Mountains don't smile back
The fourth and final article in our series of place and destination branding master classes.
The last master class tackled some of the practical issues and challenges faced by destinations in the development and delivery of a brand strategy.
In this, the fourth and final master class, branding specialist George Whitfield highlights the value of visitor data as a route to new business, powerful promotion, product improvement, effective metrics... and customer delight.
The third article in this series discussed some of the practical issues and challenges faced by destinations in the development and delivery of a brand strategy. In particular, the need was stressed for a clear and open brief, free from political and irrelevant restraints, in order to begin the branding process with as clean a slate as possible. The article examined the need for effective groundwork through visitor research as well as a thorough understanding and first hand knowledge of the place, region or destination as essential building blocks for an effective brand strategy.
The role of visitor experiences in the design of brand architectures and brand portfolios was considered, as were the importance of communication, consistency and the practical use of a brand as the blueprint for a multitude of decisions that contribute to effective brand delivery and development.
This fourth article is the final one in this series only in the sense of attempting to cover the essential basics of place and destination branding. There are many more areas of significant study and investigation that could be discussed. But the primary purpose of these articles has been to provide a practical overview of what destination branding entails, why it is both important and beneficial and what the essential steps and requirements are for embarking on the development of a place or destination brand strategy.
This fourth article looks at the value of visitor data as a route to new business, powerful promotion, product improvements, effective metrics and customer delight. The article will highlight the role of the private sector in brand design and delivery and will include some thoughts on expressing the brand identity as well as the importance of the website in maintaining the visitor relationship.
THE CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP
Customer relationship management is both a much used and abused term. Essentially it refers to the straightforward practice of staying in touch. It helps to consider all stages of the visitor's experience as a basis for understanding where the best opportunities exist to establish relevant contact points with the 'customer'. The visitor will likely start with an enquiry, assemble information, plan, anticipate, book, travel to the destination, experience the destination, travel home, recollect their experience and hopefully recommend the place to their friends and return themselves.
The objective for managing these opportunities is to establish a lasting relationship and, as with all branding, to exceed the customer's expectations thereby creating a delighted or devoted visitor. In today's competitive world, customer satisfaction is the price of entry. Only something considerably more ambitious will form the basis for loyalty and advocacy.
In the visitor progression outlined here, once a destination has stimulated interest to the point of initial enquiry, multiple opportunities exist to be in touch and stay in touch with the prospect. Much of the communication will be via the internet but genuinely personalised mail and even telephone contacts can all be valuable. The purpose of such contact should not be regarded as an immediate sales opportunity but as a long term strategy to build a relationship by anticipating needs, asking what more the prospect wants, enquiring about the experience, reminding the visitor of what they tell you they most enjoyed and finally re-contacting the visitor after their visit to bring them helpful news, information and offers.
When designing a CRM programme, always try to place yourself in the shoes of the customer and ask, 'What would I appreciate knowing, seeing or hearing from this destination?' Beware of those who promise customer loyalty. Real people in the real world reserve their loyalty for friends, family, some chosen principles, their country and perhaps a favourite sports team. Just because a person may visit the same destination repeatedly, does not make them loyal to that place. What is true, though, is that visitors expect the places they visit to be loyal to them. They expect to be at the centre of your universe and that is where a good CRM programme should constantly strive to place them. The visitor wants to believe that the destination cares, that it treats each visitor as a distinct and important individual, not as part of some homogeneous, pre-programmed mass communications effort.
Creating devoted visitors has real commercial benefits and long term rewards for both visitor and destination alike. Hopefully, a well-designed and well-executed CRM programme will entice the customer to return, to experience different aspects of the destination, to tell their friends and to act as an enthusiastic advocate. It should also enable the destination to define the profile of their best clients, to maximise the lifetime value of each visitor and to identify patterns of behaviour. Predictive analysis can identify common interests and future desires, the solutions to which can then be presented before the visitor has even articulated a request. Technology exists that makes it relatively straightforward to note correlations between various visitor interests and to say to website visitors, for example, 'Visitors who enjoyed visiting our museums also found our theatres of great interest. You can book theatre tickets for this summer by following this link'.
