Place Image Marketing: Destination Building & GeoTourism
Unpublished Ms ©
The combined forces of globalization and homogenization are forcing cities, states,
regions and locales to participate in a global tourism beauty contest that will increasingly
divide haves from the have nots, destinations from pass-throughs and places that generate
buzz from places that get little respect, even from those who live there. It’s unfolding fast
and furiously with the plum images being shaped by places that understand the new rules
of engagement. Wordwide, states - like their corporate counterparts - realize the potential
of well-orchestrated marketing campaigns to attract business. States and regions need a
comprehensive strategy to build their reputations, not just sell their features. It’s all about
reputation management. While tourism is the focus, the stakes and stakeholders are
bigger than one’s traditionally associated with the tourism economy suggests.
The success of an effective tourism development strategy lies in discovering and
nurturing a unique market niche that differentiates our place from others.
It’s less about money and marketing dollars than content, authenticity and self-awareness.
A competitive strategy is driven by public relations and social media more than costly
advertising campaigns. Media management is crucial.
The process of reputation management acknowledges that strong reputations result from
initiatives and messages that are in tune with the distinctive attributes of a city, state or
region. In today's world, where ideas drive economic value, competition for reputation is
PLACE IMAGE MARKETING
Place image marketing recognizes that the product is the image produced by a distinct
sense of place. Tourism products and attractions must build on the sense of place in a
tangible way. This involves a revolving cycle of product refinement and marketing tactics
each aimed at enhancing the visitor experience, clarifying the region’s image, and making
that image the message. It is crucial both to sell what we have and have what we sell.
Branding denotes ownership and identity of a product. The success of a brand depends
upon the reputation that the brand has. A successful brand leverages a good reputation.
The following are the basic principles of reputation management.
Distinctiveness: a strong reputation will result when CT’s cities owns a distinctive image.
Focus: a strong reputation will result when Connecticut’s cities and partners learn to
cooperate and collaborate to focus their attention and communication around core
Consistency: a strong reputation will result when Connecticut’s cities and partners are
consistent and collaborative in their marketing activities and communications.
US & THEM: DIFFERENTIATING AUDIENCES
An analysis of tourism markets suggests five key constituents, each having distinct
parameters and needs:
A) Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFRs)
This market, although substantial at both the local and national levels, is poorly
understood. Although dependent on the local audience, the travel behavior of VFR’s is
different and needs specific cultivation and communication techniques.
B) National & International Tourists
This is a large and discerning audience with deep pockets and the capacity to be inspired
by and inspire word of mouth image building. This audience responds primarily to
distinct and compelling sense of place - the unique or unusual features of a place that
cannot be found elsewhere.
Although motivated in part by the same forces that inspire national and international
travel, this group also seeks convenience, cost benefit, and such local amenities as
restaurants, retail, casinos, performing arts and more.
D) Local Audience
This group is looking for attractions and entertainment including restaurants. Because
Connecticut is a net-exporting tourist economy, the local audience tends to be
sophisticated in its preferences and yet often has not experienced all the attractions in
their locales that might appeal to national and international tourists. They are the
principal gatekeepers for the experience of VFR’s making specific cultivation and
communication techniques especially worthwhile.
E) Root Ties Networks
There are several million individuals and families across the nation with root ties to
Connecticut. These include people who grew up here and moved away, children and
grandchildren of people who did, or people descended from founding families who are
conscious of a family history linking them to New Haven. This also applies to businesses
– some like CW Blakeslee Construction and Giordano Brothers Monuments that have
been in continuous operation for a century or more, and others, like Winchester and Peter
Paul Candies that are gone, but not forgotten in our collections. For them, Connecticut is
a place of beginnings, legend, and allure. Cultivating this audience will require a special
Historically, the local market has driven the development of the existing products. Alas,
if we want to attract outsiders we have to acknowledge that it’s not only about us. The
Arts Council’s Arts & Heritage Action Partnership is the first attempt at a visitor-
centered strategy for developing the quality and quantity of tourism visitation. The
external communications efforts of the region’s major cultural organizations have been
sporadic and largely centered around individual institutions without reference to a
masterplan or strategy. The irony is that the local tourist may be unmoved by the imagery
and mystique designed to entice the national or international tourist while they are
equally unmoved by attractions that may entertain the local audiences but do not deepen
our sense of place. In Connecticut, consider the distinction between popular local tourism
enclaves like Hammonasett State Park, the Broadway series at The Bushnell and the
Casinos versus such site-specific amenities as Mark Twain, Sam & Elizabeth Colt, Daniel
Wadsworth’s patronage of the Hudson River School and the region’s unique and
nationally-significant industrial heritage. Although The Bushnell and related performing
arts venues do a large and substantial business, no one crosses state lines to experience
the touring version of Broadway hits like Cats, while unique assets like the Butler-
McCook House, the State Capitol building and Museum of Connecticut History’s
industrial technology collections and Founding Father Oliver Ellsworth’s House, could
contribute substantially to the region’s appeal to new and growing segments of the
tourism market if they were marketed properly and made visitor ready.
