Category Archives: Destination Marketing

Bowling Green Tourism Claims ‘Geared for Fun’ and Begins Its Branding

Another destination branding project is underway. Our team has worked hard over the past several months in leading the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors’ Bureau to their current branding and marketing efforts. Recently we helped them introduce “Geared for Fun” as a theme for launching their work ahead. The entire organization appears to be excited and ready to create traction within the destination and poised to reach out to visitors with a strong compelling message.

The story below is from the local Bowling Green press covering the introduction.

“Bowling Green Rebranded As A Destination Geared for Fun”.

I am truly exited to watch them navigate their marketing efforts using their new brand direction and action plan.Image


Does Your City Sing? A Lesson In City Branding from Music City.

I have one of the best marketing jobs I know. For much of my business, I get to work with cities and communities for the purpose of helping them identify the best branding direction that can grow tourism and economic development. As a result, I have clients in different areas of the country. I learn about each one from the people that make the community what it is. I visit the best eateries they have to offer and experience the best spots of local interest. Culturally, it’s really amazing.


Many people ask me, “What does it take for a city to brand itself successfully?”

I don’t have an easy answer for that one, mainly because I believe a city has a more difficult challenge branding itself than any public or private company. This is because unlike Apple, Disney or McDonald’s, a city does not own its name. It must share it with other businesses that use it, as well as every single resident (imagine how many businesses include the name Nashville). As a result, anyone’s efforts could positively or negatively affect your brand image. And unlike other brands, since no single entity owns the name, a city cannot take legal action against someone for misusing its name. Yikes!

So what’s the key to city branding success? It’s not a new ad campaign, it’s not a logo, it’s not even a cool line such as “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” The key is in a city’s ability to deliver authentic experiences and in how well its residents and visitors are engaged in evangelizing the city to others. In other words, pridewell spoken. Try crafting a marketing plan to make that happen. It’s not that easy. It takes buy-in and long-term commitment from local city organizations and private investors. This requires a deliberate process of collaboration with room for organic spontaneity. In other words, when everyone sings the same note, music happens.

Nashville does the above beautifully. Of course, it’s easy for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau to market Music City. Honky tonks, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame are just starters for delivering this experience. But the reason Nashville “sings” is because doses of Music City are sprinkled everywhere. Here is a small starter list:

  • The Nashville Technology Council gives out guitars as awards at their annual Technology Awards. By the way, they use the theme line, “Feel the Beat of Technology.”Image
  • Bicycle racks shaped like giant microphones and musical notes are a public art project.
  • The city serves as headquarters for Country Music Association, International Bluegrass Music Association, Gospel Music Association, the Americana Music Association and even the Barbershop Harmony Society.
  • Vanderbilt Medical Center frequently uses imagery of guitars in its advertising.
  • One downtown parking garage names its floors after iconic country music stars (yes there is a Johnny Cash floor).
  • In a brilliant collaboration between tourism and the City Public Works, “live music venue” signs map out the countless number of locations that deliver a live music experience.
  • And of course there are festivals, marathons, national TV shows (go “Nashville!”) and more.

So, what does it take for a city to “sing?” It takes a village. The more people that are united and proud of the place where they live, work and play, the louder one strong note can be heard. I encourage you to sing for your community. It will make your city’s voice stronger and louder, which creates more business for everyone.

Five Ways Destination Brands Can Be Built Organically

I help destinations and communities with the process of branding themselves. It’s not an easy task. Perhaps mostly because unlike any company, there is no sole organization or person that has control of the marketing efforts. A “place” is defined by ALL of the businesses, people, organizations, buildings and stories within it. And all of them speak in a different voice. It is very important for the lead organizations of a community to rally together and capture a unified voice that can be used for outward marketing of tourism and economic development. That process requires great collaboration, organization, expertise and resources. Even when that happens, I’ve learned the communities that are most successful, do so because of related (and sometimes not) organic events that give them instant identification. Here are five that jump to mind.

