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The Webs That Define a Destination’s Brand — And You

Webs of Destination Branding and You

I define myself as many things: A painter. A graphic designer. A mother. A wife. An artist. A traveler. An optimist. A believer.

It’s not something I was always so comfortable with — that is, feeling confident calling myself so many things. At any given time, I would describe myself as one of those things, but not the others. It took a while until I could fully embrace the fact that most of what we are in our lives is completely intertwined.

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter… all in the web of family.

I am a designer, a journaler, a painter, a sketcher… all in the web of creativity.

I am a business owner, an accountability partner, a student, a mentor… all in the web of my career.

These webs are what make our lives complete. And these webs are what make me realize and appreciate how my work can impact the rest of my life, and vice versa.

Why I love destination branding

The majority of my design work takes place in the travel and tourism space, giving birth to and developing brands for specific destinations around the Finger Lakes, New York State, and beyond.

During this work, I am able to travel to beautiful destinations, where I meet amazing people who tell equally amazing stories of where they live, work, and play. I learn about the attributes that make each destination unique. I learn about the history that has impacted the area today. I learn about the ongoing developments, and I get to share in the vision for the future.

I love this time during the project — the time I define as research in my BRANCH process. It’s a time when I absorb what a place means, what it stands for, and what potential it holds for the rest of the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull out my easel to paint in a place that I’m branding. Because I’m most present when painting, it’s this practice that helps me really center on what’s most important in a destination.

And what’s important is typically a handful of things. The beauty of the Finger Lakes isn’t just in its waterways — it’s in its wine; its culinary scene; its parks; its history. The mystique of the Adirondacks isn’t just in its mountains — it’s in its lakes; its pubs; its arts community.

Destinations, much like individuals, are often characterized by one thing, but the detriment is that they’re good at many.

Instead of zoning in on one thing, I look at the web that’s weaved by all things. This way of looking at destinations (and individuals, really) reminds me that we shouldn’t mistake simple for ordinary. It reminds me that there is so much to every story. It reminds me that unless we’re fully present, it’s impossible to witness, explore, and capture the details, the stories, and the people that weave the web that is ultimately a destination.

How destination branding impacts my every day

Destination branding brings me to places I might never go to otherwise. In Cayuga County, I went on a hike with the town of Montezuma’s historian. In Ontario County, I kayaked the beautiful Canandaigua Lake. In Seneca County, I took photos of my husband and daughter skydiving. (No, I didn’t join in — but they LOVED it!) In Livingston County, I hiked the Grand Canyon of the West (Letchworth State Park) — and it’s now become one of my favorite places to paint.

Of course, these are important experiences that have impacted how I’ve developed and designed each destination’s brand. But it goes well beyond that.

Because I spend time experiencing the here and now in order to really express the essence of each area, it’s taught me how to travel with my eyes fully open. It’s taught me how to be a tourist in my own backyard. And it’s taught me how to tell the whole story.

Ultimately, being a traveler, a destination designer, a storyteller, a painter… it all weaves together in my web of mindfulness — yet another aspect of my being.

A destination is made up of many things, that weave together to determine its brand, much like you are made up of many things that make up your identity.

The real question is: How will you tell the whole story?

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!