The mistake that too many CRM programmes make is to assume that a lapsed customer is a lost customer. Being loyal to your customers means not purging them from the database after a set period of inactivity on the basis that continuing communications are too costly. An inactive customer is probably very active with your competitor and now is a grand chance to discover what your former customer finds attractive about another destination. What describes the experience they had there? How well does that experience match their expectations? How can your destination design ways to out-satisfy the lapsed visitor and promote alternatives to those aspects of other destinations that the visitor dislikes or criticises?
Reaching this stage in a CRM approach requires a great deal of detailed, current data. CRM practitioners are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the techniques they use to collect and use data like this so it is not an initiative that can be undertaken without professional help. But the dividends that will accrue from such an investment are startling and long-lasting. Almost all the information traditionally assembled through visitor surveys, attitude and awareness research and financial analysis can now be collated for each individual prospect and visitor through the CRM database.
There are many reasons why such data is seldom collected by destinations at a single point for analysis and action. In many situations, visitors may not even contact the DMO or a National tourist office, preferring to limit their dealings to the information and online booking capabilities of the private sector. Frequently, hotels, resorts, attractions and other private sector partners are reluctant to share information about their prospects and customers for fears of poaching, data protection or losing control of communications that they are concerned may not adhere to their individual brand strategies. These are all legitimate barriers to practical data assembly and may require that the DMO or NTO proceed independently to develop a database and CRM programme. Only once the benefits and concrete results from such a programme are shared with private sector partners will attitudes change and a more open architecture for knowledge sharing be possible.
CRM has another singular benefit for destinations whose funding is generally from the public purse, partner subscriptions or some combination of the two. Providing regular, useful and actionable data to funding partners and authorities goes a long way towards demonstrating the value of their investment. Initiating one-to-one communications programmes based on the data collected and delivering measurable response to specific initiatives is the kind of activity by which most DMOs will be judged.
A primary task of every DMO, NTO or Convention and Visitor Bureau is to enhance the commercial return to its private sector partners. In their turn, many such partners can help or hinder the brand identity of a place or destination through their considerable spending power and increasingly sophisticated customer contact mechanisms. Involving the private sector as a genuine partner is exceptionally important if a place, country or destination is to maintain any real control over its brand.
In reviewing the opportunities that public-private sector partnerships can create for destination brand strategies, it becomes apparent that generalities are of little help. Each situation has its own unique characteristics, personal legacies, public sector performance history affecting confidence and co-operation.
The private sector is generally where the saleable 'product' resides and their control over the delivery of many elements of the brand promise is considerable. It may often yield more productive relationships if those responsible for the destination brand regard the private sector both as partners and as customers.
The most difficult task for any funded, public sector organisation is to prioritise their private sector 'customers' by core segments versus the less productive. It is obviously essential to have the core segments heavily represented on the tourist board, marketing committee, advisory council and whatever other structure is in place to advise and monitor the work of the DMO / NTO responsible for the brand strategy, promise and delivery. There are far too many planning, advisory and marketing committees that are essentially populated by those with the most time available and who work in the public sector or for NGOs. A recent project in which the author was involved included a planning group comprised of a chief executive of museums and libraries, two borough council tourism officers, a head of economic development, a director of a city council's regeneration project, a tourism lecturer from the university and a rural tourism officer. There was one individual from the private sector.
Groups and committees with this kind of composition speak volumes about the real levels of partnership that exist with the private sector as well as speaking volumes about the agenda of the tourist boards concerned. By contrast, where public sector organisations and funding are less numerous and less generous, tourist boards in places like the Caribbean are heavily reliant on the private sector whose knowledge, advice and participation are essential to the effective administration of any brand strategy and the execution of initiatives for extending visitor attraction and satisfaction.
THE SPLASH AND RIPPLE EFFECT
The first article in this
series discussed the importance of focus in both selecting the key
audience profile and in developing a brand promise in response to
their rational and emotional needs. Achieving this focus may be
one of the most difficult aspects of destination branding because
of the multitude of agendas that appear to need satisfying. But
attempting to satisfy all such agendas is the abyss into which no
competent DMO or NTO can afford to fall. To attempt to keep everyone
happy will end up satisfying no one and will, more probably, fragment
effort and waste considerable sums of money.