1.  What’s your team? Seems a little strange right? Does your community have a professional sports team? If so what is their name? Bowling Green, KY has the Hotrods. Chattanooga has the Lookouts. Green Bay has the Packers. Pittsburgh has the Steelers. Houston has the Oilers…oopImageps… I mean the Texans:) If you do not have a team, you can still ask the question, “What would it be called”? More often than not teams are named based on the heritage and the core identifier of the community.

2. What are your greatest exports? Exports are products that are marketed outside of your community to the rest of the world. You’d be amazed how much this influences perceptions of your community. Ask anyone about Augusta, GA and they’ll say the Masters. Gainesville, FL is almost always associated with the Florida Gators. Gibson guitars are known throughout the world but are all made in Nashville. Does your community have export products like Louisiana Hot Sauce? You’d be surprised at how many you have but no one knows they are from your town. Locating these partners and persuading use of your city name in their marketing (or at least their labels) can go a long way.

3. Tap into community pride. No one thinks your town is a great place to live, work and play more than the people who live, work and play in it. Arguably one of the greatest destination branding efforts of all time was “I Love NY”. This effort started by the need to give New Yorkers a sense of pride (and pick up their trash). You can do the same thing. Recently Bowling Green, KY dedicated an entire week and day to “I love BG day“. Merchants across the city were giving out specials to anyone who was wearing the “I love BG” button. Grand Prairie, TX had a similar effort using “100 Reasons Why I Love Grand Prairie“, where locals were encouraged to submit their own entry. In all cases, these bring out authentic experiences and stories that capture a sense of pride.

4. Your events. What are your showcase events and festivals? No, not your 4th of July festival or Christmas parade. Everyone has those. What are the signature events your community has that give it definition? An International BBQ Festival like the ones in Owensboro, KY or Memphis? Dublin, OH has an Irish Festival greater in size than it’s population. Shreveport-Bossier City, LA is know for its Mudbug Madness. Even Music City’s crowning event is the CMA Music Fest. Events are great because they first and foremost give the residents and businesses a common time and place to connect with each other. The breadth of it attracts outsiders and gives them a taste of your unique culture. What is your marquee event say about you. If you do not have one, what should it be?

5. A community’s appearance. We all define ourselves by what we wear. Whether its sweater vests, suits, daisy duke shorts, flip flops, tie-dye shirts or flannels. So of course, the “dress” of your destination does that same. If you destination’s skyline or first noticeable visual is a grain silo or a barn, then do not be surprised if people see you as a farm town. A community’s architecture, streetscapes, and cleanliness says a lot about who it is. Ask Columbus, IN who is constantly listed as one of the top five architecturally significant cities in the country. Their bridges, fire departments, libraries, churches and even city hall are testaments to their commitment to great design. It’s a little unexpected but definitely sets a new expectation for the type of thinking that comes out of this community of 30,000 people. So one BIG way to make a dent in your destination’s identity is to involve your local public works and area developers in your branding plans.

There are many ways to create a destination of distinction, but hopefully these will get your juices flowing towards action. I would submit these things can do far more for branding a destination than a great catchphrase or logo. One more thing, please refrain from using “A great place to live work and play as positioning message”. Everyone does it and no one outside of your community cares. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Truth.

A little hint for marketers of traditional public and private organizations, the idea behind all of these can apply to any business. Try it.

This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Ad Agency – Be the Agency of the Future Now

This past week I was privileged to speak at the Lexington Ad Club on the topic of the agency of the future. Being a career ad agency brat, I have witnessed the transformation of the ad industry. The business was once the hot bed for young creative talent that gave agencies the reputation for being idea factories. Life was sexy in the world of 30-second TV spots. Today, idea is still king but it is not always found through broadcast and traditional media. Those days are gone. The digital media revolution has been fast and curious and the agency world has had its share of casualties. As the smoke clears, a  new world of marketing agency is emerging. And you know what? I like it. It makes sense. I shared my list of 10 Things to Become the Agency of the Future – Now. Here they are. Are you ready?

