Destinations Get Brand Preference Wrong

How to Create Destination Brand Preference and Increase Market Share?

By Tom Dougherty

destination brand preferenceAs the scramble over the shrinking pool of discretionary spending ramps up, destination and tourism marketers across the globe stand on the precipice. Next year, there will be a reckoning of sorts as the industry sorts through its roster of “winners and losers.” Most in the industry claim to dedicate themselves to doing everything possible to be listed as one of the “winners.” But few of them, if any, will do what is necessary to win.

Often, the greatest enemy to success for a travel destination is the politics of the constituency. If you are a nation, island, resort area or a convention and visitors bureau, saluting all of your political constituents can end up diluting your message. All too often you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to incorporate a myriad of conflicting messages in your marketing mix to satisfy the needs and wants of a diverse group of businesses and influencers.

As any marketer knows, one of your most formidable enemies is the “shotgun” approach to marketing as you attempt to focus a mass of messages that spread out in an unfocused burst because the aimed rifle shot needed for clarity is not available to you.

There is Opportunity To Create Destination Brand Preference Is Right Now

Believe it or not, as belts tighten and the battle for limited spending increases, you may have your best opportunity to correct the problem and emerge as not only the temporary winner but as the destination and tourism juggernaut.

how brand is made in destination brand preferenceThe secret when you are a destination or tourism business or service is not found in the current messaging. It is easy to confuse a powerful and effective message with the success that inevitably follows great economic times when everyone’s boats are floating and most are rising with the tide of increased affluence. “Follow the leader,” aping the messaging of your market leader, may seem like a sound strategy in tourism and it may have served you well at times. In tough economic times, however, when travel is down due to higher fuel costs and other economic indicators, following the market leader in strategy will lead you right over the cliff.

If you don’t think you play “follow the leader,” take the following marketing quiz.

  1. Does your current brand promise and positioning list the amenities of your destination’s features?
  2. If you are a ski resort, do you talk about your challenging mountains, quaint villages, fine restaurants and cozy lodges?
  3. If you are an island resort, do you hang your hat on your (white, pink, or black) sandy beaches, great diving, championship fishing, golf, warm tropical waters, friendly natives, and quaint culture?
  4. If you are a country or region, do you differentiate yourselves by highlighting your geographic position, unique culture, music, art, and cuisine (not to mention your “sandy beaches, warm tropical waters, challenging mountains, quaint villages, fine restaurants and cozy lodges)?
  5. If you are a golf resort, do you talk about your challenging courses, famous designers, and great tradition (not to mention your sandy beaches, warm tropical waters, challenging mountains, quaint villages, fine restaurants and cozy lodges)?

All of the above positioning and destination messaging is designed to inform the targeted traveler of the category in which you compete. It doesn’t give them a reason to choose you over your competitor because from their vantage point, it all sounds the same and blends together. It doesn’t create preference. In great times, when all the boats were floating, you may have not noticed. Now you will.

If you take that same approach, you can expect your messaging to help the market leader most. When the market’s brands are saying the same things, most customers will default to the market leader. (It’s the reason why Budweiser is such a dominant player in beer, for example.) Simply listing your destination’s major attributes gets you included into the considered set but preference will remain with the leader. Your marketing messages are, in the parlance of the casino, table stakes: What you need to play in the game, but not what you need to win.

Create a REAL Preference for Your Destination

clarity in destination brand preferencePreference is never found in amenities, benefits, features or costs. If it were, the market leader would always have a corner on the market and they would be either the low cost provider or the finest in amenities. You and I both know it is simply not the case.

Preference can be determined by having a brand promise and meaning in which prospects see themselves in and want to be a part of. Most prospects have no idea why they selected their preference. They will tell you, but it’s rarely the honest truth. They will give you listing of left-brain (logical) features as if you were a beer, selecting “best taste.” (Even though 80% can’t pick out their favorite beer in blind taste tests.) Human beings have a difficult time figuring out why they choose. That’s because 90% of the dynamics of choice are emotional in nature and not rational.

Use What You Know

Humans have a difficult time voicing emotional decision-making and there is good reason for this. Emotional choice is really a reflection of our own values and identity and has nothing to do with the destination’s value. Travelers choose themselves. A destination or resort needs to understand the prospect like an anthropologist and not the pat answers of marketing 101. No unique selling proposition, specific market segmentation or description of features will create preference.

This is the time to win, when political differences can be mitigated and a preferred market position can be claimed. The stakes are higher and the resulting rewards will be greater. You can win big in this tentative market – or you can follow the leader and keep on doing what you have always done. (Read a market study on destinations here)