What do you think of when you hear Provence? Or St. Moritz? Or Amsterdam? No matter what you think of one thing is for sure: an image will immediately come to mind. Or maybe even a feeling, a certain smell or atmosphere. But how is it even possible to associate so much with a city or a place? And how can a destination capitalize on such intuitive connections? And above all, why should anyone even bother?
Today, entire regions, countries, cities, and places are in a global competition with one another. Each of them wants to attract more skilled workers, more desirable businesses, a stronger economy or more tourists. They all want to be interesting. And to do that, they need to stand out from the crowd. Because when people, money and influence can move freely across (inter)national borders, there has to be a certain something that creates a magnetism to attract these flows.
This is what destination branding is all about. It is about finding, highlighting, and exploiting that special something about a place, region, city or country – in short, a destination. It turns the destination into a brand. Charged with emotional meaning, the destination becomes much more than just a small dot on the map.
How to create uniqueness for a destination.
The process of turning a destination into a destination brand is similar to that of regular branding projects. A destination also needs a specific and focused story that is consistently cultivated and communicated. It needs character, values and orientation. The geography or history of the destination can play a special role in that process. Both can be sources of uniqueness, provide information about the essence of the destination and often serve as the foundation of the brand story. However, as with all brands, it is important to take current social trends and the behaviour of the target group into account to ensure that the destination is truly future-proof.
Anyone can do destination branding. Right?!
Turning a destination into a brand is easier said than done. Finding the metaphorical lid for a pot that could not possibly be any more complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted than a destination is not that simple. After all, the lid must cover all the unique aspects and still leave some room for individuality and future developments. Here, it is especially important to consider what you want to achieve with the destination brand. What face to you want to present to the world? This objective has a significant impact on how and what is communicated. For example, if the primary goal is to attract more tourists, the destination brand will need to communicate on a completely different frequency, tell a completely different story and highlight completely different features than if the focus is on the region as an innovation hub.
Many people. Many opinions.
Another layer of complexity in destination branding projects comes from the number of people who are involved in the process. From tourism boards, governments and policy makers, opinionated locals, and regional influencers – everyone wants to be heard and understood. Everyone has an emotional connection to the project. And everyone has their own opinion about what is important or what really defines the place. This makes it all the more important to take care of all stakeholders throughout the project. Stakeholder management, as well as open communication are therefore absolute must-haves in destination branding projects. This is the only way to reach a lasting consensus and avoid resistance and opposition.
Of mountains and valleys.
The following two examples of major destination branding projects, which moodley has implemented in close cooperation with the respective local associations, show what this looks like in practice: the Gastein Valley and the Baden region in Germany.
An invitation to recharge.
The Gastein Valley lies in the heart of the Alps, at the edge of the Hohe Tauern National Park. Surrounded by nature, the valley was long simply known as “the most attractive Alpine health region” – a positioning with clear benefits but a lack of character. The Gasterinertal Tourismus GmbH therefore decided that it was time to bring new life to the region. With an emotional brand story and a brand identity that reflects the zeitgeist and generates magnetism, the Gastein Valley was able to attract new attention and inspire new and existing fans.
The Gastein Valley is made up of three towns that each have a unique character: Dorfgastein, Bad Hofgastein and Bad Gastein. Until now, all three were managed under one umbrella brand with a monolithic brand architecture that masked the unique features of the valley. Instead of this uniform mono-brand, a new umbrella brand was created, that still provided the towns’ brands with enough space to communicate and develop their individual character and charm. In order to achieve this, the brand identity was carefully crafted in a way that reflected the valley’s strong history while keeping a modern touch.
The Gastein Valley brand story celebrates the differences and many facets of the places. Rather than being seen as catch basins, they were thought of as poles that stand opposite each other and create tension and excitement for the visitors of the valley. The valley stands for hot springs and cold water. Rugged steeps and rolling hills. Rural charm and urban flair. Gastein invigorates and calms at the same time.
The emotional translation of the “most attractive alpine health region” was solved by an internal claim that used the valley’s field of tension and give visitors new vitality in a variety of ways. In external communication, this claim was translated with the triad “recharge, revive and take off”.
This is what Gastein stands for. A valley that unites opposites and, with its many facets, provides people new vitality in a variety of ways.
The garden of Germany.
Commissioned by Badischen Weinbauverband (Baden Winegrowers’ Association) and badische Weinwerbung (Baden Wine Advertising), this destination branding project was designed to revitalise the marketing of Baden wines and the destination of Baden in Germany. Over the years, the brand had become dull and dusty. While people were familiar with the region – including the time-honoured slogan “spoiled by the sun” – the potential to further develop the brand had long been exhausted. On top of that, Baden has an incomparable diversity: nine different areas, each with seemingly incompatible wine, landscape, and approaches. And while Baden found itself in a state of stagnation for a long time, the competition was far from idle. Other wine regions in Germany have managed to create a fresher image and attract new and younger target groups. For Baden, the challenge was to tap into its full potential and find a story that would provide internal and external orientation and open up a path for future development.
Geographically, Baden is somewhat isolated from the rest of Germany, in the south-west corner of the country. However, this isolation also gives the region a number of advantages – especially for growing wine. Baden is warm and sheltered. The people are relaxed and friendly. The towns are small and cosy. All in all, Baden is a cultivated piece of nature that is rounded off by some highlights like the Rhine, Lake Constance and the Black Forest.
Because of this uniqueness in location, geography and attitude, the newly developed brand story of Baden revolves around Baden being “Germany’s garden”. The word garden has positive connotations, evokes many beautiful images in everyone’s mind, is understood globally and, as a metaphor, is still broad enough to integrate and highlight the diversity of Baden’s nine regions. Implicitly, the positioning also creates new impulses in terms of nature conservation and the cultivation of sustainability. After all, a garden is treated with care and affection.
A benchmark, a promise of sustainability and quality.
The incorporation of Germany in the claim is also of central importance. On the one hand, it helps to locate Baden geographically, and on the other, it anchors the claim in innovation and quality. After all, Germany is internationally regarded as a country of innovation. The word sets standards. On a regional level, the claim is also very effective, with a link to slow tourism and regionality.