The first rule of branding is always Know Your Audience. And have your brand reflect that audience in the most single-minded terms possible. Many see that as only including products. What about Las Vegas?

Choosing a travel destination is often a maze for most travelers, which is why the decision tree is complex. We have worked for many destinations and the primary question still always come down to which has the most defined reflection of me when I use that brand?

The dysfunctional refection of its customer is erupting in the most unlikely of places: Las Vegas.

Las VegasLas Vegas

For years, Vegas was the toast of the branding destination world with its catchy “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” themeline. One that reflected a new (dirty fun) personality for you to try on – and leave behind.

But recently, tourism has declined in Sin City as the number of visitors has dropped 3% from 2008 to 2009, with 2010 holding steady so far. That can, in part, be attributed to downturn the destination industry has been suffering the last few years.

But a deeper look at the numbers unveils more alarming news for Vegas. Gaming revenue was down more than 9% for the Strip in 2009, and the reasons why go beyond simply a lack of consumer confidence as Vegas has traditionally done well in economic downturns.

Las Vegas Recently

In recent years, Las Vegas has subtlety shifted from being the place to express your adult inhibitions to a more family friendly experience. Having visited there recently, I saw first hand that the hot attractions are no longer the clubs and casinos.

They are the M&M Store, the fountains at the Bellagio, the Disney-esque show at Treasure Island and the shopping malls. The Strip is now filled with children of all ages, including infants, and many bars close at 10 pm.

Now, there’s still sin in Sin City, but you have to look harder for it. Vegas is trying to have it both ways, and that does not make a brand that is coveted by a particular target audience. Vegas no longer feels like an adult amusement park.

It’s trying to be an amusement part for everybody.

Vegas is a brand at a loss. Its visitors are spending and gambling less, and that points to a lack of customer focus.

Eventually, Las Vegas will find that being for everybody is a gamble with bad odds.

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