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  • Five reasons why you’re wasting 97% of your advertising budget and what to do about it. see more

    Ninety-seven percent of destination marketing is ineffective, and it isn’t because of the medium you’re using! The reason isn’t because of National Geographic Traveler, Leisure +Travel, or Southern Living Magazine. It’s NOT a reflection on your digital advertising, television, radio or billboards. The reason is the content you’re giving them! 

    Here are the five reasons why you’re wasting 97% of your advertising budget and what to do about it.

    Reason #1: Trying to be all things to all people
    We're going to keep harping on this subject until you change your ways! Look at your ads. If your headline and the photography (or art) you use could fit just about anyone in your market, toss it and start over. Readers, viewers or listeners will give you four seconds to pull them in. If your message is generic, you will lose them instantly. If your ad starts with “One of the top 5 mountain biking destinations in the world,” and that quote is attributed to Biking Magazine, it may not draw us in if we're not a mountain biking enthusiast, but if we are, you just got our attention, big time. NARROW YOUR FOCUS!

    What to do: Join our association and download our “Words & Phrases to Avoid” poster and give copies to your marketing agency, graphic design agency and anyone charged with marketing your hotel, B&B, community, museum or attraction.

    If your marketing focus can fit anyone else in your market area, toss it and start over.

    Reason #2: Marketing place before experience
    We have the world at our fingertips – every community, lodging facility, and business – in a fraction of a second via the web. But we don’t search for places first, we search for experiences first and THEN the area or city. We search for “Best Italian restaurant, central Pennsylvania,” or “mountain biking trails, Southern Utah.” In your advertising and on printed materials always SELL the experience first, the location second.

    What to do: The name of your community (don’t market counties!), your hotel, your guide service – your business – should be at the BOTTOM of your ad, not at the top. Utah Tourism does a great job with its headlines promoting the Mighty Five (five national parks all located in Southern Utah) with photographic experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Then at the bottom of the ads you’re informed of what and where the parks are.

    Reason #3: Using mundane text and photography
    There’s nothing more boring than elevator music (video or radio ads), or photos of scenic vistas without a soul in sight. To win you MUST evoke emotion. If your headline is boring or generic we won’t remember it. We are drowning in advertising overload so your ads MUST be memorable. 

    What to do: Make sure you have photos of people enjoying your activities – whether in a spa, or careening down a mountainside on a bike, or reading a book in front of a cozy fire with snow falling outside. Your art should get the reader to instantly think “I want to do that!” And make sure it fits ONLY you in your marketplace.

    Reason #4: Not telling us WHY we should visit or buy from you
    Don’t tell us what you have, where you’re located, or who you are until you’ve told us WHY we should visit you. McDonald’s famous (and effective) campaign, “You deserve a break today” wasn’t about food. It was aimed at moms – they deserve a break today, so get up and get away – to McDonald’s. The most successful tourism campaign, perhaps in North American history, is Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here.” It’s not about what they have (entertainment, gambling) but WHY you would go there over other places.

    What to do: This one requires digging deep. Alpena, Michigan is hitting a home run with its “Sanctuary” brand based on the National Marine Sanctuary of Thunder Bay and the 54% of Americans who are dealing with stress in their lives. A water park that asks us “How loud can you scream?” will be more successful than the water park that tells us “The largest water park in Central Ohio.”

    Reason #5: Not creating a call to action
    If McDonald’s had told us, “You deserve a break, so consider heading to McDonald’s sometime,” the ad would have fallen flat. But by telling us, “You deserve a break TODAY (right now), so GET UP AND GET AWAY” (call to action), it became one of the most successful ads in company history. Nothing is worse than “Discover My Town” as the header, then a generic photo (or collage of photos) and then just a website address or phone number. There is no call to action.

    What to do: Always finish your ad with what you want people to do: “Space is limited, so call for your reservation now,” or “Log on now for the complete schedule…” or, as I’ve done in past Weekly What To Do’s: “Download your free Words & Phrases to Avoid poster.”

