Destination branding is one of the key instruments in destination marketing. The article shows that we should end the dance around this golden calf sooner than later.
Only a few are claiming that branding is not one of the key instruments in destination marketing. A destination must be positioned in the market, and guests should get a clear picture of what is going on, and what values, etc., a destination embraces. In short, destinations should have an emotional and thus binding meaning for their guests.
I allow myself to raise my critical voice at this point: Let’s stop burning our budgets specifically for destination branding. Why? Because I think we’ve all gotten a wrong picture for years. Let me bring forward some arguments to explain how I come to this conclusion.
What makes successful branding? Ultimately, the following ingredients: uniqueness of the performance (s), pioneering competitive role, clearly defined target group (s), long-lasting consistency in behavior, consistent exposure as well as leadership in the form of a clear strategic vision. As a result, it is possible – at least among the target groups – to build up an unambiguous, reproducible, precise picture, which then creates an important branding component in any type of purchase.
What are destinations? They are certainly not supply-sided constructs. In contrast: it is the guests, who define “their” destination. By that, they define the space and resources that they use for the production of their need-satisfying experiences. To talk with the Nobel laureate Gary Becker (1930 – 2014): The original (given) and derivative (produced) offers to constitute the “supply” for the household production of the guests. As different as the results of this production are, the perception of the different “supplies” and “suppliers” and therefore of the destination is different as well.
Let us suppose that annually 500 thousand guests use a given location and the natural or cultural resources and services offered there annually. How many perceptions are generated by these 500 thousand guests? 50, 100, 1,000, 100,000? Sure more than one. Even if it is possible to reduce the potentially 500 thousand perceptions to “typical” 10 or 20, we still end up with a high degree of diversity. To amalgamate these 10 or 20 perceptions in one or two brands is almost impossible. Moreover, such an attempt violates some of the very essences of branding, including uniqueness of the performance (s) and clearly defined target group. At best, there is still the option of branding individual para-typical experiences. But then, there is a significant likelihood that the costs for such measures spiral out of control.
What do we need to do? First of all, to surrender in dignity before the impossibility of the task of the destination branding. Second, to consider how one can delegate the alleged branding task to the before mentioned 500 thousand guests. For example, by helping them in the production of their own experiences, and making it possible for them to spread their own stories (with providing specific offers with an attractive narrative). Or, to align the range of potential stories and, in recognition of different spatial behaviors, dropping all geographical boundaries. How can one control the perceived image of a specific place? We should stop dreaming: No one can directly control such images. However, one can control offers, which influence such perceptions and perceived images. This is why all efforts will have to aim at providing great narratives for great offers. Guests will be more than willing to spread great narratives throughout the world, sharing them with their peers. Destination branding, or whatever we shall call such a thing in the future, will then come automatically.