Destination marketers who develop strategy and brand in isolation risk not reaching their full potential.

Successful destination marketing requires alignment and support. When teams work independently in silos, resources are squandered, years of hard work sit in someone’s drawer collecting dust, and the risk of ideas falling flat at implementation is high.

Community and industry support is also critical. Organizations that ignore the locals may find themselves in crisis; The City of Vancouver learned this the hard way when it released a wordmark without consulting its local creative design community.

All this is avoidable.

The winning play is to use a collaborative planning process that invites team members and stakeholders to participate.

Success story: Tourism Calgary defines brand and builds strategy with team-wide collaboration

Tourism Calgary has earned buy-in from its team and stakeholders that has helped it complete major brand and strategy projects. In 2017, the destination marketing organization (DMO) launched a Destination Strategy that served as the foundation for:

  • Brand Strategy and Evolution: A project that would articulate Calgary’s identity by using Destination Think’s Place DNA™ process, and define how the destination’s brand would evolve as a result.
  • Marketing Strategy: A new three-year marketing plan.
  • National Campaign: A significant campaign for the coming year. Elements of the new strategies would be tested here.

To be successful, these interrelated projects required a collaborative effort. Our team at Destination Think worked closely with Tourism Calgary to lead planning that engaged the relevant stakeholders, and the entire Tourism Calgary team.

This planning process was new to the Tourism Calgary team, but it has received plenty of positive feedback. So we asked Tourism Calgary project leads what they hoped to achieve, what the new process allowed them to do, and what the response has been like so far.

What are the differences between the planning process we’re using and the way you’ve planned in the past?

Brand Strategy

The Brand Evolution / Place DNA®project is new for Tourism Calgary, which means we don’t have a previous planning process to compare. That said, one of the reasons Destination Think was selected as our partner for this project was because they provided team members with global place branding expertise. This level of expertise has been invaluable in the planning process of our Brand Evolution project.

Marketing Strategy

Destination Think proposed that we go through this planning process organically as partners with our teams, truly working together to problem solve, develop strategies, build the marketing plan, and most importantly challenge each other’s thinking. There were no boundaries between where our team ended and theirs began – this meant that we both truly shared ownership of process.

A number of things have been different this time around. Firstly, in terms of working with vendors or groups, it’s been a really collaborative process between us and Destination Think. We’ve been seeing the planning in a very raw stage, but it’s given us the opportunity to really steer it in the process. A lot of times, vendors like to take the work back and put it all together in a really nice package to give to us almost complete.

But this has been a valuable back and forth at every stage of the process, so that we can be extremely nimble and take advantage of all the best and biggest ideas that have come forward.

We’ve also been able to empower different team members to lead key components of the marketing plan. They’ve brought back some really great work. We’ve been able to utilize the best skills from team members in order to make the plan stronger.

Lastly, I don’t think we’ve [previously] had as many great minds working on our plan at once. We’ve got access to a variety of minds at Destination Think. Different people from around the globe with different experiences have been able to weigh in with their perspectives on the planning, and that’s been really valuable.

National Campaign

The National Campaign involved a large amount of research into photography as a product, as a travel motivator, and for us as a potential destination that could own the photography vertical (similar to Visit Flanders’ cycling niche).

The research phase was extremely collaborative. We conducted ethnographic research, social monitoring, and individual consultation with three key stakeholders: local photographers, photographers in our target audience (photographers in Vancouver-Lower Mainland), and Calgary stakeholders who could offer something to photographers (e.g. restaurants who could offer space, festivals who could offer access).

Following the strategy, the second phase of the campaign has been extremely collaborative in all forms. Destination Think and Tourism Calgary have worked in tandem to plan various tactics, such as Surprise & Delight, Instameets, and social listening. On Tourism Calgary’s side, many departments have been involved in campaign components (e.g. visitor counsellors helped create an FAQ document for the social listening component) and partners have also contributed to the planning of various components (e.g. Prairie Sprinter Shuttle Inc. is a tour company that provided a tour to Dinosaur Provincial Park, but also worked with Tourism Calgary to provide an exceptional photography experience).

Previously, planning and execution would be done in silos. While this program is an excellent reflection of how roles can be assigned and clarity of work can be created, the collaborative process at the heart of the campaign’s culture is new.

What do you think are / will be the benefits of planning in this way, based on what you’ve seen so far?

Brand Strategy 

Vanessa Gagnon, Manager, Brand: The benefits of planning the Brand Evolution project this way is that we now have:

  • a robust set of data,
  • insights into our reputation that are rooted in research, and
  • hyper-engaged partners.

Marketing Strategy

Jeff Hessel, Vice President, Marketing: Even though it’s been highly supported by Destination Think and it’s their process, we feel we really have ownership on the plan. This is because we’ve been engaged through the entire way and everything’s been agreed to from the start. Much of the feedback from team members or anyone who’s been involved in the planning has been that they have felt very engaged and informed. We’re not spending a lot of time explaining and re-explaining the strategy to our team members because they’ve been a part of the process.

Sarah Prud’homme, Director, Marketing: It was no coincidence that planning in partnership with Destination Think, with their breadth of global DMO expertise and experience, led us to build Tourism Calgary’s most progressive marketing plan to date. Our internal team could see themselves and their thinking in it. The outcome is a powerful combination of shared ownership of an aligned, progressive, relentlessly consumer-focused Marketing Plan.

National Campaign

Kyle Russell, Manager, Content Marketing: This is an edgy National Campaign for us, and it takes a lot of confidence in Tourism Calgary for partners to buy into things like Instameets and Surprise & Delight tactics. I think the collaborative aspect of the campaign has helped everyone feel more engaged and willing to participate.

Is there any feedback from participants/stakeholders that you’re able to share at this stage?

