Using great storytelling to elevate your destination brand

By Gary Bryant, Executive Director, Strategy, Landor & Fitch

As COVID-19 travel restrictions begin to ease in many countries, destination brands are preparing to spearhead the economic recovery, welcoming new guests and finding ways to ensure they visit again. But how destinations present their brands will be fundamental to how well they recover, and at Landor & Fitch we believe that the brands that find and tell their story effectively will be those that can bounce back strongest. However, it can be difficult to tell a truly engaging story across multiple channels, so how can destination brands get it right?

Finding the right story 

When locating their destination’s story, many brands start and stop with what they have in front of them, without much thought into how they could go further. Branding campaigns such as Incredible India and Amazing Thailand are famous examples of this and, while they’ve been used effectively in the past, it’s a well trodden path offering little differentiation and decreasing resonance in today’s market.

Instead, brands that go deeper and explore emotional benefits have been able to maintain demand for products over longer periods. Take Coca Cola as an example, whose products are fizzy drinks - yet its use of emotion has allowed them to expand its storytelling, such as creating iconic imagery around Christmas.

We believe these brands find their story by combining what they stand for with knowing how they make consumers feel. An example of this is Dubai Airports, the world’s busiest airport for international travel. With most visitors not venturing into the city itself, the airport decided to bring the city inside, introducing cultural experiences such as local art, music, food and calligraphy. This allowed the brand to display the city’s culture and values while giving visitors a real feel for the city, increasing the chances of visitors returning not just to pass through the airport, but to visit Dubai itself.

Now tell your story 

Destinations that truly establish their story are then better placed to bring that story to life through what we call unique and innovative PHD (Physical, Human, and Digital) experiences. This tool helps step outside of the traditional channel model of thinking and into the world of the consumer and how they actually experience a brand.

Creating physical experiences for guests can help destination brands stand out, particularly in crowded markets. Our work with Joali, a unique luxury resort in the Maldives, is a case in point – and our mission was to determine how we could differentiate a palm beach resort from the rest. At its heart, Joali was defined as a place to truly feel joy. Using the P of PHD we set out to create tactile touchpoints to bring the brand to life. These included introducing branded chocolate and commissioning leading designers to create immersive and interactive artwork that was there to be used, not just admired.

Experiences designed to appeal to guest’s humanity can take destinations to the next level, but isn’t something we see many brands doing yet. A powerful example is Robben Island Museum in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela spent most of his prison sentence. The destination employs former prisoners to give tours and tell stories about their experiences, offering a far more human and engaging way to tell the story.

However, it has been difficult for brands to focus on enhancing their physical and human experiences over the past 18 months, as the COVID-19 pandemic limits how they can interact with guests. Creating a compelling digital story is now more vital than ever for destination brands, and those that can make their story clear and engaging will be in the strongest position to succeed.  

The City of Covington in Kentucky, USA, is a prime example of creating a digital story that stands out, blending its unique digital experience with a human touch. With Landor & Fitch’s help, the city created an interactive experience during the pandemic, with residents able to give each other virtual high-fives and easily access health and safety information. This digital experience tells a story that is truly aligned to Covington’s brand purpose: to be one of the most liveable and enjoyable cities in the USA.

Standing out 

Destination brands that move from just offering functional benefits to emotional ones create a powerful platform to tell their story. Brands can find this unique story by truly understanding what they stand for and building on the attitudes consumers already have towards them. Once that has been established, destination brands can then expand on how they tell their story; moving it from a communications strategy to providing physical, human, and digital experiences that bring a destination to life and increase the chances of guests returning for more.

Related reading

How can you foster better collaboration between stakeholders

Seven thoughts to keep in mind to promote equitable development

Arctic exploration, Inuit communities, and the future of Greenland's tourism

The Place2Place Podcast:  New Zealand & Auckland - Understanding the relationship between city and nation brands

How destination brands can stand out through great storytelling

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.