As travel and tourism is one of the biggest global industries, the competition all over the world is enormous (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2007). Therefore one of the most important things for a destination and moreover a key task for destination marketers, mainly due to the already mentioned global competition, is the process of branding a certain destination. The marketers have to be aware that there are many other destinations that try to attract the potential tourists and visitors as well. Consequently branding is essential and very important for a destination to show what it has to offer through the use of words and symbols for instance.
A brand can have many different forms. It can for example be a logo, a symbol, a trademark or a name. Furthermore branding is not a new idea, even when, according to Gilmore (2001; as cited in Morgan et al. 2002: 57), “many people tend to think of it as something new”. But it is not a new phenomenon; branding already exists for years. Gilmore argues that “many of the brands we use today have been in existence for over 100 years” (Morgan et al., 2002: 57). This statement shows that branding products, which are in the case of this essay destinations, has been existing for a very long time and still has a huge significance all over the world.
The aim of this essay is to critically assess the reason why destinations brand themselves. In addition it contains general information about branding like definitions, what branding is about and why rebranding in particular cases is necessary. The outcome is a conclusion and recommendations for branding destinations in the future.
Before explaining the necessity of ‘branding’ it is important to have a look at several definitions of this term due to many different ones existing. Kolb (2006: 229) for example defines branding as “the use of words and symbol to represent the image of a product and the benefits it offers to consumers”. Furthermore he adds that “branding is about the promotion of the unique benefits that tourists will experience during their visit” (Kolb, 2006: 18). According to The American Marketing Association (as cited in Tasci and Kozak, 2006: 300) a brand is defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of these, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors”. This definition adds the differentiation from other products and it goes along with Milligan (1995; as cited in Tasci and Kozak, 2006) who expresses the importance of differentiating one brand from others as well. He argues that a brand is ‘what differentiates you and makes you special’. Besides along with Morgan et al. (2002: 11) “branding is perhaps the most powerful marketing weapon available to contemporary destination marketers confronted by increasing product parity, substitutability and competition.” But is the branding process of products the same as for destinations? Or is there a difference between branding ‘normal products’ and destinations?
According to Caldwell and Freire (2004: 50) many academics (e.g. Cai, 2002; Kotler and Gertner, 2002; Olins 2002) argue “that places can be branded in much the same way as consumer goods and services”. And also along with Pike (2005; as cited in Balakrishnan 2009: 613) “destination brands are also similar to product and services. They have both tangible and intangible components, are mostly service dependent, and can be positioned through the use of slogans”. But besides these arguments there are also some academics that see a difference between the branding process of ‘normal products’ and destinations. According to Karavatsis and Ashworth (2005; as cited in Hankinson 2009: 98) “the branding of places as destinations requires more complex managerial activities than product brands”. Furthermore along with Hankinson (2001; as cited in Murphy et al., 2007) “creating brands as defined and discussed in the traditional marketing literature is a more difficult and complex process when considering destinations and locations.” These findings of different academics show that some consider the branding process of destinations as more challenging than branding products in general. Therefore the author of this essay thinks that it is necessary to define destination branding separate to the branding process of ‘normal products’ in general.
Along with Cai (2002; as cited in Murphy et al., 2007: 5) a destination brand is defined as “perceptions about a place as reflected by the associations held in tourist memory”. Furthermore Morrison and Anderson (2002: 16) describe destination branding “as a process used to develop a unique identity and personality that is different from all competitive destinations”.
According to many academics (e.g. Eby, Molnar and Cai 1999; Gartner 1989; as cited in Hem and Iversen, 2004: 85) “unlike other tangible products, tourists are not able to ‘test drive’ and try the destinations before making a choice”. When deciding to go on holiday you pay for something that you will not receive at once. Furthermore Hem and Iversen (2004: 85) argue that “the decision involves greater risk and extensive information search, and depends on tourists’ mental construct of what a potential destination has to offer relative to their needs”.
A very important question when branding destinations is how long the brand can be used? According to Kotler (1997; as cited in Tasci and Kozak, 2006: 300) “the seller or maker of a brand [â€¦] is entitled to exclusive rights to use the brand without any expiration dates, which distinguishes it from patents and copyrights.” Therefore destination marketers are able to use a brand endlessly. This is a great advantage because when a well-working brand is created it can be used as long as the marketers wish to. There are many destinations that do it this way but there are also some who change their brand from time to time. This change of the brand has to be done when a brand does not attract enough people to visit a certain destination.
But more significant than having a look at ‘what’ branding is, is to clarify ‘why’ is it necessary for destinations to brand themselves?
