Why doesn't everyone in the tourist industry understand the basic principles of place branding? I'm damned if I know! We recently had a conversation with a local politician who was telling us about a town near us that has quite a famous monument in it and attracts a lot of tourists, who look at it, snap some photos, get on a tour bus and leave. How could they retain visitors and keep their spend in the local economy?, we were asked. All went silent and we recently saw a press release saying that the town in question was offering vouchers to visitors who spent more than €15 in the town, giving them free admission to the monument. They had also erected signs at the bus park, pointing to the town, telling them of the wonderful emporia that awaited them, just a short walk away.

Hmmmmm, we said. Will this work? Definitely not! God loves a trier we said. They would have been better off saving the money spent on print and signage and performing some sort of tribal dance to appease the gods of tourism, rather than this effort.

So what should they have done, in our humble opinion? What is the key to effective place branding? Being innovation specialists, we retreat to simple customer discovery. Who do they want to visit the town? and why should they? Tell them that the town has everything they need to have the experience they expect and desire and DELIVER ON IT!

We start by defining the customer. Initially, this is using simple segmentation techniques. Then we hone in closer. Define their persona. Who are they, really? Not what they project, but what really pushes their buttons. Go deeper than they may even understand themselves. We find their emotional stimuli. We also try to get inside their heads to understand the type of experience they want when they visit a place. Why do we go so deep? It's because, as with all theory of experiential marketing, the visitor is buying a memory. The word experience is bandied around in these contexts. We like to define it as a memory with an emotional attachment. It is very important to make sure that the offer appeals to that emotional reaction. Of course, this must be tempered by applying the process to the right people. There is no sense in offering old world charm to someone looking for a night of clubbing! We make the place into a destination. It becomes part of the itinerary. It must be somewhere where they want to stop, that they know will create the positive emotional memories they wish for.

The next step is a little tricky. As we now know what to offer these people, we have to deliver. With place branding this means bringing all interested parties on board and using service design tools create the experience in a tangible way. This can be an art in itself, as we have to deal with a raft of different organisations, from local tourist board staff to bar owners. A simple pictorial example of the offer is the best method. Design a poster showing the offering. Brainstorm and seek input from all the stakeholders involved and implement some ideas. Get the digital offer right. They must have a positive pre-experience. The trip should be seen as beginning at that moment and the positive emotional memories must start there.

So, in short, the visitor must know what to expect. It should communicate with them emotionally from the first step. This emotional journey must continue and be borne in mind with every step the visitor has. We must remember that the pre-experience could very well start with checking out someone else's views on Trip Advisor. We want them to be so delighted that the memories have gone beyond their experience and stay with them so strongly, that they will recommend the destination to all their friends, real and virtual. Get it right and watch the impact it will have on visitor numbers.

So good luck with the vouchers and signs. You'll need it!!!!!

Written by Dermot O'Reilly and Bernadette Clancy, innovation specialists at Solutions Consultancy Ireland.



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Bernadette Clancy and Dermot O'Reilly. 

Ireland's Design Thinking and Innovation Specialists

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