    What to do: To you we may be preaching to the choir. So how do you get this message to your local businesses? To your graphic design or ad agency? To other organizations also marketing your community? Join the Destination Development Association, where you get access to countless resources, including lots of video content, that go beyond what you’ll read here. Membership starts at just $250/year. You can access our resource center anytime, anywhere, and you can share the resources at meetings as well. This is the best way to get everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction.

    • Melanie Patterson I am looking for the Words & Phrases Poster and cannot find it. Please help! Thank you!
      2 years ago
  • Quick Thought - Downtowns | Tourism see more

    The best way to close the sale - getting people to visit you - is to be helpful. Rather than provide lists, help us by showcasing your “Best Of’s.” The most engagement you’ll get on social media channels, blog articles, and website content is when you promote your Top 3 or Top 5 activities, attractions, etc.

    This is exactly how TripAdvisor became the most visited travel site on the planet. If you subscribe to Travel+Leisure, or CondeNast Traveler or any others, every email showcases a “Top 5, 7 or 10” - “Top 10 small town bakeries,” “Top five scenic drives in Nova Scotia,” “Top 3 trout fishing spots in Montana.” Don’t let local politics get in the way of you closing the sale!



  • How is your community marketing evolving to meet the demands of a new era? see more

    Let’s face it. Everything has changed in the world of community marketing. We have the world at our fingertips in a fraction of a second via the web, yet communities still use the same old words and phrases that could fit anyone, anywhere.

    Here are the seven extinct marketing philosophies that communities just won’t let go of, and have led to 97% of all community-based marketing and advertising being ineffective. This is NOT the fault of the medium, but of community messaging – what you’re putting out there.

    How many of these are you guilty of?

    1. The days of strategic plans are going, going, gone.This is the age of Action Plans. Strategies, goals and objectives should take no more than 10 pages of a plan. The Action Plan format is a to-do list. We have short attention spans. Cut to the chase. A fifty-page well-written Action Plan will be far easier to read and implement than a 300-page plan full of fluff and generalities.

    2. The “something for everyone” marketing approach does not work. You MUST narrow your focus so you stand out from the crowd. Check out our list of “words and phrases to avoid.

    3. The shotgun approach of “bring your business here” is dead. There are nearly 30,000 cities and towns in the U.S. and Canada. Virtually all of them want your business. So why you? What makes you so special? Find your niche and then attract businesses – or visitors – that are looking for that.

    4. “Smokestack chasing” is a dinosaur approach and no longer relevant. See number three above. The industrial revolution is over. We still have industry, and it’s starting to see a comeback, but the revolution is over. We are now in a service economy. And most larger companies are consolidating, not expanding.

    5. The days of being only a Destination Marketing Organization are over. All DMO’s must now champion the cause for product development in ADDITION to marketing. The better your product, the more it sells itself. You must get into the product development game, with both feet, if you want to become an outstanding destination.

    6. Issuing Request For Proposals is a dinosaur methodology. Every consultant you hire will probably have their own methodology. So why should you tell them how you want the project done if you’re looking for their expertise? Issue a Request for Qualifications. You can do this in a page or two. Ask them what their methodology is, a sample scope of work, and have them showcase case histories, examples of their work and references. Pick the top three, interview them and if you don’t like their methodology or price, go to the next on the list.

    7. The days of Visitors Guides are slowly dying, yet every community feels they must have one. The new model: Create an Activities Guide. Just the name change says you have lots to do and that’s the reason we want the guide. Make sure its available online for both download and viewing. QR codes can take the visitor right to the guide. NOTE: You still need printed copies! But the quantities are going, down, down, and down.

    How is your community marketing evolving to meet the demands of a new era?

  • There are essential steps in increasing tourism. We can help with all of them! see more

    There are essential steps in increasing tourism. We can help with all of them!

