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  • Five reasons why you’re wasting 97% of your advertising budget and what to do about it. see more

    Ninety-seven percent of destination marketing is ineffective, and it isn’t because of the medium you’re using! The reason isn’t because of National Geographic Traveler, Leisure +Travel, or Southern Living Magazine. It’s NOT a reflection on your digital advertising, television, radio or billboards. The reason is the content you’re giving them! 

    Here are the five reasons why you’re wasting 97% of your advertising budget and what to do about it.

    Reason #1: Trying to be all things to all people
    We're going to keep harping on this subject until you change your ways! Look at your ads. If your headline and the photography (or art) you use could fit just about anyone in your market, toss it and start over. Readers, viewers or listeners will give you four seconds to pull them in. If your message is generic, you will lose them instantly. If your ad starts with “One of the top 5 mountain biking destinations in the world,” and that quote is attributed to Biking Magazine, it may not draw us in if we're not a mountain biking enthusiast, but if we are, you just got our attention, big time. NARROW YOUR FOCUS!

    What to do: Join our association and download our “Words & Phrases to Avoid” poster and give copies to your marketing agency, graphic design agency and anyone charged with marketing your hotel, B&B, community, museum or attraction.

    If your marketing focus can fit anyone else in your market area, toss it and start over.

    Reason #2: Marketing place before experience
    We have the world at our fingertips – every community, lodging facility, and business – in a fraction of a second via the web. But we don’t search for places first, we search for experiences first and THEN the area or city. We search for “Best Italian restaurant, central Pennsylvania,” or “mountain biking trails, Southern Utah.” In your advertising and on printed materials always SELL the experience first, the location second.

    What to do: The name of your community (don’t market counties!), your hotel, your guide service – your business – should be at the BOTTOM of your ad, not at the top. Utah Tourism does a great job with its headlines promoting the Mighty Five (five national parks all located in Southern Utah) with photographic experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Then at the bottom of the ads you’re informed of what and where the parks are.

    Reason #3: Using mundane text and photography
    There’s nothing more boring than elevator music (video or radio ads), or photos of scenic vistas without a soul in sight. To win you MUST evoke emotion. If your headline is boring or generic we won’t remember it. We are drowning in advertising overload so your ads MUST be memorable. 

    What to do: Make sure you have photos of people enjoying your activities – whether in a spa, or careening down a mountainside on a bike, or reading a book in front of a cozy fire with snow falling outside. Your art should get the reader to instantly think “I want to do that!” And make sure it fits ONLY you in your marketplace.

    Reason #4: Not telling us WHY we should visit or buy from you
    Don’t tell us what you have, where you’re located, or who you are until you’ve told us WHY we should visit you. McDonald’s famous (and effective) campaign, “You deserve a break today” wasn’t about food. It was aimed at moms – they deserve a break today, so get up and get away – to McDonald’s. The most successful tourism campaign, perhaps in North American history, is Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here.” It’s not about what they have (entertainment, gambling) but WHY you would go there over other places.

    What to do: This one requires digging deep. Alpena, Michigan is hitting a home run with its “Sanctuary” brand based on the National Marine Sanctuary of Thunder Bay and the 54% of Americans who are dealing with stress in their lives. A water park that asks us “How loud can you scream?” will be more successful than the water park that tells us “The largest water park in Central Ohio.”

    Reason #5: Not creating a call to action
    If McDonald’s had told us, “You deserve a break, so consider heading to McDonald’s sometime,” the ad would have fallen flat. But by telling us, “You deserve a break TODAY (right now), so GET UP AND GET AWAY” (call to action), it became one of the most successful ads in company history. Nothing is worse than “Discover My Town” as the header, then a generic photo (or collage of photos) and then just a website address or phone number. There is no call to action.

    What to do: Always finish your ad with what you want people to do: “Space is limited, so call for your reservation now,” or “Log on now for the complete schedule…” or, as I’ve done in past Weekly What To Do’s: “Download your free Words & Phrases to Avoid poster.”

    What to do: To you we may be preaching to the choir. So how do you get this message to your local businesses? To your graphic design or ad agency? To other organizations also marketing your community? Join the Destination Development Association, where you get access to countless resources, including lots of video content, that go beyond what you’ll read here. Membership starts at just $250/year. You can access our resource center anytime, anywhere, and you can share the resources at meetings as well. This is the best way to get everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction.

