Communicating Travel Brand Positioning

When you create a brand position that's both true to your organization's culture AND believable for the consumer, it makes staying on-brand and on-message a lot easier. Using tools such as mood boards, brand guidelines and toolkits will help your marketing team focus on the core messages and test the clarity of every piece they create. These tools can be applied to almost any media channel, too, from print and broadcast to social media and in-person interactions. It’s all in the interpretation and intent of the brand position.

Communicating your brand position and values within your organization is critical, too, for keeping your messages on-brand. When your management team, marketers, and frontline service personnel are clear on what you’re selling, they can “live the brand” – direct their behavior, their appearance and their customer interactions to express and reinforce the brand. Above all, a clear understanding of the brand position helps inspire the troops and directs decision-making.

If your brand position is authentic, honest and desirable to travelers, it’s going to be hard to stray off track. Your organization will deliver on the promise simply because that’s what it does best. Your customers will come with expectations and get exactly what you promised them. Hopefully, they will share their satisfaction with others, who will come for more of the same, which your organization will gladly deliver – simply because that’s what it does best.

Additional Reading:

Rethinking Outdated Travel Media Strategies

Brand Positioning For Tourism Marketing

Analyze your brand position with The Wanderlust Baggage Check

Need Help?

If you need help keeping your messaging on-brand, contact Wanderlust today. We’re happy to help. Learn more here or call us at 888.754.3210.

Travel Advertising Toolkit: Maintaining Consistency

Implementing an integrated, unified brand identity for a destination or resort may require more than an instruction manual. That’s why we recommend creating a ‘brand toolkit’ whenever launching or repositioning a travel brand. Like a craftsman’s tool box, the brand toolkit contains resources that marketers or designers can draw upon when creating internal or external communications.

The toolkit is a collection of electronic art files, including logo graphics, web elements, icons, patterns, textures, photographs, maps, or almost any visual elements that have been created in support of the brand identity. Delivered on a CD or DVD along with the brand guidelines, these files help designers execute the identity consistently, and save time by eliminating the need to recreate graphic elements of the brand. Depending on the scope of the identity development, the toolkit may contain just logo art work and related elements or complete design files for corporate identity programs, stationery, ad formats, signage and more.

The Brand Czar

The ‘Brand Czar’ is the keeper of the brand vision, the overseer of all brand communications and identity executions. Whether this is a full-time position or an honorary title assigned to a member of the marketing team, depends on the destination. A large organization with a high-volume communications, multiple locations or disparate operations may require a person dedicated to this position. At a smaller resort or attraction, it may be an informal role assumed by someone close to the branding process. This role is important for the consistency of the brand identity and clarity of the messaging, especially at the initial launch or repositioning of a brand. The Brand Czar needs to build awareness of the brand position across the organization, monitor interactions with customers and coach frontline staff on behavior and expectations.

The Brand Czar is responsible for:

  • Communicating the brand position and promise of value;
  • Translating the brand personality for expression in any medium;
  • Enforcing brand guidelines for consistent graphic identity; and
  • Recognizing anything that’s out of character or off-brand.

Tourism Brand Guidelines: Setting Boundaries

Also known as ‘graphic standards’ or ‘brand standards,’ the brand guidelines document is an instruction manual for creating communications that are aligned with the strategic position and identity.

Successful brand guidelines provide detailed direction and specifics for marketers and designers on choosing layouts, fonts, colors and artwork for internal and external communications. In addition, it may provide a discussion of the intent or rationale for the brand position – a more philosophical review of the brand’s character and flavor – that can be useful for strategic managers, creative directors and writers. The guidelines help keep the look and voice of communications the same, so every communication comes from a single voice – recognized, trusted and true – no matter who creates a piece.

Do’s and don’ts – with an emphasis on do’s

While the guidelines will give examples of how NOT to do things (improper use of logos, unacceptable colors or fonts, for example), the focus is on the intent of the brand identity, the spirit and mood that communications should express. If the guidelines are inspirational and liberating, instead of confining and strict, employees can better understand the expectations and become empowered to ‘live the brand.’

Subjects covered by brand guidelines:

  • Brand position: Personality and promise of value
  • Tone and Voice: Copy style and language direction
  • Logos: Color treatments, scaling and position
  • Typography: Approved font families, weights, colors and sizes
  • Photography: Image content, reproduction styles, color and placement
  • Color: Approved color palettes, tints, sub-brand combinations
  • Corporate stationery: letterhead, business cards, labels, envelopes
  • Advertising: Ad formats and layout options, typography
  • Point of Sale: Signage formats, materials, menus, color and type treatments
  • Environmental Graphics: Building signage, interiors, way-finding
  • Web Graphics: Direction on page headers, banner adds, navigation and type
  • Miscellaneous: Staff uniforms, vehicles, phone systems, email formats, etc.