It is important that a brand shows real benefits in order to be effective (Kolb, 2006). These benefits include that the brand is “understood easily, memorable, and it has to be designed in a way that it can be used on every form of communication” (Kolb, 2006: 222). Furthermore Kolb (2006: 222) argues that it is very important that the “potential tourist understands the brand symbol and message easily because if they are confused by the words and image communicated, the branding may be noticed but will not attract them”. Therefore it is necessary to know the target group before creating a brand because if the consumer does not understand the message of the brand he or she will not be interested in it and furthermore not be attracted by the destination.
According to Kolb (2006: 229) branding “provides a shorthand message that will hopefully be heard” by the potential tourists and visitors over all the other destinations. That means that the brand of one destination needs to be created very well and moreover it has to be more attractive than other brands. Besides this Gilmore (2001) argues that “branding seeks to convey messages to the user or potential user of a product or service. These messages need to be simple and consistent, since we are all bombarded with messages from hundreds of products every day” (as cited in Morgan et al., 2002: 58). Kolb and Gilmore both argue that it is important to create brands that are easily understood by the potential tourists or visitors of a destination. The author of this essay fully agrees to both of them because if a brand is not understood by first glance or is not attractive enough that the consumer has a deeper look at it to understand what it is about, than all the effort to create the brand was not really worth it.
When a brand is created it is necessary that the destination marketers use it to communicate it to the potential tourists and visitors. According to Kolb (2006: 229) the “brand should appear on all forms of communication like letters, flyers, the websites, brochures as well as T-shirts.” Besides those facts concerning the design of a brand, it is according to Kolb (2006: 221) important that “tourism marketers choose an identity that authentically and genuinely reflects what the city has to offer.” The different forms of communication and the well-chosen reflection of the offers show only some of the challenging points branding has to deal with in the various steps the brand has to pass through during the process of creating it.
According to Kolb (2006: 229) “developing a brand takes time, effort, and creativity”. Besides these mentioned facts branding is also very expensive due to many different things that have to be considered. One of the first steps is that the brand needs to be created. When this stage is taken, the next one is to communicate the brand by using it for all the representing articles like letters or brochures. One rather risky point is that these articles have to be printed before the destination marketers even know if the brand will be understood by the potential tourists or visitors or not. But why is it still so important that destinations brand themselves when there are all these aspects which are at first sight rather negative?
Kolb (2006) argues that branding can develop ‘repeat visits’ due to familiarity with the brand. In the best case “branding remembers the tourists of all the benefits the destination has to offer” and therefore may create brand loyalty (Kolb, 2006: 229). The loyalty towards a brand can most easily be achieved through the constant use after the successful creation of a brand. When the potential tourists or visitors understand the brand and are attracted by it they may visit the destination. If they like it and the well-working brand remains they possibly visit the destination again which means that brand loyalty is created.
One very well working example is the case of New York City with its brand ‘I love NY’. The potential creation of loyalty towards a brand leads to the idea of building a relationship with a brand and therefore with the corresponding destination.
This is suggested by Kotler (1997; as cited in Tasci and Kozak, 2006: 300) who mentions the “evoke of emotions”. Furthermore this idea arises as well according to Morgan et al. (2002) who argue that the potential tourists and visitors need to get a relationship with the destinations visited. They reason that it is not a question of price but a question of emotions what makes the tourists visit or revisit a certain destination. The author of this essay not fully agrees to this statement. The point with the relationship may be true as well as important but nevertheless nowadays, after the financial crisis, the people have less money to spend and therefore the price is an important point when choosing holidays.
However, the idea of having a relationship with products is nothing new, it is already suggested by several other academics (e.g. Urdde, 1993; Sheth, Mittal and Newman, 1999; as stated in Morgan et al., 2002). Along with Kolb (2006: 18) it is necessary that a brand gets into the ‘consumer’s mind’. Without this step it would not even be possible to build a relationship with a brand. This goes along with Lury (1998: 4) who argues that “it is our perceptions – our beliefs and our feelings about a brand that are most important”.
However, according to Hallberg (1995) “mere emotion is not enough, the key is to develop a strong brand which holds some unique associations for the consumer – but emotion has always been an important component of branding” (as cited in Morgan et al., 2002: 12).