WALES - A CASE STUDY
There are a few examples of the vision, courage and commitment it takes to achieve genuine focus for a brand initiative. In the excellent book titled 'Destination Branding' (Elsevier ISBN 0 7506 5969 6) which he co-edited with Nigel Morgan and Annette Pritchard, Roger Pride relates the story of creating a dynamic new brand strategy for Wales. It is a remarkable account since it involves an imaginative private sector partnership and a bold strategy for differentiation all based on meticulous market research and intelligent interpretation.
A billionaire Welsh entrepreneur developed a huge golf complex with a five star hotel, three eighteen hole courses and many other facilities with which he was able to win the rights to host the 2010 Ryder Cup. The Welsh Assembly Government seized on this triumph as an opportunity to showcase Wales on the international stage and the Welsh Tourist Board was tasked with developing a strategy to ensure that Wales became recognised as a world class golf destination by 2010. It was no easy task with Scotland and Ireland already known as giants of the golfing world so close geographically. The key to the Welsh strategy, and to do scant justice to the extensive work that went into the strategy, was their discovery that the growing numbers of new golfers entering the growing golf market exhibited a dramatically different demographic profile from the traditional markets attracted to established golf destinations like Ireland and Scotland.
These new golfers were likely to be younger, over 50% are women and they take their lead from young professional golfers who challenge convention in both dress code and behaviour. Wales realised that these golfers had different needs and standards than the traditional golfer and that the only way of competing successfully with established golf destinations would not be by copying their appeal but by challenging it. Wales developed a strategy as the antidote to conventional golf destinations with the strapline 'Wales, golf as it should be'. A high visibility media campaign carried the message in golf media to get the campaign talked about using headline copy that reads 'There's stuffy golf... and there's golf in Wales'.
Taking this single-minded and focused approach based on a private sector initiative and turning it into a branding opportunity for the whole country was a bold and visionary move. It could only happen because it had the encouragement of the Welsh Assembly and exceptionally perceptive marketers at the tourist board. But it demonstrates how one such big 'splash' initiative in partnership with the private sector can embrace a great deal more than the narrowly focussed audience for whom it was originally designed - the 'ripple'.
By challenging the conventions of stuffy golf, Wales has also positioned itself as slightly anti-establishment, tuned-in to younger, contemporary values and aspirations, a place for those looking for something a little out of the mainstream. The 'ripple' could be immense from this one big splash, opening numerous avenues for visitor experiences that challenge the norm and reflect an individualistic approach.
LEVERAGING PRIVATE SECTOR ACTIVITY
There are other examples where private sector initiatives have provided a basic attitude for public sector branding. For many years, Jamaica was the crucible of the dedicated couples' holiday with the resort of that name, the Sandals chain and other specialised couples' resorts like Swept Away. The brand slogan for the country was based on the Bob Marley song 'One Love' and carried the line based on his song that perfectly reflected the unhurried and laid-back pace of life in the country so beloved by visitors... 'Come to Jamaica and feel all right'. I am less confident that the strapline 'Once you go, you know' that now appears in Jamaica's advertising is based on as firm a reflection of visitor perception and national identity.
Any destination bereft
of ideas for how to brand itself might do far worse than to look
at the highest profile private sector visitor draws and, provided
that the visitor profile corresponds with an acceptable profile
for a sustainable future, try to dissect what the rational and emotional
satisfactions are that these attractions satisfy and determine how
this knowledge could be leveraged into a brand promise for the whole
destination. The big mistake would be to use such an approach on
an inclusive basis by taking snippets from a range of destination
draws and attractions in order to satisfy every agenda. This would
inevitably result in a grey, indistinguishable and generalised brand
promise that would be utterly useless in the marketplace.
EXPRESSING THE BRAND IDENTITY
As these articles have reiterated, the most common mistake any brand strategy can make is to assume that branding is somehow a process whereby a magic wand creates an identity for a place or destination that is cohesive, compelling and differentiated. There were once brand practitioners who would claim to be able to do this and there are still many creative and design houses that will be happy to 'slap lipstick on the pig'. But, make no mistake; this is cosmetic branding at best. It has no substance, no promise, no customer input, no delivery and no likelihood of success.
