Developing Your Brand: How to Do It & Why You Should
by Robin Amster

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Even a one-person travel agency can develop a compelling brand that sets it apart from a sea of competitors, according to speakers at The Affluent Traveler Symposium here.

“A brand is a promise; it’s not a slogan or a tagline,” said travel marketing executive Susan Black. “It’s the promise you make to your customer. It tells them, ‘You can count on me for this.’”

Black, a founding partner of the strategic advisory firm Black & Wright and a former executive with Travel Impressions, led a panel titled “The Importance of Branding Yourself” on Wednesday.

Panelists discussed what a “brand” means and how agents can craft a strong one.

Don’t fake it
Jennifer Doncsecz, CTIE, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Penn., said a brand can’t be faked. “With social media you can shine through, if you’re authentic.”

“It’s all about how others think of you,” she added. “That’s your brand.”

Doncsecz advised agents to think about why they sell travel when developing their brands. “Start with that,” said Doncsecz, who started out as a home-based agent and built VIP Vacations into a large destination weddings specialist agency.  

‘About Us’ no-nos
The “about us” page on an agency’s website is an important part of branding. Unfortunately most are boring, she said.

“Don’t put in how long you’ve been doing travel,” said Doncsecz. Instead write about your favorite destinations and other things that impart your passion for travel and serve to establish a personal brand.

Jason Kycek, director of sales and marketing for Capella Marigot Bay Resort & Marina in St. Lucia, agreed that “personalizing” a brand is key for agents.

“Agents’ brands are not like the big brands developed by Coca-Cola or Microsoft,” he said. “They’re more like micro-brands.”

Unique expertise
Camille Olivere of Norwegian Cruise Lines said part of crafting a brand is “figuring out what you can be competent about and be passionate about that.”

“Find something to which you can bring a unique expertise, and narrow your focus to that,” said Olivere, who is senior vice president of sales, Americas, for Norwegian’s luxury The Haven and Suites brand.

Before you develop your brand . . .
Black recommended two steps agents can take to develop a brand: 1) make a list of the personal attributes you want to communicate to clients and 2) write a mission statement before coming up with a branding strategy.

“How many agents have a mission statement? You can’t say what your brand is until you have this.”

Black cautioned agents to “stay away from the aspirational” in their mission statements. “Say authentically what you can do and what you do do.

“Don’t underestimate things you do, like sending thank you notes to clients and following up with a call after their trip. Those things are part of your brand.”

Social media
Social media can play a huge role in creating a brand, panelists said.

Olivere said Norwegian Cruise Line has created online contests for passengers that serve to foster the line’s brand. “Get creative,” she told agents. “Extend your reach through social media.”

Agents should also “let their clients shout out” their praises on their website, said Doncsecz.

“Use their photos and their full names. A blurb from clients won’t do it,” she added. “They won’t mind giving you their names. They’re already on Facebook and LinkedIn and other social media.”

Doncsecz said agents should have a personal Facebook page. She also cautioned that having a company page with very few likes is worse than not having a page at all.

Not for everyone
Not every agent needs to embrace social media, said Kycek.

“It may not be your brand,” he said. And it should be noted that there are successful agents who are not active in social media.

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We stopped taking the bargain hunters and focused on the complex FITs and river cruises. It happened naturally; the business you take is the business you make, I believe. When we learned to say no to what we didn't want, our requests turned into the kind we were saying yes to every time.

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