Professor Glenn McCartney explains the importance of developing a unique city brand strategy and why it can help Macau achieve true diversification when it comes to tourist appeal.
By Professor Glenn McCartney
The brand strategy of a city – from its vision and goals to the level of engagement with stakeholders such as the community, private sector and media – will play a significant role in the city’s success when it comes to the travel markets it attracts (and deters), investment, trade, overseas talent and an overall sense of pride by the local community.
Given the sheer number of cities and destination choices available, the city brand must be one that distinctively stands out to attract and break through the clutter of messaging and communication by the many locations all wishing to attract the same audience. Although it has been a constant issue of discussion over the years, establishing a brand image and brand strategy that encompasses the reality of Macau and its Cotai Strip in particular has become increasingly important given recent rhetoric on the need to diversify beyond gaming.
City branding is a process that must reach majority consensus and buy-in from resident communities, including casino concessionaires – the key revenue provider to government. I have stipulated for over a decade in my research that the absence of a clear Macau city brand strategy is one of the obstacles to any substantial moves towards diversification beyond gaming and progress into non-gaming tourism such as conventions and exhibitions.
A common tourism goal in Macau is for more high spending, longer stay customers from China or other regional sources. A welldefined, valid and appealing city brand will send messages that can be less attractive to some markets while engaging to others.
As well as being attractive to certain visitors, the image and messaging of any city brand must be one that is convincing, simple to relate to and truly reflects what the visitor will experience while in the city. Experiences good, bad or neutral will be instantly uploaded and shared to thousands on social media via photos, video clips, messages or newsfeeds.
With the growth of social media, potential visitors can have expectations and experiences long before they actually visit. But they are increasingly skeptical of city promotions and pitches promising an experience like no other. Key opinion leaders in China have a huge fan base and are able to reach and influence thousands with a single newsfeed.
Travelers use word of mouth, blogs and other reviews to construct their travel. There is a need to assess the level of appeal and impact Macau’s current brand messaging is having on enticing new markets and changing perceptions of those target audiences not considering Macau for leisure or business, or on how the brand induces additional visits and spending from current markets.
City and destination brand image can be measured. The brand strategy presented provides an opportunity for Macau to grow the numbers willing to stay overnight in a hotel, stay longer and spend more. Notwithstanding that more hotels and facilities will open in Macau requiring additional numbers, the emphasis is on high yield and greater spend across gaming and non-gaming, not necessarily on quantity and the common tourism authority dictum that more arrivals alone is better.
Resonance, a consultancy company specializing in city branding, has developed the concept of the six “Ps” which ultimately can be measured, benchmarked and compared with competing cities. They are:
- Place and the perceived quality of the city’s natural or built environment;
- Programmes, which can include an array of arts, culture, entertainment and sports events;
- Product, such as infrastructure, institutions and those sites, attractions and services chosen as part of the city promotional mix;
- Prosperity, including gross domestic product, corporate headquarters and how the city is perceived to offer employment and careers;
- People, such as cultural diversity and migrant labour, and finally;
- Promotion, in not only what the city is attempting to promote through paid forms of communication but what others are saying, word of mouth recommendations, written articles or a location for a TV or movie backdrop.
Cities have an abundance of built assets (such as theme parks, casinos or festivals) and natural assets (such as waterfalls, lakes and snow) from which to choose as features of brand marketing. These are functional assets. Important too are the psychological elements in branding of the friendly, warm, romantic, charming, magical or exciting.
Cities can be quick to cite a lengthy range of offerings, of being friendly and exciting, and of offering food, heritage, arts festivals, city marathons and other built attractions. Many of these are common and expected by visitors to any city, so the critical decision is to determine, through research, those few attributes that can elevate the brand.
As with Macau, an annual calendar of events is commonplace in most cities. In the quest to be distinctive and unique, an important event review should focus on potential twists, surprises or innovation. In Singapore, Formula 1 is a night race. The Hong Kong 7s is a much quicker form of traditional rugby that has become an iconic sporting event for Macau’s neighbor. Multiple images are not needed. Just a few well-chosen attributes and messages can propel a city into the limelight.
The city brand message and imagery needs to reach target audiences. Travelers will look for validation and sources they can trust when joining a two-way conversation online, more commonly through their smartphone. It is 24/7 engagement requiring expertize in online content and social media strategy.
Every day Macau’s integrated resorts are tasked through strategic marketing and campaigns with attracting casino patrons to fill hotel rooms, restaurants, spas and shoppers. Invariably for Macau’s city brand and tourism strategy to reach greater levels of success, there must be city brand collaboration with the Cotai properties.
The issue of city brand strategy and standing out from the crowd to attract certain visitor segments or encourage trade and overseas talent is a global challenge for those in charge of city marketing. Cities within countries will also compete. An attribute that once provided brand recognition for the city may be copied by others. Distinctiveness can be short lived, a consideration Macau must factor into its own city branding as its looks to the longer-term development of tourism including the Cotai Strip and the large IRs present there.