We do a lot of brand research to uncover the strategic brand essence for each destination we work with. Part of that research is to talk to stakeholders and residents to understand their perceptions of the place they call home. One of our first questions is the simplest, “What are your main tourism assets?”. Just as interesting as what people say, is what they DON’T say.
To illustrate this point, we need to go to Peru. Cocachimba, Peru is a small village of about 200 situated in the verdant and dreamlike forest landscape of the Andes in the Amazon. The village has been around since the 1950s, but it’s about 20 miles from a centuries-old city of about 25,000 people. And for years Cocachimba has been sitting on a whopper of a tourism marketing asset – the third-tallest waterfall in the world, which the locals refer to as Gocta. Although the village is a bit secluded, villagers did frequently interact with outside communities. Outsiders knew about the village. But not the waterfall. The answer may sound familiar – a local explained:
“We could see Gocta from town…it was always there. But the population just wasn’t interested.”
It just never occurred to the villagers that their amazing waterfall was all that special. As Foer says, “Even the biggest diamond ring eventually becomes invisible to the person wearing it.” Seems unbelievable, right? But at North Star we often run into a similar struggle with destinations all across the country:
- “We have an Irish name, but we don’t have a lot of real Irish connections.” Research quote from North Star branding client Dublin, OH, which now successfully leverages its connection to Ireland (see case study).
- “Norwegian heritage of fishing and culture is very important. It helps provide identity as a community, and its positive aspects model ways to grapple with the future. But we’re not sure if it’s our unique story.” Research quote from North Star branding client Petersburg, AK; which now uses its unique Norwegian heritage as a competitive advantage (see case study).
- “The Black Canyon is probably unique. I guess we could promote that more.” Research quote from North Star branding client Montrose, CO, which now connects prominently to the amazing National Park located in its back yard (see case study).
We, as residents, sometimes forget or even take for granted those features, which make our home so unique as a destination. The repetition of seeing it day in, day out (and for DMOs, marketing that asset day in, day out) desensitizes us to that “specialness.” And often it’s hard to see their potential as a portion of a larger brand strategy. It’s easy to forget that it’s a great big world out there – and that there are no two places alike on Earth. Maybe your destination doesn’t have the 3rd largest waterfall in the world, but it does have something totally unique to its place. Does your community have its own secret waterfall that gets taken for granted?