving from “we’ve always done it this way” can be liberating and allow you to explore more unique things that make your destination different. So how do you do this? Start developing more creative solutions to supplement your current efforts. Push a little outside your comfort zone. Push people to act.

Tell stories in new ways.

Use technology to your advantage: it’s a direct connection to potential visitors and can reach them pretty much anywhere. Consider the out-of-box thinking required in these examples.

  • Destination Canada created their own docu-series using Amazon’s Video Direct self-publishing service to “encourage Americans to push themselves beyond their comfort zones to find a new sense of bravery.” Read more about the series on
  • Tourism Ireland wanted to “Fill Your Heart with Ireland.” Their brilliant approach was to use heart rate monitors and helmet cameras to follow a couple on their Irish vacation. They then used the footage that caused the spiked heart rates to form their commercial. Watch the case study video on LBBOnline.
  • Don’t be afraid of Virtual Reality experiences. They allow a user to experience a taste of what you’re offering, and increase their desire to visit even more. In the case of Jack Daniels, they jumped into the VR space early. Their experience gives you a tour of the property, including places visitors can’t actually get into. Check it out on (Link is best explored using VR goggles.).

Go ahead and break it.

There are many reasons why not to do something. However, evaluate the negatives versus the positives. If there are enough (potential) positives, consider branching out and taking a chance on something new and creative. You’ll never really know without testing and learning from mistakes.

  • Nebraska’s “Honestly, It’s Not for Everyone” campaign embraces the fact that most consumers don’t consider Nebraska a destination. Honesty is disruptive and helps the state readjust their target’s preconceived notions with self-deprecating humor. The testing showed that the campaign was not only effective at changing perceptions, but it also increased the likelihood that the targets would visit or increased the time they planned to visit. Check out their campaign at
  • In the case of Six Flags in the early 2000’s, they took a big risk on an older dancing guy (not in their target audience) and threw in some catchy music and people having fun at the park. Even if you found the song annoying, it still grabbed your attention and gave Six Flags top-of-mind awareness. Refresh your memory of the commercial on Youtube.
  • We helped Albany, Georgia embrace what they had treated as a negative in the past and turned it on its head – promoting it as a selling point. Albany is a little less than an hour off of a major interstate and struggled to get visitors to stop over on their way to the beach or Atlanta. They broke their own tradition of just touting their history and nature attractions by offering themselves as a retreat—“Just Off the Beaten Path.” The campaign invites visitors to stop, relax and enjoy not only their history and nature, but great food, parks and meeting facilities.

Find time to explore the “what ifs.”

Ever wonder why some of the best ideas come to you in the shower? It’s because you are unplugged and allowing your subconscious to flex its muscles. Try adult coloring books, playing creative games like charades and Win, Lose or Draw, or just go for a walk. Sometimes Stampers can be found coloring, playing ping pong, walking around the block, or taking a coffee break at the coffee shop down the street. We also like to work on projects as a group, tossing ideas around with each other to expand their creative potential.

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I would like to imagine that this is how the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” campaign for Las Vegas was developed back in 2003. They decided to own up to their “sin city” reputation and get risky with a campaign that invited visitors to open up and party hard in Vegas. Now, they have re-launched their campaign with a softer side. The new spot features a couple that meets in Vegas, falls in love and comes back to get married there. They took a chance on being inclusive and showcasing a same-sex couple. View the spot here.

According to R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis, “Adult freedom, choice and empowerment has always been the essence of the brand, and this series of spots is making that timely and contextual to social and cultural trends,” Vassiliadis said. “We’ve been listening to our visitors and would-be visitors, and the growing sentiment is the idea of a socially contemporary and relevant Las Vegas.” Since the release of the ad, there have been 18,000 organic posts and 24 million impressions, according to Vassiliadis. The sentiment has been about 50 percent emotion-evoking, 50 percent general approval and 1 percent neutral or negative, he added.

This leads me to the next point…

Be diverse in all avenues.

Not representing your potential target in your creative is a huge mistake. People want to see themselves represented—it builds a deeper connection with them. If you’re trying to reach out to a certain generation, you should show “real” people in your advertising that look like them.

“If you don’t have diversity, you don’t have good creative.”  —John Boiler, Creative Co-Chair Founder of 72andSunny

Not sure how to get started? Visit the American Advertising Federation’s Mosaic Center for Multiculturalism to view tons of resources and initiatives.

Create conflict to start the conversation.

Own what you’ve got to offer and give potential visitors something to think about. What’s popular right now? What is the right context to use? Here are some examples of conflict in advertising.

  • Wendy’s Twitter game is on point with quick witted responses, including participation in National Roast Day (where followers ask to get roasted, and Wendy’s truly delivers). It’s not for everybody, but they have been connecting with their target audience in a real way.
  • If you haven’t seen the “It’s Time to DeSide” campaign commercials, refresh yourself on Youtube.  This series of commercials created conflict where there was none. They even created some fun research to go along with it. Read more about the research on The Drum.
  • Boone, North Carolina’s “It’s Better Here than There” campaign is a great example of a smaller DMO getting creative to stand out. Although they use a little stereotypical self-deprecating humor, the campaign is fun and lighthearted. They are creating conflict by poking fun at overcrowded beaches and other destinations while pointing out the charm, coziness and adventure opportunities of the mountains. They also did some clever guerrilla marketing to go along with it.

Finally, expect to fail and be okay with that.

When you base your overall brand on research and the target markets defined in your Marketing Action Plan, you’ll be less likely to fail. But even with research and planning on your side, failure is a distinct possibility — and that’s not always a bad thing. Failure allows you to create more freely and expand your comfort zone. Every failure teaches you something and can lead to new opportunities. So, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and explore what truly makes your destination or attraction unique.

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