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Who Are You? Branding 101 for Tour Operators

5 Minute Read

A company’s brand identity refers to the visible elements of its brand such as the logo, associated colors, and design, along with written elements like verbal tone and style. These are the things consumers think of when they picture a brand in their mind.

In the travel and tourism industry, establishing a strong brand identity is good for business. More than just window dressing, your company brand is a promise or commitment to clients who are seeking to align their expectations with your company’s product or service. It demonstrates professionalism and your unique properties. Those attributes help establish a company’s quality level, reliability, and trustworthiness, making it easier for customers to choose one company over another. For those tour operators in the early stages of establishing a business — or those going through rebranding efforts — putting effort into and allocating budget for establishing a solid brand identity now will pay off later.

But what exactly does that entail?

Tour companies should take the time to thoroughly understand what they stand for and how they want to communicate with potential customers when they develop their brand identity.

Establishing the Brand Identity

First, you need to know what your tour company is and represents. Are you a traditional company or a modern one? Do you give serious tours filled with encyclopedic knowledge or do you tell anecdotes that leave everyone laughing? What sets your company apart from your competition? Really think about every element of your business and what makes it unique. These answers will help on your journey to a new (or improved) brand identity.

There are several elements that make up your brand identity, and it’s important that you understand how these elements work together to deliver the message you want to convey to prospective customers. However, developing your brand identity is more than just choosing colors you like and throwing together a logo. To deliver a certain level of professionalism, it may be a wise investment to hire a designer to help you work through the process of developing your brand identity.

Typography

Take a look at these logos and think about what kind of company each represents:

Each company has the same name, but no other information about what kind of tours are available is offered. Yet, each font conveys a different feeling. If I told you Stephanie’s Tours leads multi-day hikes, you may be surprised to find the first font on my website and documentation. The calligraphy conveys tradition and history, better suited for a company selling antiques.

Think about what your business offers and represents, and choose a font that matches. There are thousands of fonts to choose from. Google Fonts offers hundreds of options for free, and they’re website compatible. Choose a few options you think fit your business and test them. Ask people who come into your office, post a poll on social media, get opinions from your family and friends. Once you’ve made your final decision, use it for everything — on your website, on your documents, in your brochures, etc.

Colors

Different colors evoke different feelings. Red grabs attention and can even stimulate hunger. It’s also associated with aggression, however, so certain companies might want to steer clear. Purple is romantic; blue is cool and dignified. By now you know what kind of company you are and the image you want to present. Take time to read about color theory and choose colors you think best represent your company.

Once you have a main color in mind, check the color wheel and create a palette based around it. Think about tones. Dark purple or light purple? A yellow-ish orange or a red orange? Your color wheel search should have provided you with some inspiration.

Take time to play around with options. You don’t need a fancy program for this; there are online resources to help you build a color palette.

Logo

Arguably the most important part of your brand identity, your logo is certainly the most visible and also the area where it’s a good idea to invest in a professional designer. When designing your logo, think about if you want it to be descriptive, meaning it includes textual or visual design elements that indicate the type of product or service being marketed. A tour company often benefits from a descriptive logo, because it demonstrates what the business offers potential clients. Travelers will likely see your logo while browsing TripAdvisor or searching for tours in your geographic area so they know you are a tour company, but a descriptive logo helps them to see what kind of tour company.

Some companies use something like the Stephanie’s Tours example above as a logo. It functions well enough, but adding stars and a moon behind the name makes it immediately obvious my company offers stargazing tours. Adding waves or water lines to the bottom won’t necessarily tell you what kind of water tour company it is, but based on where the company offers tours, you may be able to guess it’s more likely to offer rafting versus surfing.

Tone

Beyond the obvious visual elements of your company’s brand identity, you need to determine your company’s voice. If, during your identity discovery phase, you determined you offer more serious tours, your tone will be more professional. If you are pointing out funny highlights and telling local tales, your tone may be more casual.

This tone will guide the way you communicate about and within your company’s offerings. When training guides, encourage them to use this tone. Customer reviews will reflect this and your reputation based on this brand identity will grow. This is harder to accomplish if your guides each lead tours in their own style.

You also need to use this tone in your writing. On your blog, in your social media posts, and in all customer communication, write in a way that matches the tone you selected. If you represent your company in one tone but then offer tours in another tone, you’ll create a dissonance between what travelers expect and what they experience, which may be criticized and reflected upon in company reviews. Aligning your company’s written and spoken tone will help unify your communication and solidify the brand identity.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve established your brand identity, it’s time to start using it. Build your website so it highlights the content and style attributes you want to communicate. When you print new brochures and choose new staff uniforms, use the font and colors you selected — and be consistent! Remaining true to your brand helps establish a lasting and consistent impression to your clients.

A wholesale identity change doesn’t have to happen overnight. Obviously, the sooner you get everything to match your new brand identity, the better it is for business, but don’t let the costs dissuade you. The increased perception of professionalism will likely result in more bookings, which will offset the cost. In addition, creating this new brand identity means that you have a solid foundation for all future business endeavors.

Start giving new guides the new uniform. Update social media accounts piece by piece when you have time and bandwidth. Make gradual changes to your marketing materials. Eventually it will all come together. The important thing is that you do the work upfront so you know the brand identity you’re putting out in the world represents your company in the most professional, truthful, and inspirational way possible.

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