There’s the patriotic, flag-waving, fireworks brand of America that citizens are celebrating this Independence Day. And then there’s the external-facing Brand USA, as the United States is marketed outside its borders, pitched primarily to tourist organizations around the world and consumers pondering their next vacation.
There’s plenty to fuel the domestic American brand these days, especially in a political year, while CMOs continue to try to figure out what being born (and sometimes, made) in the USA means to their brands and customers.
It’s America’s external brand that concerns Tom Garzilli, a former VP of marketing for American Express who is the chief marketing officer for Brand USA, reporting to the organization’s president and CEO, Chris Thompson.
The public-private organization was established by the US Travel Promotion Act of 2010 and works closely with federal partners and others to increase tourism from countries around the world—and to boost the spending by foreign visitors once in the US.
It spends about $140 million annually (according to Skift) on its marketing efforts, including US fam trips for tourism organizations and consumer-facing touch points such as VisitTheUSA.com, which relaunched last month and redirects from the former DiscoverAmerica.com URL; its renaming has affected social media such as its Facebook page, too.
The good news is Garzilli has a lot to promote. For example, with the US National Parks Service turning 100 next month, Brand USA has been rolling out National Parks Adventure, a 3D documentary that has been showing in more than 350 IMAX theaters since February worldwide.
It’s narrated by actor Robert Redford, a long-time nature champion, and pays tribute to the 400-plus sites across America protected by the National Parks Service.
“The enthusiasm for learning about the USA abroad is as strong as it’s ever been,” Garzilli told brandchannel. “In places where people haven’t had a chance to come here, audiences are going and seeing this film, for example. There is enthusiasm in the foreign press. The enthusiasm for visiting here and the love and interest in this country is as strong as it’s ever been.”
More than just marketing America overseas, as veteran travel writer Peter Greenberg explains in the video above: “Brand USA isn’t just about getting and keeping market share. This is about visibility, openness, quality of experience and quite literally, putting all of the USA on the map for the world to explore.”
Garzilli spoke with brandchannel about the opportunities and challenges facing Brand USA:
bc: What are your most top priorities, and how have they evolved?
Garzilli (right): If you can imagine our challenge that we have—which is to market 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia, with all of that diversity and all the different experiences we have—it also makes it such a rich and great product to sell. But there’s a lot of messaging and a lot of different ways to share those things.
We ultimately see ourselves as the nation’s storytellers and to find ways around the world to first inspire and then move consumers through the travel cycle, which is inspiring them, educating and informing them, helping to activate on those trips, and taking those trips and then sharing their experiences when they return.
There’s a lot of focus on education, inspiration and communication. And we understand our relationships around the world with the travel trade who are ultimately creating the product in their country and helping us to really activate consumes.
Brand USA may fall short of the original goals for 2021. Can you comment on that?
When we were formed in 2010 the goal was to bring 100 million international visitors annually to the US by 2021. We did about 75 million in 2015. We haven’t gotten our final numbers, but the growth is not as robust as we were hoping or planning because of various reasons.
For example, there are exchange rate issues that may be slowing things in some countries but helping us grow in others. Growth in visitors from Canada has slowed, but we are refocusing our efforts on bringing that back up. Because Canada is a border country, some of that is [currency] exchange-driven; it’s harder to tell a value story. We’re spending a lot of time talking about “all within your reach” as a tagline, not just from Canada but from overseas markets as well.
It’s not about going to a specific city. There’s so much to experience beyond the gateway cities in the US, which include Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago and a few others. We’re reiterating our value message.
We believe we’re still on target to reach that 100 million goal. We’re going to just need to have a little more aggressive growth than we were planning on. But nonetheless we’ll be close to that goal, and it was a very ambitious one when we started. Originally it required us to grow in the low 4 percent range annually and now it will require the high 4 percents. We’re confident we’ll be around that number or close to it.
How are your goals manifested in current and upcoming campaigns?
We’ve always had kind of a strategy of talking about the iconic things that make the USA unique but also the value, the experiences that exist as you move beyond those things. For nearly three years we’ve had a “great outdoors” strategy that we’ve implemented in different media that has culminated in our giant-screen film. It’s been translated into nine languages.
More recently our strategy and marketing have been around a proximity approach of “all within your reach” where we’re specifically edcucating consumers about things you can do within a five-hour radius of a gateway city, a multi-destination experience which is a value message as well as to inspire you to come back.
Do people see America differently in a tourism sense than in other ways? And how do problems such as terrorist attacks register on potential travelers to the US, especially since the attack in Orlando and the fact that it’s a major destination for foreign tourists?
Do people see the tourism piece separate from the other pieces? And we see that as a benefit. It’s a way to keep us connected to the world.
Orlando is a tragedy that we’ve been very concerned about and have worked hard with our partners in Orlando and reaching out to them and in support of them. From a business perspective it hasn’t really had an impact and we don’t see it having a long-term impact on travel and tourism. People separate those two things in many ways.
What should CEOs and CMOs of companies in the travel and tourism business know about the “USA brand” right now, and how should they act in light of that knowledge?
We also see as one of our very important missions adding value for our stakeholders and partner: cities, states, airlines and others, and companies abroad who see themselves as having an Americana brand. We’re here to help add value to those efforts.
When you look at things such as our film, we partner with Expedia, REI and Subaru to help drive their values abroad. We’re working with other US brands. There are a lot of brands that, when you go around the world, their Americana features are part of their value proposition. We want to help express that. It all helps to inspire and push our message.