The Destination Branding Gap

Summarizing the wonders, amenities, experiences and people that make up a destination is damn near impossible.

For many of our peers there is a challenge of scale…New York has a lot of things to do…but also because the organizations charged with creating this mythical brand do not own what they are selling.

And yet most destination marketing organizations, DMOs, NTOs or CVBs, are tasked with and accept this challenge.

Call it a lingering hangover from our recent article on branding (Meet Your New Brand Manager), but the idea of place branding deserves another some-what coherent assimilation of thoughts.

Do not misunderstand, I still believe that the consumer’s voice is a critically important piece of the overall destination brand, but it is only a reflection of your destination.

A mirror, showing you what actually exists.

The destination brand is also your organization’s belief for what the city, state or region represents.  Or perhaps more accurately, your hopes for what the destination will become.

Most destinations do not match the realizations that occur when the visitor sets off into the great unknown of their city.  All of those visitor guide photos tend to disappear, replaced instead with the reality of the destination.  Good, bad or ugly.  Sold the visitor on 5-star dining?  Surprise!  Our food is pretty close to what you have at home, Subway chains and all.

Defining a brand should be built upon a single idea.  A foundation.  A belief that we make the best burgers, computers or widgets in the world.  Whatever it is, we do it best, because damn it, that is what we live to do.

Apple springs to mind (of course).  But so does Cabot Cheese, Tumi, Wenger, etc, etc.  Anyone who has a passion for their product, cause or organization that approaches a certifiably crazy level of perfection.

DMOs?  Meh, some do.

But many don’t.  I can’t blame them, it is hard to build a solid brand around a membership base that changes every month or so.

Some abandon their true beliefs simply because another destination might have a similar belief.  Guess what?  Some destinations are pretty similar.  They just are.  As a native to Florida, I can tell you from first-hand experience there is more than one small, quaint beach town in the state.

Finally, some just give up.  Or get tired.  Tired of looking at and hearing the same thing.  Time for a branding refresh!  Changing the logo and tagline is one thing (and not your freaking brand anyway), but you cannot simply change who you are as a destination through a slick brand book and a press release.

If you want to become the fine dining capital of Iowa, I would scratch those full-page ads in Bon Appetit and start handing out small business loans to promising young chefs.  Ah, is that too close to business development for you?  Tough.  You want to be the Paris of the Midwest?  Better start serving more than chicken-fried everything.

Side note, chicken-fried everything is pretty damn good.

You can understand why I become increasingly annoyed when destinations roll-out worthless taglines and logos, attempting to summarize an entire city (city!) into three words of copy (Live it up!).

Do tourism destinations even need brands?  Can we control them?  Maybe.  Maybe not, but that feels like another post.

For now, consider this.

Determine what you want your destination to be, what you believe in, what makes you worthy of a visitor.  Then, ask your citizens and visitors what they think your destination is.

Work on closing that gap.

Rather than another stupid tagline.

Posted in Blog, Syndicated