I am reminded of the old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, any wind will get you there.” If a destination doesn’t collectively define what makes it distinctive and special i.e. its brand, and leaves its image and reputation to “blow in the breeze” and be totally defined by the media, competitors and customer conversations, then it has a brand management problem. Without a steady hand on the tiller, and a strong customer focus, there’s a danger that the brand will become untethered from the destination’s vision and business strategy.
I liken digital media and other business forces as the breeze blowing a sailboat. Should the sailor leave his destiny totally to the external forces, or should he co-create his path and destination by trimming the sails and guiding the tiller? This is somewhat like a brand manager deploying a brand strategy in the face of strong digital (and other) forces. The days of one-way push advertising interrupting people are gone. And organizations must certainly respond to the new power that all consumers now have because of the speed, transparency and nature of conversations and experiences afforded by digital media. Because of these forces, brand managers don’t need to let the sails flap and forget to use the tiller. They can still guide the boat using a compass or guidance system in the form of a brand strategy, but there are more adjustments and voices to listen to than in the past.
The old command and control method of brand management is no longer appropriate. It must now accommodate transparency, interaction and speed to guide and shape the brand, all the while aligning with the brand promise. The trick is to achieve this while simultaneously responding to the reactions of customers, partners, competitors and environmental trends. Strictly relying on the enforcement of brand guidelines to build a brand will no longer work. I think that the quote from Mike Liew sums it up nicely, “Control what you can, influence what you can’t.”
I know that when cities and other places recognize the power of a brand strategy they will be more connected, competitive and enjoyable. Achieving this takes a strategic guidance system that reaches across the city, unifies stakeholders and takes a holistic view of its relationship with customers. The bottom line is that the real power of a destination brand is in the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and memories that exist in the minds of its consumers. Aligning these with the reality of the place and the experiences that are consistently presented for customers is the real challenge and achieving this involves moving beyond the desks of the marketing department.