By Yvonne Milosevic
In a global tourism industry where about 70% of all travelers flock to just 10 countries, luring visitors to parts unknown requires some top-notch marketing mojo. After all, lots of places on the map can boast about their five-star resorts or friendly locals. Every country lays claim to having unique cultural traditions. You can have fun in the sun somewhere on six continents. That’s prompting cities, regions, and whole countries to seek new ways to differentiate themselves to grab a sliver of that peregrination pie.
Enter destination branding
Marketing a destination is not exactly the same as marketing consumer goods. But, travelers do assign personality traits to destinations just like they do to consumer products. They experience an emotional pull, and already have feelings about the destination before setting foot there. To create a successful branding campaign for a country or region, a savvy marketing team needs to start by sussing out those preexisting notions and amplifying them.
Harvard Business School professor Elie Ofek uses New Zealand as a primo case study for destination branding. Before “Lord of the Rings” cemented the country’s allure, it had struggled to step out from Australia’s shadow. Many focus groups and surveys revealed that people associated New Zealand with the unpretentious traveler who seeks adventure, freedom, and nature. The “100% Pure New Zealand” campaign was born, and tourism spiked by 50% from 1999-2005.
The campaign would’ve tanked if NZ couldn’t deliver on the promise of an epic experience in nature. It succeeded because the marketing efforts homed in on its stellar, though lesser known, characteristics.
Ofek runs through the CRED checklist to identify whether a destination’s branding message is on point. He asks, is it:
Credible? The qualities a country promotes must reflect reality.
Relevant? The imagery and associations of the place need to matter to the targeted audience. For instance, highlighting France’s charming countryside and stinky cheeses won’t resonate with tech entrepreneurs.
Enduring? Building a brand around renewable energy might not stick if a pro-coal leader takes power. But the unique essence of a city never fades, and should form the backbone of the branding effort.
Different? The brand needs to stake out a position that allows it to stand out relative to other regions.
Pics or it didn’t happen
Travel has become a form of self-expression for many of us. Where we go, what we eat, and how we look doing it will likely be ‘grammed extensively. Our travel choices say something about our personality and what we value. Marketers know that a successful branding initiative should also tap into the destination’s aspirational or emotional qualities.
Take this Finnish promo for a two-day start-up festival called Slush, which read:
Nobody in their right mind would come to Helsinki in November.
Except you, you badass. Welcome.
Attendees loved the humor and honesty of the slogan. And yeah, felt like total badass radicals for enduring the dark days and frigid temps of a Finnish winter.
Tourism is a complex, multi-faceted product. But just as with consumer goods, making visitors to a destination feel cool, in-the-know, adventurous, etc. starts with a strong brand identity. It’s also the only way to survive in a crowded travel marketplace.