The Mood Board: Establishing Brand Personality

The mood board is a tourism marketing device we use at Wanderlust to help establish the personality and visual identity of travel and tourism brands. The mood board is a combination of photographs, graphics and words on a single panel that reflect the desired brand position (rather than the current position). Together these elements provide an illustrated example of the brand position, imparting the energy, mood and spirit of a destination, resort or attraction.


Elements of a brand mood board:

Photos that convey a destination’s spirit or energy, and reflect visual content likely to appear in marketing communications.

Text that helps express mood and personality: usually limited to 3 to 6 carefully chosen words that define a feeling, a way of behaving, or a characteristic attitude of the destination.

Graphic elements, including iconography, color palettes and typography, that foreshadow the brand image and formal brand identity program.

Mood boards are very helpful in defining, explaining and building out a new brand position. First, for getting buy-in and approval of positioning initiatives: If the mood board captures the feel of a place, if it’s a believable representation of what a destination can offer, and above all, if it’s desirable and exciting, then it is likely a successful position.

Secondly, mood boards can help communicate the brand to frontline staff. Presenting with words and images they can relate to and easily remember helps them find ways to express the brand position in their interactions with customers.

And finally, mood boards are excellent decision-support tools, offering a visual measuring stick that can be help up against creative executions. Mood boards are the acid test for whether communications are on-brand or off-brand. Does a new ad or brochure capture the look and feel of the mood board? Does it support the position and promise of value?

In a world of subjective opinions about design and communication, the mood board can provide an objective tool to help you make important decisions.

Creating Differentiation for Your Travel Brand

Creating a higher level of differentiation means taking the time to learn what makes your resort or attraction unique, and what it has to offer that is relevant and compelling to the travelers wanted as repeat, high value customers. All great positions are rooted in a nugget of truth, or a kernel of insight that helps you stake out an ownable space in the mind of the consumer that is unique, and that no other brand can co-opt, or invade.

Our experience shows us that there are four steps to uncovering truths that contribute to a believable, differentiating, relevant, memorable and deliverable promise of value for any destination.

Four steps to define your brand position

Peel back the onion – Examine your destination’s place in the world: where it originated, what value it offers, its past and current market position. What do people say, think and believe about it? View your business from an outsider’s perspective and be honest.

Analyze the competitive idea space – Reverse-engineer your competitors’ advertising and marketing to see how they position their destinations. How is their position different or the same? Is it true? This should give you a sense of where there is saturation and opportunity in the world of ideas.

Identify the true relationship drivers – Create a list of attributes in your category and do a gap analysis to determine which are relationship drivers for the category and for your destination. Are the drivers tangible or intangible? Which do you need just to be considered? Which offer the highest return on investment and which aren’t worth spending time or money on? Don’t be afraid to invest in some consumer research at this stage. Good analysis will support decisions for a decade or more.

Get intimate with the consumer – Among travelers who visit your competitive space, what are their current perceptions of the category, your brand and your competitors? What keeps them up at night? What makes them happy, and what can improve their quality of life? Focusing on the relationship building drivers, ladder up the list of attributes to the place that resonates with consumers emotionally. What are they willing to believe about your place that is somehow different and more desirable than the competition?

So where does that leave you?

If you do your homework and answer all these questions, you should have a good understanding of what your destination is all about, what it can realistically deliver, and how your brand experience really differentiates it from competitors in the market. This journey of introspection is key to defining your position and establishing your message.

How to Keep Your Destination On-Brand

In 2010, destinations, resorts and attractions have an unprecedented array of communication channels through which to share their marketing messages.

  • Traditional mass media advertising
  • Niche market channels
  • Online communications
  • Social networks
  • On-site branding
  • Guerilla efforts
  • Word of mouth marketing

The list goes on

With so many unique messages going out to consumers and customers, how can marketers stay true to their brand’s promise of value? The answer is: with a well-defined brand position, a clear communication of brand values, and a few simple tools to help direct decision-making and inspire the troops.

Let’s face it; communications have changed. In response to media fragmentation and changing consumer habits, DMOs, CVBs, resorts and attractions are rethinking media strategies to leverage ‘owned’ media (their websites, social media channels and the destination itself) in addition to paid media. As the media strategy changes, so too must the messaging strategies. No longer is it as easy as having one message for one audience. Now destinations must have one brand position that can be expressed in many ways for a variety of small, diverse audiences.

