Understanding your DMO's Role in Destination Branding
Published on February 14, 2022
The conversation about Destination Branding is one that is ever evolving.
Through all of these conversations though, one thing remains a constant... that is that a destination brand is something that lives inside the minds of your visitors, it's the sum of all of the experiences that they have, or have heard, about your destination, which has been enriched or undermined cumulatively over a period of time.
It would seem logical that as a destination marketing custodian, you would have a great deal of control over your brand.
But, given the brand is owned by your potential visitors, and the brand promise is either delivered or broken by the tourism businesses and experiences across your destination, what role do you have then to help your destination live true to it's brand potential?
What does successful Destination Branding look like?
To grow a visitor economy through marketing activities, there must be strong alignment between the destination’s brand promise, its visitor experiences, and both of which must appeal to the destination’s best visitors – those who deliver the best social, economic, and environmental outcomes for the local communities within the destination.
In our time working with destinations around Australia, we have seen that successful destination branding requires a strong alignment between:
- What your potential visitors think and feel about your destination (not in your control)
- How your local residents think and feel about the destination they live in (not in your control)
- The Experience visitors get on the ground (not in your control)
- What you want your destination to be known for (somewhat in your control, but reflective of the thoughts and actions of your locals and tourism stakeholders)
If the four of these are not aligned, then one of two things may happen:
- Your potential visitors are disappointed in the experience when they are in destination, and could become brand detractors
- Your marketing messaging doesn't cut through, and therefore doesn't achieve it's objectives, and so investment is wasted
Therefore as a brand custodian, it is crucial you seek this alignment, to ensure your marketing investment is maximised and visitors perceptions and expectations are met (or exceeded).
Understanding your role in Destination Branding
Being clear about your role in brand development and delivery is critical to ensuring your destination becomes known for its brand potential.
I know, you know, that a destination brand isn't just a logo. That's a given.
So, why do we still see so many destinations focussing investment on the style guide and messaging, and next to no investment in meaningful consultation and long term industry education around implementation of the brand?
If the only thing you, as a destination brand custodian, have slight control over is what you want your destination to be known for, then the majority of your investment needs to be in ensuring your visitors get to experience the brand potential - and this is in the brand delivery, at the cold face.
Below are the key actions we believe destinations may like to consider to develop and deliver its brand promise.
Key Action 1: Developing your Destination's Brand Promise
Determining your destination brand promise requires thorough consultation and engagement with the following stakeholders:
- Your local community/s
- Visitor economy stakeholders
The level of consultation in the development of your brand at this stage will reflect the future level of engagement and embedment of the brand potential across your destination.
Remember, you are simply a mouthpiece of what you industry can deliver, not the songwriter, so ensuring your brand potential reflects what is actually being delivered is essential.
This consultation can lead to the development of your:
- Destination Identity - this is essentially the identity of your community, who they are and their stories - sometimes referred to as Place DNA
- Destination Brand Promise - the stories that you as a destination marketer can share with your Visitor Personas (as per their visitor journey / empathy map).
- Brand Visual Identity and Style Guide - which helps the unification of the destination across marketing assets.
Key Action 2: Understanding Visitor Sentiment to Ensure Better Alignment
Understanding what your potential visitors think and feel about your destination can provide crucial insights as to how well your current experience delivery aligns with your brand potential.
This type of research can identify:
- Whether your best visitors (those who deliver the best social, economic, and environmental outcomes) are interested in visiting your destination.
- What experiences are key demand drivers for your best visitors.
- What stories and messages resonate with those likely to visit, which could then be reflected in your marketing action plan (and whether these messages align with the Brand Potential/Promise).
- What experiences would be demand drivers if they were communicated more effectively.
We know it can be challenging to get stakeholders on board with Brand Research Projects due to their considerable investment. However this evidence is critical to better understanding your destination's best visitors, and developing a marketing plan that will actually help build the net wealth of your visitor economy.
This visitor sentiment data is also an important measurement mechanism to review regularly as part of your overall Destination Management Plan, given that what your visitors say about your destination is highly influential in driving demand from your future visitors.
Key Action 3: Embedding the Destination Brand Promise
If a brand can be enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, then embedding a destination's brand potential must follow the same process.
We can't 'switch on' your brand potential by changing out a logo.
It takes time to build the awareness, share stories, for people to have the experiences, for the brand potential to become established.
As a destination brand custodian, you have a critical role in embedding your brand promise.
This can be achieved effectively by:
- Working collaboratively and in an ongoing capacity with your industry in the development of the Brand Promise (see Key Action 1)
- Ensuring the tourism experiences in your destination understand what the destination brand promise is (by showing them examples rather than just telling)
- Giving your industry the tools and mentoring support, on an ongoing basis, to empower them to integrate parts of the brand promise that aligns with their experience and personal stories
- Ensuring the stories shared on destination marketing platforms are reflective of the Promise, and are relevant to the current (and ever-changing) needs, motivations and restrictions of your destinations Visitor Personas.
- Ensure the consistent use of the brand visual identity throughout destination marketing activities.
More Destination Branding Thought Articles
Hopefully this article has given you something new to consider as you work with your stakeholders to drive growth of your local visitor economy.
As with all topics, it's great to read widely and so we recommend the following articles from destination thought leaders to continue your learning on destination branding, as we have.
- CASE STUDY: How 'For the People' created the West Coast Tas Brand on Behance > and Tasmania's West Coast Branding Story told in another way >
- CASE STUDY: Lessons in Branding from The Travel + Tourism Industry. Including Case Studies from Visit Ireland, Visit Britain, Paris, Costa Rica >
- THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: What is Place DNA? Here is your Essential Reading List