I’ve had a front row seat at the release of dozens of new tourism campaigns and destination development projects at conferences around the world during the last several years. One thing as been noticeably absent: A connection between tourism campaigns and destination developments.
In other words, there’s a huge missed opportunity to create a stronger brand by linking the core brand with new developments.
Perhaps a better way forward for DMOs is to think about their destination’s brand as a platform – a brand platform.
Here’s an example of what that might look like: Let’s say the State of Illinois used the brand-platform “Tall” (as in: things may be bigger in Texas, but they’re tallerin Illinois). Abe Lincoln was tall. The Willis Tower still has the most floors of any building in the US. There are many quirky tall things along Route 66, including the tallest ketchup bottle and knitting needles. And the state has one of the tallest shapes. (“California’s shape is crooked,” they could say. “Illinois is tall!”) In other words, this example may not be the strongest brand-platform they could come up with, but it’s not a total stretch either.
Last year, Illinois spent many, many millions of dollars to roll out a campaign about an animated mini Abe Lincoln doll exploring the State’s attractions. If they used that budget to create a “Tall” brand platform instead, here’s how that might look.
For starters, they could make some of their famously tall things MUCH taller – tall enough (and creatively experiential) to generate significant media attention and put them on the map of must-see oddities. Imagine how epic a ketchup bottle could be with $1 million investment and some crowd-sourced ideas. Now imagine five totally different million-dollar tall things along Route 66, revitalizing that part of road (which is the single biggest attraction among foreigners for this part of America).
Then there could be countless smaller things that build on the “tall” platform … special hotdog holders that keep it standing vertically on your plate, the tallest beer mugs, tall menus, tall pieces of cake, tall novelty hats for sale. There could be an annual competition in every region to come up with clever tall things. The power of a brand platform is that it allows everyone to get involved (there’s virtually no financial barrier to entry) and every new tall creation helps strengthen the brand.
When big projects pop up, like Chicago’s $250 million cable car “Skyline” proposal, there would be a natural question: “Is it the tallest cable car? And if not, what can be done to make it the tallest in some way?” If it can incorporate some aspect of tallness (maybe the cable cars, themselves, are the tallest), then it’s not just product; it’s a brand-aligned product.
Those proposing the Skyline cable car cited the success of the London Eye. But that’s not part of London’s core brand either. To clarify, it doesn’t mean it’s not financially successful (and the Cable Car could be as well without a brand platform), but without one, there’s no basic brand guidelines that keep things from just becoming a hodgepodge of random tourist stuff. The platform provides structure for future growth and gives greater meaning to the things that are created.
Here's the difference: The Eiffel Tower contributes to Paris’ core brand as a cultural and architectural wonder. The London Eye is a successful, large amusement park ride that was dropped into the middle of London for commercial purposes.
Will tallness be the best reason to visit Illinois for most people? Not necessarily. Certainly not at the very beginning. But who knows what amazing new products it will inspire? The tallest roller coaster? Tallest bar? Tallest hotel? Those might be genuine drivers.
Again, “Tall” is just an example. It’s important to understand that the platform doesn’t need to involve everything.
So, let’s take another example: North Carolina. What’s something that every city and town in North Carolina could get onboard with and own? The title of best BBQ is tough to own with all the competition. So is having the best craft beer. But they could conceivably own the title of “Best BBQ & Craft Beer.” Every region could come up with their own unique BBQ flavor and match it with a type of craft beer that professional taste-testers decide it pairs best with.
Naturally, people will still visit North Carolina to rent homes in the Outer Banks, watch NASCAR races and take advantage of the State’s other offerings, but a good state platform is one the entire destination can take part in. With some friendly competition between regions, each claiming to be the best, it can help encourage visitors to travel around and try the amazing BBQ-beer combos for themselves. The cherry on top is a slogan that pulls these things together in a clever way and a logo that incorporates these two icons.
There are many amazing things in Canada, but some have suggested it’s hockey that unites the country. Similarly, regional destinations need something that can unite them beyond a flag and vague slogan. And since there aren’t really any tourism zoning laws dictating the type of attractions that can be built, a strong brand platform may be the most effective way to steer development and help get everyone working toward a common goal.
Doug Lansky has been living abroad and travelling for the last nearly 20 years in over 120 countries. He has written books for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, had a weekly syndicated travel column in over 40 newspapers for five years, hosted a Travel Channel show, served as an editor for Skift and Scandinavian Airlines inflight magazine, and contributed to publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Reader’s Digest, Esquire, Men’s Journal, The Guardian and Huffington Post. On the speaking circuit, Doug has given lectures at dozens of tourism conferences, spoken to a sold-out audience at National Geographic Headquarters, in Bali on behalf of the UNWTO, and he had the honor of delivering a TED Talk just last month in Stockholm, where he lives with his family.
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