Earlier this year, I spent four days at a social media conference for tourism. Four days with some of the world’s brightest minds in social media and tourism. Four days of meeting fellow colleagues in the tourism industry and I came away with one huge takeaway:
“GIVE THE BRAND TO THE PEOPLE.”
As a marketer, I can attest to the fact that we as brands no longer own our brand identity. Despite all the research we do as a destination, our visitors are what define us as a destination. When meeting planners and tour operators want to know if our destination is a fit, they source their industry colleagues to get the truth. When the leisure traveler is researching their next trip, they poll family and friends. After the initial research is done, potential planners and visitors hit the internet and go from website to website combing through information – to the tune of visiting 20+ websites before even making a decision.
As a DMO, we have no control over what sites potential planners and visitors go to or what comments they read. Our brand and our message is no longer what we’ve manufactured behind our boardroom doors, but it is now what the potential planner or visitor has either heard about us or experienced with us, no more no less.
So rather than spending time coming up with new branding and new messaging, why not provide the community with the opportunity to share and sell your destination? Here are three ways in which I think you can turn your brand over to the community while at the same time improve your destination marketing efforts for the coming year.
Drop the Fancy Planning.
Don’t get me wrong here, planning is essential. We’ve all heard the proverb that if you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail. But sometimes as DMOs, we do our planning internally and we don’t involve our members, partners or current customers in the planning process. As a DMO, the destination is just as much ours as it is theirs. Hit the streets, utilize community/member events, invite the outsiders in – the opportunities are endless. Having a fully developed planning process using people from all aspects of the travel planning cycle will only enhance the strategy you wish to implement.
Drop the Barrier Walls Between You and the Traveler.
As DMOs, we need to stop hiding behind our office walls waiting for travelers to engage with us – truth be told, they already are. We as DMOs are the ones who are not engaging. And when I speak of engaging, I’m not just talking about a reply via a social network. I’m talking about all of the touchpoints that a traveler comes across in your destination. How shareable are the experiences for the traveler? What other resources do you offer the traveler to enhance their experience beyond a Twitter profile? How can they get the recipe of a local cuisine from a restaurant they visited? Where can they interact with your destination outside of the four walls of your visitor center? These touchpoints and more are what drives the visitor experience.
Drop the Cliché Advertising.
A skyline, a museum, a restaurant – sounds like Anywhere, USA. And yet there are so many DMOs who still focus their advertising on “the big three”. Last time I checked, all cities have a skyline, it may not be as pretty as others, but there is one. Every city has a museum and every city has a place to eat. But not every city has a story. Use your advertising to tell the story of your destination experience. The story should be told from various angles, none of which come from you, the DMO.
While relinquishing control of the brand can be scary, allowing visitors (a.k.a your fans) to control your brand actually arms you with a larger sales force. A sales force that you don’t have to pay. A sales force that works nights and weekends. A sales force that is honest and shares insight into aspects of your brand that you haven’t even thought of. A sales force that is viewed as more reliable than you - the brand itself. In the end, you can be two kinds of a DMO, a Destination Marketing Organization or a Destination Management Organization – the choice is yours.
Gathan D. Borden is the Director of Brand Marketing and Advertising for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. In this role, he is responsible for the overall advertising, branding, marketing and social media strategies for the city of Louisville in regards to travel and tourism.