Destination branding: how marketing makes a country stand out

Chic, sensational, sparkling and incredible: these are, respectively, the brands adopted by Thailand, Brazil, Korea and India.

Country and region brands are everywhere, and each is aimed at helping the consumer see a destination in a different light.

New Zealand’s 100% Pure slogan, in use since 1999, focuses on the country’s unspoilt beauty, while Uniquely Singapore seeks to set the island apart from its Asian neighbours.

Travel PR founder Sue Ockwell said: “It’s a crowded marketplace – there are around 250 countries vying for the attention of holidaymakers. Anything that helps explain a country’s appeal is useful.”

There seems to be two main approaches to country branding: evocative or informative, according to Charisma PR director Julia Berg.

The former aims to tap into the consumer’s emotions, while the latter aims to educate. While Love Cyprus does the former, Croatia has taken the latter approach with its brand slogan, The Mediterranean As It Once Was.

Berg said: “Croatia was a new country in 1991 and it wanted to get across the fact that it was undamaged by the war and that it was not a tacky, mass-market destination. The slogan was also important in helping position Croatia geographically and culturally as part of the Mediterranean, rather than being vaguely in the east somewhere.”

Japan wants to promote the old and new with its Cool Japan – Fusion with Tradition campaign. “The aim is to make people aware that Japan is much more than geisha, sumo, temples and Mount Fuji,” said Japan National Tourist Organization PR manager Kylie Clark.

“The aim of the campaign is to diversify the types of travellers going to Japan. It is hoped that by highlighting Japan’s cool attractions we will get more young couples, professionals and families visiting.”

With so many country brands competing for consumers’ attention, there is a tendency for messages to merge together in a swirl of words and phrases.

“It can be an expensive, time-consuming process,” said Representation Plus managing director Alison Cryer. “It requires the whole country to embrace the concept of developing and communicating the brand values. It also needs to be promoted rigorously – all too often a new brand can just be a logo without any meaning.”

As multimedia options become increasingly innovative, brand management is becoming more sophisticated too. But according to Virginia Webb, team leader, travel and leisure, Flagship Consulting, it’s important not to forget the key intention of the exercise.

“Branding involves focus groups, think-tanks and detailed guidelines, but at its heart it’s all about differentiation and creating a clear proposition that can be adapted for varying audiences,” she said. 

Cryer added: “In reality, destinations have been developing their brand values for hundreds of years. It is the communication of these brands in today’s competitive environment, enhanced by online technology, that is rapidly evolving.”

But at the end of the day, when you’re selling a country, brand is far from everything. Berg said: “For travel agents it’s more important they actually know a destination in depth rather its marketing slogan.”

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