Peninsula needs brand name

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2006

In an effort to provide focus for the Kenai Peninsula’s diverse marketing and economic development endeavors, the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council is launching its Branding the Kenai Peninsula project.

While branding is one of marketing’s hottest trends, there is still some confusion about what exactly it is, and what it can do for the Kenai Peninsula. A destinations brand is what makes an area stand out from other destinations, differentiates it from competitors and allows it to be competitive on something other than price.

Choosing a vacation spot is one of the most emotional purchasing decisions a consumer will make. The peninsula can capitalize on this by using more than rational arguments to win our customers. Think of the advertising you see for your favorite cars. They don’t have us looking under the hood at the engine or discussing the range of colors available. Instead they imply escape and freedom. These companies recognize that if they win the customer’s heart, then the head will follow.

At its best, a destination brand hones in on a city’s (or regions) edge, creating an emotional connection with people that makes them want to spend their money, time and even their lives there.

So, does the Kenai Peninsula need a brand? Only if it wants to compete — and win — in today’s increasingly crowded destination marketplace.

This effort started with the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) in 2004 when KPTMC asked that the Kenai Peninsula be removed from the Southcentral section in the Alaska State Vacation Planner and be listed on its own. In our dealings with ATIA, initial questions were “What do we want to be called?” “What do we want to say?” These questions led us to an answer: The Kenai Peninsula is a product in need of a brand identity that will provide a clear, accurate, compelling depiction of our peninsula and its assets. Ultimately, a destination brand that will concentrate on the experience(s) in our region, and our ability to deliver on that promise.

John Kelly, formerly CEO with Alaska Airlines, noted it in an Anchorage Convention and Visitor Bureau presentation in July 2005 that 60 percent of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1970 are out of business today. Conversely, of the 22 brands that led the nation in 1925, 19 are still in business.

KPTMC invited a branding speaker to our Regional Tourism Conference in Homer last year and sent out a request for proposals for the branding effort earlier this year. We have selected an award winning company to help craft our new brand, North Star Destination Strategies. They will use an approach they call Community BrandPrint. It combines research, strategic planning and creative implementation to assist cities and regions in receiving the greatest possible return for their investment. Branding is a defining force for long-term success and it is more than a marketing tool, it is an economic development strategy.

North Star’s presentation put forth persuasive arguments and cited financial success for regions they have branded. These regions were successful in identifying the accurate, truthful and compelling attributes and the ability to sell the “visitor” on its product.

The return on investment with North Star BrandPrint on average has been almost double the national employment growth average. The national average being 1.70 percent and BrandPrint communities average 3.2 percent. Businesses in a BrandPrint community are hiring more employees because more visitors are coming to visit and the demand is up for their goods and services. BrandPrint clients vs. National Hotel Occupancy Average (2001-04) experienced a 16.70 percent increase while the national average was down 2.3 percent.

North Star will take the peninsula through four steps:

· Understanding: Research will help us determine the characteristics that make the peninsula unique for our citizens, potential visitors and prospective businesses.

· Insights: A phase during which the research is applied to the challenges faced by the peninsula and a clear purpose or strategy is outlined.

· Imagination: The creative phase where insights turn into inspiration. The end result will be tangible and consistent communication concepts (positioning lines, logos, ads, public relations, Web sites, etc.)

· Delivery: Everything leading up to this point is a promise to the customer and it doesn’t mean anything if we can’t deliver on our promise. That is why it is so important to have the entire peninsula involved and backing the branding project.

All Kenai Peninsula businesses will benefit from our more powerful presence in the tourism market, and we have sponsorship and stakeholder opportunities available for those companies and individuals who would like to be involved on a larger scale.

The leveraged overall investment will allow KPTMC to market to areas that are currently unknown, and customer research will be available to organizations and individual stakeholders which is not now available. The new research will give us all better answers as to how customers are making buying decisions. With that information, we will be become more effective marketers of our individual businesses as well as the Kenai Peninsula. Branding will allow the region as a whole to grow its current markets and in essence make the “pie” bigger for all business sectors in the peninsula.

We need peninsulawide support to make this successful. Throughout this process we will be asking for assistance, including having residents complete a short survey on how they view the peninsula.

If you have any questions or would like to become more involved, contact me at 262-5229.

Shanon Hamrick is the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.

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