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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.