1. Walk the walk if you are going to be a marketer.

I walked out of the traditional agency world and realized I didn’t know Jack-squat (official marketing term) about digital marketing. How could I call myself a marketing professional? So I took on the challenge of getting a digital make-over. Sure it was awkward at first, but at least I traded in my Blackberry for an iPhone.

2. Know when to scale up or down.

Clients want to see you don’t always have the same solution for all creative services. Some talent warrants a larger price tag than others. When you employ one web designer, guess who you re going to tell your client is the best person? Having a network of talent at different levels allows you to pull the right one for the gig.

3. Identify your specialists – networking matters.

We are in an age of specialists when it comes to creative design and production. We need great designers. Great developers. Great app developers. Great film makers. Great storytellers.

4. Try something different & uncomfortable with your clients.

Agencies of yesterday were guilty of going to the same solutions over and over again. Today there are so many media channels, clients need to see we are constantly looking for new ways to engage with their customers. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you do, say “that sucked” and move on.

5. Be frugal but clearly make a profit.

The days of scheduling elaborate photo shoots at Shutters in Santa Monica are over. Show clients you are carefully watching their dollars but also be clear on what you are making. By the way, I do not believe in commissions! There I said it. Charge your time but not a handling fee.

6. Blog. 

Blogging continues to grow and research shows that CEO’s and CMO’s read them regularly. It shows them you have an opinion and reveals your marketing insight capability (or not I guess).

7. Peel back the curtain. Collaborate with others and clients.

Agencies were always guilty of acting like there was some big magic show going on when no one else was around. Wanna hear the truth? They worked on other clients business and came up with the ideas at the last-minute. The secret was organized chaos. And that’s a beautiful creative train wreck to watch. I love it. Bring your client into this mess and have some fun. Today’s clients see those hidden meetings as a waste of time. Bring them in so they see the magic. Don’t be surprised if they come up with some cool ideas.

8. Fish where the fish are will always be a smart media-channel strategy.

This is a really simple marketing principle if we stay disciplined enough to follow it.

9. Ideas matter. Always have always will.

Big ideas do not have to be expensive. If we release ourselves from the 30-second TV spot we’ll be free to think about al the other solutions out there. The ideas will get bigger.

10. Build real stories and create conversations. Remember WWBRD?

Today’s consumers have the power. Broadcasting is not an effective marketing strategy (here’s a hilarious example of typical broadcasting-style of marketing). Today’s marketing must focus on engagement. My rule for this is easy – What would Bonnie Raitt do? She’d give them something to talk about of course. Do that in your marketing and you will win.

Three Easy Steps for Creating Community Brand Ambassadors

It’s no secret. Everyone knows that creating a strong brand starts from the inside. A company’s culture drives how it delivers a powerful brand experience to its customers (the most well-known examples of this are Disney and Southwest airlines). This philosophy is no different when marketing a city. The people that live and work within the community are the drivers at deliverying what outsiders experience. It’s funny, I recently have had a lot of questions from destination marketers about the importance of their logo in ther delivery of their branding efforts. My response is to call a time-out and evaluate your branding efforts from the inside first. That being said, here are three easy ways to create your most important branding weapons – your people.

1. Know thy self

The best way to do this is ask people (also known as research). This has to be the DNA of your community. If it’s true, your residents know it. The result is they say things like: We’re about music. We have cool breweries. We love our sports. Great place for healthcare solutions. Today it is easier than ever to get this information: Interviews. Facebook. online surveys. Intercepts. The only reason you do not know is because you do not ask. So ask.


2. Tell the same story

The only way this can happen is if you spend time communicating internally. Just because every knows you does not mean they all tell the same story. Arm your businesses and residents with easy tools such as: local awards for businesses that best represent the community brand; branding workshops so businesses know the community brand story and can have an easy map for applying it for their own marketing success; and finally sometimes a tagline can be enough for others to hang onto and understand (it works great for Music City).


3. Empower your people

Tools such as strong signage can help local businesses be a part of a city's branding efforts.

