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Destination Branding Can’t Happen in a Day

Destination Branding

In many places in the northern hemisphere, we’re in the midst of what the travel + tourism industry will label as “peak season” — at least, if your prime activities require being outdoors, your destination comes to life when green, and you’re kid-friendly.

Peak season is fun: It’s easy to sell; it’s easy to put a smile on travelers’ faces; and it’s all too easy to kick back and relax while accommodations fill up and activities sell out.

I am all for sunshine, relaxation, and celebration — but let me share a little secret: When your destination is a brand in and of itself, you can make it peak season all year round.

Destination branding: Not just a trend

In 2010, still in the throes of an economic downturn, many destinations in the US turned to re-branding campaigns to revive their image while families and meeting planners worked with limited travel and planning budgets. Yet what one expert referred to as a temporary “branding bug” has stuck around well beyond the downturn — because destinations see the impact a strong brand can have on its image, its influence, and its ability to satisfy.

It’s about learning, not fabrication

The first mistake destinations make in building out their brand is that they begin by thinking it’s something they need to create. But the truth is, unless you’ve just built your city, theme park, ski mountain, etc. from the ground up, your brand already exists. It’s up to you, destination marketer, to dig in and discover it.

Step away from the drawing board and get out and about. Survey past and current visitors, monitor social media — including blogs — to see what’s being said, and get in touch with locals. Research is the name of the game. Ask questions to get to the bottom of what makes your destination unique and what gives it its personality.

Gather a solid idea of what it is that draws people to your destination, what it is that makes them happy there, and what it is that they talk about to others. Pay attention to the words they use, the feelings they express, and the stories they tell. With that pool of research in hand, you’ll be set up to properly package what’s already being emanated, rather than trying to create something from nothing.

Key elements of a destination’s brand

Like any brand, a destination’s brand includes key elements. Here are a few:

Messaging: The taglines, phrases, and stories told. A few great examples: Visit Finger Lakes’ “Taste the Life”, Explore Asheville’s “Discovery, Inside and Out”, or Visit Philly’s “With Love.”

Design: From logos to typefaces and graphics to the style of photography, design plays an incredible role in embodying the feeling of a destination.

The goal of hitting the message and design nail on the head in tourism branding? To evoke a feeling. How do you want visitors to feel upon seeing or interacting with your destination’s marketing — whether in print, on the web, or even on a phone call? (Hint: The feeling you’re encouraging through your marketing needs to match how they’ll feel once they actually arrive!)

What destination branding achieves

Branding a destination doesn’t just equate to sales — though, yes, with the upfront investment and cohesive marketing built around your brand, you’ll be amazed at the potential it holds. Building a strong brand also leads to the following:

Increased pride amongst locals: Giving a destination a brand — so long as it is authentic — gives the people who live and work there a sense of pride to be associated with it. Locals can be your best advocates. Use that to your advantage!

Self-selection: When your brand is true to the experience your destination holds, you’ll find that visitors will naturally be attracted to the places that best suit them, and will therefore be more satisfied with their decisions and experiences.

Destination branding can’t happen in a day

Your destination’s brand will naturally evolve over time. While you can design the messaging and the imagery that will accompany the brand, the personality and characteristics that serve as the foundation already exist. It’s up to you to uncover and amplify them.

Because when your destination embodies a brand — a personality, a feeling, a story — travelers will want to experience it all year round, not just in June, July, and August.

Want to get it a better idea of where your current brand stands? Get my free e-book, What Does Your Brand Say? and sign up for a complimentary Brand Clarity Call today!

Destination marketers: What stories do you tell about your brand?

PS – Research serves as the basis for my design process. Get the behind the scenes here!

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