By Bill Poling
The Corporation for Travel Promotion this week is unveiling its logo and a global branding strategy for international tourism marketing that will focus on the diversity and potential of the U.S. as a land of “awesome possibilities.”
The corporation, now operating as Brand USA, timed the rollout to coincide with the opening day of the World Travel Market in London. It plans to launch the first live ad campaign on March 7, which coincides with the ITB travel show in Berlin.
As part of the marketing plan, Brand USA is also taking over operation of the multilingual Discover America websites around the world, which have been maintained to date by the U.S. Travel
That transaction enables Brand USA to incorporate the DiscoverAmerica.com URL as part of the new USA logo.
On the eve of the rollout, Brand USA CEO Jim Evans told Travel Weekly that the Discover America websites would be “refreshed” this week and would be completely revamped for the launch of the ad campaign in March.
Chief Marketing Officer Chris Perkins added: “This is just the beginning. We would really have liked nine months to do a website right, but this gives us the opportunity to hit the street running. The Discover America sites get a lot of traffic, so on day one we will have a lot of traffic. You’ll also see us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.”
Evans and Perkins acknowledged that the design of the USA logo could spark some comments about the lack of traditional iconic elements such as stars and stripes or the colors red, white and blue.
But Evans said the story Brand USA wants to tell “is about the possibilities; it’s not about patriotism and pounding our chest and saying, ‘We’re America.’ And we can use this logo in many different ways.”
Evans said, “I’ve worked on developing brand strategies [for companies ranging] from Hyatt to Doubletree to Best Western to Jenny Craig, and this is the clearest and most meaningful. ‘The United States of Awesome Possibilities’ is just spot-on.”
A video presentation explains that developers of the branding campaign asked people in other countries to share their perceptions and experiences of America in the form of a postcard, and the results showed that “everyone had a relationship with America. … Each visitor and each experience helps create the fabric of American culture,” which led to the branding concept.
Evans said that the strategy was presented to President Obama, and “he loved it,” as did travel industry marketers in Brand USA’s 16 top target markets.
As for the marketing campaign, Evans said, “This year, our goal is to spend probably around $125 million net on marketing efforts, and beyond that our goal is $200 million, of which about $180 million will be pure marketing.”
“This money begins to multiply,” he said, with the leveraging effect of cooperative arrangements with U.S. suppliers and destinations and with foreign tour operators.
Perkins added that the importance of partnerships is not only to multiply the amount that is spent but to overcome the “cacophony” of overseas U.S. travel advertising, where the message from various competing states or suppliers is “Pick me! Pick me!”
Partnerships, he said, build a “pathway for collaboration.” The same is true of partnerships with overseas tour operators: “They want the same thing we do. It’s about supporting business.”
As for the “where” and “how” of advertising, Evans reaffirmed a previous comment that he wants the priorities to be “research-driven.” But he said he expects Brand USA will focus first on larger, “tried and true” markets.
Even so, he added that “we can’t afford” not to be in emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India, where Brand USA will likely work with general sales agents.
As for the types of media, Perkins said the channel plan “will be determined entirely by the way that the target uses media” and the way people interact.
Overall, he said, “you’ll probably see a higher-than-average digital and social media effort because that allows us to have that multiplier effect” produced by social interaction.
Funding for Brand USA comes from industry contributions, which the federal government is matching on a 2-to-1 basis during its first fiscal year (which began Oct. 1) and a 1-to-1 basis thereafter. Up to 80% of the industry contribution can be “in-kind” donations of goods and services.
So far, Brand USA has commitments for $4.4 million in cash and about $12.3 million in in-kind contributions, including the office furniture in its Washington headquarters, which the landlord left in place when the previous tenant moved out.