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Few people know as much about building brands as Mel Miller.  A veteran advertising man, he came up with the formula for Volkswagen's legendary Citi Golf over twenty years ago at Ogilvy & Mather.  More recently, he developed the concept of the BMW Pavilion at the Waterfront and brought IMAX to South Africa... and scooped the IMAX international marketing awards.

The V&A Waterfront was a great place to work between 1994 & 1999.  Businessmen based there shared more 'fire' than almost anywhere else, and this was fuelled by a stream of international visitors.  During Queen Elizabeth's state visit, the 'Britain means Business' conference was held at the BMW Pavilion and brought speakers of rare calibre to our shores.  South Africa was emerging from isolation and there was no shortage of passion to tackle the challenges.

Mel MillerMel had a 'Cape' apples box which housed his presentation on building a brand to market the Cape.  It was at a time when there was a plethora of tourism organisations and the Cape Metropolitan Tourism logo blandly tried to appeal to all with its four postage-stamp icons.  Why an apple box?  It highlighted the existing international strength of the Cape brand and was a more digestible presentation than a marketing treatise on a laptop.  It was easier for people to understand and take ownership of the concepts.

He had collected about 80 business cards, from plumbers to couturiers, B&B’s to ships chandlers, all of which used Table Mountain as the key visual identity – an icon which demonstrated a sense of place.  They were sending the tourism authorities a big message – Cape Town was their brand!

He looked at iconic international brands and found that most of the successful had quirky or original identities – Coca Cola, Apple, etc.  He recounted the case study of Coca Cola, who lost sight of what they were (they abandoned their famous script in favour of the generic "Coke") and started becoming more like their competition, losing market share in the process.  Their loyal customers objected in their thousands and Coca Cola went back to its branding roots – to its original wavy logo, quirky green bottle with crown top (printed on the cans) and to its original flavour.  It rediscovered what its customers recognized and knew all along – it was a great brand!

Every world class destination has its iconic identity – Eiffel Tower is France, Statue of Liberty is the USA, and Sydney Bridge is Australia.  Table Mountain is South Africa's most recognisable icon.  And it's quirky in its own right.  "I cannot fathom why we keep ignoring our most original and unique brand identity – it is world famous… and it's the portal or gateway to the entire region," says Miller.

"Establishing a global brand is all a matter of focus," he says, and quotes marketing guru, Peter Drucker: "Marketing and innovation produce results.  All the rest are costs."

”But it's not just about a logo and a brand promise – today it's about experiencing the brand – we are living in an experiential economy.  This is what people want and you can't dress up what you don’t have.  But you can and must leverage what you do have.  We have immense brand character and uniquely inherent strengths.  The brand character has to be strong.  You can (and should) innovate within the brand but you can't mess around with the fundamental character."  Mel refers to FNB as a bank that is doing a really good job at getting its brand together.

"Do we really know what our brand and its promise is?  Can it be defined simply and articulated with ease?  More importantly, can the man in the street proudly say, "this is what we are"?  We should all be custodians of our valuable and unique brand (or at least encouraged to take ownership of it).

"A key issue is whether the chief executive of our tourism organisation is able to do this, and perceived to be a brand champion. 

"A good example of leading from the front/top is Richard Branson.  Widely admired for his commitment and enthusiasm for his Virgin Brand, he is the personification of that brand – outgoing, adventurous, savvy, energetic and fun-loving.  These are Virgin Atlantic's brand characteristics and promise – and it's customers' experience of the brand.  The friendliness and informality of its staff reflect Branson's own personality.  The range of innovative services, number of new routes and the low cost of flying reflect these values.  The result is a well-managed customer experience – distinctive and memorable.

"Indeed, if the brand is the most important organisational asset (which it is not locally), it makes rational sense for it to be the central management pre-occupation.

I believe tourism should be our No 1 priority and responsibility

"Mayor Mfeketo's city council is focussed on service delivery to the disadvantaged, while tourism as a key economic driver gets lip service (albeit with a bigger budget).  "A City that Works for All" is a wonderfully socialist (and capitalist) ideal and indeed an imperative if the Cape brand is to succeed long term, but I believe tourism should be our No 1 priority and responsibility.  Business strategy is, or should be, brand strategy (and vice versa).  (Effective and efficient corporate governance is brand-driven governance.)

"One of the only memorable local city campaigns that I can recall is the "Keep the Cape in Shape" campaign launched many years ago.  (Perhaps the student version of "Suip (drink) the Cape in Shape" had something to do with this – but here lies the nub of the issue – does our offering embrace all of the constituents of this Province?)

"Indeed, it is probably the visitors themselves who have more ownership and do a better job of marketing than we do.  Are we blind to the richness and beauty around us and take it for granted?  Overseas publications are responsible for and generate more interest in the region than those charged with the task.

"I recall the December '98 edition of GQ (UK) selecting Cape Town as one of the 12 "hippest places on earth".  "Cape Town is as beautiful as the guide books say" was how they referred to Cape Town, saying it was the "New Miami".  The Cape Town Tourism marketing budget for that year was zero!  Despite the courageous efforts of people like Chris von Ulmenstein and the team there, not much could be achieved when the political agendas and petty issues of the day limited and overwhelmed the task at hand.

"Happily though, entrepreneurs came through for the city and the province.  Capitalising on the "New Miami" excitement, local photo and film production companies tapped into the European catalogue business wooing teams of "fashionista" and beautiful people – who responded to the beauty of the Cape – returning season after season creating a film industry with an estimated value of R3 billion a year.  This attracted the likes of Brad Pitt, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Helen Swank and others.

"Film production companies, wedding planners and scalpel safari organisers are key drivers of local tourism.  A recent Carte Blanche programme revealed that one wedding planner alone was responsible for 150 weddings by foreigners in the Western Cape last year, with a benefit to the local economy she estimated at R500 000 to R1 million each."

Looking back at the BMW Pavilion, Mel recalls how it broke boundaries.  "Putting IMAX with BMW under one roof at South Africa's premier destination created a completely different experience that was totally customer-focused.  It is probably BMW's most successful investment in brand expression.

"It is synergies like this that force one to think outside the box and offer the greatest reward.  Think of the impact that South African Airways' specially-dressed Olympic Bid Boeing 747 had internationally.  Imagine a container ship carrying Cape produce arriving at international ports displaying a similar concept!

"We need to work together, to put things together to create synergies.  There is a huge integrity and latent talent to tap into – but you have to know what you're doing."

"We've got so much that we can't accept second best.  We need to experience our brand, understand it ourselves, and develop it.  It's not about the organisations, it's about the people owning it!"

May 2005