Destination Marketing: The modern successful brand’s modus operandi

As competition increases and brand loyalty decreases, it’s becoming ever-more difficult to make your brand stand out from the crowd.

Add the modern-day consumer focus on the ‘experience’ economy (where people value experiences over things) to the mix and the challenge becomes even more difficult to navigate.

That said, there are ways to use these new rules of engagement to your benefit – and bring destination marketing into play.

Can destination marketing turn today’s brand challenges into bigger and better opportunities? Yes. But before we look at how, let’s define what it actually is.

Experience Economy

Focusing on the experience

Since ‘Destination Marketing’ was coined in 1998, many believe that we now live in a post-service economy: the experience economy.

This thinking stems from the fact that cheap technology, changing consumer expectations and hugely increased competition has led services (and often products) to become more generic and more like commodities.

Which means consumers now value experiences more than things.

In other words price – though still a strong consideration – isn’t the main purchase driver. More often, it’s the experience throughout all customer touch points of the purchase journey that’s sealing the deal, so to speak.

Airbnb is a great example. They realised that their target audience wanted something more than a physical product. So they moved into a new space – augmenting their main product-based offering with an experience-based offer.

In practice, that meant creating a strong connection between their main product (the holiday rental home) and the highly personal experience provided by local experts.

Destination Marketing

Destinations like no other

"If you’re making a commitment to experiences, you’ve got to ensure they’re memorable, shareable and repeatable, and there are a lot of brands who are trying new things out both online and in-store."

Jill Standish –
Head of Accenture's Retail Practice

Destination marketing creates a reason for people to visit and interact with your brand. Whatever the business, successful destination marketing compels them to experience your brand when they’re physically there, keep the service or product in the front of their mind and return in the future.

Apple are experts in the field. Free seminars, new product training, non-ordinary physical store environments, a welcoming attitude even for non-purchasers and a general feeling of ‘a good experience’. These destination marketing elements have bucked the trend of brick-and-mortar stores and delivered £4,207 in sales per square foot while other retailers are having to scale back their physical-world presence.

Bumble – the online dating app – recently broke with industry tradition too, to set up a physical space in New York for singles to meet. The Hive embodies Bumble’s brand with yellow and hexagonal furnishings — and links members’ online and offline interactions.

And while it’s a long-established brand, Virgin still sets new brand benchmarks with a destination that spans travel to health and wellness. It leads the way technologically too, from Virgin America’s ‘Seat with a View’ initiative that lets customers test their seat before they book, to Virgin Active’s ‘The Pack’ class which digitally tracks your workout and using other members in the class as your competition. Virgin is enhancing the purchase process, ‘in flight’ experience and creating a higher-value product across all of it’s brands.

These exceptional experiences keeps customers coming back. And as other brands start to harness the power and influence of the new experience economy, success will be defined by those that effectively reinvent themselves as destinations rather than just the facilitator of a transaction.


The building blocks of destination marketing

Destination marketing has three distinct phases. Each is crucial to a brand’s success in the experience economy.

Phase one: The initial attraction
Phase two: The ‘in flight’ experience that drives the behaviours the brand desires
Phase three: The call to return for additional experiences

It’s vital that a brand masters all three phases. Plus, the reality must match the promise. ’In flight’ experiences must fulfil the messages in the initial attraction. And additional experiences must be painless or the entire brand will be damaged.


How does destination marketing actually help brands?

Destination branding can combat a lot of the challenges posed by the commoditisation of services and products.

Three common ones are:

  1. Creating a point of difference — past a product or service offer
  2. Delivering a clear, consistent brand message across all channels, right along the customer journey
  3. Translating service or customer care ethos from the physical to the digital realm


Welcome to your truly unique selling point

Differentiation is key in a cluttered and busy market. Drawing on a cultural brand story helps to create a ‘soul’ for the brand, which is a truly unique offer. While products, designs and fashions can be copied, the brand story is individual to the brand and cannot be replicated.

A good example is the way Burberry took their brand from chav to chic. They focused their communications on their brand and product heritage, while simultaneously paring back the chequered print many saw as synonymous with their reduced influence in luxury markets.

Under Armour sales are currently showing what happens when you don’t have a story to tell.

A newish brand, its shares have slipped after a seemingly inevitable rise. Twelve months ago, they were changing hands for up to £33. They recently dropped to £14 – their lowest level in four years.

The problem? Under Armour doesn’t have Nike or Adidas’ heritage. These established brands have tapped into nostalgia in a way that Under Armour simply cannot do, promoting their historical associations with top athletes through old footage – and ongoing relationships that underpin new products.

It’s a story that can’t be replicated or short-circuited. And that’s a dangerous failing that Under Armour hasn’t fully realised.

Aligning the brand

A clear, consistent message

A brand that aligns its message across all its touch points and maximises the strength of each platform will create a seamless experience for its customer - the ultimate goal.

At Sectorlight, one of our key beliefs is that you shouldn’t use digital for digital’s sake. Too many businesses jump into a new trend without planning how it fits into a marketing strategy and end up creating communications, services and products – digital and physical – that are slightly inconsistent in look, feel and tone.

The result is that customers don’t understand your brand because it looks and sounds different with each interaction; it’s almost schizophrenic behaviour. And it’s always been difficult to build a relationship with consumers if your communications don’t match up.

Surprise and delight

Creating the digital ‘you’

A good destination marketing strategy harnesses technology to bring a product or service to life in a way that surprises and delights consumers.

Burberry, yet again, is a great example. They brought the power of technology to bear across all three phases of their destination marketing. As part of a seven-year digital transformation, their physical and digital experiences are now so frictionless that customers say that walking into their physical store is like walking into their website – creating a huge point of difference between them and their competitors.

Another brand leading the digital push is Marriott. Their digital concierge is a carefully thought-out initiative. Guests are increasingly reliant on mobile technology for day-to-day tasks and expect hotels to help. So when a digital concierge matches that ambition with mobile check-in and room service, it enhances their engagement in the brand.

The beauty of the digital concierge is that it’s a digital manifestation of Marriott’s passion for service - one that suddenly provides a service customers can no longer live without.

In a similar vein, beauty chain Sephora have unveiled two pilot ‘New Sephora Experiences’ in Nantes and Val d’Europe. A display table greets customers at the entrance with the latest trends, tutorials and new Made in Sephora and Exclusives products, updated around a different theme each month.

Inside, as well as beauty classes and workshops led by professionals, a new Beauty Hub gives customers the chance to experiment with looks on an iPad or a connected mirror — which you can share directly on social media. Everything backs up the brand’s promise of freedom, fun and personal expression.


It’s time to create your dream destination

The experience economy is here — and has been for a while now.

It’s actively shaping how brands, across all spectrums, redefine themselves and stay relevant to consumers.

Success in this new economy will come down to how well brands position themselves as true destinations - creating a reason for consumers to visit, experience and return to a brand; whether it’s a physical place, a website or an app.

Thinking about creating a seamless and consistent ecosystem of interactions, the key thing to remember is that the ‘experience’ needs to live up to all the hype that the ‘attraction’ creates. Likewise, after the ‘experience’ consumers shouldn’t be let down by a poor follow-up or interactions that don’t match the ‘experience’.

By mastering all three phases of destination marketing across brand, digital and creative, brands should start to see positive changes in brand perception, ultimately increasing loyalty and advocacy.