According to Weinreich (1999; as stated in Morgan et al.,2002: 25) in the case of destination branding the destination managers should not “think in terms of the traditional brand life cycle, brand managers should be thinking of the S-curve which charts a brand’s life and development through birth, growth, maturity, decay and death” (see Figure 1). The S-curve symbolises “a series of stages in the brand’s relationship with its consumers, revealing useful insights into a brand’s communication requirements” (Weinreich, 1999; as stated in Morgan et al.,2002: 26). The first stage in the S-curve diagram, the ‘fashionable stage’, shows the stage when the destination is “new and exclusive and therefore yet small due to the lack of advertising activities” (Weinreich, 1999; as stated in Morgan et al.,2002: 26). Within the next and so-called ‘famous phase’, “a destinations brand’s consumers are loyal and affluent but at any time the destination’s brand values may become irrelevant to them – hence the on-going need for them to remain fresh and appealing”. According to Weinreich (1999; as stated in Morgan et al.,2002: 27) the destination needs to “remain contemporary but if it fails, it will drift into the ‘familiar zone’ where everyone knows about the destination, but it hast lost its appeal”. The following stage is the ‘familiar phase’ wherein it is not easy anymore to “attract lucerative market segments”. This stage is followed by the ‘fatigued phase’ in which the question of a potential refreshment needs to be asked.
Figure 1 Source: Morgan et al., 2002: 25
According to Gilmore (2001) it is essential that a destination is ‘unique’. Furthermore Gilmore argues that this uniqueness has two different ‘sources’: “first, the culture of the destination itself, which is normally unique or a unique combination of cultures, and, second, from the combination of other benefits – convenient yet unspoilt, lively city with peaceful countryside, historic monuments and great food” (as cited in Morgan et al 2002: 60). When a destination does for example not have great cultural aspects to offer, food can be a very important benefit for a destination. Along with Hall (2004: xiii) “[â€¦] food is a significant part of tourism”. Furthermore Hall (2004) argues (as cited in Hall et al., 2003) that “food has come to be recognized as part of the local culture which tourists consume, as an element of regional tourism promotion [â€¦]”. This statement leads to the possibility that a destination may include its traditional food into the brand which is a very effective way of using a benefit if others like for example the countryside are not really effective. According to Mitchell and Hall (2003; as cited in Gyimóthy and Mykletun, 2009: 260) “the growing interest in culinary products and traditions implies that food is also becoming a more important factor in influencing tourists’ motivations for traveling to a particular destination”. Furthermore they argue that it is necessary to ‘market the culinary products to the various consumers’. To use traditional products like food is how a destination may rebrand itself successfully if for example another brand did not work very well to attract tourists.
But there are also other reasons why destinations may have to rebrand themselves. Additional reasons are disasters, natural as well as manmade ones and political issues. In this case rebranding is very important because the destinations need to regain the visitors’ trust again. A destination or even a whole country may have certain image problems due to for example a crisis or a war. Therefore it is very important for destination marketers to create a new brand that convinces the potential tourists or visitors of the good sides the destination has to offer, even when the image is perceived differently.
As could be seen to brand a destination is different than to brand any kind of product. As many academics (e.g. Kolb, 2006; Milligan, 1995; Tasci and Kozak, 2006) argue it is necessary to create successful brands for destinations in order to be competitive in the huge existing global market. A successful brand that is understood by the potential tourists or visitors may create loyalty towards a brand. However, before brand loyalty can be created it is essential to produce a well-working brand that is understood simply. In many cases this is not really easy and it always depends on what a certain destination has to offer to the consumers. If a destination does not have any outstanding offers like for example a unique combination of cultures or a special countryside it is also possible to use for instance the local food to attract potential tourists or visitors and to use it for the brand (Gilmore, 2001).
But according to many academics (e.g. Kolb, 2006; Morgan et al. 2002) the most important thing is that a relationship with a certain destination has to be achieved. Otherwise the potential tourists or visitors would not visit or revisit the destination and brand loyalty would not be created at all (Kolb, 2006). To build a relationship towards a brand expects that the message of a brand needs to be understood. Therefore another important point when creating a brand is the message that shall be communicated to the consumers. It should be understood by the potential tourists or visitors, which are a specific target group, to attract them; otherwise they will rather not be interested in the destination (Kolb, 2006). But not only the creation of the message itself is a challenging point within the developing process of a brand. Furthermore, the brand has to pass through different stages, which is shown in a diagram called the ‘S-Curve’. These various phases in a brand’s life all have their own challenging points and the destination marketers have to be aware of those already in the developing process of a brand (Weinreich, 1999).
Although within the developing process of a brand those challenging steps occur, it is inevitable for destinations to brand themselves. Only through branding the potential tourists or visitors can build a relationship with the destination. And therefore the destination can be attractive as well as competitive. In the future it will be important for destination marketers to stick to their well-working brands if they have already created one or change their brands if it is necessary to rebrand the destination. Otherwise it would not be possible at all to compete against the huge amount of existing offers all over the world. As the most important point is the creation of a relationship it is therefore necessary that the brands created help to build a relationship between the destinations and the potential tourists or visitors. Only through the connection between a destination and the consumers a destination can be competitive and the message will be heard over all the other messages. But without a brand it would not even be possible to attract anybody.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: