Travel Alberta

Tourism Works: CEO Blog

Travel Alberta is committed to providing timely and relevant information related to the business of tourism in Alberta and beyond. On this blog page Travel Alberta’s Chief executive Officer Royce Chwin provides insights as well as revealing statistics related to the industry. Chwin’s objective for this communication tool is to acknowledge some of the questions people involved in Alberta’s tourism industry are asking.

Check back each month for the latest entry in the Tourism Works: CEO Blog, and engage with Travel Alberta through our corporate social media channels:

Tourism Works: CEO Blog

What Branding Is — and Isn’t

There is probably no marketing term more overused or more misunderstood than “branding.”

In the last 15 or so years, innumerable experts, ad agencies, opinion leaders and consultants have advanced countless theories on brands and created a multi-billion-dollar industry in the process.

For every brilliant piece of true branding work, there are hundreds of examples of tweaked logos, updated slogans and new colour palettes passed off as brand strategy.

When it comes to destination branding, the landscape gets even more complicated. It’s one thing to brand a product or service, and something far more complex to capture the history, culture, environment and people of a city, region, province or country.

But it’s important to get it right. In many cases, branding is a critical solution to your business problem or opportunity.

So, what is a brand? Google the word and you’ll get 1.4 billion hits. No wonder there’s confusion.

I’ve been to many a conference and had many conversations where the topic turns to an organization’s new brand strategy. Out comes the new business card with rebuilt logo, colours and tag line.

But when asked about what’s being done about organizational branding, there’s often a blank stare.

It seems to me there’s a common misperception between “visual identity” and “brand” and that updating visual identity somehow fulfills a strategic branding initiative.

Visual identity works hand-in-hand with branding, and both are important, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are the same thing.

In the travel industry, I also see confusion between destination branding, destination marketing and economic development.

Think of it this way: destination branding is about defining who you are and what you are not; destination marketing is how you communicate that. And economic development is using both to attract and stimulate new businesses and economic activities.

Among the sea of brand definitions out there, a couple I like are:

• Branding is all of the ways you establish an image of your company in your customers’ eyes. (
• Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. (

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors.

So, how do we sort through all the smoke and get started on determining whether you need a visual identity update or a true brand strategy?

Start with your end goal. What business problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity are you trying to capitalize on? What does awesome look like?

Identify your audience and get to know them. Is it locals? Visitors? Business? All three? But you can’t be everything to everyone.

Clarify your expectations. Are you truly trying to change or reposition the DNA of your organization, destination or service in order to stand out to your target customer? Or do your colours, logos and slogans simply need refreshing?

When Travel Alberta created the (remember to breathe) brand in 2011, we aimed to connect emotion with experience, because people remember feelings better than facts.

We looked for a way to illustrate what Alberta was already known and appreciated for — authentic experiences and goose bump moments in breathtaking landscapes. And how could we reposition the destination story so it stood out — on travellers’ terms, not ours.

The last thing we worried about was visual identity because we know the perceptions of travellers aren’t necessarily influenced by colours, logos and tag lines from a destination.

It was always about the moment and sense of place. It was always about our travellers. We’re thrilled our travellers tell us our brand continues to resonate.

In today’s crowded world of infinite choices, a strong brand is an important strategy for connecting with customers. But before you spend time, effort and money on branding, make sure you truly understand what it means for your business, destination or organization. And, remember, your brand isn’t your logo.

We’re here to help. When you’re ready, we’re ready.

Royce Chwin
Travel Alberta Team Member
Chief Executive Officer
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