Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kimberly Rielly: Understanding The Adirondack Brand

What does ‘Adirondacks’ mean to potential visitors?

There continues to be much discussion throughout the region centering around the topic of the Adirondack “brand”. As the destination marketing organization for a huge chunk of the Adirondacks, I thought we’d chime in, too. And we bring good news! There is clear evidence that “Adirondacks” does, indeed, mean something to potential visitors.

The basic premise of the various comments is that the Adirondacks need a consolidated brand to compete in the marketplace with established brand concepts like those that exist for Vermont and Maine.

We wholeheartedly agree.

The word brand is an overused term and is usually confused in general discourse as being just a tagline. A brand is not a tagline. And tourism promotion doesn’t create brand. Rather, a brand is what your customers think it is. Your product’s brand promise must be based on customer input, and you must be able to deliver on that brand promise. (Disney World does not promote itself as “Sin City”, and Coca Cola doesn’t promote itself as a remedy for sleep deprivation, as they can’t deliver on those promises.) As such, a destination’s brand IS the visitors’ experience and perception of that experience.

But a consolidated brand for the Adirondacks is not as simple as that.

Why are all of Lake Placid’s businesses promoting themselves instead of just promoting Lake Placid? Why are all of the Adirondack towns and villages, from Lake George to Old Forge, promoting themselves instead of marketing the Adirondacks? (For that matter, why are the Thousand Islands, Adirondack and Finger Lakes regions promoting themselves instead of just marketing New York State?)

We say it all the time in promotional materials; “the Adirondack region is a patchwork of public and private land”. Economically, the region is also a patchwork of public municipalities and private businesses. And they all compete for market share – it’s the American free enterprise system. That’s not going to change.

If we, as marketers, “owned” everything inside the blue line, we could force everyone to adhere to the Adirondacks’ brand guidelines, and police all use of the approved logo and messaging that reflects the customer experience. But this isn’t Disney World. The Adirondack region as a whole is only treated as one entity from a regulatory standpoint; by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). Otherwise, it is, indeed fragmented into separate delineations for counties, and various New York State agencies with multiple regions, including DEC, DOT, Parks and Recreation, ESD, etc. Each of the many agencies’ and municipalities’ jurisdictions are split into inconsistent, overlapping sizes and shapes within the region, including the lines that designate the I Love New York Adirondack Region for tourism promotion.

Yes, there is one entity that promotes the entire region. The Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC) is a consortium of seven counties that share resources to promote economic development through destination marketing. Each of the counties in the region pool their granted New York State I Love New York program funds, which are mandated to be used to market the Adirondacks collectively. The ARTC promotes the Adirondack Region as a destination with targeted campaigns in our feeder markets along the I87 and I90 corridors, driving leads generation through the region’s umbrella website, visitadirondacks.com, and toll free numbers.

And there’s evidence that the Adirondacks DOES mean something to potential visitors. We know from a Visitor/Market Opportunity Analysis that was conducted in 2008 that the Adirondack attributes – the unique mix of mountains and lakes and rivers, and the outdoor recreational activities they offer – are the primary driver of visitation to the region. And in a recent study conducted by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration for I Love New York that included a survey of consumers interested in traveling to New York State, respondents are more familiar with the tourism regions than with cities and counties. And, the Adirondacks ranked third in a list of 42 regions, cities and counties (behind New York City and Greater Niagara) as a location with which respondents are familiar.

That demonstrates pretty strong brand awareness.

Despite the market recognition, there remain barriers to success. Although we still can’t force every restaurant and tackle shop to adhere to one, coordinated Adirondack branding message, there is strength in numbers.

We should work toward diminishing the lines that splinter the region, so that the Adirondacks within the Blue Line are clearly defined by all state agencies as one region and that we recognize that environmental protection can increase economic vitality. If the current pieces that comprise the Adirondack region’s fragmented puzzle were one, complete picture, it would go a long way toward achieving a consolidated, cohesive approach to hamlet revitalization and sustainable tourism.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to promote our destinations as we have been; by promoting unique Adirondack experiences, and tying them all to the Adirondack name. Turns out, it means more than you might think.

FYI: If you haven’t seen the ARTC promotions, it’s because you’re not in our target market! View a sample 30-second TV spot on YouTube.

Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

Kimberly Rielly

Kimberly Rielly


Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau / Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, the accredited destination marketing organization (DMO) responsible for promoting the Lake Champlain, High Peaks, Schroon Lake and Whiteface regions of Essex County.



A lifelong resident of Lake Champlain's Adirondack coast, Rielly writes about the destination marketing and planning issues that affect the region's tourism economy.



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