    • Melanie Patterson I am looking for the Words & Phrases Poster and cannot find it. Please help! Thank you!
      2 years ago
  • What is your Unique Selling Proposition? see more

    We have the world at our fingertips in a fraction of a second and so you MUST stand out from the crowd if you hope to succeed - when attracting visitors, investment, or as a place to live. What sets you apart from everyone else? In tourism, always promote that one activity that makes you worth a special trip and a repeat visit. You must either be different, clearly better (by third-party endorsement), or you must have more of something so that people will skip over a similar activity closer to home, making you worth a special trip. Finding your Unique Selling Proposition has been around since the 1950's but in this Internet age, is more important now than ever before. 

  • Logos are not Brands see more

    Logos and slogans are NOT Brands! Want to learn more how to brand a community beyond a logo or slogan? Access our 2-part, "The Art of Branding Series" here.

  • Roger Brooks posted an article
    Your job is to match the state to the right slogan. see more

    “Jettison the generic” is really what the word “branding” is all about. Branding involves finding that one thing that differentiates you from everyone else in your marketplace. And this is true for businesses as well. We are in the age of specialization. Attorneys, medical practitioners, real estate agents, architects, consultants now specialize and communities need to do so as well.

    For years Arizona has promoted itself as “The Grand Canyon State.” Of course, Arizona has a lot more to offer, but the foundation of its brand is the one thing no one can get anywhere else on earth. Smart. Very smart.


    1. Think about some of the best-branded communities. I’ll mention the name and you fill in the their brand:

    • Napa Valley: __________________________________
    • Nashville: ____________________________________
    • Hollywood: ___________________________________
    • Silicon Valley: _________________________________
    • Green Bay: ___________________________________
    • Calgary: _____________________________________
    • Colorado Rockies: ______________________________
    • Memphis: ___________________________________
    • Hershey, Pennsylvania: __________________________
    • Branson, Missouri: _____________________________
    • Lancaster, Pennsylvania: _________________________
    • Your town: __________________________________

    Other than the last three, I didn’t even need to note their state or province. Their name has become synonymous with their brand. That’s your goal.

    By the way, if you’re not familiar with Branson, Missouri, it’s a town of 6,500 residents that hosts nearly 7.5 million visitors a year and is known for its 50 music theaters. Is there more to do there? Lots more, but music theater is what puts them on the map.

    2. Take the test. I’ve posted a list of all 50 U.S. states (click here for the download) in the left column and in the right column listed their marketing slogan in a random order. Your job is to match the state to the right slogan. Few people can make it past 11. It’s easy to guess which state goes with the Grand Canyon or The Aloha State.

    In defense of the states, they are in a tough position. They really are trying to promote everything the state has to offer, and in that context just about every state DOES have “something for everyone.” But at a local level you MUST find your niche and promote it like crazy.

    3. Start thinking about what it is that really puts you on the map and differentiates you from everyone else in your market. Make sure it’s an activity, not just something to look at. A statue of Paul Bunyan will quickly become a “been there, done that” attraction. Once everyone in the market has seen it, you’ll be out of customers. Activities attract customers, plus they bring them back and keep them in town longer.

  • Article
    When someone mentions your community’s name, what is the first thing that comes to mind? see more

    Your brand is what sets you apart from everyone else. When someone mentions your community’s name, your brand should be the first thing that comes to mind. The name of your community should be synonymous with your brand.

    When we mention the following communities, what comes to mind?

    • Salem, Massachusetts

    • Hershey, Pennsylvania
    • Anaheim, California
    • Williamsburg,Virginia
    • Scottsdale, Arizona

    What community or county is synonymous with these brands?

    • The country music capital
    • The home of Elvis Presley
    • The wine capital of the U.S.
    • Amish

    These community-brands are well known and easy to identify. But would you have ever heard of Salem, Massachusetts if it hadn’t been for the witch trials that took place over 300 years ago? Maybe not.

