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How to develop a robust destination brand on any budget

By January 19, 2024 Stories
Ballandean Girraween

Late last year, I had the good fortune of presenting at the Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) Conference on one of my favourite topics – branding.

Not only is a strong destination brand the cornerstone of all your marketing efforts, but it’s also both your sword and shield when it comes to capturing audience attention and navigating consumer challenges.

However, in my 15 years of destination marketing, I’ve found most destinations shy away from asking hard questions about their brand and instead limp on with brands that are neither memorable nor engaging.

And that, I’ve got to say, is a disservice to your region.

So why do rebrands or brand audits fall by the wayside by so many destinations?

The answer can be found in your budget spreadsheet. Rebrands can be hellishly expensive – but I’m here to tell you, they don’t have to be.

It’s my firm view that branding is so much more than your look and feel (think: logos, fonts, colours) – and there’s ways to rebrand in phases and see real results on any budget.

Read on to find out how you can build a robust destination brand on any budget by focussing on core elements rather than doing a full rebrand.

When you don’t have any marketing budget: Improve your branding by asking the right people, the right questions and tweak messaging yourself

What you think about your destination is one thing; but it’s your audience’s opinion that actually says more about your brand’s health than anything said within your internal four walls.

If you were working with a branding agency, the first place they would start is your customers.

Their first goal would be to gauge if their perception of your destination brand is reality – and then spend the rest of their time bridging the gap between the two.

Good news for your marketing budget, you can do a lot of this yourself.

As a brand, you have access to free focus group tools via social media and can start with Instagram ‘ask me anything’ Stories or polls to quiz your audience.

To kick start your branding journey, we’d recommend asking pointy questions (the kind you might be nervous to hear answers about) – and really listen to the answers.

Here’s some thought starters to help shape your brand’s identity, through online polling:

  • Have you visited our region before?
  • What was the favourite thing you did?
  • What’s one word you’d use to describe us?
  • What surprised you?
  • What age bracket do you belong to?
  • How long did you stay?
  • How did you arrive?

Compile these answers into a word cloud or mood board and circle any frequent mentions – the positive mentions can be pulled through to become the foundation of your brand story and tagline.

Would you like some help asking your customers the pointy questions on social? Email – hello [@] mediamortar.com.au and let us do the polling.

When you only have a sliver of a marketing budget: Develop your brand story, or engage someone (like us)

One of the most important parts of your brand is its story; the who you are, why you’re different and what you’re known for.

I like to picture your destination’s brand story as important as the words on the back cover of a novel. The story’s got to be enticing enough to share why people should pick you up off the shelf and invest their time (and money) in a visit.

The biggest challenge I’ve seen across my career with destination marketing organisations is that destinations are unclear on the hero storyline of their destination. Marketers usually want to share ALL the things you can see and do, rather than focus on the main characters and plot line.

Instead of selling the sizzle, they sell the whole proverbial BBQ and then throw in a few salads and a free tablecloth too.

If this sounds like you, we’d suggest pulling your core tourism marketing team together and getting clear on these questions:

  • What’s your unique selling proposition?
  • Why should a visitor choose you over any other destination?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • Who is your ideal customer?

Once you’re clear on your key offer, pen this into an engaging brand story covering your who, what, when, where and why. Don’t forget to write it in your tone of voice too!

Need someone to turn your destination brand story into a page turner? Email – hello [@] mediamortar.com.au and we’ll put yours down on paper.

When you only have a small (but mighty) marketing budget: Get clear on your tone of voice and then use it everywhere

Put simply: if all your visual branding was removed from all your marketing material, would customers know who said it?

Yes, and the answer lies in your tone of voice.

With the right tone, you can connect with customers before they’ve even visited. And this is important because we know that words carry meaning – and where people find meaning, you can create behavioural change.

We know people aren’t moved by gratuitous data dumps or super-sales, so words and storytelling matter here.

With a small marketing budget, you can drive BIG change just by investing in your tone of voice and how you want to say things.

Perfecting tone starts by asking how you want to leave readers feeling after seeing your copy. Capture these feelings and jot them down into personality traits.

Your brand’s personality could be something like:

  • Fun
  • Positive
  • Clear
  • Conscious

It can be a helpful exercise to write down a personality or celebrity you think captures the mood and tone of your destination.

Not sure where to start, ask yourself on a scale of 1 to Russell Coight, David Attenborough, Nick Cummins – where does your tone sit? You’ll soon get into a lively debate and start narrowing it down.

If you’d like our assistance to crystalise your tone, email – hello [@] mediamortar.com.au and we’ll have you sounding perfectly polished.

When you have a moderate budget: You could touch the look and feel, but probably not the logo



You don’t need to change the logo of your business to modernise your look and feel.

With a few tweaks to fonts and colours, it’s possible to uplift your visuals and drive your marketing budget further.

Just be aware when updating your look and feel, your budget is not going to be soaked up in the initial creation, but rather the rollout.

Even when you move to new fonts or colours, every piece of marketing material (which even in a business the size of ours is sizeable!) will need updating.

Depending on the scale of your business and where the logo/branding is used, this could end up being as significant as a full rebrand anyway.

Alternatively, another route you might like to consider is a logo device or campaign logo iteration – to modernise your look for a limited time.

We find logo devices like these pictured a powerful branding tool for larger organisations who have rigorous brand guidelines that are too cumbersome to tweak.

If you’d like our assistance to give your brand a facelift, email – hello [@] mediamortar.com.au and we’ll  inject new energy into your look and feel.

When you have a big budget: Just do it! Go Full Out!

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

If you’re wanting to make seismic shifts it pays to invest in the full rebrand opportunity and have an agency answer the number one problem all brands are striving for: who are we and how do we stand out?

With a shelf life of approximately 10 years, a full rebrand is a worthy investment (think of that cost per wear #brandmath!) and likely to include, but not be limited to:

  • Logo
  • Brand story
  • Tone of voice
  • Campaign executions
  • Brand hierarchy
  • Strategy
  • Brand guidelines

To minimise the impact to your marketing budget, you could even consider a phased roll out of the rebranded materials to stretch the rebrand across two or three financial years to help amortise the costs.

After all, big brands, take two to three years to fully update their branding across physical assets, so your destination wouldn’t be an exception.

If you missed my presentation at Australian Regional Tourism Network Conference, and would like a FREE Media Mortar brand audit, email – hello [@] mediamortar.com.au

By Hannah Statham

Hannah Statham is The Boss at Media Mortar. She’s a heavy weight wordsmith, punching with puns, analogies and metaphors that leave readers wanting more. When she’s not refreshing her Instagram feed, you’ll find Hannah searching for the best gnocchi in town.