A true brand strategy is developed in accordance with the principles and practices outlined in this introductory series of articles. Strategic branding, by contrast with cosmetic branding, requires in-depth knowledge of, and familiarity with, the disciplines required to identify relevant audience profiles, and to understand their needs on both the rational as well as an emotional level. It must compare the destination's ability to satisfy those needs with what else is in the competitive milieu, design appropriate initiatives where there are identified gaps in the ability to deliver and ensure that all communication with the visitor is consistent and that behaviour reflects the brand promise.
Only once this process is complete and a clearly differentiated and compelling brand promise has been agreed should the process of expressing the new identity begin. The final expression has two equally important audiences; the prospective visitor and the resident community. If the identity appeals to one and not the other it will have failed.
It is a tall order to reflect the complexities of a memorable destination experience in a graphic presentation and a slogan or strapline. Some care should be taken in order to identify the best design group possible to undertake the task of expressing the brand identity. For many destinations the place name IS the brand name and it would be odd if this were not the case. But even so, the type and design elements which are chosen to present the name must adhere to the tone and spirit of the promise and appeal to resident and visitor audiences alike.
There are also some interesting examples where the name has been incorporated into the brand promise and used as the public identity:
'I ♥ New York', 'Virginia is for Lovers' and '100% Pure New Zealand' each present the name identification within the context of an expression of purpose and promise. In a cluttered and over-crowded global marketplace, it is difficult to stand out and be unique as the identities for New Zealand and the Seychelles demonstrate with the latter's slogan 'As pure as it gets'. It is essential to undertake a global review of any identity expression before publication in order to ensure that it truly reflects the unique identity a place wishes to promote and has not accidentally encroached on a similar thought produced elsewhere as an earlier article described having happened with the slogans for Canada and South West England.
There are cases where a destination name is merely a geographical description of its location within a larger geographic entity. Sometimes this may be relatively neutral as in the case of South West England; in other instances it may evoke negative images and associations and be clearly detrimental to the presentation of a positive brand identity. In such cases, and East Midlands or North-East England spring to mind, these names are administrative descriptors for the convenience of government agencies and should be regarded as wholly superfluous in the context of branding strategies. Unfortunately, in many cases they are not so readily dismissed as the politics of regional and sub-regional structures militate against the introduction of progressive thought.
Many places and destinations consider that a slogan or strapline is essential for the full expression of a brand's identity. This is not necessarily the case and there are numerous examples where it would have been better to have no slogan than the meaningless or overt advertising puffery that some places employ. Ireland manages to project a strong brand image without the need for a slogan in its inviting double page spread magazine campaign signed off with the name and iconographic shamrock. Hong Kong says it all with a fiery dragon's head but the majority of destination advertising carries a slogan in association with the name logo.
A good slogan can definitely serve to reinforce the brand promise and contribute to the overall identity perception of a destination brand. There are various guidelines that help in the development and assessment of a strong slogan over one that is unlikely to make an impact. A slogan should not try to be a miniature advertisement headline. It should strive to reflect the experience the visitor can expect, not the destination's view of its greatest attribute. Remember that consumers learned long ago, and with good reason, to be highly sceptical of advertising. Make your slogan memorable without self-adulation. Use words that are unexpected and that make the reader stop and consider. Words like 'discover', 'unspoilt', 'welcoming' and 'friendly' are just so much wallpaper and will not register in the conscious or unconscious mind of the prospect. Similarly, avoid clichés and hackneyed phrases like 'uniquely yours', 'island paradise', 'wonder of the world' (unless you are one of the official nominees) and any superlatives like 'best', 'most', 'only', 'finest'.
A good slogan is easy to say, helps recall the brand name and has originality. If possible, the slogan should imply or state the key brand benefit or point of differentiation. It should also be assessed for whether it reflects just the 'here and now' or whether it helps to define the future direction of the brand.
