Destination San Diego

April 28, 2005

May 26, 2005


Building a strong 'destination brand' essential to tourism success

Though we may not want to admit it, our emotions play a substantial role in our choices as consumers. The power of the "brand" -- whatever a consumer thinks of when he or she hears the name of a company, product, or service -- is now more important than ever in today's fast-paced world. Today's consumers don't have the time to research endless numbers of products. This is what makes branding so powerful -- strong brands cut through the marketplace clutter.

The world's most successful brands have the ability to conjure up, most often sub-consciously, pleasant images that we immediately associate with the product connected to the brand. We might imagine ourselves leisurely sipping a Starbucks coffee and chatting with friends when we see the familiar green and white logo; or see ourselves healthfully jogging down a scenic path when the word Nike crosses our path.

But it doesn't just stop at coffee, sodas and sports shoes. The strength of the brand also plays a critical role in destination marketing. Two excellent examples of this are the "I Love New York" and "Virginia Is For Lovers" branding campaign, launched decades ago and highly effective still in evoking all kinds of positive emotions that continue to draw visitors to those destinations.

The fact that the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (IACVB) recently jumped on the branding bandwagon gives further testimony to the incredible power the brand concept wields within the visitor industry worldwide. The IACVB board, on which I serve as advisory group chairman, recently conducted a survey among its members in an effort to come up with suggestions for a more contemporary identity for the association that better reflects its members and their businesses.

This need came to light after research showed that the name "convention and visitor bureau" or "CVB" had little or no recognition among most travel consumers, although it was familiar to meeting planners and others in the tourism business. Most consumers tended to confuse convention and visitor bureaus with chambers of commerce, convention centers, economic development authorities, and other entities. Furthermore, the consumers surveyed had little or no idea of the services offered by the CVB, or the role they play in promoting a destination.

The IACVB board is currently proposing a new "brand identity enhancement" for IACVB and will vote in the next months to approve the proposed name and byline: Destination Marketing Association International, Representing CVBs and Tourist Boards Worldwide. If approved, a branding program will be launched internationally that will hopefully educate and influence the travel consumer as to exactly what the new Destination Marketing Association International can do to help them select their next meeting or convention destination.

Tied to this new name is a "BrandPromise" for the industry. This promise, basically a mission statement directed to the travel consumer, is designed to outline the destinations' appeal in a succinct and verbally powerful way.

What the IACVB is proposing now in its quest to create a powerful brand, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) initiated as far back as 1995. That was when ConVis embarked on its own branding strategy in order to gain a competitive edge in the travel and tourism marketplace. We had little choice. While we are one of the nation's most popular travel destinations, we have one of the smallest marketing budgets compared to our competition and are continually outspent by Anaheim, Las Vegas, Orlando and Hawaii. By building a strong Destination Brand over the past decade, ConVis created significant impact in the marketplace and maximized San Diego's limited marketing budget.

The first step in creating a compelling brand is to create an appealing, singular positioning that provides a springboard to the brand "experience." A decade of researching the emotional responses of our visitors taught us that San Diego is best known for its natural beauty, temperate climate, diversity and relaxed lifestyle.

Our ads and sales and marketing materials are designed to reach out to the consumer with a message of freedom --freedom to escape, enhance, renew and rejuvenate. We offer the visitor the freedom to do everything, or do nothing- the ultimate vacation mantra. Our potential visitors are invited to see themselves as part of this entire experience when they view the branded materials we present to them through a wide variety of advertising outlets, such as in our television commercials, partnership co-ops, special promotions, print ads, and on our Web site at

Brand consistency is very important; otherwise our message is diluted. We make certain that each piece of communication from the San Diego ConVis Bureau, regardless of origin, is branded. From the orange background and red type that marks our ads, to the emotional imagery and tone of the copy, execution of our brand is done with a sharp eye to consistency and quality.

The ConVis branding campaign has been incredibly successful -- but we cannot rest on our laurels. Our marketing team is still searching for a powerful slogan that would speak to the world about the region's tremendous appeal as a convention and meeting destination. One of the challenges in developing brands is the fact that slogans are often confused with branding. Slogans are just one part of a branding strategy and are typically developed to convey a specific image, to a specific audience at a specific time.

For example, "America's Finest City" is a civic slogan developed in the 1970s. ConVis recently tested this moniker in external markets and learned that outsiders believe this slogan can be applied to many cities, and do not readily associate it to San Diego. In fact, many associated this motto with destinations such as Washington, DC, Philadelphia, or New York City. Again, the feedback was that any city could use the line.

Our new destination promotion slogan, when it is developed, will ideally present the "bigger picture" about the San Diego region, enveloping our climate, lifestyle, positive outlook, openness, and sense of freedom. The slogan will then become part of our overall branding strategy.

Keeping a brand fresh, alive, and powerful is no easy task. It takes constant attention and research into the volatile habits of modern consumers, as well as the ever-changing trends in travel preferences and visitor demographics. It also takes the co-operation of all the entities that make a product stand out among its competitors. In our case, it is our many convention and visitor businesses and services that support our brand in addition to providing the highest in hospitality standards to keep our visitors happy -- and returning.

One thing is for certain, however, branding will remain one of our most cost effective marketing tools as we face increased competition among other destinations. These competitors have infinitely more resources to reach out and grab our market share through glitzy ads and television commercials in our target markets.

At its very core, travel is an emotional decision. Our San Diego Destination Brand strategy has been highly successful in its ability to tap into customer emotion, to connect as well as to inform, and we are counting on this past success to get us through what will certainly be challenging times ahead for San Diego's visitor industry.

Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

April 28, 2005

May 26, 2005