A brand is more than just a logo
To start things off, first, it is important to understand what is a brand, what is the purpose of destination branding and how is it different from destination marketing. A brand is more than just a logo, a color and a slogan. Your destination brand is a reflection of your culture and its people, history and heritage, traditional and modern ways of living, built and natural environments wrapped by the totality of perceptions, feelings and thoughts that your guests have about your destination. It is the foundation of your marketing strategy and the most important marketing tool. Learn what is takes to improve your destination brand.
Destination Branding, commonly referred to as place branding, is thus the process of identifying, crafting and nurturing the unique identity of a destination, building a story around the key elements, values and the destination proposition, orchestrating consistent messaging that highlights just that and, ultimately, forming a reputation in the eyes of its visitors. In other words, destination branding is all about who you are. It is the focal part of destination marketing that, in turn, defines how you communicate and deliver your messaging to the right audiences.
Tourism Northern Ireland – Winner of The 2020 Travel Marketing Awards, Category Destination Brand of the Decade, image courtesy of Monotype.
Brand Purpose for Visit Estonia, courtesy of Lantern. Estonia’s Repositioning and rebranding strategy focuses on telling a story about a lost paradise and an experience-first destinations that allow travellers to make the most of their time.
Before the global pandemic pulled the carpet under our feet, tourism was one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors, according to UNWTO. While the global economy and the tourism sector recovers, eager travellers are anxiously waiting for their turn to travel again. Though it may still be unclear what exactly will the tourism arena look like after recovery and when that may take place, industry experts say the tourism sector will be the last to recover.
Not only are thousands of destinations worldwide planning and preparing for reopening, new destinations are created every year joining the competition for the valuable tourist dollars. In such a saturated marketplace, carefully crafting a brand story that will resonate with the key audiences is what will allow your destination to stand out. Differentiation is the ultimate objective of branding. Regardless of geographical location or size, effective destination branding that stands the test of time while remaining competitive, dynamic, innovative and agile to ever evolving industry trends and consumer behaviours, is what holds the key to successful destination marketing and tourism growth.
How to brand your destination successfully
Instead of replicating the success of one’s competitors or trying to create something entirely new, building your destination brand should focus on the uniqueness of the place and its surroundings. Consequently, the first step to building a destination brand, according to the World Tourism Organization and European Travel Commission, should be an audit of the destination, the emotions and the perceptions associated with it. Followed by that, it is important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the destination as well as identify your target market. Understanding your target audience will allow for you to effectively wrap and deliver your destination’s unique selling point. A thorough competitor analysis should be carried out to identify a possible market gap and successfully position and improve your destination brand.
It is important to mention that stakeholder involvement is an integral part of destination brand development and branding process. A brand’s success is directly linked to the acceptance and support from local residents, local businesses and the government. You should consider all these entities as brand ambassadors that will directly impact the perception of your destination in the visitor’s eyes. After completing an inclusive and comprehensive destination audit, you’re off to a great start to build your destination brand.
Practical tools for destination branding
Practical tools, such as the brand pyramid, can help in defining the destination and brand personality by considering all core components of your destination. The foundation of your brand lies in the rational attributes, the characteristics of a destination and its tourism offer, i.e. the activities, the landscape or the weather. Next, consider the emotional benefits and think about how the visitors feel about the destination and what feelings they take away from their visit. The third layer of the pyramid is the brand personality, the main characteristics and attributes of the brand, including the question of how the brand should be perceived and described by the audience. Is your destination calm, and charmingly intimate or is it wild, vast and rough? Perhaps it is a combination of the two? Furthermore, the brand positioning describes the uniqueness of your brand, led by the question of what makes the destination stand out from their competitors. Finally, the very top of the brand pyramid is the brand essence, the very heart of your brand and what wraps all other components and makes them into one.
After identifying all the components of your unique destination brand, it is time to build an engaging, empowering and passionate brand story that will resonate with locals and visitors alike. Your story will be the backbone of your marketing strategy and integrated marketing communications. Choosing the right visual tools and communication mediums will be essential to improve your destination brand. This means effectively and consistently communicating your brand promise, reaching the right audiences, building relationships based on trust and growing your destination popularity.
Solimar acknowledges the importance of destination branding and provides more insights about this topic within the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) development course, which provides a deeper dive into the intrinsic components of destination planning, development, branding and marketing.