Caribbean Brand Champions

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A former secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and one of the most brilliant marketing minds of the Caribbean, Vincent Vanderpool- Wallace, used to describe the Caribbean as the world’s best-known, unowned brand. I believe he felt that as familiar as the world was with the name Caribbean, someone still needed to take charge of the brand Caribbean. The brand needed to be owned and given a mission, a purpose and some goals. It needed to be championed. Someone listened, at least for a while. More on that in a minute.

The temptation is great to get all enmeshed in a debate about what a brand really is, what it means within the context of the Caribbean and whether anyone can actually own it. The discussion could go on forever about whether a brand represents a promise to meet certain expectations or whether it is a reputation – a set of criteria which define the entity. Does the brand offer customers ‘will do’ assurances, or does it comfort them with the knowledge of past successes? Once we wrestle our way out of those questions, yet another two confront us: What really is the Caribbean brand? And who has the right to own it?

Let’s agree that opinions will always vary on those questions, but there is general acceptance that brands need to be championed. In fact, brands absolutely thrive when they have champions. To be truly effective the champions themselves need to be passionate, believable and competent. They need to represent the brands well. Anyone who witnessed the performance of the world’s finest athletes at the just-concluded Rio Olympics must surely have felt a burst of pride every time his or her country’s brand dominated the competition.  Those athletes, champions all, displayed the attributes we ascribe to brand champions. To those who represented the Caribbean we especially offer our kudos whether or not they ended up on the medal stands. Of course those who did achieve medal status deserve our region’s highest accolades. This article provides a recap of the top 10 performances from our Caribbean athletes this year at Rio.  Hail to the king of them all, Jamaica’s unstoppable Usain Bolt. What Bolt does as a champion for Jamaica and the Caribbean goes far beyond mere brand-recognition. He has gone deep into the territory of creating a certain expectation of Jamaican athletes; an expectation which might actually not be exceeded anytime soon!

While Olympians and other world-class athletes are of course champions in the literal sense, brand champions are all around us. They are our leaders, our CEOs, our staff and sometimes our customers. Over the years the branding of the Caribbean’s tourism product has benefited hugely from champions who were indeed passionate, believable and competent. Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace is one of those. Their successes are a matter of public record.

In 1993, the CTO released an advertising campaign that obtained funding from 28 countries, hotels, airlines, cruise lines and tour operators. The campaign consisted of creating 60-second commercials to generate awareness of multiple destinations showcasing the region’s diversity beyond sun, sand and sea. The commercials did well and were remembered for their use of the Beach Boy’s song “Kokomo”. The combined funding method and success made the structure of the marketing campaign something other destinations followed, including the state of Florida.

In 1994 following this campaign, the region’s share of the US market was an impressive 49%. When the campaign ended and momentum was lost, the market share fell steadily. Later on in 2002, another advertising campaign known as “Life Needs the Caribbean” was launched to market and promote the Caribbean’s brand as a single destination. Following this campaign, the region’s share of the US market rose from 40.6% to 43.7%.

Sadly, on August 13, 2016 the Caribbean lost one of its true champions. Michael Youngman assumed the position as Director of Marketing for the CTO in November 1991. In this role, he was responsible for all regional marketing activities worldwide for member states of the CTO. One of his most cherished achievements was the highly successful CTO/CHTA Regional Marketing Program of 1993 that resulted in a 10.4 percent increase in visitor arrivals to the Caribbean in 1993-1994. Youngman also wrote the original CTO Marketing Plan in 1991 which was used as a platform for CTO marketing worldwide. His expertise was used by the CTO to develop strategies for the first-ever government Tourism Summit meeting in Kingston, Jamaica in 1992 and again for the Tourism Summit held in The Bahamas in 2001. He introduced the first CTO website in 1995 and was involved as an author and editor in the creation of the CTO Tourism Executive Brief. He also received the CTO’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, the same year as the launch of the Life Needs the Caribbean television campaign which he had helped to develop.

Michael was a friend and mentor. He loved our industry and the Caribbean. He was my predecessor in a previous job and so I had the benefit of standing on foundations which he built with passion, credibility and great competence. Michael was a champion.

We remember him with affection and great respect. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Arline, his family and all who loved him.

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