Branding agency to community: Changing perceptions key to growth

In their presentation to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday, October 26, 2004, the firm hired to conduct a branding study for the Branson/Tri-Lakes Area recommended the creation of a marketing campaign designed to change the perceptions of a targeted segment of non-visitors while reinforcing the attitudes of current visitors.

The Sterling Group, a successful national brand consulting firm, was selected to conduct the study by a branding task force established by the Marketing Advisory Council of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB. The goal of the study was to determine ways to attract more first time visitors and increase visitation by Baby Boomers and their families. Sterling Group’s client list includes companies such as Nike, Pepsi, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Levi Strauss, Yahoo, Sony, Johnson & Johnson, the NBA, and Time Warner.

Austin McGhie, the president of the Sterling Group’s San Francisco office and head of the company’s strategy groups in San Francisco, New York, and London, in his presentation to the Board, focused on three major aspects of the branding research that led to his firm’s recommendation to develop marketing tactics that address what he called the ‘perception gap’ between Loyal Branson visitors and non-visitors.

Identifying the ‘Resistors’
“Our research discovered that there is a Resistor group of people, who look like Branson’s current Loyal customers in ways such as lifestyle and demographics, but they are under the misguided perception that they know what Branson offers and that it’s just NOT for them. The reality is that when test groups of Resistors actually experienced Branson, not only were they pleasantly surprised by their experience, they become self-professed ambassadors who become enthusiastic advocates for Branson.”

Establishing the Branson Brand
The new marketing approach, according to McGhie, should shake the foundation of the Resistors’ perceptions with surprising and unexpected aspects of the Branson brand.

McGhie described the Branson brand position as the sum total of the qualities that differentiate Branson from its competitors.

Branson is up close and personal. Branson brings together a broad and unexpected mix of world-class entertainment and recreation to create an exhilarating family experience.

“In other words,” McGhie said, “… entertainment you can touch, entertainment that touches you. That is the essence of what Branson’s true brand position is in the vacation destination market today.”

McGhie said that in order to establish accurate perceptions about the Branson brand in the minds of Resistors, marketing must focus on the unexpected elements of Branson, and must be delivered in a way that will pleasantly surprise Resistors and Loyal customers alike.

The Brand Promise
The Branson Brand promise is the character, personality and values of the Branson community, key elements that satisfy and endear Loyal visitors, according to McGhie.

“If you can overcome Resistors’ perceptions with a marketing strategy that entices them with surprising facts and begin to reposition the brand in their minds, the Branson Brand promise will keep them coming back,” McGhie said.

He went on to describe the branding study process that formed the basis for his group’s recommendations. The 5-month study consisted of group and individual focus sessions with Branson area business and community leaders; interviews with tourism and media industry experts; interviews with visitors in Branson; focus group sessions with non-visitors in Dallas, Little Rock and St. Louis; a first-time visitor trip to Branson for residents (‘Resistors’) in key markets; and a review of existing statistical visitor information.

Branson Alderman Dick Gass participated in two local focus groups that provided Sterling with insight and feedback during the study.

“I think Sterling has defined the Branson brand and given us well thought-out recommendations for how to proceed from here. One of the keys will be for everyone in the community to get on board so we can put our full force behind making this branding campaign a success,” Gass said.

The next step in the process, according to BLACC brand consultant Linda Antus is to issue a request for proposals from creative agencies to develop a campaign expression of the brand strategy, including a slogan and other deliverables, as well as research to test our proposition and creative positioning.

Then, Camelot Communications, our strategic media company, will assess our market opportunity and recommend the targeting of our 2005 marketing strategies to maximize the contact with the Resistors, by Season, according to Antus.

Dan Lennon, vice-president of marketing and public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB, said that once the Chamber has creative direction, it will be able to offer local businesses workshops on how to apply the marketing strategies to their individual businesses.

“The goal is to increase business for everyone associated with tourism in the Branson/Tri-Lakes Area,” Lennon said.

Branson Chamber president and CEO Ross Summers said he looks forward to implementing Sterling’s recommendations during the 2005 season and beyond.

“This is a long-term process for the Chamber and the community. We have a big job ahead of us, as does any destination or company that undergoes a branding campaign, but now we have the research-based evidence and soon we’ll have the creative direction we need to proceed with confidence and enthusiasm. The sky’s the limit for Branson,” he said.

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