This post is the second in a three-part series from my most recent speaking engagement at the Texas Travel Industry Association Tourism College. The attendees asked that I blog about each presentation since not everyone was able to attend all three sessions.
As destination marketing organizations, we are no longer in complete control of our marketing message. Travelers are less trusting of organizations and more trusting of people. Ninety-two percent of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family and friends about products and services. And travel is no different, as it is both a product and a service. That is an overwhelming statistic that should make every destination marketing organization “sound the alarm.”
So the question remains, how can destination marketers let go of the reins and utilize locals and past visitors to share the destination message needed to amplify your marketing campaigns?
When is the last time you saw an advertisement on television, radio, the internet or a billboard that drove you to make a travel decision? Conversely, when is the last time you made a travel decision after talking to a friend or seeing their photos from a recent getaway? You are more likely to add a destination to your potential travel list based off the conversations you have with friends and family versus an advertisement.
I am not saying that advertising is not effective. In fact it is, but as marketers we need to make sure we are using all the tactics in our wheelhouse. The toughest part of advertising a destination is that we spend money selling things we do not own. It may seem shocking for you to find this out from me…but…OUR DESTINATION MARKETING ORGANIZATIONS HAVE NO OWN-ABLE PRODUCTS TO SELL. We don’t own an attraction, a hotel or a restaurant. Instead, as destination marketers, we should try and own experiences, because that is what travel really is – it’s an experience. And that experience is simply the collective process of doing and seeing things that in turn will lead to lasting memories.
The idea of owning anything, whether it be a product, service or experience, doesn’t make it exclusive to the point where there is only one way to describe it. Owning your destination brand is about knowing what is true about your destination, and then having the right pieces to the puzzle to make that claim.
Your marketing needs to be personal, and you need to give the people what they want – which is not more ads, but more opportunities to engage and connect. In order to give the people what they want, here are three things you should be doing:
#1 | Develop a destination hashtag AND put some money behind it. Hashtags cannot sustain themselves organically. As a destination marketer, you need to invest in that hashtag on the local level so that the locals (who are your best brand ambassadors) can help you tell the real story of your destination. And when I talk about money and investment, that doesn’t always mean a paid marketing campaign. Sponsoring local events as your destination hashtag and NOT your destination name, passing out swag with your destination hashtag on it, or creating local engagement opportunities are various ways you can invest in your hashtag while still giving the brand to the people.
#2 | Create authentic blog content. Your blog content should not just be created and produced in-house. Allow locals, who like to write and take photos, to join in on the process. Open the doors of opportunity by asking locals to submit blog stories or topics directly to you. Dig deeper into your blog content, by going beyond the “top things to do list” and find the real stories of why these top things exist in your destination. It’s one thing to say here are the top pizza joints in your city, but it is a whole other level of marketing when you can find the story of why these top pizza joints were created. Collect various social posts from visitors about their experiences at area attractions, hotels or restaurants and turn that into a blog story.
#3 | Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. As destination marketers, it is often difficult to let go of the reins and allow someone else to tell your destination story. But most content that goes viral, is content that most destinations wouldn’t even consider producing themselves. But that uncomfortable-ness is where brands really grow, because it allows you to push the envelope. That uncomfortable-ness is how you break away from the standard marketing practices that destinations are glued to inside the four walls of their organizations.
Photo courtesy: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-06-07/madness-crowds-and-great-insanity