5 Truths About Destination Branding You Didn’t Want to Hear

February 15, 2023
Employees at a branding agency. One woman sits at a desk on a desktop working on a branding deck with her back to the camera.

These five destination branding truths might sting a little – but that’s the point. Branding is hard business, and it’s something that many destinations don’t think about as critically as they could. For those that do, they see the results and are probably happier about keeping their strategies a secret. As travel continues to grow, however, there’s room for everyone to capture a piece of the pie as they rethink their branding strategies.

If a total rebrand is in the future, or if you just want to see how your current situation stacks up, consider these five destination branding truths and take stock of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and if it’s the right thing to be doing in the first place.

1. No Forever Brands

As much as it feels like creating a destination brand is a work of finality, it’s not. A destination brand needs to evolve with the times, and the pandemic clearly showed this to be true. Investing time and money into a brand is important, but accepting that it’s likely to be the same forever is equally important.

Some brands can be timeless – of course – but places simply aren’t. Communities change, environments evolve, attractions come and go. What was an outdoor destination 50  years ago may be something totally different today, and brands must reflect that. Destinations are too mutable to be branded for eternity.

2. One Brand for All? Nope.

There is not “something for everyone” in a place no matter what you think. Sometimes a destination brand won’t click with a demographic, no matter how hard you try. And that’s OK! The hard destination branding truth is that a brand isn’t designed to be universally loved, and shaking that mentality is key to homing in on the real goals at hand.

Creating a brand that speaks to youth is great if your offer is tailored to younger generations. So, for example, maybe Denny’s is playing a great branding game on Twitter, but is it a brand that younger people really seek out? Probably not, but boy are they trying.

3. No Brand is Best

It’s easy to look at competition across the industry and see examples that you may want to emulate. A destination branding truth, however, is that there is no “best brand” that trumps them all. Instead, realize that your brand speaks to your target audience, and your goal is to do that better than any competitors.

Coca Cola and McDonald’s may have great branding strategies, but they aren’t targeting snowbirds to travel south or family travelers to the mountains, so we’re comparing apples and pepperoni pizza at that point. Destinations need to remain focused on the goal and not try to create what a global fast-food franchise aims to create. Brand wisely and efficiently and you’ll be doing the best as it pertains to your goals.

4. Voice Matters

There’s a reason that iconic characters like Yoda and Minnie Mouse sound so distinct – having a unique voice is key to building a brand. A destination brand needs more than just flashy graphics and messaging. The writing voice on social and web content needs to stand apart from the rest. Maybe it’s being quirky and playful like Mint Mobile, or sweet and earnest like All Birds, or sassy and silly like Domino’s Pizza – that’s up to you.

The point is, visual branding without a strong voice is like building the Yoda puppet but then telling Frank Oz his services aren’t needed. Destinations may be made up of lots of different people, but developing a brand means using a voice on social media that speaks for all of them while also engaging audiences – not an easy task, but one worth tackling.

5. Don’t Skimp on Creative

Destinations and marketing agencies may think they have creative output under control, or they can get it done on a tight budget, but visual design isn’t something to take lightly. From fonts and colors to logos and web layout, every single aspect of creative branding matters. The Nike swoosh may have only cost $37, but it’s still one of the most recognizable brand icons out there – and it was produced by a graphic designer.

You’ll likely have to invest a bit more than $37, but the point is to find someone who will work with your brand to generate creative output that jives with your brand’s story. We all think we’re creatives, but honestly it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

Pondering the merits of your branding strategy? DCI has more than 60 years working with destinations to get their brand right. Reach out to Dariel Curren at [email protected] to learn more about how the agency can help apply these destination branding truths to your strategy.

Written by

Dariel Curren

Executive Vice President