Quarterly Publications

The Brand Difference


Is There Really Anything New to Say about Destination Brands?

What can we say that hasn’t already been said? After all, how many industry conferences have you attended where some guru lent his or her wisdom to this already well-covered subject? How many books and articles have you seen that espouse the virtues of your benefits, core essence, brand personality, and universal selling proposition? If you Google the phrase “brand theory,” you get something like 10 million hits! There seems to be no end to the catch-phrases, jargon, and diagrams claiming a “new approach” to brand creation, communication, and management.

Sure, we can all agree that branding is important for destinations. There’s no doubt that every one of our planning assignments involves a close look at our client’s existing brand, as well as their “aspirational” brand. We help them translate these aspirations into the new strategies and experiences that will help them see their future. And we see that innovation can lead to new and exciting ways to use destination brands as an integral part of a destination’s growth strategy.

Our work leads us to believe that there is still plenty of “unexplored frontier” in the development and application of destination brands. Brands are a tool, and as with any complex and powerful tool, the better you understand them, the better you can use them to your benefit. And of course, there are dangers to applying powerful tools without proper understanding and training.

One thing is clear: Destination brands are different than other consumer products brands. If we are to use destination brands effectively, we must understand these
fundamental differences.

In this issue, PGAV’s Tom Owen will identify and discuss the application of four “realms” that are unique to destination brands. We ask five industry experts to give us their thoughts on the differences between destination brands and other types of consumer product brands. Luís Rullán, CEO of PortAventura, talks about the evolution of his attraction-based destination into a fully developed resort brand. And we will outline a powerful new trend of “embedded” product brands in leisure experiences.


Luis Rullan

Chairman and CEO, PortAventura, Spain

How would you describe PortAventura?

It’s an exciting destination, perhaps the most unique experience in the South of Europe for families on short holidays. You have many special opportunities in our 2,000-acre community. And, we’re easy to access from Madrid and Barcelona.

What brought you to your position?

Fifteen years ago, I took my children to a summer camp in West Virginia. In a chance conversation, someone on our flight directed us to see Busch Gardens Williamsburg while in the States. I had never seen anything like this, even though I worked for a large Spanish hotel company. I thought it would be incredible for Europe. Three years later, I read about plans to open a theme park near Barcelona and applied to manage this project.

How has PortAventura changed since you’ve been at the helm?

We now offer much more than the original 200-acre theme park designed in the early 90s. It was a seasonal park, closed 5 to 6 months of the year. Our reinvigorated business plan focused on new attractions not just for summer, but for the winter season as well, such as Halloween and Christmas activities. Our vision was to attract customers 365 days a year and 24 hours a day, something I was used to in the hotel industry.

What are you most proud of?

Today, we are a true holiday destination, not only a theme park. Visitors come for three days, not just one. Our customers are from all over Europe, not just Spain. While we once had 2.5 million visitors per year, we now attract 4 million visitors and 2 million are drawn from faraway places.

We aim to be the best leisure resort in Europe and always emphasize customer satisfaction. We want our visitors to recommend PortAventura, in the same way that I first heard about Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

What’s up next?

Golf is a growing sport in our country, and we are positioning it as a new business in our refined and expanded branding strategy. We will open three courses in 2008, two of them designed by Greg Norman. Another new business direction is to attract corporations, and in 2009, we will open a convention center for 4,000 people and a 550-room, themed hotel, both with awesome views of the Mediterranean. A golf hotel is scheduled for 2010, and an entertaining and shopping district, beach hotel, and 400 residences along the golf courses are planned for 2011. Residentially, we are building our resort to have an equal mix of primary and vacation homes.

When did you learn English?

I did not know English until 1994, when I was the CEO and GM of the Spanish hotel chain. I also speak French, German, Castilian and Catalan.

How does it help to work with American consultants?

In the leisure industry of hotels and vacations, American consultants have tremendous knowledge. With Spain being the second most visited country in the world, it is important to integrate the American hospitality experience in Spanish destinations. PGAV Destination Consulting did excellent work on the original design of PortAventura, and we are delighted they are assisting with our 15-year Master Plan.


Survey Question: How do destination brands differ from other consumer products brands?

Kevin Mills
President and CEO
South Carolina Aquarium

“There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about experiential marketing, and yet all products are experienced in one way or another. The advantage that destination brands enjoy is in their capacity to stimulate a variety of senses and create multiple experiences – some intentional, others not. For example, at the Aquarium a family might attend a program on climate change, have lunch, and get splashed by a sea turtle. That’s powerful!”


Peggy Lents
Senior Vice President, Communications
Missouri Botanical Garden

“Destination branding… ah, the seductive lure of the destination… filled with promise… a vision of what might be… unique, one-of-a-kind, unforgettable… a memory of a lifetime… the retelling of the movie in our mind… implying a creative perfection. On the other hand, consumer branding evokes reliability, consistency, integrity and honesty… upholding rigorous standards… worthy of our faith and repeated “visits”… perfection of another kind.”


