by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
It’s all about the content
In his “Hacking the System” Bruce McMillan recently posted a two part blog on new paradigms in destination marketing. He highlights two new waves that Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) – and, indeed, any other public or private sector enterprise involved in Place Branding – should be sure to catch in 2015 and beyond. The first is content creation. He exhorts DMOs to become their own Chief Destination Storyteller and to move the communication process from mere broadcasting to real engagement. He challenges destination marketers to create content that informs, inspires, maybe even irritates potential customers: above all, it must connect and engage.
Build new partnerships
The second new wave that he identifies is the need to build meaningful partnerships with the Economic Development Authorities or Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) agencies in the destination. He credits the Australians (Business Events Sydney) with being the first of the “pure” DMOs to realize that meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) had an impact on host destinations way beyond the tourism dimension. A study commissioned by Business Events Sydney and quoted by McMillan, in fact, lists 19 tangible outcomes beyond financial return for the destination in the areas of knowledge transfer, networking and collaboration, education, fundraising, awareness raising and reputation building.
City Nation Place
It’s interesting to read Bruce’s posts in the context of another recently released report of interest to DMOs and their stakeholders. “The Evolution of Place Branding” was just released by City Nation Place, an entity that describes itself as “the new meeting place for those responsible for ensuring that the cities, regions and countries which they represent benefit from a cohesive and effective place branding strategy”. The report is based on a qualitative survey of over 100 Place Branding professionals, split 50|50 between public and private sector. Included amongst the respondents are two government ministers.
The report is organised into 4 broad themes – Who are Place Branders, Priorities for Effective Place Branding Strategies, Growth and Investment and Social Media – and, while it doesn’t contain any “Shock! Horror!” revelations there are some intriguing data points that highlight the deeper challenges at the heart of the place branding which, naturally, impact the destination marketing universe that Bruce is addressing.
Who are Place Branders?
Place Branders, according to the survey, form a very diverse community often part of multi-disciplinary teams in public or private enterprises. While many focus on tourism (the DMO community), many too work on FDI or, indeed somewhere between FDI and tourism (Bidding for International Events is a category that 33% of respondents identified themselves with). Bruce’s proposal that DMOs partner and collaborate more closely with their FDI colleagues is obviously low hanging fruit in terms of meeting the objectives of both.
Growth and Investment in Place Branding
On Growth and Investment, City Nation Place reports a strong increase in investment in Place Branding over the next 3 years but not focused so much on marketing communications as on strategic initiatives. Smart Technologies, Tourism Development, Education and Transport Infrastructure are ranked 1 to 4 for investment while all actions connected with marketing communications rank lower. There’s no surprise regarding target source markets, however, with South East Asia, South America, South Asia and Eastern Europe placed considerably higher than the established source markets in Western Europe and North America. Although with the storming economic success of the USA, in particular, and historically low euro|dollar exchange rates there might be reasons to prioritise North America again, particularly if you’re a European destination.
There’s no surprise either that 96% of respondents agree that “social media is an increasingly important element within place branding communication strategies”. And practically everyone also agrees that social media should be “integrated effectively” into the overall strategy. No surprises thus far.
However, an otherwise crystal clear picture becomes decidedly blurred when the responses under “Priorities for Effective Place Branding Strategies” are considered. All of a sudden it becomes obvious that while the world looks blue and green and peaceful from a distance, up close it’s a lot more nuanced, and troubled than that!
Place Branders don’t reference ICCA at all amongst the Ranking Agencies to which they pay attention while DMOs would pledge a kidney from their first born to ensure positive ICCA rankings for their country or city. For Place Branders Simon Anholt’s Indices of Nation and City Brands and his new Index of Good Countries (of which Ireland is Number One!) comprise almost half of the Rankings. And this, of course, makes sense. The Anholt surveys focus predominantly on reputation and are both quantitative and quantitative in terms of audience.
The real challenges become evident when the priority ranking of a particular element is compared against its ranking on the scale of “relative difficulty to deliver”. So Place Branders identify the need to “build consensus on place branding strategy across all policy areas” as a priority of great importance but over 51% of them believe this is the most difficult objective out of 14 listed to achieve. Likewise over 90% consider “changing global / external opinion towards your city, nation or region” to be important but 34% believe this is really hard to do. Finally, 85% of Place Branders believe “engaging citizens in the development plan and place branding strategy” (a strong tenet of Simon Anholt throughout his work) yet this is considered to be the third most difficult thing to deliver.
And what about the objectives that are considered easy to deliver upon? Place Branders consider it both very important and pretty easy to effectively integrate social media management into a place branding communication strategy; they think it’s quite important but very easy to “build a place brand from ‘the inside out'”; they consider it quite important and very easy to ensure your city / region / nation contributes to common global priorities. Finally, and most interesting to DMOs, they rank as least important and easiest to deliver “securing hosting rights for major international sporting or cultural events”.
And that might explain why building a strong consensus across all policy areas is so hard!
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a boutique marketing consultancy working with destinations and enterprises on their strategy for MICE. They are currently working with a 5 star hotel, a country and a city in Europe, a convention centre and a global hotel chain.
If you’re interested in Place Branding and Destination Marketing please check out the pioneering work of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) and, in particular, Phase 1 of its on-going research, DestinationNext