Creating a Different DMO for Place Branding

This semester’s COM 490 Transmedia Storytelling (or Capstone) course has finally reached its more concrete marketing part. We started reading Anne Zeiser’s Transmedia Marketing book. I should admit that the book is ancient in digital media terms. It was published in 2012 – or few digital eons ago. Yet, its take on marketing and promotion is solid. The first few chapters where Zeiser lays down the conceptual frameworks made me reconsider how one can re-organize a destination management organization (DMO) into one that can implement a transmedia marketing campaign.

organizational chart

Newport News Tourism Organizational Chart

A place can technically reach its audiences through three main means of communication, as argued by Mihalis KavaratzisPrimary communication is the place itself – its policies, services, infrastructure, and even landscape. Secondary communication is the formal marketing communication, including advertisements and event management. Tertiary communication is the word of mouth marketing. More often than not, it is possible to analyze the structure of DMOs through this framework. Newport, for instance, has technicians and specialists to enhance primary communication through tourism experiences. Media relations and marketing take care of secondary communication. And tertiary communication can go under web marketing. More recent studies in place branding, including Hankinson’s relational brand and Blain et al.‘s study of DMOs, more or less confirm Kavaratzis’s theoretical arguments.

I argue we can draw three important lessons from transmedia projects. And believe it or not, none of these lessons are about “digital technologies”. There is a tendency to overemphasize the importance of new communication platforms and to get overly excited about the possibilities. Yet, we need to see the larger cognitive and communicative processes beyond these platforms in transmedia projects. We should not misread Marshall McLuhan’s work on media technology (otherwise Woody Allen might confront us in public as he does in the video below).

1- Maker-culture: Social media is a result of and a catalyzer for the maker culture. We all want to make things. With transmedia marketing, we want to shoot videos, write texts, take photos. The end result looks something similar to the video below, done by Traveling Foodie. The production quality is not the greatest, yet it is there! It is being created and watched. It might be time for us to reconsider our secondary communication production capabilities and invest more in tertiary communication.

2- Storytelling: It is all about the story. Zeiser claims storytelling is in human DNA and is the best persuasion method. I find it difficult to agree with the first part of the argument but the second part is valid. Storytelling is the best way to get people to act or react. All three communication means should focus on creating a narrative around a place, rather than provide incompatible bits and pieces of information.

3- Coordination: As Zeiser defines, transmedia is “storytelling across multiple forms of media, with each element making distinctive contributions” (p.9). A place needs to be able to develop appropriate content for each platform – content that makes the best use of the platform’s storytelling capabilities – and to be in charge of designing how different content fits together.

Here is what I am trying to say in terms of organizational structure. A DMO needs a chief storyteller as the administrator. The position needs to control the story, divide the narratives into three primary means of communication, and help communicate. The middle-level management should be based on the capabilities of communication tools, such as audio/visual, interactive, and policy. The staff members should have specific production capabilities, such as web design, social media marketing, writing, and word of mouth content. A destination management organization must tell a place’s story – without a consistent narrative and a structure to support it, a place cannot brand itself.


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