    Aren't these the brands that first come to mind for you, for these destinations?:

    Salem: Witches

    Hershey: Chocolate

    Anaheim: Disneyland

    Williamsburg: Colonial History

    Scottsdale: Upscale Golf and Spa Getaways

    Country music capital: Nashville

    Home of Elvis: Memphis

    Wine Capital: Napa Valley

    Amish: Lancaster County, PA

    Each of these communities has much more to offer than just country music or chocolate, but there's generally just that one particular thing that puts each of them on the map and sets them apart from everyone else.

  • Article
    What sets you apart from everyone else? What’s your brand story? see more

    1. Logos and slogans are not brands.
    They are merely marketing messages used to reinforce, support and strengthen your brand. Logos, slogans and tag lines make up only 2% of a brand, yet local politics usually give 98% of their attention to these elements when developing their brand.

    2. Brands are perceptions.
    They are what people think of you—good or bad. Sometimes communities need an overhaul: a “repositioning” or a “rebranding” effort.

    3. Brands are about differentiation.
    What differentiates you from everyone else? What sets you apart?

    4. Brands are narrow.
    Narrow your focus, then narrow it some more. Brands are specific. Find your niche and promote it like crazy. Pontiac was the muscle car brand until they broadened it to include wimpy four-cylinder compact cars. Where is Pontiac today? Gone. They are a history lesson in branding gone bad.

    5. Brands are about ownership.
    Napa Valley owns the wine country brand. Nashville owns the country music brand. Branson, Missouri owns the music theater capital brand.

    6. Steer clear of focus groups.
    You never build a successful brand using focus groups. The “group hug mentality” will give you a watered-down generic “one size fits all” brand. Apple, the world’s most valuable company, doesn’t use focus groups. Steve Jobs once noted that “customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The iPad is a perfect example of that.

    7. Brands are built on product.
    Brands are a promise that you will deliver on the perception we have of you. And those perceptions are built on product and communicated by marketing—not the other way around. For decades Volvo was touted as the safest car. Their product backed it up and today they are still seen as a very safe car.

    8. You never roll out a brand.
    A brand is earned—good or bad. It can take years, even decades, to build a strong brand. Brands are largely developed via word-of-mouth: publicity and social media. After all, brands are built on of what people think of you. You build your brand through public relations, then advertising is used to maintain your ownership position.

    9. Great brands evoke emotion.
    They hit you in an emotional spot. They make you want to go there. They are memorable. They have strong “top of mind awareness.” Disney’s advertising is a perfect example of how to evoke emotion.

    10. Brands require tireless champions.
    One of my favorite quotes is “A by-product of brands ‘for the people’ is the committee that compromises and kills a potential brand home run. This is why you never see statues of committees in public parks; you see brave leaders.” Politics is the number one killer of any branding project, and it’s worse with membership organizations than with elected officials. The desire to be all things to all people is so overwhelming, but it will kill a winning brand.

    If branding were easy, everyone would be doing it! What sets you apart from everyone else? What’s your brand story?

  • Article
    How important are logos and slogans to your brand? see more

    Let's establish the main focus of this article right away—Logos and slogans are NOT brands!

    Logos and slogans (or tag lines) are simply marketing messages used to support your brand. Do you go to Disney World because it’s slogan is “The Happiest Place on Earth”? Of course not, you go there because of your perception of the theme park—what you know of it and what you expect when you get there. It's logo and slogan simply reinforce the brand that Disney’s parks are a great place for families.

    Do NOT get hung up on logos and slogans. They are way down the list in terms of branding a destination.

    In fact, this is where most communities fail. They start with a logo, a slogan, and good looking graphics, and forget that brands are really about perceptions. Your logo and slogans are ONLY used to support, inform and reinforce that one thing that sets you apart from everyone else.

    What do these tag lines say about their respective communities?

    • Plymouth, MI: Not just a walk in the park
    • Frisco, TX: Progress in motion
    • Gainesville, FL: Every path starts with a mission
    • Fort Collins, CO: Where renewal is a way of life
    • Fort Wayne, IN: Room for dreams
    • Killeen, TX: Where freedom has a face and pride is personal

    Could these fit any community, anywhere?

    And do you believe the following communities really “own” these brands?

