Holistically Branding Your Destination

By: Adam Stoker, Relic

Due to the world market slowly correcting itself over the past three years, travel is on the minds of more and more people. According to the Expedia Group’s Travel Value Index conducted this year, 81% of travelers are planning to travel for a vacation in the next six months and 56% of those travelers plan to spend more money on those trips than they did pre-pandemic. The stage is set for destinations to flourish.

For DMOs to truly take advantage of this opportunity, their destination needs to have a strong, consistent branding strategy that shows off its unique value. According to Tom Love, founder and CEO of Love Communications, “The brand is the single most important asset you have.”

Smaller destinations or those with a fledgling tourism division can find it difficult to establish a consistent branding plan, but this needs to be at the forefront of any destination marketer’s mind when developing a holistic marketing strategy. Whether you are in the process of re-branding or starting from scratch, there are a few points to keep in mind when creating your plan. 

Focus on What Sets Your Destination Apart

An effective branding strategy starts with an understanding of your destination’s strengths. To quote Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” What are some unique attributes of your destination that leave an impression on visitors after their visit? Does it have a strong historical district or a flourishing nightlife? Use your destination’s positive touchpoints to create a comprehensive branding plan that you can use in every aspect of your marketing strategy.

While both successful tourist destinations, Aspen, Colorado has a very different branding strategy compared to Maui, Hawaii. Because of the cities’ differing attributes, each must approach marketing in different ways. Find your niche and run with it. Select three target audiences and aim your branding at them. Focusing on these audiences will help to create an efficient branding strategy. Too many destinations spread themselves too thin trying to appeal to everyone. 

Capitalize on Your Resources

When creating a branding strategy, all of your resources are meant to be utilized. Many smaller destinations operate under the false assumption that they are competing against nearby larger destinations. These DMOs need to step away from the thought process of, “Every dollar another DMO makes is one that we will never see.” Smaller destinations can utilize larger attractions as an effective part of its branding and marketing strategies.

Consider Mesquite, Texas, a suburb fifteen minutes from Dallas. Jessica McClellan, the manager of the convention and visitors bureau in Mesquite, shared on the Destination Marketing Podcast how she has been able to take full advantage of Mesquite’s proximity to Dallas. “When people come to Dallas, they talk about doing football and rodeos, right? Well, we’re the closest rodeo.” Mesquite is able to provide things Dallas doesn’t have and the destination developed its branding around that concept. 

Apply Your Branding Everywhere

Your brand is so much more than a logo and tone of voice. To create a truly successful brand, you must apply it holistically. “You can't expect the things on display to deliver the whole experience,” shared Karley Cunningham, CEO of Big Bold Brand. If your customer-facing employees aren’t representing the destination’s values, the brand can become fragile. “That's where all of a sudden finance calls and has a rude conversation with a customer saying, ‘You owe us this blah, blah blah,’” elaborated Cunningham.

Along with employees, don’t underestimate the importance of utilizing your residents within your branding plan. “I think one of the first things that you really have to do is engage your local community because they are the brand ambassadors of that community to the outside world,” explains Love. Your locals will leave a lasting impression on your tourists and these interactions will make or break your destination’s image. Make sure your residents are aware of your destination’s branding and image and impress upon them the importance of being brand ambassadors.

A branding plan expands well beyond a shiny new logo and color palette. In fact, a successful and lasting plan requires a great deal of planning and implementation on all fronts. Keep these tips in mind while holistically branding your destination. 

About the Author

Adam StokerPresident & CEORelic

About the Author

Adam Stoker is President/CEO of Relic. He's been working with destinations for nine years, consulting with leisure travel, stakeholder engagement, destination branding and convention/meetings marketing. He has been featured in the Utah Business and Utah Valley Business Magazines' 40 Under 40 issues. He now speaks on different industry subjects at tourism conferences across the country, most recently including Utah Tourism Conference, and the Texas Travel Summit. As one of the up-and-coming industry thought leaders, Adam's impact on the industry is just beginning.

More From This Author