Tourism Without Branding

In a competitive landscape, lack of differentiation equals commodity.

There isn’t a commodity out there that gets to charge a premium--not one red cent more--unless there are no competitors. Commodities are complete substitutes. No one cares if you swap out one for another, because they’re all the same. There is little differentiation. A beach here is basically the same as a beach there. A lift and lodging deal here is the same as a deal over there.

Let’s say you’re in the lobby of a hotel, or at a rest stop, or even surfing the web.

You happen upon a brochure (or website) for a ski resort. You flip through it. How much of it was truly unique? How much differentiation was created in your mind as you viewed it? Aside from a few facts about physical attributes, what popped off the page as truly unique? I’d bet you saw one or two money shots showing off the snow, a few more generic skiing and riding action shots, some lifestyle photographs and maybe a cute kid with a helmet and goggles, right?

Let’s use another example.

You pick up a travel magazine at your local newsstand, and page through it casually as you wait for a phone call, or sip coffee. It’s an issue about beach getaways. How many different ads will feature a photo of a woman, on a lounge chair, with a palm tree? It might surprise a lot of destination marketers to learn that a common response to ads like these is “Great. A Beach. So what?”

To make matters worse, online travel agencies, aggregators, and directory websites seem to have trained the consuming public to look for low price as the only driver of choice. The websites that people like to go to see how much it would cost to fly to Denver, or Miami aren’t in the business of helping create differentiation, or build a strong brand, or introduce a destination to a new audience. For them, it’s all about transaction volume.

The result? Lots of great deals for the consumer, but travel brands become uninteresting in a hurry if they’re not the cheapest deal.

Features and attributes are not meaningful points of differentiation

For those on the inside of the business, it’s especially important to see things from the consumers
perspective. Many marketers take stock of the features or attributes they have to sell or promote, and attempt to create a brand position around them. The problem is that many of those attributes (a ski lift, a beach, a restaurant, activities for kids) aren’t all that unique. Lots of places have beaches, don’t they?

This is why creating differentiation within a particular sub-category is so vital to a strong competitive position, and can really drive preference, market share, and bottom line growth.