Branding a community is a constant process. It does not stop by the completion of some research or the development of a marketing plan. One way to ensure the ongoing success of building and shaping your brand is by assembling a rolling community branding task force (I choose to not use the “committee” word) made up of members of your community in areas such as: education, healthcare, private and pubic businesses, entrepreneurs, the chamber, your tourism organization, economic development and local arts organizations. Set goals and follow a plan. Providing others with tools works. Take Nashville for example, Live Music City Venue signs are all over town and proudly displayed. This program is a strong driver of tourism (from out of towners as well as local home-town tourists).


Do you have any examples to share? Ideas? I would love to hear them.

How to Create a Strong Destination Brand Online

We had a great session at the Georgia Governor’s Conference on Tourism last week, talking about how to apply the basics of branding to the online space.

For those of you that missed it. Here are the headlines –

1. Your branding efforts online are more important than any other form of promotion outside of your destination. Yes I said it. There. Why? Marketing 101 – fish where the fish are.

2. The biggest areas online where you can create some impact with your branding are: search marketing, social media (of course), online travel agents (TripAdvisor) and of course your website.

3. How do you brand yourself online? Same way as you always have – tell your story, but now let others help.

4. Your website is your most important visitor information center. Yes, more important than the brick and mortar centers. Lots of effort goes into funding these beautiful

5. Approach creating your online visitor information center (aka your website) the same way as you would a physical building. How can you create your destination experience? Hints of it. Great examples of this are: and

6. Today, great content is more important for branding than groovy colors and templates. Creative Directors back off. I love the power of design. It is rich and memorable. But online content rules. What people say about you matters most and that is what social and search marketing are all about.

7. How do you get people talking about your brand – WWBRD (What would Bonnie Raitt do)? Give ’em something to talk about.

8. Search marketing is a wonderful way to brand yourself for niche markets (examples we discussed were people who dig corvettes, caves or antique travel). Two easy rules to remember regarding search marketing – #1 you are who your links say you are; #2 you are what others say you are.

Finally, LISTEN. Develop a routine method for monitoring your brand online. Does it have the same perceptions as you real physical experience? You’d better find out. If anyone is interested in a Destination Digital Footprint, a costs effective method for evaluating your online brand give me a buzz.

Good luck.

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LeBrand James Is a Destination Marketing Stimulus Package

Some people are already calling it the LeBron Effect.

Here’s a great destination marketing strategy – bring in the most anticipated, over-hyped, ridiculously over-exposed, amazingly talented and marketable free-agent in the history of American professional sports. Lebron Fest 2010 AKA “The Decision”, was big and Miami will reap the rewards. Don’t believe me? Check out what’s already happening:

1. “It’s tantamount to signing the Beatles to a season-long engagement at our stadium,” said Scott Becher, president of Boca Raton-based Sports and Sponsorships.

2. Rick Horrow, author and sports business commentator estimates a 30-40% increase in sponsorships and overall revenue for the Miami Heat. Maybe more.

3. Expected to create an additional $10 million in playoff revenue along (assuming the guys take it deep into the playoffs and reach the Finals each year). The city of Miami has been projected to make an estimated $27 million per playoff game. Wow. Talk about an economic impact. (John Skorburg, an economics professor at the University of Illinois did a Lebron economic impact study).

4. Of course the Heat have only one year left on their TV contract with Clear Channel. Think they’ll be salivating to open that one up for bidders?

5. Ticket sellers are digging the renewed interest in Miami basketball. The day before The Decision, season tickets were going for $3,238. The day afterwards a 2.5x increase, selling for $8,249. Yikes.

6. Real estate agents are already seeing an uptick in request for property. One convinced a buyer to pay an extra $100,000 on a $1.5 million deal near the AmericanAirlines arena. The sudden demand from international buyers are directly connected to LeBron – they’re asking for Heat tickets to be part of their deal.

7. “The L-Brat James” has been created. A spicy themed bratwurst.

Yes, the CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is probably pinching himself. It’s good to be in business in Miami thanks to these little words, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach.

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