    • Bristol, RI: America’s most patriotic town
    • Inyo County, CA: Adventure capital of the world
    • Manteca, CA: The heart of California

    Remember, at the end of the day you must “deliver on the promise.” If your logo or tag line can fit someone else—Toss it. Make sure it instantly says what you are about and sets you apart from the rest.

  • One of the fastest growing concepts in travel is culinary tourism. see more

    One of the major shifts in tourism and travel that many communities still need to embrace is the focus on experiences. People want experiences and the more you can promote those experiences, the more visitors will begin to flock to your door. Given the emphasis on experiential travel, it is no wonder that one of the fastest growing concepts in travel is culinary tourism.

    With opportunities to literally taste the local flavor, travelers looking for something interesting and different are enjoying vacations that include tastings, classes and other food experiences. And these culinary experiences only begin with traditional wine tastings. People are interested in not only tasting local flavor, but learning where it comes from, how it is produced, and in many cases learning how to make it themselves. Culinary tours often include shopping trips to local markets, tours of food makers and farms, and cooking classes specializing in local cuisine.

    These culinary trips can be found all over the world. People travel to Vietnam, China, Morocco, Jordan, Italy, France and more. While they are there, they have opportunities to learn about local food, where it’s grown, and how to prepare it.

    Culinary travel doesn’t have to be relegated to exotic locations around the world. Not everyone has the means to travel to Morocco, but what about visitors within a two-hour radius of your community? Do you have a distinct local flavor that people can’t get closer to home? Fresh, organic ingredients? A thriving farmer’s market? What about adding some hands-on cooking classes complete with a trip to buy the ingredients.

    Culinary travel may not be where you hang your hat, but consider the option of adding a foodie itinerary to your website. You could showcase great local restaurants, places to shop, and if available, even some cooking classes. Don’t have much in the way of food to promote? Then that is definitely something you’ll want to work on beefing up (no pun intended) in your community. Remember, people want experiences, and people love food – food and travel go hand in hand.

    Regardless of how much emphasis you place on culinary travel in your area, people always need those secondary activities – the things they’ll do when they’re not doing what they specifically came for. Shopping, dining, people-watching, and your other attractions are still vital to creating a well-rounded and vibrant destination.

    But don’t forget the food!

  • What does it take for a community to become a “festival city” – a place known for its events? see more

    What does it take for a community to become a “Festival City” – a place known for its events?

    Not long ago, I was chatting with a business owner in Gilroy, California, home of the world famous Garlic Festival. She wanted to know what I thought of their brand. She told me the festival lasts three days and draws 100,000 attendees. Impressive, but my question was, “What’s your brand the other 362 days of the year.” Her response? “Got it.”

    There are two sides to an event based brand:

    1. It puts you “on the map.” People around the world have heard of Gilroy because of the Garlic Festival. If it weren’t for the festival, most people in California would probably not have heard of Gilroy.

    2. The challenge, however, is that being known for something is one thing, but turning that into cash through tourism spending is a whole other matter. And isn’t that the goal? If you want to hang your brand on a single event, will it generate enough revenues for your businesses to last the other 362 days of the year? Probably not.

    So what does it take to own an event based brand, to be a “festival city”? Here are the seven things you must do to make it work.

    1. You need at least 200 “event days’ per year. That’s right, 200. Not five, ten or twenty.


    Now, that doesn’t mean 200 events, but 200 days with something happening. You could have 50 four-day events. A public market with daily entertainment would be considered an event day. More than 14 million people descend on the Pike Place Market in Seattle (yes, the place where they throw the fish), and every day there is an “event” for every visitor.

    This still leaves 165 days with little going on, but the point is, for that 52 weeks or weekends, people will ask, “I wonder what’s going on this weekend.” It creates top of mind awareness.

    2. Your events must be worth a 50 mile (80 km) drive. Why would someone drive for an hour for a pancake feed they can get closer to home? For every event ask the question, “If this were taking place in a small town an hour from here, would I go?” If the answer is no, cross it off the list.

    3. Being a festival city doesn’t mean you have to produce every event. You can recruit in classic car clubs, motorcycle rallies, quilt shows, pottery guild exhibitions, etc. and as long as they are open to the public and worth an hour’s drive (for the visitors with an interest in the genre), then you’ve got yourself another event.

