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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Island Voices
Who decides Hawai'i 'brand'?

Gloria Garvey and Brook Gramann are principals of The Brand Strategy Group.

As part of the discussion regarding the fact that the HVCB will lose part of its marketing contract, it has been reported that the "awarding of the entire contract of HVCB is a question of whether to have one Hawai'i brand throughout the world."

This statement implies that Hawai'i actually could have a different brand depending on where it was promoted, which, if one understands branding and one understands Hawai'i, is an impossibility. Simply talking about Hawai'i differently or sending different tactical messages does not change what Hawai'i is, or what its "brand" is.

A brand is not a logo or a name. It is not advertising or public relations. It is not even a product or a place. A brand is a promise that you make to your customer. The other side of that coin is the experience that your customers have of you. If they don't match, then you are in trouble.

Brand promises are intangible, they meet needs and solve problems, they are emotionally based and, most importantly, they belong to your customers.

This true definition of a brand is especially fitting in Hawai'i's case. Hawai'i is a place the whole world knows and loves. A place of staggering beauty and extraordinary gentleness. A place that offers rest and restoration. A place of unique heritage and culture. A place of aloha. A place that is American, and yet it is not.

This is what most people believe about Hawai'i, and this is Hawai'i's brand promise. And Hawai'i certainly belongs to the people who love her.

The proof of Hawai'i's strong brand is that those who experience it come back again and again.

Winning a trip to Hawai'i is still the "trip of a lifetime" for many. Even for those of us who live here and complain about its limitations, we conclude that "it's the price you pay to live in paradise."

While advertising agencies might craft different messages about Hawai'i — for instance in Europe, they might promote hiking and ecotourism, and in Kansas City they might promote the excitement of Waikiki — they should never be in control of Hawai'i's brand.

Who should be the keeper of Hawai'i's brand? When there was no HTA, the keeper of the brand was the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau (later renamed the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau).

Then there was the HTA, packed to the gills with representatives of the visitor industry. While they probably understood Hawai'i's brand better than the current board, they were judged to be in conflict of interest. Often, the Legislature acts as if it should be the keeper of Hawai'i's brand. Now there is a Cabinet-level position for tourism: Should Marsha Weinert and those who follow her be the keeper of Hawai'i's brand?

It would be easy to answer if Hawai'i were a corporation — in which case the CEO would be the keeper of the brand. Someone has to have the last word, the final say, on whether the messages we send reflect Hawai'i's brand.

It should not be the advertising agencies that send them. As we add layers in the marketing and communications structure for our "leisure brand" (as the tourism folks refer to it), it becomes increasingly difficult to know who the keeper of Hawai'i's brand is.

It is easy enough to demonstrate that Hawai'i's "leisure brand" is well understood. On the other hand, Hawai'i as a "business brand" has not been a believable promise — because the customer's experience is never the same as the communicated message.

Even raising the issue that Hawai'i's brand might be different depending on where it is being presented and by whom is very disturbing.

To the degree that those of us who live here understand the importance of the "Hawai'i-ness" — its heritage, culture and people — we are all the keepers of Hawai'i's brand. But someone or some organization has to be responsible for managing the communication of the brand.

Is it Ms. Weinert? Is it the HTA? Before we give our marketing dollars to one agency or 10, the question of who is the keeper of Hawai'i's brand should be answered.