In this time of global crisis and uncertainty, we put the call out to leaders, CEOs, strategists and consultants to sit down and tell us, in their own words, what is going on and what is going to happen next in this vital global industry.

Elke Dens is a marketer’s marketer! What do I mean by that? She is continually focused on the alignment of the product and the consumer. For Elke, product development — and the refinement of the value proposition to the consumer — is a cyclical and never-ending task.

Elke Dens, Marketer of the Year 2019 Belgium Association of  Marketing
Elke Dens, Marketing Director at Visit Flanders, Chairman of the Marketing Group at the European Travel Commission, Marketer of the Year 2019 Belgium Association of  Marketing. 

Her personal philosophy is “focus on the whole P.” P as in product (one of the four Ps of the marketing mix), but not in a conventional sense. When Elke talks about product, she is talking about what we as marketers often refer to as the augmented product: the total experience of the product and everyone and everything involved in its development and distribution.

“I learned from the best like Steve Jobs,” says Elke, “he said that marketing is actually about creating value for the customer. And if you think about it, the duty of an organization is actually to make sure that you create value for your customer.”

From a marketing perspective, every product exists in a complex process that starts with product design and cycles through testing, feedback and refinement. Ideally, this is an ongoing and ever-evolving process.

Throughout a product’s life, its story and value proposition is being continually assessed, refined and articulated — not just to serve the end user, but also to adapt to a continuously changing world and to address and engage the interests and concerns of multiple publics, including civic, citizen, financial, regulator and media publics (just to name just a few).

Marketing cycle

Some may call that iterative design, Elke just calls it good marketing.

According to Elke Dens, in order to create state-of-the-art experiences you need to focus on the destination’s DNA, those things that make it unique and valuable, and you must work directly with stakeholders and operators to develop high quality offerings tailored to specific segments. 

Elke will tell you that working closely with stakeholders, including both the usual suspects and non-traditional players, is essential not just to make great products, but also to create self-sustaining channels for the popularization of the product and for ongoing civic support.

“Try to really engage people and work with them. [Start with] just a simple question. Where do you want to be in the future? What do you want tourism to bring to your community? How do we make the community flourish?” says Elke. She goes on to share an example, “maybe we need a specific kind of tourists that would really make our community better. I'm not talking about the rich ones, that will be really too simplistic. It's about [visitors] that share the values that you as a destination think are important.”

Visit Flanders embraced this union of development and marketing so thoroughly that by 2016 it had gone so far as to rework its org chart to introduce the idea of “product managers” into the mix for key areas of focus including cycling, food and heritage, and accessibility.

Stakeholder engagement, community-shared values, distributed marketing and destination development figure prominently in Elke’s thinking, and she has been working on all of those since before 2002 when she co-authored Tijd voor Telewerk (Time for Telework), a management guide for telecommuting that was a decade ahead of its time.

As we move into the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lot we can all learn from Elke Dens, Visit Flanders, the European Travel Commission and the European Cities Marketing Group about sustainable and rational development that empowers a destination and its citizens alike.


Image by Andrei Toader via (source link Unsplash)