Part 1: 4 Things Destination Marketing Can Learn From The Best Corporate Brands

In his book Disruption: Destination Marketing in the Post-Advertising Age, Aria Founder + CEO, Ryan Thompson, writing about branding destinations, made a bold statement:

“In our opinion, destinations are harder by far to brand than most corporate entities. Destination marketers are faced with representing an incredibly diverse array of attributes and amenities—some of them positive, others less so.”

And while in many ways, destinations do have a harder job marketing themselves than corporations do, we believe there is a lot to learn from the big boys who do it so well. In this multi-part series, we’ve outlined four major points that differentiate companies and destinations alike, and how small, medium, and large destinations can leverage good branding principles to boost feet on the streets, and put more heads in beds.

This is part 1.

Part 1: Understand The Qualitative & Quantitative Value of Your Brand

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Big brands spend big money to understand how they are perceived in the big-wide-world market—and how those perceptions relate to transactional behavior such as purchases, return purchases, and recommendations.

In the DMO world, we tend to see plenty of spending on research, but those dollars are seldom spent specifically onbrand research. This is most often true of municipalities, which, unfortunately, tend to embrace insider, anecdotal information as gospel truth. But, the impartiality of such “market intelligence” is suspect because political, business, and investment sources cannot help but be somewhat myopic in their point of view.

So, here’s the point. There’s a reason Forbes releases a “most valuable brands” list every year. And if you look at it, it’s aWho’s Who of powerful brand imagery and design: Apple, GE, BMW, Honda, Nike, and Microsoft.


These companies spend billions of dollars a year researching, defining, refining, and protecting their brands—and for a good reason. In a recent study by the Design Management Institute and Motiv Strategies, the top publicly traded companies who focus on design as a key philosophy of business outperformed their counterparts in earnings on the S&P by 228%.

Yeah… that’s a two in front of the 28. Amazing.

Besides simply having good taste, these industry leaders understand that the qualitative and quantitative value of their brands equate to greater loyalty, provide their consumers a sense of status and, ultimately, move the sales needle powerfully in their financial favor.

Each of these companies (as well as some of the best branded destinations and attractions in the world) constantly gauge the effectiveness of their brand against two measures: qualitative (“Qual”) and quantitative (“Quant”) research.

Quant asks closed-ended questions that can be answered finitely by “yes/no,” true/false,” or selecting a multiple choice option, including “other.” Quant is used to collect numerical data, typically via surveys.

Qual, on the other hand, asks open-ended questions, phrased in such a way as to invite the interviewed to tell their brand-experience stories in their own words, thus revealing intent, attitude, and insights in ways that lists of checked boxes simply cannot.

“Methods used to collect data include field observations, personal interviews and group discussions.” — Carolyn M. Brown for Inc Magazine

How You Can Apply This To Your Brand

Quantitative Research 

used to measure responses to specific, directed questions regarding brand decisions.

Host online surveys with yes/no questions about how the brand motivates visitors. Keep questions short and to the point: does this imagery make me feel included? Would I bring my family to this beach? Would I recommend this to my friends? Promote these surveys on your website, Facebook, Twitter, etc., with a sweepstakes. People are highly motivated by the possibility of winning even a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Measure every interaction you can with your brand decisions by setting up A/B testing. This is very easy to do utilizing online responses to new taglines, ads, imagery, and campaigns. See our recent post: 10 tips to improve digital marketing tracking through Google Analytics.

Qualitative Research 

understanding the feelings, values, and perceptions that underlie and influence behavior.

Set up listening campaigns to capture your audience’s perception of your brand where they naturally congregate: social media — this measures how it makes them feel when they’re not being asked by the brand.

Host online surveys with open-ended questions about how a brand, set of imagery, taglines, or campaigns make your audience feel: positive, negative, etc. Making the questions open-ended ensures that you receive unfiltered stories back.

Conduct in-person interviews with people outside your internal stakeholder group. When Las Vegas’ Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and its Agency, R&R Partners originally unveiled “What happens here, stays here” commercials to the board of directors, the response was unfavorable. But, when allowed to take it to market for testing, more than two-thirds of the responses were undeniably favorable. And we all know how that campaign turned out.

The Big Takeaway

It’s paramount that you start looking at your brand through the lens of Qual and Quant value, and that you set up a campaign or partner with a DMO-focused brand agency to conduct the right amount, and right kind of research to ensure that you know the value, can explain the value, and ultimately, make decisions to increase the value of your brand.

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June 23, 2014