As someone who has spent many years developing tourism destination brands (including London, England, and Kent) I’m going to be watching tonight’s Apprentice with great interest, as the candidates’ challenge is to rebrand the seaside resort of Margate in Kent.
Branding, for the uninitiated, is all about influencing your customer’s perceptions about what you sell. A brand is not a logo – that’s just one element. A brand is the sum of all the impressions (from whatever source) that customers, competitors and other opinion formers have of a destination or product or service, based on how it is presented to them on a daily basis.
For tourism destinations, the challenge to develop successful brands has always been well…challenging! Unlike product brands Heinz baked beans or Coca-Cola for example, no-one person has ultimate responsibility for how the destination brand is produced and presented – even if they think they do!. A destination brand is comprised of hundreds of businesses – hotels, museums, attractions, art galleries, restaurants, shops etc and thousands of people working in them and even more people living there. Every one of them has the opportunity to impact on a visitor’s perceptions of the destination, and the challenge for anyone wishing to rebrand somewhere is firstly to convince as many people as possible in the destination that it’s a good idea and that it will benefit them too. Plus, you need to be sure who is in your market for your destination brand, and find out how you compare against the competition. This takes time and I don’t think the Apprentice candidates will have taken this time!
Another issue is making sure that what you say about your brand you can deliver – there’s nothing worse than creating false expectations – as we know a person will recount a negative experience to far more people than they will tell about a positive one.
Also, with the growth in consumer generated content on sites like Trip Advisor, travelers are increasingly turning to their peers as a valued research source choosing to believe in them over and above what any tourism destination organisation has to say. This, combined with the increasing proliferation of blogging and tweeting – just type Margate (or your destination, product or name) into any search engine and see what comes up – makes it increasingly difficult to have any control over how a brand is perceived.
That’s not to say that I think destination managers shouldn’t attempt to develop and present positive brands – just by getting people together and encouraging them to work together towards a common goal can have huge benefits, particularly in helping to improve the destination.
Thanet Council is working hard with many other agencies including Kent County Council and Margate Town Partnership to improve the Margate offer, including using the arts to regenerate the town and the development of the new Turner Gallery, which will appeal to some market sectors. I wish them success and hope that tonight’s Apprentice will help their aim, to develop a thriving tourism destination, not only for the benefit of visitors, but also for local people, many of whom suffer from high levels of deprivation and who would welcome new job opportunities.