100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Building a Destination Brand Through Collaboration

Author: Guest Greg Oates
Posted: November 05, 2015
Blog Topics Covered:
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The following article is section of DMAI’s e-book The Evolving Role of DMOs in a Shifting Marketplace. To read the entire e-book, click here


The Experience Columbus DMO in Ohio meets every month with the Columbus 2020 economic development organization, the local chamber, the mayor and county offices, various philanthropic organizations, university administrators, the airport and the sports commission.

“We call it the Columbus Brand Marketing Committee, or CBMC, and I don't know any other cities that make that kind of time commitment every month, or has the longevity of how long we've been doing that,” says Amy Tillinghast, VP of marketing for Experience Columbus. “It makes us more nimble and it's just helpful to us as a community to be more proactive, or reactive if need be. It just makes us smarter.”

Building on that mission of collaboration, Experience Columbus and Columbus 2020 co-manage the new LifeInCbus.com website, designed to attract both transient visitors and young professionals in major metropolitan areas considering to relocate. Dedicated funds for the website came from a change in the bed tax code advocated for by the DMO, as well as additional contributions from the county.

Tillinghast says, “We wanted to do something really broad based to help improve awareness of Columbus, so, we really worked really hand-in-glove with our economic development organization, Columbus 2020.”

The LifeInCbus.com portal is a content aggregator that pulls in social media content tagged with the #lifeincbus hashtag, and blog content snippets from a variety of Columbus’ popular lifestyle blogs. It is very much visually driven, almost like a Tumblr blog, and the streamlined user interface features one simple dropdown menu with prominent links to both Experience Columbus and Columbus 2020. The menu also includes four themed categories—Art, Eats & Drinks, Entertainment, and Live & Work. It’s very clean, very minimalist and very easy to use.

With this content marketing platform, Experience Columbus targets 25 to 35 year-old “young transitionals” who live in Chicago and Washington, DC especially, because those cities are considered expensive and relatively abundant with young professionals. The DMO buys video ad space promoting LifeInCbus.com in public transportation hubs in Chicago and DC, and it operates convention sales offices in both cities as well. The goal is to engage those young professionals and at least get them to visit Columbus so they might eventually move there.

“There are large populations of young transitionals in Chicago and DC who we’ve identified as most likely to relocate in the next 3-5 years,” says Tillinghast. “So when they get to that point where they're thinking about relocating, and they're tired of their long commutes and high cost of living, we want Columbus to be in their consideration.”

In 2014, site visits to LifeInCbus.com originated from three key engagement points, including 36% direct, 27% paid online ads, and 19% social media. Tillinghast suggests that the well-rounded source traffic is a testament to the creative mandate that LifeInCbus.com only contain organic content without any call-to-actions, because Millennials have been marketed to their entire life, “and they can spot a direct marketing message a mile away.”

Millennials want to discover things on their own, she says, so this campaign is about exploration and discovering cool things in Columbus ranging from edgy fashion to creative cuisine.

“It's appropriate to steer these efforts as a DMO because whether people want to come here for fun, come here for school, or start a business here or relocate, they're going to come here first to visit,” says Tillinghast. “We don't have all of the money in the world, so we target those populations that we think will be valuable to the city in the future, and we speak to them in an authentic way that showcases the best of Columbus.”