by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert
PHILIPSBURG:--- The Caribbean marketplace is cluttered with twenty-plus territories positioning themselves pretty much in the same way and offering similar benefits. Smart positioning will make one tourist destination stand out from the rest. It makes the difference from being average to becoming a dominant market player.
Positioning is one of the most powerful marketing concepts. It creates an identity or image of a destination in the mind of tourists in terms of an awareness that distinguishes it from competing destinations. It can boost the economic development of a destination. Positioning should be decided before any promotion is created. A good position gives the destination a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). A good position in the market also allows a destination to ride out bad times more easily.
“The battle of the mind of tourists” is what it is all about. Before one can have a share of the market, one must have a share of mind. Being successful requires finding a window in the mind through stimulating perception. The position that a destination has in the mind of the consumer can be more important to success than the tourism destination itself. Don't tell them how good the destination is; tell them how good it makes them feel. It is the tourist who decides whether to follow the perception. Tourist often knows more about vacationing than the marketers of a destination simply because they have the experience of going on vacation every year.
Don't count how many people you reach, reach the people that matter. A positioning strategy is a tool to enter into a source market that matters most. Often disproportionate sums of money are spent on overseas promotions with a “being-everything-for-everyone” model, and in the hope that with a nuclear attempt that destination will be the winner. It spreads efforts too thin where they could have the strongest impact when concentrated elsewhere. Settling on less targets may effectively bring in more. Budget size is not the winning element. Smart application of funds backed by serious marketing research determines the altitude of the return on investment.
The check-up from the neck-up of destination marketing starts with positioning based on the principle that a destination exists to satisfy needs and deliver the promised benefits. The benefits should be different and better than the ones offered by the competitors. Tourists have many choices within and beyond the region. The process of setting one destination apart from rivals is a critical success factor. Having a clear identity and placement to the needs of the tourists is vital. Create a concept of “destination personality”!
Positioning strategies designed for the destination will fail if they are designed from their own perspective instead of from the tourists’ perspective. “We believe that we are …” is an assumption. Assumptions are an imperfect method of decision-making that’s “good enough” and saves time. A lack of background marketing research is susceptible to using dubious data and generalizations. When assumptions are proven wrong, the rest may go horribly wrong and at a cost.
The first step in positioning is to pick the market segment that has the most potential. Market segmentation breaks down the broad tourism market into smaller target markets for which the destination is identified. Those segments will become the focus of special attention. It is important to determine the parameters for competitive success in that specific source market. Destinations that want to go niche, must have a more targeted premium positioning.
Perceptual mapping is a technique that attempts to display the perceptions of tourists rather than the opinion of the destination marketer. Understanding the tourist perspective is essential. A perceptual map wants to find out where the destination is positioned in the market and helps to find out how the tourists see the destination in relation to others in the market. The map can be used to identify gaps in the market as well as for clarifying perceptual problems with a destination. Two questions are to be considered. How does the target market perceive the destination and how does it perceive the competition? Marketers must know their tourists. This may require considerable research on tourist perceptions and competitor activity. If marketing research is too simplistic or not taken seriously enough, it can result in misrepresented factors or conditions.
A Positioning Map is a list of the competitors and what they claim to be their specialty. It will help the actual positioning of a destination within a competitive marketplace. It can include destination characteristics or distinctive features that inspire tourists to pick one destination over another. The list can show where competitors are lagging behind when looking at what is important to the preferred tourist. The map is essentially part of a consumer-centric approach to marketing communication which represents how a destination communicates its value to tourists. it can uncover marketing opportunities and "position" its marketing message to appeal to the target segment.
Following the above steps should provide a framework for the practical planning and implementation of marketing positioning strategies in the tourism context. Not capitalizing on the unique strengths of a destination is missing out on the business opportunity that specialization offers toward efficiency and profitability. The marketing plan should be unique to the destination and focus on the essential tourists and their expectations. Spend the budget funds wisely. Don’t spread out the efforts. You cannot have them all.
Last but not least, the above can be applied to any kind of business; just replace ‘destination’ by ‘product/service’ and ‘tourists’ by ‘clients’.