    4. Rural communities have to go big. If you want to become a festival city and you’re in a rural area hoping to attract visitors from your metropolitan primary markets, then add up how many events they host a year. If you want to own the festivals brand (and brands are all about ownership), you need to hose MORE events AND significantly different events than what they are hosting. Once again, if they can do the same thing closer to home, why head your way?

    5. You need to have places to host these events that won’t disrupt your community’s traffic and daily flow of people. My favorite “event city” is Rapid City, South Dakota. They built Main Street Square, a one-acre plaza in the heart of their downtown and have a staff of four people who work full-time to program the square. There is always something going on and downtown Rapid City has become as big a destination as nearby Mt. Rushmore! The point is, they created a spectacular venue that allows them to have events like ice skating, Movies on the Square, car shows, concerts, food festivals and more. Check it out at

    6. A Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) should NOT be the organization to manage an event brand.There should be a stand-alone festival and events organization charged with recruiting and managing the events brand.

    7. There should always be a common thread through all of your events. If you want to be known as an events destination for families with young kids, then you should make sure your events are ALL focused on that demographic. The common focus is what your brand is all about.

    The bottom line? Being a festival city is an awesome brand, but it is NEVER as simple as “let’s promote our five local events and call ourselves the event destination!” Many towns have tried it and I ask a very simple question: “How’s that working for you?”

    You already know the answer.

    How does your community stand out from the rest?

  • Article
    Learn how to hire the best community branding consultants see more

    What would be a good way to go about soliciting responses to an RFP from community branding firms?  Is there another method that we would utilize to find firms with similar qualifications to respond? – Renee, Casper Wyoming

    Hi Renee:

    Thanks for reaching out to us. Here are a few answers and suggestions to help you move forward with your branding efforts:

    Don’t hire an ad agency or graphic design firm. As you know, logos and slogans aren’t brands.

    Don’t hire anyone who does not include product development as part of a community branding effort. All great brands are built on product: Nashville and country music, Napa Valley and wine, Branson, MO and their 49 music theaters, Jackson and western art, Orlando and Disney World.

    There are no branding associations because there are very few companies that concentrate on community branding.

    We recommend issuing a Request for Qualifications. Every company has their own methodology. You can issue an RFQ in a page, and then let companies tell you what methodology they use along with samples of the work they’ve done. Find the top two or three (or one if it’s obvious) where you like the methodology (or that makes the most sense), interview them, and then ask them for a price. If you can’t live with the cost, or there is a personality conflict, or any other problems, simply go to number two on the list. 

    What you are looking for is an Action Plan, not a Strategic Plan. It takes a village to create a winning brand, with everyone on the same page pulling in the same direction. What you need is a Branding (what it is you want to be known for), Development (the product that backs it up) & Marketing (how to tell the world) Action Plan. So, you want to make sure it incorporates all three of those functions.

    You should plan on a total budget (including the complete brand graphics) of between $80,000 and $120,000. Look for a complete community branding “system” including brand graphics, key marketing messages, product development plan, local outreach, assessment, research, etc.

    One thing we found: Always get a team that will build the brand “with you,” not “for you.” When there’s local buy-in (it comes from within, not plopped on the community by consultants) the chance of success is greatly improved. You'll want someone that can “facilitate” the process with the community. 

    I hope this is helpful!

    Roger Brooks

  • Article
    When a region has a brand and each community within the region has a brand, how do you connect them? see more

    We have the privilege of receiving excellent questions from community champions on a regular basis. We thought it would be helpful to share answers here on the DDA Blog. If you have any questions, send them our way! They just might end up here on our website.

    When a region has a brand and each community within the region has a brand – how do we connect them – how do we get them to complement each other?  – Cathy, Cowichan Valley


    Hi Cathy! Great question!

    This is a question that many counties/regions have. The answer to this is what we call an “umbrella brand,” which is what you have for the region. Here’s a real life example: Chevrolet’s umbrella brand is “Buy American.” Their slogans are “heartbeat of America” and “An American Revolution.” But they don’t run ads telling people to buy a Chevy. Instead they market the Corvette to it’s audience (baby boomer guys with money), the small Aveo to first-time car buyers (people in their late teens and 20s), the Impala to families looking for a sedan, and the Suburban to construction worker types.

