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A Guide to Place Branding

It is common when speaking about the basic fundamentals of marketing to refer to the acts of promotion as serving to advance the fortunes of either a product, service, or idea. It is almost as if a singular selection from the three options covers the entirety of those things people seek to believe in, consume, or desire. But the assumption fails to recognize one of the most prominent uses of marketing, Place, or destination marketing, is one of the most prevalent forms of modern marketing that strives to create experiences, not sales.

Whether it is a specific community, state, entertainment venue, or social advocation, place marketing is a dominant area of marketing campaigns. While similar in practices and principles to its counterpart, destination marketing requires some unique and challenging activities. “Place branding” strives to create favor around specific locations or ideas that can be driven by social, environmental, or economic missions. The marketplace may be localized or global in scope and diverse as any product or service environment. A typical but often ineffective effort includes neatly prepared logos and slogans, or taglines designed to catch an audience’s attention and express a collective feeling or emotion.

Recently, after more than 50 years, New York State updated the iconic “We Love New York” slogan in an attempt to instill optimism in the citizenry after a decade of social and environmental challenges during and following the COVID pandemic. It was an attempt to unite and motivate residents to remain committed to helping resolve communities’ problems. Unfortunately, for the state of New York, the commonwealth of Virginia reminded everyone that “Virginia is for Lovers”. Alaska claims it’s the land of promise and according to the state of Delaware, it is the home of endless discoveries. Georgia, “The Peach State”, is the place to go if “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” is your thing.  Pennsylvanians “Work Smart and Live Happy,” and in Florida, they place trust in God. Such simple but catchy slogans are employed by all 50 states across the country in an effort to differentiate each from the other 49 competitors.

The most prominent examples of place advertising originate from public or private entities like Destination Marketing organizations, economic development groups, The Chambers of Commerce, private event organizers, and tourist agencies. Often these groups develop campaigns with the goal of attracting additional commercial activities to the area, boosting area development, or strengthening cultural benefits of the community. So, what are a few tips for creating a successful destination campaign?

The process of creating a destination campaign is not an individual effort. It is a bottom-up approach involving numerous stakeholders who are given the opportunity to input specific concerns and ideas. Clearly, designing anything by committee can be fraught with challenges but welcoming input from all partners can help identify a comprehensive set of resources and tactics that will enhance the campaign’s success. Highlight common objectives and develop an inclusive and effective marketing strategy.

Destination campaigns are better when they utilize multiple digital communication channels, social media platforms, influencers, print media, videos, and chat sites which provide access to user-generated content and shared, word-of-mouth conversations. Segmenting the marketplace and knowing who the best customers are is critical. Identify important consumer factors like personal interests, distance from the destination community, the prospects’ budget concerns, favored types of overnight accommodations, and when are they most likely to travel. Develop comprehensive customer personas and design messages around each identity.

The focus should be on identifying the best potential audience by finely segmenting the marketplace. Know who the best customers are and where to engage them in conversations. Make your place distinctive and unique by identifying why your destination is different than competitors. Emphasize the community’s core values and the place brand’s promise. Make the message personal, authentic, and memorable. Speak to the intended audience by holding conversations where they are listening and resolving to monitor and measure the campaign’s results.

A comprehensive plan to carefully analyze campaign data should be undertaken to ensure that the effort is meeting its strategic mission. Consumer behavior can be fickle; identifying fluctuations in consumer trends and adjusting original assumptions to better understand what channels, touchpoints, strategies, and tactics are working best can provide an opportunity to optimize the impact of the marketing effort.