3 essential elements of the place brand formula

Frank Cuypers

3 November 2016

How does the rest of the world see your destination? Shift perceptions in your favour by defining and communicating your authentic place brand that flows outward from your destination’s DNA.

The outer layer of place branding has three essential elements that can help your destination become known for the right reasons. These elements are so intertwined that you can’t skip any of them. Treat them equally and simultaneously to discover a destination brand’s formula.

1. Product experience

In two previous articles we discussed how a brand is determined by the way it stays loyal to its authentic Place DNA® and that the experiences a place creates will shape the stories told by its residents and visitors.

The final, outer layer of the place brand is an approach to communication that makes your DNA-driven product experience better known.

2. External communication

We are living in exciting times when it comes to communication, as traditional, broadcast-based marketing is being replaced by a conversational model that relies on consumer engagement.

If you’ve ever watched the Mad Men television series, you’ve seen the old communication paradigm at work: marketers send a media message to you through mediums that you’re compelled to listen to. In that era, Madison Avenue controlled the communication channels with billboards, newspapers, magazines, radio and television, but as the number of channels grew exponentially, this once-powerful model began to lose influence as messages spread across many new mediums.

The new model is not about convincing or persuading, it’s about being recommended by individuals. Residents and visitors then become the new stars of your place. Successful destination marketing organizations (DMOs) will be those that develop strategies to listen to and speak with them in a personal way.

Slowly but surely, places and destinations around the world are discovering this new paradigm. For example, VISIT FLORIDA makes increasing word-of-mouth referrals a strategic priority. Jim Epperson of Southern Indiana’s Clark-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau provides another good example of a customer-centric approach for a smaller DMO.

3. Internal communication

Once upon a time, organizations used to talk about their external brand and their internal brand, a consumer brand and an employer brand. These days, we don’t have these artificial separations: there is only one integrated brand. Walking your talk is becoming extremely important and there are no more walkable and talkable brands than places. Potential visitors will perceive a destination as a destination perceives its residents. Tourists will be attracted by destinations that treat their inhabitants well, making them ambassadors for the places they live. For example, the residents of Lesvos, Greece have begun to share stories to counter the tourism crisis there, while the Swedish Tourist Association used a unique campaign to empower residents to speak for themselves.

If you take a closer look at successful place brands, you will notice that they always help locals express their pride for the place they live in. I Love New York, I amsterdam, cOPENhagen, and Promote Iceland’s “Get Inspired” campaign are all good examples.

As a logical consequence, this will also hold true within a DMO itself. Treat your staff as an internal client, in other words, the same way you want your visitors to be treated.

Your place brand formula

B = ∑Pe + Ec + Ic

This formula looks like math, but it’s a simple way to describe the ingredients of your reputation. A brand (B) is the sum of all the product experiences (Pe) a destination offers, plus all the external communication (Ec), plus all the internal communications (Ic).

What does this mean for destinations that need to shift how they are perceived? Place brand is a true expression of Place DNA® – the truth about your destination – and is an extension of all the experiences and story-generating moments a place can offer.

To put this in terms of common management wisdom: Solving your place brand formula will help your destination not only walk its talk, but talk its walk as well.

Related reading: Why destination marketers need to understand Place DNA®

Are you developing your brand strategy? Destination Think has helped many destinations as a unique partner through our Place DNA® process, workshops and consultation. To learn how to identify your destination’s DNA and refine your destination’s brand, contact us today.

1 Comment

  1. Philip Bruno

    HI Frank – I really liked the 3-layered model including place DNA and internal communications. That area is so important as a core to making Place branding happen well. My small firm works in that area specifically and has been a part of some amazing turnarounds for major cities. It has to start from the core.
    Thank You.


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