Sarah Prud’homme, Director, Marketing: This process has really built strong connections between two internal departments that previously operated as separate entities. They’ve expressed their optimism and excitement for the new direction we are charting and, most importantly, really feel as though they have a clear line of sight on how their work contributes to the overall goals and objectives for the destination.

Jeff Hessel, Vice President, Marketing: I’ve got a lot of unsolicited feedback from our team members telling us how much they’ve liked the sessions and how much they’ve enjoyed the work. They’ve done it with excitement and passion.

The executive and team members we have shared it with see a very thorough and thoughtful plan. They can see all the various input that we collected at the beginning and they’re seeing that incorporated into the work. The work makes sense and it’s laid out in a way that’s very easy to communicate to other stakeholders and our team members as we go forward.

Successful DMOs lead collaborative planning to invest all stakeholders in the outcome. This is what we do. Destination Think’s proven process has helped DMOs like Tourism Calgary lead their destinations into the future. Contact our team.

Read the rest of the interview below for more information about the specific projects listed above, and why they are important to Tourism Calgary.

Destination Think: What are you aiming to achieve with these strategy projects? Who are the stakeholders? Why is this project important for Calgary?

Brand Strategy 

Vanessa Gagnon, Manager, Brand: One of five recommendations in Tourism Calgary’s Destination Strategy is to articulate and emotionalize Calgary’s unique personality to align with our brand team’s recommendations. This way, the pride Calgarians feel for their home will be brought to life, helping to tell a deeper layer of Calgary’s story. Our Brand Evolution project endeavours to articulate a distinct brand voice that firmly positions Calgary as one of North America’s top destinations. It will help create advocates for Calgary, both locally and beyond. Having Calgarians connect with and proudly share Calgary’s story en masse will be key to the success of this project, as the work from this project will be woven into the fabric of who Calgary is, what it offers, what it values, and how it expresses itself.

Brand stakeholders are the citizens of Calgary, the City of Calgary and various industry sectors such as tourism, economic development and arts.

Marketing Strategy 

Jeff Hessel, Vice President, Marketing: We developed a brand new three-year strategic marketing plan for Tourism Calgary. We need to connect this plan to all of the various documents, departments, and activities currently taking place.

For example, we built a Destination Strategy in 2016 that was launched in 2017, and this was our first opportunity to really incorporate that thinking into our annual business planning. It was crucial that we get it right.

There have been many different pieces in play, including DNA work (the Place DNA®work with Destination Think) and the new ability to incorporate that work into this Marketing Strategy document.

That’s why we really needed help. There were so many inputs into this process and we needed help to collect our thoughts, think this through and figure out what were the best pieces – what was relevant, what wasn’t relevant – and how we can put the best plan together, one that doesn’t contradict itself but works as a cohesive, holistic plan.

Sarah Prud’homme, Director, Marketing: With this Marketing Strategy, we were hoping to achieve alignment and evolution. A lot of great work has been done in the formation of Calgary’s Destination Strategy 2017 and Organizational Strategy, but if we are going to achieve the vision and goals that have been cast, we need to ensure the marketing team’s work is aligned and driving toward the identified outcomes.

Beyond that, we wanted to evolve the work we do to ensure that it is impactful and relevant by grounding it in a deep understanding of the complexities of today’s consumer and how critical it is for us to deliver a compelling experience at every touchpoint of their journey.

The primary stakeholders for Marketing Strategy were the marketing team, executive, and board. Two departments (marketing & in-destination teams) merged at the end of last year, and this was the first opportunity for us to integrate our planning and mark an evolution of our work from primarily promotional to focus on the critical importance of experience and advocacy.

National Campaign 

Kyle Russell, Manager, Content Marketing: The National Campaign targets long-haul Canadian travellers, with a focus on coastal B.C. audiences, to inspire them to travel to Calgary as either their base camp to the Rockies, or as part of a trip to the Rockies. Surrounding day trip locations include Banff, Canmore, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Dinosaur Provincial Park, and Drumheller.

The original intent was to intercept travellers considering a trip to Banff with a prompt to include Calgary as a complementary cosmopolitan city, or to provide an option as a location to stay during a Banff trip.

The project has evolved beyond this to focus on advocacy that works within 4 core themes: urban adventure, nature/mountains, dinosaurs/prairies/badlands, and photography opportunities.

Photography opportunities are at the heart of every activity within this campaign. Photographers are both a niche group to target, as well as a vehicle to promote the city (i.e., by using user-generated images).

The goals have now expanded to include advocacy, conversion, and reputation building. We use local influencers, the general public, and in-market travellers to provide their opinions on why Calgary is an exceptional destination as a city and a basecamp to adventure.

There are a few groups of stakeholders. First, those who are trying to showcase Calgary as a great destination via photography and other advocacy tools. Then, the visitors we are trying to bring to Calgary. Tourism Calgary partners (tourism operators) make up another group of stakeholders that we’ve been heavily relying on to help us facilitate things like Instameets and Postcard distribution.

The project is important to Calgary so that the city can be seen as a destination that is complementary to the experiences travellers are already drawn to (e.g. our day trip neighbours, notably Banff) as opposed to just an entry point.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Featured image credit: Tourism Calgary


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You’ve found your partner for destination marketing

We work with the most innovative tourism boards in the world to create a vision for each of their destinations, solve business challenges and execute brilliant, integrated campaigns. The expertise we apply to that work is shared in the articles published here and in our DMO Matters newsletter.

Get must-read updates delivered weekly!

Sign up to have our must-read weekly digest of leading destination marketing trends and innovation delivered directly to your inbox.

Fields marked with an * are required.


Thank you! You will receive an email to confirm your subscription.

Share This