Place brand manager roles are expanding: here’s why and what to do next

Frank Cuypers

13 July 2018

“The wider any culture spreads, the thinner it gets.”
-Stanley Edgar Hyman, literary critic

This maxim – known as The Law of Raspberry Jam – describes a core challenge of destination branding: Without a coherent story and coordinated stakeholders, your brand loses its distinctive flavour.

Unfortunately, many destinations spread their messages too thin.

When people in a destination begin to tell diverging stories, as though they each belong to a different place, no one recognizes what the place brand stands for.

Place brand managers can reverse this trend by adopting a new role and responsibilities focused on collaborative, long-term planning.

Here is why destination marketing organizations (DMOs) need to change how they think about branding, and what you or your place brand manager can do as you fill the new shoes.

Brand manager roles and responsibilities are growing beyond quality control

Today, DMO brand managers, or those responsible for place branding, often have an operational role. They focus on execution, delving deep into the details, which include managing the way logos are displayed, choosing words and colours, and shaping the tone of voice.

Yes, promotion and branding need quality control. But a brand manager’s role is too important to confine to implementation.

What does it mean to manage a destination brand effectively?

Effective brand management means coordinating and managing the brand story across the entire destination.

A destination brand is the sum of a place’s stories and experiences, as told and brought to life by everyone who visits, lives, or works there. So a brand manager must work to align stakeholders, lead the brand’s evolution over time, and measure its impact.

Of course, this new role requires new skills. As a DMO brand manager, you can become a linchpin in your tourism community once you understand why this change is required and what to do about it.

First, let’s examine the new responsibilities and strategic thinking behind this new role.

The three Cs of place brand management

The brand manager’s role is summed up by these three responsibilities – the three Cs of:

  • congruence,
  • consistency, and
  • continuity.
Destination marketing model

In Destination Think’s destination marketing model, communication and experience development each support the stories told about your destination.

Congruence: Walk your talk

A brand manager’s role often focuses on what the organization says, but that role also has a responsibility to shape what the destination does.

For a tourism destination, communication and experiences are inseparable, because they are two halves of an equation that equals the larger brand story.

The brand story told by the DMO and its stakeholders must authentically reflect the tourism experiences they develop. Stakeholders also need to develop those experiences in a way that matches their words.

If you are a place brand manager, this is where your responsibilities grow. You have an opportunity to advocate for developing tourism in a way that keeps your brand’s promises. To do this, you might consult on projects related to tourism products, visitor servicing, or infrastructure, for example. This shift may take time. Some of these areas may not be your DMO’s primary responsibility right now. But gradually, you and your DMO can become involved in shaping the experiences your place brand communicates.

What does this look like? Copenhagen is one place where development and communication support the place brand.

Copenhagen’s brand positions the city, in part, as an eco-friendly place where cycling improves the local quality of life. It has the ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. Many residents commute by bicycle.

To support this green lifestyle, the city has developed a system called the green wave, which coordinates traffic lights to favour bicycles rather than cars in some neighbourhoods. This encourages cycling and resonates with the community’s desires.

The city’s DMO, Wonderful Copenhagen, has a four-year strategy “The End of Tourism as We Know It” that communicates support for improvements like this example by focusing on the quality of local life.

“The shift here is that the tourism industry can also help visitors add value to the community,” says the strategy, “instead of asking permanent residents to exchange their quality of life for money.”

Copenhagen is both building and communicating in alignment with its place brand.

Copenhagen cyclist

Image source: Mikael Colville-Andersen, Flickr

Consistency: Every visitor touchpoint counts

A place brand manager also has a responsibility to help ensure that visitor expectations are met by the experiences they have.

Your DMO is in an ideal position to study the customer journey – from dreaming to experiencing to reliving – and find opportunities to improve current tourism industry practices.

You can’t control the way people behave, or how tourism operators run their businesses.

But brand managers have a new responsibility to help find the challenges in their destination’s tourism experiences and work toward solutions with the community. This means mapping the customer journey to understand where and when your visitors’ expectations are not met.

Once you’ve identified areas to improve, your DMO can improve touchpoints by providing tourism industry education. In Destination Think’s experience, education programs can help operators develop much-needed skills and improved experiences while adapting to changes in technology and visitor behaviour.

For example, Visit Bristol is improving experiences by offering customer care training to taxi drivers. Those who complete the Gold Standard award program are recognized as having a high level of service. Other destinations, like Manchester or Vancouver, have on-the-ground ambassador programs to make tourists welcome and offer assistance.

Some DMOs, like Singapore Tourism Board, are succeeding by incentivizing tourism businesses to improve by offering grants and support to those that meet a high standard of quality.

Each touchpoint is a chance to reinforce the destination brand and tell a story worth sharing. As a place brand manager, you need to be involved.

Continuity: Long-term planning

An authentic place brand is shaped around identity. The brand comes alive through a mosaic of stories, but your place’s identity is the continuous thread holding those stories together.

A place brand manager’s new responsibility is to make sure that the elements of identity remain in place as the destination gradually evolves. This person is the link between a place’s identity and the brand’s expression.

(Destination Think’s process for uncovering destination identity is called Place DNA®.)

Continuity is often the most difficult of the three Cs for brand managers and DMOs. When a DMO’s mandate is narrowly focused on marketing tactics, it’s difficult to influence long-term vision.

But remember this. The strongest destination brands, like I (heart) NY, haven’t changed very much in decades. Often, the smartest decision is to maintain and improve your current brand – its essence – by telling better stories that involve the community.

With community support, brand managers can challenge political or corporate decisions that are misaligned with the place’s identity.

The people of a place own its brand and you must advocate on their behalf.

Recommendations for destination or place brand managers

Want to succeed at the three Cs of congruence, consistency, and continuity? Here’s what to do next. These tips and essential skills will help you succeed as a place brand manager.

Become the best storyteller in your DMO. Learn how to express your brand’s story in a compelling way that inspires participation. You aren’t there to police communication; your role is to bring the story to life. You need to be able to translate the brand concept into a captivating story.

Develop skills in abstract and strategic thinking. Work closely with management to shape your destination strategy and to consult on any project that involves product or promotion.

Learn to motivate and coordinate your community. You are your destination’s number one brand advocate, so you will become highly visible inside and outside your organization. Get to know your stakeholders. Remember the long game – building strong relationships will lead to brand success.

Remember your colleagues and residents. Your place has only one brand. There is no difference between an internal and a public brand, a city and a citizen brand, or a brand for visitors and one for students or businesses. An excellent brand manager knows how to translate the brand story into the right medium and messaging for the right target audience.

The people are the active ingredient that spread the jam – your destination’s culture and brand – without losing its taste.

Need support as your DMO’s roles and responsibilities change? Destination Think is the agency and consultancy that can help you gain forward momentum on brand, promotion, experience development, and more. Contact our team.

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