What many touristic brands are doing wrong

Destination branding

*This article appeared first in El Economista

For years we have observed how cities, provinces and countries have begun to become aware of the need to project a coordinated image in order to optimize their promotional efforts. But, if we take a look at all these brands, we end up asking ourselves “are these places really understanding what a tourist brand is?" Let's take a look at the main mistakes they make:

One of the most basic mistakes is overemphasising the importance of the logo. As we tend to repeat tirelessly, as brand consultants, a brand is not simply a logo but a whole set of meanings that endow the company with a personality of its own. The logo works only as an identifying stamp. This confusion is especially evident in the tourist sector, where too much efford is focused on attracting attention with overloaded and hyper-rationalised logos, which are intended to summarize the diversity each destination offers.

As we leave the visual field, the most common mistake is that most tourist brands do not provide any differential value, which means that they can be easily replaced by any competitor. Slogans like "A city to share" or "much to discover", summarize totally generic proposals, perfectly interchangeable by any city. No special value is detected and strengthened, nothing that can make people decide to visit the area.

Let's take, as a good practical example, Sydney's oldest neighbourhood: The Rocks. Instead of betting on a standard communication based on its different charms, they decided for a proposal of emotional and differential value: made by many hands. It was a neighbourhood of mostly artisan trades/shops which then became the main value to be promoted.

The third mistake is that brands forget about the emotional factor. Most of today’s brands base their promise on emotion. Gone are the years when companies highlighted their functional benefits – that is why Coca-Cola speaks of happiness and never of its particular flavour. Tourist brands, like any brand, can also establish emotional bonds with their audiences and instead of focusing their messages on their pristine beaches or historical ruins, they can appeal to the feelings of the target audience.

The brand "I AMsterdam" successfully leverages the visitors and inhabitants' experience to show - and stress - the experiential side of the city over its tangible and concrete landmarks. By using messages like "I AM married" (paired with an image of a gay couple) or "I AM Johan Cruyff" (paired with images of children playing football across Amsterdam), the consumer establishes a more relevant and powerful  connection to the brand than when messages are derived from, say, a monument or a museum. Along the same lines, the city of San Francisco has embraced its connection to famous events and personalities to create a distinctive offering (and messages) that highly resonates with the consumer. Today, you can live through a 'Summer of Love' or get to see the San Francisco as experienced by Jimmy Hendrix - these two being messages that come through as more compelling than 'Visit the Golden Gate.'

Another common mistake is to think that we are building a temporary campaign, when in fact, brand is a timeless and solid program that should unify all future communication actions. For example, if we want to communicate a spirit of technology and innovation through our brand, we must employ channels best suited for speaking about these attributes. We must invest in events that embody these two messages. We must embrace these two things whenever we talk about our brand and its destiny - keeping in mind that it must always be linked back to the main idea.

But without doubt, the most frequently occurring problems when considering the development of tourist brands is the lack of consideration for the resources and the impact of public opinion. It happens in all sectors, but in the tourist sector it is especially notable. Since they are managed by public organisations, with a duty to avoid expenses that taxpayers may consider excessive and unnecessary.

In addition, what scarce resources that are available are usually managed in incorrect ways, for example by calling on open briefs in which the public are invited to submit or inform on the outcome of the identity. These competitions are then often judged based on popular opinion or by judges without expertise in the area and without a full understanding of the problems the identity faces.

Finally, it is essential not to think about the tourist brand in isolation. There are industries and businesses who are directly effected or have the potential to add to the brand. The tourist brand must not only focus on tourisms, but must have a inclusive strategy with a focus towards being beneficial towards investment, talent, events and education. Like the communities they represents, for it to be successful it must create a true connection the people and supporting official bodies with the same common goal, otherwise the branding program will be a failure.

Modesto García & Alfredo Fraile