Contributed by Yasha Chatab, Group Business Development Director of WIR Global

Yasha Chatab

For more than 5 years now, we here in Southeast Asia have been bombarded with Malaysia’s “Truly Asia” campaign; a really aggressive and successful campaign (and one accompanied by some controversy, too). There have been many occasions in which clients told me that they want to do a campaign that “feels as good as “Malaysia Truly Asia”. They all express how wonderful the tagline sounds, and how the message really resonates with them. Yet we all know that the process to achieve such level of awareness doesn’t come so easy nor is it cheap. It takes a lot of passion in the work, commitment in time and money, and definitely an understanding of the scope of the task.

The first issue that one must understand is the definition of a destination brand. Some people think that the Malaysia, Truly Asia brand is simply about having a smart tagline. Think again. Creating a destination brand is using a holistic approach in communicating a place (a beach, a village, a city, an island, or a country) to a specific target audience.

The idea of actually paying professionals to develop a brand is considered far-fetched by some, especially when they believe it is just creating “something simple and catchy to boost tourism”. Developing such brand platform requires research and lots of other mind-work. It will take professionals to help funnel the data and extracting the essence into something simple, catchy, and memorable.

Some destination brand “owners” think they can promise something that is uniquely unattainable. One cannot promise a “Riviera” experience if even the basic infrastructure of the destination is still far from accepted standards. However, promising a “back to nature retreat” experience should not be used as an excuse to not invest in better facilities.

Concepts will just be nice ideas if they do not get implemented. Destination brand owners must take the lead and have an integrated program with all of its internal stakeholders to actually achieve their common goal. Hotel and resort operators at the destination, for instance, must understand the platform of the destination brand and integrate into their own offering. For instance, if the destination brand is positioned as a “Scientific Marine Destination”, a hotel could invest in a large aquarium or even build an augmented reality center that educate children about marine life!

Developing a good campaign requires a hefty investment that covers above the line and below the line activities, and it must be done in phases over several years. There is no quick solution to creating awareness, while loyalty must be earned over the years. To keep the momentum going and keep it exciting, the campaign must be renewed each year, but the new themes must stay true to the brand platform. New themes can get too creative and stray away from the brand.

In the physical environment, the brand must be consistently implemented in all touchpoints. This will include directional and other signage and include other permanent fixtures. These items must be highly visible and be constructed to stay fresh over long periods.

Of course, in due time, there will be a need to repeat the exercise again. How do we know when it is time to do another destination rebranding exercise? Well, for a leisure destination usually a drop in occupancy rate can be a sign, but it is wise to do a destination brand “health check” or survey on a yearly basis. Often the marketplace changes rapidly so there are external factors that can affect how attractive a destination remains.

In fact, there are many factors that can affect the success of a destination brand. One needs to make it attractive and keep it exciting over the years. As a business, the corporate brand must not only be enhanced but it has to produce a profit (and ensure it is able to pay its employees).

A destination brand must deliver a clear message and do this consistently. It is essential for the existence and survival of the destination (and its people).

Yasha Chatab worked at The Brand Union as Managing Director before joining WIR Global in late 2011. He has recently been involved in projects for the BII Maybank Bali Marathon 2012, Sony Indonesia and Bank BTN.