Where, oh where, are the best examples of bountiful place/destination/nation branding?
Michael Haywood / March 13, 2013
In the struggle to communicate a distinct identity, amplify and activate consumer interest, more and more communities are jumping onto the brand bandwagon. Unfortunately, too many have expectations based on a leap of faith, hoping that brand articulation will correct misperceptions, act as an antidote to unstable market environments, and successfully re-position their communities. Faced with relentless competitive intensity, continuing macroeconomic uncertainty, profound shifts in customer expectations and behavior, and the emergence of innovative and compelling communities around the world, however, communities are being encouraged to step up their branding game through more focused execution.
Therein lies the puzzle. How to master the dual tasks of creating and implementing a brand program that has to be coordinated and coherent with a more complex set of activities and levels of expertise than exists today? What is at stake is not the re-imaging or fashioning of an identity based on unique attributes, but the transformational pursuit of a forward thrust toward a future….that is desirable as well as achievable….meaningful as well as masterful…..particularly when the effort seems like an insurmountable stretch.
Because the formulation of strategy is, for all intents and purposes, an iterative, learning process that has to be constantly adjusted in face of constant change, it only blossoms when linked with implementation. This is immensely difficult, however, across a community-wide portfolio of public and private, business and government enterprises. While differentiation lies at the heart of brand strategy, its application across a community is often thwarted, particularly if the differentiation seems incongruous, and when there is a preference to operate independently.
Moreover, with the efficacy of differentiation dissipating over time, it is the over-arching goal of establishing market leadership that has to be front and centre to brand strategy. Baring lack of agreement as to what this means, and how it can best be achieved throughout a community and over the long haul, then the strategy will inevitably fail. There is no such thing as a great strategy if it fails to achieve breakthrough results.
Sadly the tourism industry, which is my area of specialization, too often underestimates what it takes to achieve great results. As a brand, Canada certainly tops the nation charts, yet its performance measured in terms of visitor arrivals and expenditures is in the doldrums and continues to fall. Problematic is the fact that too few communities know how to tackle the contradictory mix of resilience and fragility.
- There is no consistent and seamless (branding) message across marketing’s multi-channel universe. Brand identities and promises are ephemeral especially through multiple touch-points.
- Embedded product/service orientations dominate (brand) discussions while holistic customer-centric approaches continue to be misunderstood and/or given lip-service.
- Insufficient appreciation is given to the pivotal role played by customers today. Their role as advocates, channels (creating leads by recommending products or services), partners (suggesting improvements to distribution and supply chains), and co-workers (trying out new products and giving quick and accurate feedback) is misunderstood.
- Partnership marketing is in play, but efforts to truly collaborate and create strong, brand-relevant tourism clusters (locally and regionally) are a rarity. Destination Marketing Organizations are, as their name implies, focused on the provision of advertising content and attracting certain deep-pocket market segments. Their involvement in managing or even leading brand initiatives is at best peripheral and far from all-encompassing.
- Annual planning exercises to meet budget allotments remain a fixture while on-going efforts to design strategies that include and embrace place brand initiatives and programs seem fictitious.
- Too few companies and communities harness the power of distinctive and disruptive capabilities; they do not take advantages of specializing in a few things that their customers and markets desire, and in doing them exceptionally well. The power of a brand rests not simply on its identity but in “what is done” and “how people behave”, especially on the frontline.
- Most people operating in functional capacities (IT, marketing, human resources, operations, finance, accounting, purchasing, etc.) rarely define their role in light of an overall capability agenda that brand promises either imply or make explicit. Nor are sufficient efforts made to ensure that corporate and community functions are fit-for-purpose in driving branding agendas. Even fulfillment of functional excellence agendas too often remains hit-or-miss.
- New capabilities essential to innovation, such as the freedom to be creative and responsive to individual requests are rarely pursued. Few destinations have centers of (tourism) excellence.
While this unsettling portrait might be somewhat skewed, I am sure it highlights shortcomings for community, place, and nation branding. Unless, of course, you believe that branding needs not be concerned with influencing or changing behavior and attitudes in what is a fragmented and self-organizing industry.
My interest in writing this post relates to a book I am writing, Smarter Tourism by Design. I am searching for examples of what I call “bountiful brands” – brands that actually deliver meaningful and mutual value for their communities and stakeholders.
So, who out there is successfully using branding to overcome mediocrity and achieve magnificence? Who is linking branding with the need to change the proverbial DNA of organizations and communities in order to create brand relevance?