Destination-ality: Bringing Personality into Destination Branding
  • by Jeff McFarland and Divya Nambiar / Span Consulting / 2011

  • Imagine you're at a dinner party, socializing and being introduced to many different kinds of people. Amidst these, I'd like to introduce you to Mandy…
  • This is Mandy. She is female and has two hands one mouth and two feet. She also has 10 fingers and 10 toes and her hair is black.
  • This is Mandy. She's quirky and has a wicked sense of humour. In fact, she's the funniest of all my friends. I'm sure you'll find her very entertaining.
  • Which Mandy sounds more interesting to you? Which Mandy would you be more likely to talk to? Which Mandy would you remember?
  • What is the difference between these two introductions? One describes Mandy-the person while the other gives you a glimpse of Mandy-the personality. While describing the person, we used typical traits, true of any person. There is nothing memorable about this introduction because it doesn't tell us what is unique to Mandy. While describing her personality, we bring out Mandy's differentiating qualities that make up her distinctive character. We emphasize the attributes that make her interesting or popular.

    • Marketing a destination to consumers is like giving an introduction to a person, only of much greater significance. Today in Asia, tourism is a major source of income and is crucial to further development. In fact, the total contribution of travel and tourism to South East Asia's GDP is estimated to be USD 223.5 billion (almost 11% of GDP) and has been forecasted to rise to USD 405.9 billion by 2021. Clearly then this is an important industry for the governments of these countries to develop.

    • Over the last decade, major efforts have been put in place to build tourism brands on a national level. Tourism Malaysia was amongst the top ten advertisers in the country, spending RM 14 million in 2007. Even fledgling Vietnam increased its national tourism promotion program budget from VND 25 billion in 2009 to VND 40 billion in 2010. As these governments strengthen their attempts and investments into channeling tourism dollars into their own economies, the consumer is increasingly bombarded by marketing messages.
  • The images on the left show different tourism online banners from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. When the country names are removed all three look the same, and convey the same generic idea.
  • Although South East Asian countries spend millions on advertising and other marketing efforts, most of them have failed to establish any real country brand. They all continue to offer the same tired clichés- beaches, shopping, nightlife… they have it all! However, to most consumers today these elements are typical commodities of the region- obvious and expected. Much like the insipid introduction of Mandy- the person, countries continue to spend millions familiarizing potential tourists with the destination instead of introducing and developing what we at Span Consulting call its "Destination-ality".
  • The lack of Destination-ality is often masked by advertising agencies using broad 'arbitrary positives' that try to claim everything, while telling the consumer nothing at all.
  • In order to understand how to identify and develop Destination-ality, we can apply what we learnt from the second introduction of Mandy. Why did this work so well?

    1.Insight: The introducer had to know Mandy more profoundly to be able to tell that she had a "wicked sense of humour". Likewise, it is important for marketers to understand and familiarize themselves more deeply with the destination they are communicating. Through exploratory research marketers can identify elements that form the essence of a place.

    2.Differentiation: The introducer had to ensure that Mandy's "wicked sense of humour" was unique to Mandy and not equally true of everybody- "funniest of all my friends". To understand which of the traits defined for the destination are most true to it, marketers need to study the competition and then decisively narrow down the brand's unique traits.

    3.Focus: While introducing Mandy's personality, the introducer focused on her sense of humour without trying to squeeze in too much information about her all at once. This is what made her easy to remember. Similarly, with destination branding, one of the most important factors is focus- having one story. Pushing too many "unique" but unrelated brand characteristics can actually dilute the destination Brand, add to the market clutter, and make the brand forgettable.

    This is the process we at Span Consulting use to create and build more meaningful brands which have bigger financial payoff. This is real branding, beyond just advertising. This is "Destination-ality"!

    • Span Consulting is a research, strategy, and innovation consultancy based in Singapore and Los Angeles. We help brands identify and reach their full potential by taking them from "the way it IS" to "the way it COULD be". We believe Mandy – and your brand – deserve a proper introduction..
    • Quick-Fix Marketing or Long-Term Branding?
  • by Divya Nambiar and Jeff McFarland / Span Consulting / 2011

  • A common concern among brand owners and marketing leaders is where to invest their money to build a meaningful, profitable brand. In the attempt to maximize returns on marketing spend, many clients turn to their advertising agencies for recommendations. It's no surprise clients are often advised to advertise more and to pump dollars into other services offered by the agency!

    However much they experiment and spend on these methods, at best what they create is a good ad campaign that runs for a few months and increases awareness and sales for the short-term, thereby appeasing any "brand worries" for the moment. At worst, it could do some real long term damage, creating clutter and mixed messaging that results in customer confusion, fatigue, or cynicism towards their product and company.

    When it comes to developing strong brands, no advertising campaign or PR blast can create that profitable aura the great brands have nurtured for years. While one should not entirely dismiss the role of advertising in growing awareness and positioning a brand, it is in fact, the least important factor in shaping consumer perceptions and attitudes.
  • The chart on the left, from a brand equity study conducted by the world's number one advertising research company, shows that there are several factors with a much greater impact on brand equity than advertising – product and packaging being at the top.

    Source: Ipsos-ASI, The Advertising Research Company, 2002.
    "Building Brand Equity Through Advertising"
  • Advertising's impact seldom lasts beyond a few weeks or months. Real brand building, however, is much more lasting. A brand is built from within, woven into the very foundation of the company and expressed in every aspect of its product and service offering. From a global brand like Apple to an Asian brand like Banyan Tree, it can be seen that the brand is brought to life primarily by products, services, and employee behaviors. Advertising is then used to announce and remind customers of the values and offerings that are already evident in the experience of doing business with the company.

    • What do these financially successful brands do that sets them apart? They walk the talk. They invest their budget not only in announcing, but in actually doing and delivering.

    • Yes, making changes in these components of ones business requires time and investment. There is always a temptation to take a shortcut – to turn to advertising or PR alone to create a spike in awareness or sales that would help the marketing department shine for a month or two. However, only investment at the level of product, packaging, and identity brings long-term impact and growth.
  • The chart on the left shows the approximate time typically invested in developing various brand touchpoints / external brand expressions against the estimated duration of their impact. It clarifies the difference between what we call "Sales and Marketing Spend" versus true "Branding Investment".

    • Source: Span Consulting
  • A simple analogy we use at Span Consulting to make the point: Imagine you suffer from fatigue, low energy, and overall poor health. There are a couple ways you could address this:

    1. A quick shot of coffee, red bull, or even a cigarette might give you an instant rush. Problem solved! …But in the long term, such "solutions" will have no positive impact, or will even be potentially harmful.

    – or –

    2. Begin to make changes to your diet, exercise habits, and overall lifestyle.
    Of course this is no quick fix, but the effects are true, with lasting health benefits for a lifetime.
  • A quick fix? Or a healthier lifestyle?
  • Too often, brand owners and marketing leaders spend all their money on the equivalent of coffee and cigarettes, and then wonder why they don't see positive long- term results! The solution to this challenge lies in some introspection: Are you looking to build a long-lasting, healthy, profitable brand? Or are you willing to stay stuck in the short-term marketing cycle – always looking for the next quick fix?

    Invest accordingly.

    • Span Consulting is a research, strategy, and innovation consultancy based in Singapore and Los Angeles. We help brands identify and reach their full potential by taking them from "the way it IS" to "the way it COULD be". We do not sell coffee or cigarettes.
  • Destination Branding for Tourism in Southeast Asia: Extending and Integrating Internal Branding
    (Summary, Excerpts)
    To have us address a topic of interest to you, get in touch…