It seems that having a nice town that people like to visit, or even a state that draws holiday and business dollars, just isn’t enough these days. If you really want to matter, you’ve got to have a “Destination Brand”. So locales as recognized as San Diego (Active Relaxation), as large as California (Find Yourself Here), and as sexy as Mackinaw City (Living History. Making History.) have lined up focus groups, hired destination branding professionals, and come up with…a whole bunch of cute taglines, each more precious and less distinctive than the last. Mountain states seem particularly vulnerable to the slogan craze: "Let’s Talk", "A Mountain Range of Possibilities", "Life Elevated", "Adventures in Living", and "It’s a Trip" promote Colorado, Park City, Utah, Idaho and Albuquerque respectively.
Obviously there’s a rationale behind each of these slogans, and not just a silly pun. With some luck or a big enough media buy, some city or state slogans might even enter the public consciousness. Stay at a hotel in Ottawa and you’ll even pay a 3% ‘destination marketing tax' for the privilege of supporting their effort. But a tagline does not a destination brand make.
A destination brand, like any brand, emerges from a unique, desirable, consistent, and emotional experience that consumers have with a product – in this case, a destination. Sometimes that experience can be captured in a communications campaign, but it can’t be manufactured.
That’s where I take issue with this article on BrandChannel. The author implies that only visitors matter when considering the potential of a destination brand campaign, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the residents who run the businesses, drive the cabs, tend the bars, and provide the interactions that either deliver on the experience your communications are promising, or blow it to smithereens.
It’s a daunting challenge for travel marketers. You can’t impose branded behavior on the plethora of public and private interests that make up a town, let alone an entire state. But you can do your homework and truly understand the underlying spirit and culture that tie those interests together. You can determine the intersection between what residents and businesses love about their location and what visitors (or a well-defined segment thereof) are looking for in a destination. The way “Don’t Mess with Texas” (even though it’s an anti-litter campaign) captures the state’s larger-than-life attitude. The way “Keep Austin Weird” celebrates the eclectic, but is totally authentic. The way tourists know Barcelona blends history and nightlife effortlessly, even if they don’t know its latest ad campaign.
Turning your location into a brand isn’t simply a marketing effort. It’s the product of deep soul-searching, consensus-building, defining what your community really is all about, and aligning what you really are with what visitors really want. You may not figure it out overnight, and you may not end up with a clever slogan. But take your time, do it right, and you just might get a brand.