After a keynote presentation a few months ago, the CEO of a Chamber of Commerce approached me and said, “I enjoyed your presentation, but isn’t branding cities obsolete?” He went on to say that because of digital media, and particularly sites like TripAdvisor and the new digital power of consumers it make branding obsolete. I was reminded of this conversation while reading a blog, “A Cure for Digital Myopia” by David Cooperstein in Forbes magazine.
The issue of relevance in regard to tourism organizations, Chambers of Commerce, economic development agencies and yes, destination and city branding, is increasingly being discussed. Do I think DMOs* will become irrelevant or obsolete? In quite a number of cases the answer is probably yes, many are going to become obsolete. Actually, many of them have been irrelevant and obsolete for decades because they have done little to move the favorability or preference for their cities or generate sustainable ROIs. To be among the “survivors” DMOs will certainly have to adjust to many new realities. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will become obsolete.
I’m not going to bang the drum too much here about how DMOs need to change or they will go the way of the dodo bird. This subject has been covered at length by DMAI and others who have been advocating that DMOs dramatically change their business models. However, I do think it’s important to stress that destination branding is not obsolete or irrelevant for destinations. I might reconsider when I see Coca Cola, Toyota, or Starbucks shutting down their brand departments. Destination branding isn’t easy. Many efforts have not been done well and more focus is definitely needed on using it as the destination’s strategic guidance system. Quite simply, it’s not just an add-on.
The first challenge in adopting this approach is to understand what branding really is, what it isn’t, how it works and how to use it most effectively. Unfortunately, some still can’t get past thinking of a brand as little more than a logo, tagline and or an advertising campaign. They don’t consider its role as the guidance system for communications, unifying stakeholders, product development and where possible orchestrating the experiences that make the place distinctive.
While the Digital Age has bought many new tools and opportunities, the fundamentals and principles of branding haven’t changed. And it certainly hasn’t become obsolete. But how you go about brand management has changed. Branding has become a whole lot more exciting because thinking in terms of a “digital platform” and not simply in the terms of media or digital media, opens a new world for your destination.
Destination managers now have the opportunity to connect with customers at many more communications and experience touchpoints than ever before to influence visitor satisfaction, loyalty and word of mouth (social media). In this environment, the relevance of DMOs should center on their role as “destination management organizations” influencing all aspects of the relationship with visitors, not simply focusing on sales and communications.
Over the coming weeks, I'll be exploring the benefits, role and challenges of destination branding in the Digital Age in an ongoing series of posts and articles. I’m also looking forward to your thoughts and comments.
*Destination Marketing Organization or in some countries, Destination Management Organization