    You need to do the same thing. You have your umbrella brand, but it’s only as good as what the individual communities give you to work with. So you can tell people to come to the Cowichan Valley and then “pick their passion.” If it’s golf head to a certain place, if they want trail systems head here – each “sub-brand” would fit under your umbrella. But, like Chevrolet don’t market the region directly. Instead market the various opportunities (economic development) and activities (tourism) available in each of your towns and cities.

    For instance, we could move our company anywhere in North America (I grew up on San Juan Island and know your area well) but if we were to do that, I’d find a place that had an amazing trail system. Why? Because my wife is an avid runner and most of our staff are avid cyclists and very active. So, if we were to move to the Cowichan Valley, which community would be the best fit?

    All the best in your county branding efforts,

    Roger Brooks

  • Article
    If you can avoid these three killers, you are well on your way to becoming an outstanding destinatio see more

    In this video blog, Roger presents the 3 killers of any community branding effort. If you want your community to stand out from the rest, you must narrow your focus. This is not an easy strategy to undertake. If you can avoid these three killers, you are well on your way to becoming an outstanding destination. Watch out for those killers!

  • Article
    You always build your brand through public relations; advertising is used to maintain your position. see more

    You always build your brand through public relations. Advertising is used to maintain your position—only once you “own” the brand.

    Remember, brands are perceptions—what people think of you. That happens when articles are written about you, through word-of-mouth, and always through a third party. Communities are sometimes dealt negative brands via the same vehicles: word-of-mouth, bad news, or articles that all paint a negative, but are often true, perception of the community, whether fairly deserved or not. The same methods hold true for well-branded communities and the same tools must be used if you need to reposition or redevelop a brand. It all starts with a strong PR effort.

    Public relations, intertwined with third-party endorsements, is absolutely critical to developing a strong brand. These days, social media has become a primary ingredient and tool to “brand building.” Perhaps no community in North America has done a better job at branding than Asheville, North Carolina. Check out their website at Cool. Hip. Artsy. Funky. And the must-visit place along the 500-mile Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Advertising is what you think of yourself. Branding is what other people think of you. To win, you must have those third-party endorsements that only an effective PR effort can provide. Then when you “own” your brand, advertise it like crazy to cement that ownership position into the minds of the people you hope to attract.

    No matter how many “wine countries” we develop in North America, Napa Valley will always “own” the wine capital brand. There are Amish communities throughout the central and eastern U.S. states, but Lancaster County, Pennsylvania “owns” the Amish brand. No matter how many casinos and gambling destinations we develop, Las Vegas will always “own” the gambling and adult-fun capital brand.

    Brands are always about ownership. And that happens through PR, followed by advertising to cement that ownership position.

  • Article
    So what makes your community special? What makes you stand out? see more

    Imagine you’re thinking about taking a vacation. You hop on your computer and start searching the web for ideas. You come across a website for a town you’re not familiar with, but the homepage simply says, “Discover Yourself Here!” So you move on. You come across several places that claim to be “Four Seasons of Fun!” and “Something for Everyone!” But are you intrigued? Probably not.

    We’re bombarded by hundreds of advertising messages every day, and we’ve learned to tune things out if they don’t appeal to our interests or stand out from the crowd. We move on. In this age of advertising oversaturation, communities have to find a way to be known for something truly unique – they need to differentiate.

    Take a look at your community’s website. What’s your slogan? Could it apply to any town? After all, everyone thinks their community is a “Great Place to Live, Work and Play.” And maybe it’s true. But how does it differentiate your community from the thousands of communities across North America all trying to build their economic base?

    You have to be known for something unique, something that sets you apart. This doesn’t mean that every aspect of your community has to be the same, or that you won’t have thriving businesses that aren’t specific to your brand. But you do need to take a good look at what makes your community special and promote the heck out of it.

    So what makes your community special? What makes you stand out? What do you have that you can build on? Take a good look at your website and other marketing materials and ask yourself, “Could this apply to any community? Does it really show who we are?” If not, it’s time to focus on differentiation.