In Part Two of this series, CMO Gabriel Cohen explores how cities and states can leverage tourism branding.
“What Super Bowl?” is an expression that you may have heard muttered from a Coloradan in the month since the sporting event that must not be named.
As the late Father of Management Peter Drucker wisely put it, “trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Still, what fun would it be if we didn’t at least try, even if we all know that making predictions, especially those subject to the vagaries of sporting events, are likely to leave us with egg on our face.
As we wipe off the last remaining bits of egg yolk and emerge out of our own state of denial, we are obliged to revisit our own pre-game analysis. We postulated what effect the Broncos involvement in the sporting calendar’s centerpiece could have on Denver and Colorado’s tourism brands. As part of the run up to the game, the Denver’s Business Journal ran a cover story noting that neither the City nor State tourism teams announced any marketing efforts related to the big game.
So are we to learn any lessons from this year? Well, if Manning and company can repeat their pledge made in 2012, after the first round loss to the Ravens, to come back better and stronger, then we believe that our state marketing tourism team should begin applying some lessons from leading global tourism organizations and begin preparing for Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix next year.
Turning a ripple into a wave
A quick look at Google Trends over the last 90 days shows that search terms related to Denver spiked around the Conference Finals and Super Bowl XLVIII. But this short-term spike is likely to be dominated by football stories that, at best, gave the City of Denver some short-term media exposure. It is unlikely to drive travel intent or change perceptions, particularly as it was not supported by any tourism-related stories―the same analysis for the previous year would probably show a similar spike for Baltimore. A quick pre and post study delivered identical results in perceptions. Mountains and marijuana, not surprisingly, came out on top.
What are some of the things that the City of Denver and the State of Colorado CMOs―ideally together―could do or have done to accelerate the impact of any major event that creates lasting, positive effects for the tourism sector and local economy?
1. Have a clear idea of what you stand for
Many places suffer from perceptions that succumb to clichés and lazy stereotypes. Ask the average man on the street what they think of Italy, and pasta, pizza, and gelato are likely to come close to the top. Embracing strengths and telling a story that adds depth and dimension to create a unique image is essential. The story must be more than a tag line as shown by the recent new brand platform developed by Thailand. Instead, it should tap into the stories travelers tell that define why they love a vacation beyond the “location” itself; so often it is about the wonderful people.
2. Segment your audiences
Going back to the first bullet, I mentioned that the average Joe in the street wouldn’t have a lot to say about Italy. The lesson here is that in an increasingly cluttered tourism market, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of exactly who that audience is and micro-target them relentlessly. This forces tourism entities to have to pick exactly the type of travelers they want to bring in, and ignore everyone else. Creating a dedicated website that appeals to these different segments allows them to find the experiences that matches their travel goals.
3. Unite the industry
The greatest challenge about branding a place is that you are not in control of the experience. As with any brand, change takes time and success comes about as a result of relentless reinforcement of the values on a daily basis. For tourism entities, success depends on aligning all stakeholders responsible for making the experience real for visitors. This means accrediting or rewarding entities that build new experiences that reinforce the brand promise. When Mexico re-launched its tourism brand, under “Mexico: the place you thought you knew,” it went out and discovered tourism partners capable of delivering on adventure experiences such as travel and tours for foodies that went beyond the traditional “fly and flop” beach-based imagery.
4. Feed content and stories to create the right impression
Create a library of images, videos, and stories about Denver and Colorado that tell the brand story (on-brand content) and disseminate it to all travel industry partners and media. Developing media relations locally and internationally is a key step here. For example, inviting the national media for an interview with Peyton Manning at Red Rocks would have been a great way to drive unearned branding media dollars.
5. Tap into internal pride and visitor experiences
Coloradans are a proud bunch, and it’s hard to find one who doesn’t love living here. Another way to leverage your media content without having to pay millions in media is to recruit brand fans to tell their stories. Creating a place for ambassadors and visitors to share their experiences by writing stories and uploading content, whether it be Facebook or a dedicated event-based microsite is also key to building authenticity. As an example, most of Go-Pro’s brand and marketing content is user-generated.
Often, organizations build crisis management plans to deal with unexpected events and minimize the negative fall-out of an event. In the case of tourism, marketing leads should be building a success-management plan. Many of these best practices should be applied regardless of whether a major event brings the area into the spotlight. But planning for success ensures that marketing leads can make the most of any luck that happens to fall into their laps.
Gabriel Cohen is Monigle’s CMO and grand master of tourism branding having worked on some of the biggest tourism brands in the world.