Something happened at the VADMO Conference at The Omni Homestead in April. It has bothered me ever since, weighing heavily on my conscience. I’ve even lost sleep over it. The time has come to deal with it head-on. I think I offended the bird watching community. You could say I ruffled their feathers.
Here’s the full story. I was delivering a presentation to the assembled tourism professionals on destination branding. I didn’t want to give another “What is a brand? A brand is not a logo,” presentation which everyone has heard before. I wanted to answer the question that every DMO has about this subject: What’s in it for me? I planned to put into simple terms exactly what the destination has at the end of the process that they can turn into meaningful progress.
I explained that one of the many things a DMO gets from the branding process is clarity about their unique positioning in the marketplace. That clarity that comes from research. A clarity that gives them confidence to stay on message and not fall into a trap I have seen many times. When a constituency within a community becomes the squeaky wheel a DMO sometimes feels the need to spend money promoting them, even in the face of a research-backed strategy that says other things are much bigger tourism drivers. Many times it is the arts or history constituencies that make the noise, but to make my point in a more humorous way I chose to refer to what I thought was a much more obscure group — bird watchers. The clarity that comes from the research gives the DMO director the fortitude to say, “we’re so very proud of the bird watching opportunities here and will happily list them and all of your events on our website, but we have this data that proves there are dozens of other reasons why people choose to visit here and that's why those things are featured so heavily in our marketing.”
Sure enough, a tourism professional in the audience, who happens to hail from a DMO that I deeply respect, spoke up to defend bird watching as a decent niche that they actively market to. Hmm, I think I struck a nerve. Since that comment came after my session had ended and I had stepped away from the podium, I did not have a chance to continue the conversation. What I would have said is: Thank you for making my point. There are an infinite number of niche markets. A niche market can be defined as any narrowly focused interest that is not your primary target audience. If a rural destination is well known for its whitewater rafting then perhaps motorcycle rides on the wooded backroads may be a niche market. If a destination is famous for its beautiful beaches then antique shoppers might be a secondary niche market. If a destination is known for its urban flair with upscale shopping and sophisticated museums but also happens to be home to a lovely park, then bird watching could be a niche market. The important point is that by using research from the branding process the destination knows what is important enough to make the centerpiece of its brand messaging and what is relegated to second level though possibly lucrative niche markets. Furthermore, the knowledge gives the destination marketing team the backbone to not cave in to pressure to dilute the hard-earned brand because of a squeaky wheel in the community.
Now, bird lovers please do not send emails. I like birds just as much as anyone. Although I have yet to find one that likes to go on walks and fetch tennis balls as much as my good ole dog.