Leveraging Values for Competitive Advantage


by: Victoria Simmons, BVK

Destinations International’s very own 2021 DestinationNEXT Futures Study identified values-based marketing as one of three key transformational areas for destination organizations. By now destination leaders realize it is no longer just about where you are located or what you offer, how many James Beard award-winning restaurants, hotel rooms or square feet of convention center space a destination has relative to the competition, but more the degree to which a destination resonates and relates with the values that its residents feel and believe in, and which visitors seek out and crave. Building destination brands that reflect the energy and values of the communities they represent is the new competitive advantage.

Here we examine why values drive decision making and what destinations stand to gain from uncovering and tapping into those values.

Differentiation and High Value Visitors

To obtain great business results, a brand must stand for something compelling. Today’s most successful business leaders are leveraging values to set the pace in their categories and leave their competition far behind. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 58% of customers buy or advocate for brands that reflect their own beliefs. That’s certainly true when it comes to travel. More and more travelers are searching for places that reflect their own value systems. As marketers, it is our job to help them self-select whether a destination brand can deliver the type of culturally relevant experiences they are seeking. And in doing so create greater differentiation and preference.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism’s new Modern Explorer’s campaign, anchored in the value of adventure, is a great example of letting the local lifestyle and values associated take center stage. The work boldly claims Wyoming as the last bastion of the West by showcasing the adventurous, determined and independent spirits that call Wyoming home. Those who value forging a new path will no doubt crave a similar lifestyle if only while on vacation. Destination leaders can oftentimes feel pressured to create messaging meant to resonate with the masses. The harsh reality is that most places aren’t for everyone. Kudos to the Wyoming team for understanding that and creating a campaign targeted to audiences who aspire to the lifestyle and experiences uniquely tied to the state. As a testament to how well this campaign resonates with travelers here’s a verbatim from a creative testing study.

“There is a swagger that runs through the entire campaign. I like the people portrayed. The people’s values are rugged individualism. They don’t have the latest and greatest. They aren’t afraid to build their own houses. They don’t care about getting to a Starbucks quickly.”

The Wyoming team realized that aligning visitors’ values with the values of the community is a critical first step in creating a healthy, sustainable tourism economy which is a key critical issue facing destination organizations. Implementing strategies to balance visitor quality and volume means that Wyoming is not overwhelmed with visitors in one area and starving for them in another. Not all travellers are equally beneficial. We know some stay longer, spend more money and are more well aligned with the cultural identity of the destinations they choose to visit. As a result, they are much more likely to interact positively with the community, seek out local experiences and treat the environment with care. For these reasons the Wyoming Office of Tourism has refined their approach to audience development. In addition to using first party data and intent-based targeting techniques, they layer value statements into their audience profiles. When both the creative and targeting strategy are aligned around the same value, the campaign resonates on a more meaningful level and drives better results – meaning the right visitors show up. Watch the spot here.

Community Alignment & Brand Advocates

Value-based positioning creates a sense of enthusiasm among residents because the brand represents them and draws them closer to the place they live. The state of Florida has done a wonderful job over the years in educating residents on the value of tourism and asking them to participate in campaigns to both experience their own state and invite others to do the same. Visit St. Pete Clearwater leaned into that legacy when they partnered with Keep Pinellas Beautiful and local influencer “Trash Caulin” for an Earth Month beach cleanup and social responsibility campaign “Unwind & Be Kind.” The campaign reminds travelers and locals alike to practice patience and encourage preservation and sustainability amid the destinations busiest travel season. I can’t think of a better local resident to represent the vibrant spirit of the St. Pete Clearwater brand than the bold, energetic and intensely passionate “Trash Caulin” whose 1.6MM TikTok followers care immensely about protecting the beach and shoreline. What a great example of community alignment. Destination organizations that realize that local residents are the ultimate customers and focus on aligning against a shared value create credibility and worth for their own organizations.

Framework for Product & Experience Development

Core values can guide the development of products, services and messaging that better resonate with travelers and stakeholders. Those tasks are increasingly important as destination organizations pick up management functions that require shifts in strategy and focus. Like many mountain resort towns trying to balance visitation growth with sustainability and resident quality of life, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association has shifted their focus from exclusively visitor acquisition to focus also on community advocacy. Leaning into their brand value of greatness and leveraging their long-standing tagline “Defy Ordinary,” they’ve taken a bold step to create an inward-facing campaign asking those who love Aspen to rise to their best self as stewards of their beloved community. The campaign proposes that in working together we create a great community that defies the ordinary.

The Aspen Pledge, one of the first from a destination organization, recently received an overhaul. The program now speaks to the broader destination and the role each individual, resident and visitor, must play in taking care of it. To encourage people to read and commit to the pledge, they created an incentive – for every signature gathered, the Aspen Chamber donates $18.80 to a local environmental non-profit. The donation of $18.80 is a nod to the year Aspen the town was incorporated – 1880 – and reinforces to every signee that they have a responsibility towards helping create another 100+ years of positive, healthy, sustainable growth for the community. Support for signing comes from a local (radio/newspaper/digital) ad campaign. Read the pledge here.

What all these examples have in common is that the destination brand and destination organization are aligned around a single core human value. A value that has become the soul of the brand’s identity and ultimately enables a data-driven approach to operations and marketing communications development. This type of approach requires a different way of thinking. One with less focus on what you sell and more on why you and your destination matter to travelers.