When is Destination Branding Really Destination Blanding?
June 2, 2008 ‐ 6 comments


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.

Tell your friends:
Some Brands Should Stick with Functional Benefits
November 27, 2012 11:04 am
[...] at BrandCulture Talk (with a hat tip to David Aaker) we spend a good deal of time discussing rational, emotional and self-expressive brand benefits.  Brands that lay claim only to functional benefits [...]
March 5, 2010 1:45 am
Just took the time to read through this, and it's brilliant. Great post. Just used it as reference in responding to a reporter's questions about a new campaign for a Southeast Asian country that shall remain unnamed...I'd tell you what it is but a) it's not public yet, and b) on the basis of this post you'd probably tear it to shreds.
May 14, 2009 11:49 am
This is a very insightful observation and I agree this is a major caution. You may want to visit www.countrybrandindex.com as our 2007 Study had a similar spread Rina Plapler
May 10, 2009 5:13 pm
Meant "..with whom you truly are." Actually, the last part is difficult to follow. I meant to say, "You have to be true to yourself to keep the promises you make to others."
May 8, 2009 6:48 pm
This is an excellent article and commentary. Another way to put this is, "a brand is a delivery on a promise"( I wish I could remember what marketing person stated that) and promises are only met with who you truly are.
Gavin Heaton
June 4, 2008 3:22 am
Sydney did a surprisingly good job of getting the population of an entire city working in the same direction during the Olympics in 2000. The city was entirely a more friendly and open place for two weeks, crime rates were down and there was a happy vibrancy all around. This was partly to do with, as you say, consensus building, but it was also partly mandated by government leadership. I was fascinated to see that it actually worked. But then, maybe we could all be on our best behaviour for 14 days ;)

Calling B.S.:
A Five-Part Series

BrandCulture’s thoughts on the conventional wisdom.

About BrandCulture Talk

At BrandCulture Talk, we don't stand on ceremony, celebrate conventional wisdom or honor sacred cows. Peruse cheers and jeers for the best, worst, oldest and very latest branding theory and practice...all with the assurance that every post here has passed our "Branding. Not Bull" promise. Won't you please join us and weigh in?

Subscribe to BrandCulture Talk
Twitter Feed
  • The RSS feed for this twitter account is not loadable for the moment.