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The Role of Advocacy in a Destination’s Brand

Advocacy in a Destination Brand

Advocacy and activism can play an influential role in developing a destination’s brand. It’s an increasingly common way to further communicate what a community feels passionate about. If or when you choose to explore and promote the values that tourism espouses, you may get some backlash. I’ll give an example.

Last month, I sat in on a meeting of a town’s tourism board. As is often the case, local business owners showed up to share things with the board. Part of the agenda included the presentation of a new inclusivity campaign (a very common thing nowadays). A guest business owner spoke up to deliver some startling “facts”.

  1. 93% of people surveyed find this type of campaign (“All Are Welcome”, “Hate Has No Home Here”, etc.) offensive and divisive.
  2. The majority of people surveyed found it similar to Nazi Germany. He even drew their infamous logo to illustrate his point further.

Yeah. That really happened. I’m not sure where he found these survey results. Maybe he conducted it himself. Ultimately, the board moved forward with the campaign.

The big takeaway of this meeting and many others I’ve been a part of is that no matter how open and inviting your community’s message is, there will often be people against it. Perhaps they don’t want over-tourism. Maybe they worry about it attracting Walmarts and chain restaurants. Maybe they fear change. Or maybe they suffer from their own prejudices and don’t want people in their town that don’t look like them in which case, they should spend more vacations in larger cities where anyone can be friendly and anyone can be a jerk.

Regardless of the reason, you should expect pushback regardless of the virtue of the brand or campaign but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from promoting them. A major part of a destination’s brand is its culture, mostly impacted by its values – the things it collectively believes in and accepts.

So, how does a destination’s brand use advocacy well?

Not every form of advocacy needs to focus on inclusivity, although I contend that it should be considered. The city of Huber Heights, Ohio makes sure that everyone knows not only what they encourage, but what they also denounce. It’s also important to make your statement without provocation. There have been far too many cases of small destinations making national news from bigoted violence, then scrambling to change their image after the fact. It comes across as counterfeit and counters any genuine beliefs that the community really has.

I recently saw a LinkedIn post from Butler County, Pennsylvania that detailed exactly why they’ve chosen to take a stand and in that post, they summed it up perfectly: not only is it good for business, it’s an existing truth. 

Other forms of advocacy can include sustainability and environmentalism, supporting Veterans, narrowing the wealth gap, and plenty more. You can discover your own during your brand discovery process. This is the research phase, where you use stakeholder and community surveys, social listening, visitor insights, and more to better understand your audience and see what your brand really is. In the process of all of this, an alignment of values invariably takes shape. This makes clear what your visitors, residents, and businesses appreciate and what your community genuinely supports.

Once you know the current state of your destination’s brand, and how strongly certain beliefs are held within and outside of your community, you can then determine the appropriate volume of your message.

When you identify those values that your visitors and community share, there can be hesitation to plant your flag if you know there’s opposition out there, no matter how small. My advice is usually to move forward with it as long as it’s true and does not exclude anyone. I see it like this: if there are people in your community who don’t agree with your values to build a more welcoming community, do you really want to attract more people like them?

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.