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The truth about destination branding

Posted by: Ben Fox on 20 June 2013

Let’s start with a travel quiz.

Where is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world?

No, it’s not Buckingham Palace. Or The Eiffel Tower. Or even an over-priced Roman Ice Cream parlour.

No. According to branding experts, it is the corner of somebody’s mind.

The priceless organic plot of grey matter that’s home to all of the happiness, disappointment, thrill, satisfaction, misery, and delight attached to your product; whether your product is a tin of soup, a motor car, or a seaside town. In other words, we’re talking about your brand.

Destination Branding

A destination brand, like any other, ‘aint always what you want it to be; it’s whatever people have in their heads. And what they have in their heads is shaped by personal experience (whether it be joyous, sad or just plain boring) as well as the billions of messages received via television programmes, history lessons, books, blogs, films, postcards, tweets, jokes and stories told by friends and relatives – almost none of which can be controlled, managed or owned.

Consider it for a moment. What pops into your head when someone mentions these places?

A)   Paris

B)   Birmingham

C)   Rome

The chances are, you’ve got a pretty clear idea in your mind. But I’m betting that it’s not a picture of a logo, or a website, and certainly not a fondly remembered ‘strapline’?

The truth is, that to be successful as brands, destinations have to roll with the truth – celebrate what they’ve got, and turn it to their advantage. Unlike other brands, destinations are living, breathing entities, with millions of minds of their own. You can’t control them, but you can make the most of them.

Let’s face it, Birmingham will never rival Paris for romance and refinement. Or Rome for antiquity, art or la dolce vita. But for diverse cultural experience….? Well maybe. Fair play to them for trying anyway.

For our own recent work with Visit York, we worked with a well-know local artist Mark Hearld, to create a campaign that captured the ‘magical feel’ of the city – the unique atmosphere that is at the heart of the city’s appeal to visitors. Did we succeed? You can judge for yourself.

Ultimately, destination brands are about people: The people who built cities, and those who conquered them, every single visitor, and the population that lives and works there now – from the taxi drivers and the waiters, to the miserable commuters and plain rude locals. For good or ill, those are the people who make your destination what it is. And if you think you’re going to get them all to ‘live the brand’ just the way you want them to, well, bon chance with that mon ami.

Ah, Paris, the city of light……..hang on a second, isn’t that the Bull Ring?

Fox has delivered destination branding projects and campaigns for visitor attractions and destinations across the UK and overseas – view some of our destination campaigns and projects here.

Categories: Design, Fox musings, Marketing

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