Case study: Use research to form the foundations of a tourism brand strategy

A powerful country brand developed from a meticulously planned strategy that has at its heart the concept of providing specific value to specific identified segments and meticulously executed and measured can yield massive benefits for investment, domestic industries and culture.

And for most South East Asian countries, tourism will have a prominent role to play in their country brand strategies. And so it should be as most governments recognize the contribution of tourism to stimulating economic growth across all sectors of society.

It also helps that tourism is also considered to be the world’s largest industry with revenue of over US$500 billion. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates International tourist arrivals for 2009 to be at 880 million. Although this was a 4% drop over the previous year, Asia and the pacific saw the first signs of recovery with positive growth in the last 2 quarters.

Going forward, the UNWTO expects international arrivals to reach 1.56 billion by 2020. Of these, almost 400 million are expected to head for Asia and the pacific.

But because of the tendency of politicians to seek a quick fix, most Asian tourism brand strategies look no further than creative advertising campaigns that look the same as many other destinations and are soon lost in the muddle of messages currently carpet bombing consumers.

One country in South East Asia has recognized the futility of this approach and commissioned us to develop a brand strategy based on trade and consumer requirements for value. Client confidentiality doesn’t allow me to reveal the country involved however I am able to share the methodology and some of the results and findings.

The project took just almost 2 years from appointment to implementation of the strategy however some urgent recommendations were implemented earlier.

The tourism office is tasked with marketing the country both domestically and internationally. Our focus was internationally. They were facing a number of challenges including:

1) The increased effectiveness of competitor marketing strategies. All regional competitors are investing heavily in tourism products and developing segment focused branding campaigns.

2) Growing ineffectiveness of mass marketing, especially generic print & TV advertising. Increasingly fragmented media and an increase in leisure time activities are making it harder to reach consumers via traditional channels.

3) The increase in the influence of the Internet on the destination decision-making process, especially the increased influence of peer-to-peer networks. Figures released by The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in November 2004 showed that 19% of holidaymakers booked their holiday online – six times more than in 2000. By 2008, this figure had grown to 67% (Online shopping survey). Only about 13% of those surveyed said they would use a travel agent. The Internet is also growing in importance as a communications medium through P2P networks with 34% of respondents to a Mintel survey choosing their destination on the basis of a face-to-face recommendation

4) Poor repeat visitor rates. Repeat visitors not only represent an increased return on the initial marketing investment but also tend to stay longer and spend more. Additionally, they represent a low-cost source of referrals and other word-of mouth advantages. Currently, the country has a below average number of repeat visitors compared to two main competitors which represents a threat to future growth.

5) Lack of awareness and knowledge of the country worldwide. What has been the impact of the country advertising? Has it been effective in improving the perception of the country? How much is it contributing to tourism in the country?

Our research showed that there were about 600,000 competing communities in Asia and more than 1,000 regional and national economic development agencies, all competing for visitors. This made it easy for even the most compelling messages to get lost amid all the destination claims.

We recommended to the client that in this cluttered environment, effective branding depends on data and knowledge about current and prospective visitors and not simply trendy creative campaigns featuring mass marketing tactics across all major channels.

Moreover, choosing the most effective branding strategy depended on sound market & customer research to determine current attitudes and perceptions toward the country among travel agents, previous visitors to the country and those that had never visited the country.

By understanding the sources of those perceptions and attitudes, the client would be better able to evaluate current branding efforts, develop strategies to target high-impact segments with the most potential more effectively, drive internal education and other program development, leverage the emerging medium of Web 2.0, develop benchmarks to measure branding progress and ensure that resources were used cost-effectively.

The research could also be used to pinpoint, prioritise and drive online community-based branding. A core requirement as consumers spend more time in those communities.

Other key requirements included communicating knowledge of current branding and target market imperatives among personnel, as well as ensuring knowledge and data transfer.

After extensive discussions with the research division and others and to provide a 360-degree approach to understanding the brand, FusionBrand developed and conducted a multi-phase, six-month international research project that incorporated multiple research methodologies.

These methodologies included:

• 39 focus groups (FG) in thirteen locations in twelve countries comprised of 3 segments:
o Travel Agents
o Travelers who have visited the country in previous 3 years
o Travelers who have not visited the country but have traveled long haul in last 3 years
• Online surveys
o 12 countries
o Worldwide via client website
• Mystery shops in specific countries plus home country
• Internet CGM (consumer-generated media) monitoring & analysis
o 22 million blogs
o 60,000 usenet forums
o 6,000 discussion forums
o Plus podcasts, web sites etc.
• Internal brand audit in HQ and at tourism offices worldwide
o One-on-one, in-depth interviews with domestic & international staff
• External brand audit
o In depth interviews in specific countries
o 3 segments
o Tourist operators & agencies
o Media representatives
o Local tourism associations
• Communications audit (print)
o Brand analysis of print materials
o Comparative analysis of 11 regional competitor materials
o Framework for evaluation, scoring & future design developed
• Communications audit digital
o Own sites
o Brand evaluation based on Internet & customer relationship best practices
o Social Media initiatives

The countries were located in the following regions:

• Asia
• North America
• Europe
• Middle East
• Australia

The research project completely designed by FusionBrand was not only comprehensive, but innovative as well. For example, the Internet monitoring had yet to be accomplished by any destination, while the digital communications audit looked at what is necessary to advance into the emerging era of Internet 2.0.

Output was comprehensive and extensive and included:

• Recording and analysis of relevant input in complete reports
• County-by-country reports concerning perceptions and experiences with the country, including key influencers on travel destination selection
• Brand workshops for client personnel incorporating research results to ensure a corporate-wide understanding of the country brand strategy
• Analysis of Internet and marketing collateral relevance and effectiveness in segment-based branding
• Review of social media initiatives
• Quantitative benchmarks concerning experiences, perceptions, influencers and preferences of target segments
• Detailed insights concerning five key target segments identified in conjunction with the client

Each report not only included the findings from the research, but also prioritised recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the research.

Over 300 actionable recommendations
More than 300 actionable recommendations were made. These recommendations were incorporated into a comprehensive, segment-based brand plan that was developed over six months. The brand plan had a strong emphasis on the internet and social marketing and included strategic planning for marketing, advertising, both online and traditional, public relations, direct marketing, web and other programmes and outlined goals, messages, target markets, measurements, activities, timelines, responsibilities and budgets.

The benefits include consistent messaging and images among target markets, synergy among multiple programs, and elimination of uncoordinated activities that were wasting resources. Crucially, the brand plan also provides tools to evaluate program results.

In addition, in conjunction with representatives in country, country specific brand plans were developed. The Country Brand Plans are primarily focused on specific marketing activities within those countries. These activities include, but are not limited to, PR, local trade shows, agent recruitment and communications, cultural events, advertising, segment specific publications, promotional events, etc.

Although the brand strategy was for 2009, urgent recommendations such as consolidation and improvements to web sites and the appointment of regional PR companies were implemented immediately.

A key element of branding is consistency and yet, during the communications audit, the lack of consistency was evident. A strong recommendation was made for a corporate identity brand manual to be developed immediately. The manual was conceptualized and completed by FusionBrand in 4 months, during the writing of the 2009 brand plan.

Throughout the research and planning process, workshops were designed and presented to client personnel to keep them abreast of the process and educate them.

The project has been deemed a success with many targets met ahead of or on schedule. Furthermore significant savings have been made in a number of areas such as a reduction in collateral printing and a move to print on demand. Finally the destination has appeared on more than one ‘must visit’ destination for 2010 for the first time in its history.


4 thoughts on “Case study: Use research to form the foundations of a tourism brand strategy

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