Today we’re investing in our own channels to deliver richer communications to fewer people, a trend called ‘narrowcasting’. The goal is to engage the consumer in appropriate and desirable formats, when and where the audience seeks information. Compared to mass media messaging, this one-to-one (or one-to-a-few) approach demands all customer-facing employees – your customer service people, sales reps, marketers, managers, even maintenance workers – to be representatives of the destination.

With so many individuals acting as “the voice of the brand,” maintaining a single, consistent brand message is a greater challenge than ever. This issue of the Wanderlust Report will explore the importance of a solid brand position, and provide some tools and tips for keeping your message on-brand.

Paid Media: The Choice of Last Resort

In the old days, paid media – broadcast television, radio and print – was the way to get your strategic message out to a large audience. Most of your spend went to these mass media, and even though only a small percentage of the large consumer base responded, it was enough to fill your hotel or create long lines at the gates. The idea of investing in owned media was an afterthought, typically funded with the spare change left from the mass media buy. This model simply isn’t working anymore.

To move your marketing communications from this exposure and efficiencies model to one of engagement and effectiveness, you need to invert your plan, and move to one built around ‘owned’ media first, ‘earned’ media second and ‘paid’ media last. The more valuable  communications – ones that are both relevant and desirable to your audience – reach your target audiences when they’re actively seeking information and ready to engage. And when you invest in paid media, you don’t have to assume that traditional mass media is the only choice: be creative to get the most for your money. We’ve employed many non-traditional paid tactics to great success, such as:

  • Advertising on social networks
  • Paid search
  • Rich media banner advertising
  • Behavioral retargeting
  • Cinema advertising in feeder markets
  • Long form video on demand delivered through cable networks
  • Guerilla strategies at concerts and other large venues
  • Contextual advertising
  • Digital billboard advertising
  • Product placement

Engage audiences with more thoughtful media choices

Times have changed, and so must our travel and tourism marketing strategies. We can’t expect mass media alone to reach the very targeted audiences and niche markets required to fill beds and sell tickets. We must leverage owned and earned media for more effective communications and a higher return on our investment. Already these strategies are resulting in greater consumer engagement: reaching audiences that are more receptive, responsive and willing to help spread the word about a brand or destination – often with greater influence than paid media ever could. Imagine how they can perform if they are part of an integrated travel marketing communications plan.

Cutting to the chase

If your destination measures media exposure and efficiency rather than effectiveness, maybe it’s time to engage a more profitable audience. Embracing the new rules of engagement with customers can seem insurmountable, but by rethinking your media plan to make the most of your own channels, you can take advantage of low-cost, high-return opportunities to connect with your best customers and prospects.

If you need assistance to examine your communications and media strategies, contact Wanderlust today at 1-888-754-3210.

Using Earned Media To Attract Travelers

Some of the most trustworthy and reliable recommendations a resort or destination can receive are those of the free press, the unbiased reviews from guests or the opinions of established bloggers. These are the earned media outlets – you don’t control them, but if you deliver an authentic, honest brand experience, you’ll earn their attention and support.

Travel Destination Reviewers

Give your visitors the opportunity to share their experiences through your website, blog or social networks like TripAdvisor, Yelp, AroundMe and others.

Can you control what they say? No. Will you like everything they say? No. But if you make an effort to provide good service and deliver on your promise of value, you’ll earn respect and attract some more customers. Remember to take action when something is wrong, and respond promptly and with professional courtesy to complaints. Even dissatisfied customers can become repeat visitors if they feel respected and valued.


Travel Bloggers

Just what are they saying about your resort in the blogosphere? You are listening, aren’t you? Another medium you can’t control, but if you play your cards right, could be very beneficial to your business. Pay attention to the comments. Acknowledge your critics and correct your mistakes. Thank your fans. And join the conversation. You can learn a lot, and maybe show potential customers that you value their opinions.

News Release Distribution and Press Coverage

The media can be your best friend or worst nightmare, depending on how you manage your relationship. Becoming an expert source, a contributor or an involved member of the community will usually improve your reputation and earn some positive exposure for your destination.

Owned Media: Engaging Travel Consumers

Developing your own media channels

Why spend all of your budget paying for media exposure when you can now invest some of it to create your own channels and networks? Owned media – channels that you develop and manage yourself – allow you to engage the people you want as profitable repeat visitors for your destination. This is narrowcasting: creating a lot of content for a relatively small audience, one that’s much more receptive and therefore more likely to purchase.