THE POWER OF WORD OF MOUTH
Most of the tourism to Greater Hartford is the VFR market - influenced by word of mouth
and personal recommendation. Attracting tourists, either as VFR's or conference
delegates, is only feasible if they leave with positive feelings and are able to give strong
recommendations. However, if they return with negative experiences or perceptions, their
word-of-mouth comments will adversely affect Hartford's reputation. If more than half
the visitors to Connecticut’s cities leave with negative impressions, it will lead to a
UNIQUE RESOURCES REQUIRE A UNIQUE PLAN
A marketing strategy for Connecticut’s cities must be unique. It must build good
reputation and positive image by promoting sense of place and product as a destination.
Each of the attractions within the destinations must be subjected to close analysis to see
that they deliver against the criteria needed to demonstrate sense of place and reinforce
the overall image being marketed.
MARKETING DELIVERY STRUCTURE
Each attraction must have its own marketing plan, which is implemented through the kind
of intra-destination marketing structure represented by the Greater Hartford Arts
Council’s Arts & Heritage Action Partnership committee. Internal and investment
marketing are the responsibility of each destination - but external marketing (national and
international) should become a joint effort with mission and purpose directed by the Arts
Council’s Arts & Heritage Action Partnership.
This structure should be funded and chaired in cooperation with the Heritage Valley
Tourism District and the State Office of Tourism to ensure cost effective delivery without
expensive activity overlaps, confusion of messages and duplication of efforts.
Internal marketing is also vital to assure that the local audience and the stakeholders from
each attraction understands and adheres their role in the overall market image. It is costly
and self-defeating for each attraction to go it alone.
IMPACT OF THE INTERNET ON MARKETING
Traditional marketing techniques need to be re-appraised. Staying with the tired and
tested is neither strategic nor cost effective.
The method of getting the message to market relies on three specific strategies.
- Adopt 21st century communications techniques.
- Ensuring physical presence at trade shows, exhibitions etc.
- Facilitating direct interventions with tour operators, travel agents and pre-formed
The power of the internet is its ability to communicate to a mass global audience while
adopting one-to-one communication principles. Internet communication is more credible
as it is deeply personal, in that the internet user 'pulls' information at his/her own
DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION OF PICTURES AND WORDS
The term “a picture is worth a thousand words” is truer now than ever. Strong visual
images cut through the media clutter. Sense of place and product are best communicated
by using pictures and few words. Greater Hartford’s failure to develop a compelling web
presence is symptomatic of our inability to resolve these fundamental issues of place
image marketing. Greater use must be made of available digital and internet technology
to distribute quality images to picture editors and news editors in travel/tourism related
publications and online newsrooms throughout the world. This, coupled with the
placement of expertly written editorials by well-respected individuals, will supply
content-starved travel writers and tourism brokers with material that will communicate
our unique sense of place to a global audience.
Since the original draft of this was written, a next wave of digital technology has
introduced massive change and opportunity. Social media and social networking – using
tools like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, an array of digital picture and PowerPoint upload
sites enable even the smallest attractions and destinations to build audience and
communicate their message in ways that even the largest marketing firms could not do a
decade ago. This is a new golden age for niche marketing. If your place has a distinctive
advantage or asset – a garden, the legacy of a famous artist, architectural treasures,
unique stories to tell – even if the passionate audience for that (think Hartford’s
connection to Wallace Stevens and Frederick Law Olmsted or New London’s to Eugene
O’Neill) numbers in the 1000s or 10s of 1000s world wide – you can find them and they
can find you and it is easier than ever to build communities of inquiry, support and
engagement around unique assets. More than ever, the key to place image marketing is
creating a quilt-like matrix of storylines, assets and attractions that do not necessarily
confirm to a single brand or image, but simply enlarge the audience by the multiplier
effect of diversity.
Revised, April 2011