Elizabeth Sims
Vice President
The Biltmore Company

“Because so much of what we experience today is virtual, we long for sensual, meaningful, authentic human experiences. We are a culture hungry for learning and have an insatiable desire for personal experiences and enrichment. The dynamic nature of the destination brand provides the perfect platform for immersion, personal interpretation and reward, and, perhaps most important, the invaluable gift of memories.”


Roger Kurtz
Senior Vice President
Odyssey Marine Entertainment

“A brand is the perception a consumer has of a product. That perception is formed by different influences to which a consumer is exposed. The difference between a destination brand and a consumer product brand lies in the scope of influences and how they can be controlled by the marketer. The influences for a destination brand could be word-of-mouth, marketing, airport, airline, ground transportation, hotel, attractions, locals, restaurants, shops, weather, etc. Influences for a consumer brand are fewer – such as word-of-mouth, marketing, packaging, purchase environment, and quality of product e.g., taste or performance. There are more uncontrollable influences in a destination brand than in a consumer product brand.”


Jukka M. Laitamaki, Ph.D
Clinical Associate Professor
Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management
New York University

Consumers buy tangible products that meet their needs vs. Consumers live through emotional destination brand experiences that fulfill their desires

  1. Regarding tangible goods, consumers buy a bundle of functional product benefits that meet their needs. The tangible product itself is often at the center of the brand, and the branding focus is mainly on communication that supports the brand. If functional benefits don’t provide enough differentiation, then the brand communication addresses emotional and self-expressive benefits.
  2. Destination brands are emotional experiences that consumers live through rather than buy. Consumers will choose between destination brands depending on how well they can fulfill their desires for a certain type of an emotional experience. Product type brand communication (e.g. tag lines and slogans) provides mere brand awareness but not strong enough emotional associations. Destination brands should focus on creating meaningful brand personalities that create emotional connections that differentiate and resonate with consumers.

Product brand owner produces a product vs. Destination brand experience is co-produced by the consumer

  1. Consumer product based brands are most often a set of tangible functional benefits which are designed and produced based on consistent production processes. Consumers provide input for the product design but they are not part of the brand production process.
  2. Destination brands are emotional experiences where the consumer is at the center of the brand production process on real time basis. The branding focus should be on hundreds of brand touch points which can either increase or decrease consumer perceived value. Destination brand experiences are difficult to produce due to consumer involvement and inseparability of production and consumption. They often lack service design which results in problems with delivery of functional benefits (e.g. flights are delayed, hotel rooms are not clean). Destination brands should be produced based on solid service designs with high reliability (they need to work every time) in order for the consumer to trust that the destination brand will keep its promise and fulfill his/her desires.

Product brand owner controls the production vs. Nobody controls destination brand experience delivery

  1. The consumer brand owner has often a complete control over the product manufacturing process.
  2. Destination brand experiences are produced by multiple entities with sometimes conflicting goals. Destination brand has to be based on local culture, and it has to have strong support from local stakeholders such as politicians, officials, labor and residents. Consumer wants an authentic brand experience which is why destination brands need strong coordination among stakeholders so that the brand identity and reality match each other. Destination brand identity cannot be based on lowest common denominators among stakeholders – it has to be based on brand essence that is authentic, competitive, provides differentiation and motivates various stakeholders to deliver the brand promise.


Embedded in the Experience

Consumer products companies want to help you have a good time on vacation. Or they should, if they want to make positive impressions with you during your precious leisure time.

Marketing to the vacationing consumer represents a unique opportunity to “embed” product brand messages into leisure experiences. In a recent article in Inc. Magazine called “Leisure Pursuits – Why Marketers Are Increasingly Trying to Reach People on Vacation” (July 2007), Stephanie Clifford describes this opportunity: “You’re relaxed, you’re open to trying new things, and you’re spending freely… you are in an ideal state of mind to absorb marketing messages.”

There is no doubt that the “embedded message” can be powerful, but it often requires a great deal of care to avoid the impression of intruding on the vacationer’s psyche. PGAV’s Mike Konzen was interviewed for the Inc. Magazine article and cautions, “People are very protective of leisure time. When you’re in that highly protected zone, you tend to try to filter out things that are overtly commercial. So when we see consumer products companies getting involved in destinations, we tell them to be more creative about how they’re doing it.”

Creativity and good partnerships between destinations and consumer products companies can be the key for success. Increasingly, destination operators are taking the lead in crafting the opportunity, and finding the right branding partner to help make this happen. As PGAV develops strategic plans for destinations, we often identify potential product brands that are compatible with the destination’s brand. Ultimately to succeed, the embedded message must be perceived as adding to, rather than detracting from the overall experience.