There are remarkably few websites for places, countries and destinations that seem to regard it as important that they reflect not just the brand identity but the brand promise and behaviour. A whole article on websites would only scratch the surface but their importance in the global village of communication and as a tool to reflect genuine brand values and behaviour is too often overlooked or under utilised. Customer input is now regarded in the corporate world as an absolute priority and any website that has no facility for such basic interactivity requires an urgent overhaul. Websites should be a stage on which the prospective visitor can rehearse their holiday as well as gather information, book accommodation and have their questions promptly answered.
A good destination website will be filled with opportunities for past visitors to re-live the best experiences of their visit whether these involve a destination 'sound track CD' or the opportunity to buy some of the food and beverage that they enjoyed while in the region.
Websites that are merely electronic brochures are thankfully becoming less common but the opportunities to expand the role of the website as home page, recipe source, anniversary reminder, search engine, destination portal, blog and personal assistant are being exploited by only a handful of progressive destinations. Don't assume that past and prospective visitors are only interested in the 'tourist' subjects. A good destination experience can be promoted and recollected by including selected items of local news, personality profiles and a myriad other devices that echo the best elements of how it feels to live in the destination. Even showing real estate for sale or highlighting a campaign to save the local post office can demonstrate the nature of what it feels like to be a part of the place even if the vast majority of website visitors are only ever going to live the local life vicariously.
The message is to pay great attention to your website, keep it absolutely current (not last year's flower show dates) and make it so interesting, novel and anticipatory of visitors' potential needs that it becomes a much loved and oft-visited companion. Look for special ways in which it can reflect the brand promise and brand values and promote new additions and content regularly through permission e-mail campaigns.
This series of articles has been intended as a basic primer for DMOs and NTOs particularly to gain some insights into the processes and disciplines necessary for branding a destination, whether that be a country, region, sub-region, city or town. The series has tried to outline brand issues from the point of view of practical application rather than academic discussion.
As the articles began by pointing out, the disciplines do not differ from corporate or product branding. The processes involved in delivering the brand promise for destination brands present their own unique set of challenges but few, if any, of these should be insurmountable given a knowledgeable, imaginative and committed approach. Tourists increasingly seek lifestyle fulfilment and experiences on holiday rather than making their choice of destination on undifferentiated product and attribute features which are common to so many of the world's premier destinations.
Branding is the most powerful marketing weapon available to contemporary destination marketers confronted by the experiential desires and aspirations of a new generation of travellers and the need to create a uniquely differentiated offering in a fiercely competitive global marketplace.
The choice of a holiday destination involves a complex matrix of attributes, experience, expectations, conversational value and emotions. When travellers make choices between places they want to visit, they are buying into an emotional relationship that makes a statement about their lifestyle, values and personality. This statement is a powerful commitment to a brand relationship by the visitor and requires careful nurturing for as long as the relationship can be sustained.
Designing the brand is just the first step in a long and hopefully rewarding relationship with the visitor that builds positive perceptions through satisfying experiences and pleasant surprise through exceeding expectations.
These articles have tried to address in realistic and practical terms the very real branding challenges faced by destination organisations. In particular, small budgets, limited expertise, vulnerability to external and internal political pressures with multiple stakeholders to satisfy provide formidable obstacles that must be circumvented or overcome. In addition, tourism is prey to a host of external influences from terrorism, disease, economic downturns, natural disaster and human strife that leave even the best laid plans open to chaos.
Successful destination branding requires achieving a balance between providing sustainable and innovative solutions to market needs and the realities of managing local, regional and national politics. The real success stories are those which have been able to resist the political dynamic through inspired leadership and a well-informed approach. They are few and far between.
If these articles do nothing to reduce intrusive levels of political interference or to bolster the possibility of sensible structures for the creation of destination brands in places where these are hampered by bureaucracy, it is hoped that they may at least provide some insight into the possibilities represented by branding and prove helpful as a road map for how the creation of a powerful destination brand might be approached.
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If you've found this master class of interest and would like to read others in the series, use the links provided below:
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George Whitfield is a leading tourism and brand strategist with wide ranging experience including destination strategies, new product design, brand development, customer understanding, and exceptional communications. His international background affords him a unique perspective on the strategic imperatives for innovative solutions that focus on customer devotion and the bottom line. George can be contacted via GeorgeWhitfield@team-tourism.com
© George Whitfield 2005
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