Some examples of owned media: The destination itself. 

Almost every aspect of your physical destination presents an opportunity to make favorable impressions. You have a captive audience and a controlled environment where you can communicate your marketing message any way you choose. What will you do with it?

  • architecture & design
  • signage & way-finding
  • merchandising
  • point-of-sale
  • consumer facing staff training
  • customer service
  • mojo & ambiance

Resorts and attractions can have a great deal of control over physical issues such as appearance, ambiance, the experience, and even direct the way people move through and interact with the environment. CVBs and DMOs don’t have quite the same level of control. Their locations are influenced by many factors, including marketing partners, other local businesses and residents. They need to focus on the things they can control: the visibility and usage of brand identity and positioning, way finding and signage, experience-enhancing tools and materials, continuously communicating with and educating marketing partners so everyone is on the same page.

The Destination Website

Another media channel with seemingly unlimited potential. You can leverage SEO and keyword rankings to attract the right audience to your site. Develop a content strategy that provides key information, creates desire for your destination and converts prospects to customers. Serve up photos, videos, itineraries to fuel the imagination. And provide visitors the opportunity to share their experiences as testimonials and advocacy. You own the media – why wouldn’t you do all this and more?

Mobile Marketing To Travelers

More and more, your target audience relies on mobile devices for trip planning and day of travel navigation. Mobile marketing is another media you can own, by offering a mobile website interface to the right content and value-added applications that help travelers get the most out of their time and money.

Social Media in Travel

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, the list goes on. All virtually free to set up, reasonably

inexpensive to populate, and practically priceless for engaging the people you want as repeat customers. These tools were designed to share content and marketing messages on a one-to-one or one-to-a-few basis. Relevant? Hell yeah. Appropriate? Go easy on the sales messages, and you’re in. When your audience signs up to receive and comment on your marketing communications, you’re in a relationship, my friend. Just be sure to treat them right.

By all means, be creative

The wrapper on the mint on the pillow in your luxury suite. The underside of the seats on your ferris wheel. The temples of the 3D glasses you give out in the theater. The mirror in the ladies’ room. Your ticket stub. Your email signature. Your staff uniform. You probably own media that you’ve never thought of – that NO ONE has ever thought of.

Engagement and Effectiveness In Tourism Marketing

New media models focus on engaging travel consumers

Unlike old, mass media led strategies, the new engagement model emphasizes effectiveness of marketing communications rather than efficiency. The goal is to really connect with consumers. The media choices leverage their attentiveness, receptivity to ideas, conversations and buzz potential – and help deliver on an authentic brand experience. This is a significant change in communications philosophy – one that diverts media resources to deeper, richer exchanges with smaller audiences.

Today we’re creating more content for fewer people, and spending less to deliver each piece. This is what some insiders are calling ‘narrowcasting.’ Instead of dedicating the bulk of marketing spend to mass media channels such as network television and large circulation print vehicles, we’re diverting increasing dollars by investing in the brand experience, creating our own channels and focusing on tactical executions in a variety of media. The destination itself, its website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel are all owned media that allow marketers to engage the consumer in appropriate and desirable formats – when and where the audience seeks information. This relationship building approach can deliver a richer brand experience, and fosters consumer advocacy and word-of-mouth recommendations that carry great weight and credibility. Instead of being the center of the marketing communications effort, mass media’s role is now to grow and maintain momentum created by engaging customers.

Media influences on travel purchase decisions

Consumer preferences for travel destinations have always been influenced by media, word of mouth and recommendations from travelers and booking agents. Broadcast media’s influence is shrinking as channels diverge to serve ever smaller segments of the market. In the last 15 years, the Internet has become the foremost influence on the consumer’s decision and purchase process, and continues to grow every year.

Besides influencing purchase decisions, the Internet, websites, blogs, feeds and channels in social networks provide media options that didn’t exist 20 years ago. These are prime examples of owned media: “properties” that destinations and resorts create, manage and use to promote themselves for maximum visibility and deeper connections with customers.


Delivering communications when and where appropriate

The diagram above illustrates the hierarchy of effectiveness and impact of marketing communications and media’s ability to influence the audience’s purchase decision. For impact and higher return on the marketing investment, communications need to be relevant and believable, from trusted and plausible sources. Owned or ‘earned’ media vehicles such as websites, blogs and reviews are more appropriate for these direct and honest communications than paid media.