For a destination, the result of a successfully embedded experience can be powerful. Sponsorship dollars can fund significant portions of capital improvements, and provide ongoing operating revenue. Innovative co-branding with significant consumer brands can provide national promotional exposure at minimal cost. And perhaps most importantly, an effective partnership can lead to an enhanced visitor experience. The truly embedded message feels like a natural extension of the experience.

In our work, PGAV has identified five key ways in which destinations can benefit from embedding marketing messages in leisure experiences:

Presenting Sponsors: This is the most typical approach, and creates positive associations for the consumer product company by generally contributing to the destination experience. For instance, at the Georgia Aquarium, each of the major galleries have presenting sponsors such as Georgia-Pacific, Sun Trust Bank, Home Depot, Air Tran, and AT&T.

Product Demonstrations: Sometimes, the best way to demonstrate a product’s benefits is by placing it in the hands of the consumer. And if this trial-use can enhance the vacation experience, so much the better. At the National Geographic Grand Canyon Visitor Center, Sony offers high-end digital cameras for free to use during your day in the Canyon. They’ll teach you how to take great pictures, and at the end of the day, will give you a CD with your images to take home.

Content Providers: Media companies, publishing organizations, and even cultural institutions are increasingly becoming content partners for major destinations. At the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum (opening in Spring 2008), The History Channel is a major sponsor of media-based exhibits and films. Since 1995, the National Geographic Theater at Hearst Castle has hosted millions of visitors to view the large format film: “Building the Dream.”

Cause-related Promotions: There are few consumer products companies today who aren’t seeking to connect themselves with some type of cause-based message. At Glacier National Park, Ford Motor Company partnered with the National Parks Foundation to restore the historic Red “Jammer” Bus fleet. This project also converted these buses to alternative fuel technologies, demonstrating shared values of environmental stewardship. The SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Conservation Fund partners with dozens of organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Foundation to perform numerous research, habitat protection, and animal rescue and rehabilitation projects.

Strategic Partnerships: These are among the most sophisticated approaches, and can function on multiple levels. For the past several years, The Biltmore Estate has developed an innovative relationship with Lowe’s home improvement stores, resulting in broad national promotion for Biltmore. Lowe’s is the “Official Home Improvement Warehouse” of the Estate, with several of Lowe’s products such as Olympic Paint and Anderson Hardwood Floors presented as having “official” status as part of the “Biltmore for Your Home” program. Several Biltmore employees are now listed as home and garden experts on the Lowe’s website, and have starred on the Lowe’s-sponsored “Specialties of the House” series on HGTV. And you can stay at the Cottage on Biltmore Estate, which is furnished as a living demonstration of a number of Lowe’s products.


Destination Brands: Potential in Four Realms

A lot of people find the whole “brand thing” kind of confusing. Just when you can convincingly state to a colleague, “ya know, a brand is not a logo,” someone comes along and tells you destination brands have some fundamental differences from other brands. You’ve heard it all. Your brand is what people think of you—your image. A brand is a promise to provide a product or service in a consistent way. A brand is a value proposition. Brand is an organization’s rallying cry, its DNA. It’s what you stand for. Destination brands have distinct aspects of their image in the mind of the customer. Each one presents an opportunity to differentiate from competition and offer a consumer benefit. Destinations reach their maximum potential only when they leverage all four.

Realm One—Place

If you visit the Empire State Building, you go to a building with the city surrounding it. Up at the observation tower, the place becomes an oasis high above bustling Manhattan. What benefits does the place provide for the guest? Some people like the high energy feeling of being in the city, but they may also like taking a break from the intensity.

People go to a destination. It exists in a physical place. A destination should try to get the most out of the power of its place.

Realm Two—Experience

Hike in the canyon. Ride the coaster. Attend a show. People want to do something at a destination—something unique, something to brag about or something to share. The experience of a destination can provide key benefits to guests and a fundamental part of its brand. A destination can reach its full potential when it promotes the benefits of a unique experience and delivers.

Realm Three—Mindset

Sometimes a destination epitomizes or evokes an attitude, value, or mindset that has meaning beyond the physical limits of the site. Colonial Williamsburg set out to “own” the concept of Colonial America, and people might feel more patriotic just thinking about it. When a destination can symbolize an aspirational concept, it can form a powerful connection with its guests. The destination becomes a touchstone for the concept and people return to renew their connection to it.

Realm Four—Organization

What role does the organization behind the destination play in the brand? The Niagara Parks emblem conveys tremendous trust among regional guests, who want to spend their money with the organization that helps preserve the nature and heritage of Niagara Falls. The organizational dimension of a destination may also make a big difference to future employees, donors, business partners, granting agencies, or other organizations. People want to associate with a cause or organization they feel good about, one that expresses their own values and aspirations.

When people think of your destination, do they long to be in the place, get excited by the experience, aspire to the values represented and trust the organization behind it? When you can answer yes to all four, people will attribute a high value to your destination which relates directly to attendance and financial success.

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