Part 3: 4 Things Destination Marketing Can Learn From The Best Corporate Brands

This is part 3. Check out part 1 in which we discuss the quantitative and qualitative value of your brand, and part 2 in which we discuss why you should spend the money and trust the experts.

Part 3: Ultimately, It's About Telling Your Story

We see DMOs wasting precious energy and resources trying to have their brand be something that it’s not. This typically manifests in one of two ways: 1) trying to be like “the other guy” or, 2) trying to be all things to all people.

Good at everything:great at nothing

What pushes DMOs over the edge into the jaws of these traps, sadly, are most often pressures coming from inside—city council members, CVB board members, business organization leaders, etc.—those who lack the bigger-picture perspective or the marketing expertise to correctly assess situation. These are folks who are just too close to “the forest to see the trees.”

First scenario: “Being like the other guy,” by definition, dilutes the uniqueness of your own brand’s value proposition. Instead of being the one and only you, and worthy of consideration in your own right, you are “one of them—that kind of place,” which inherently leads to comparison.So, when compared to “that other one” or “ones” in this category you will be one of the following: less good than they are, as good as they are, or better than they are at being “that kind.”

Regardless, whichever way you slice it, you have now put yourself in the position of comparing and being compared. In your target prospect’s mind you are implicitly or explicitly bringing attention to your competition every time you bring attention to yourself. Hmmm.

In the second scenario—trying to be all things to all people—you will be committing strategic folly and, potentially, heading down a well-worn path to marketing suicide.

You’ve heard of the guy who’s the jack of all trades but master of none? Unless you are the Leonardo Da Vinci of destinations, you are likely to become the Jack Of All Destinations and the choice of none.

After all, what destination jumps to mind when you’re looking for that perfect place to: ski, shoot the rapids, lay on the beach, do the rainforest canopy tour, go big game hunting in the morning, shop the antique malls in the afternoon, and stay in a five-star hotel next to the Eiffel Tower that night?

You can’t be it all and do it all—unless, perhaps, you’re Disney World.

In the search for a perfect one-size-fits-all tagline, there have been a few fantastically bland contenders for the “Most Vanilla” awards. Top picks include “You’re going to love it here” (New Hampshire), “Get in on it” (Baltimore), and “Come see for yourself” (New Jersey, and previously West Virginia). Nothing says “ownable” like “everyone else on Planet Earth can say this.”

Examples of bad taglines

If you’ve made some of these mistakes in the past, don’t fret. Even the big boys fall prey to this sort of psychosis on occasion. Take for example, these terribly conceived brand extensions.

We particularly liked Dr. Pepper marinade and Arizona (ice tea) nachos. A match made in heaven!

You cannot “invent” who you are. You can only move one or two degrees from reality without becoming a caricature, a joke, something people don’t take seriously enough to pay attention to because they can smell the absurdity a mile away.

On the other hand, sometimes reality viewed through the right lens is just “out there” enough to work.

Take Marfa, Texas. Nobody would believe that it is becoming a don’t-miss destination in the art scene. They’ve done a fantastic job of owning the juxtaposition of a Prada store in the middle of nowhere. “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.” That’s owning the story. That’s selling 1-2 degrees of separation from reality. That’s a little bit of aspiration, and a whole lot of rallying cry and focal point.

How You Can Apply This To Your Brand

Good brand storytelling is about creating an authentic connection to the soul of your destination, that thing that makes you unique. Finding that ownable DNA is most definitely the hard part of a branding project, but with a well designed and properly paced research project, coming to an understanding of your story is possible.

Work with a brand research firm to create a plan of action designed to dig as deep as need be to find that set of ownable (truly, uniquely, only-you-can-say-it) attributes. From that research, work with a branding firm to design a system of communication that creates a consistent arc from image to image, color to color, word to word, movie to movie, tagline to tagline, headline to headline—you get the picture—reinforcing the story at every touch point.

The Big Takeaway

Every city, town, attraction, community, has a unique story to tell. Focus on what is truly ownable, that DNA that makes you you. Everything else is just a waste of opportunity.

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June 25, 2014