    Step 1. Educate your stakeholders on the importance of tourism (Learn more)

    Step 2. Conduct a destination assessment (Learn more)

    Step 3. Narrow your focus and stand out from other communities (known as your unique selling proposition)

    Step 4. Develop a tourism action plan (Learn more)

    Step 5. Make it happen – tourism plan implementation

    Step 6. Tell the world! (effective destination marketing)

  • Christina Lenkowski posted an article
    Learn 5 important steps for this new age of destination PR see more

    This is a guest blog, written by Christina Lenkowski, DDA Member and owner of Sparrow Travel Media, a public relations portal that is extraordinarily useful for organizations that can’t afford contracting or hiring an in-house PR professional. Here she offers some great advice!


    It used to be that the term “PR” could really apply to two things; public relations or press releases. In fact, just a short while ago, the two were pretty much interchangeable. But times, they are a-changing.

    Nowadays I still see many tourism organizations write up a press release for travel ideas, an event or award, and then send it out to the same old media list and expect a different reaction… what is the definition of insanity again?

    Bottom line: just sending a press release no longer works (and if you’ve been paying a company to send out a press release on your behalf… stop). It’s hard to adjust because many of us were trained in this way, but taking a different view of media relations will yield you so much more of the media attention you crave, and that your destination deserves.

    It’s time to try something different. Take a few minutes and think about what makes your destination unique; perhaps you have an annual event that isn’t your generic “harvest festival” or “4th of July parade”? Or maybe an anchor attraction that visitors just love? Perhaps a niche museum? Whatever that “thing” is, write it down and write why it’s special. Heck, you may find that your area has more than one!

    Now it’s time to do some research on the media outlets you want to tell this story (also known as a pitch) to. Remember that these publications are typically working 6-9 months in advance, so time your pitch accordingly.

    1. Make a list of 8-10 magazines that have the kind of audience you really think you could resonate with, and that you’d love to see your destination featured in in the next year.
    2. Check out their online edition (or head to the library or bookstore) to get your hands on information such as topics/features they have in each issue, as well as editor name (either travel editor or managing editor).
      • Many times, the editor contact info won’t be readily available and you’ll need to do some research. I recommend calling the publication and asking whomever answers for that specific contact’s email address. This yields quicker results than emailing a generic info@ email box.
    3. Find and download each publication’s editorial calendar/media kit (usually housed in advertising section–you may have to email them for it). In the editorial calendar you will be able to see what the magazine is focusing on every edition, and if your destination makes sense to pitch (i.e. “Surprising Winter Getaways,” “Ski Mountains Not on Your Radar,” etc.). If it does, fantastic!
    4. If you don’t feel like there is a direct correlation between your destination and an ed cal topic, you can always generally pitch too. Create a story idea that really makes sense for their readers. You are never bothering an editor if you are presenting them with a well though-out pitch at the right time of year.
    5. Email each publication’s editor with their individualized story idea, and follow up a week later.

    If you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to securing more coverage! Publicity takes time, but is well worth the payoff – I have seen destinations transformed by one or two major media pieces.

    And if you’re a member of Sparrow Travel Media, steps 2 and 3 are taken care of for you with our up-to-date media lists and editorial calendars, saving you a ton of time. We also have sample pitches to make life easier when getting started. Roger and the Destination Development team recently did a whole webinar on how Sparrow can save you so much time and money. Check it out below.

    We even offer a free live training to expand on the tips above, click here to sign up!

    Just remember that the media doesn’t want any more press releases, they want story ideas—and you have them!

    Christina Lenkowski

    Sparrow Travel Media







    Sparrow Travel Media Webinar - A great tool to up your PR game

  • RBI Clients posted an article
    Here are the five reasons PR should be the top priority see more

    “You build your brand through public relations. Advertising is used to maintain your ownership position.”

    These words, written by the famous branding guru, Al Ries, are more important today than ever before..

    Destination marketing organizations constantly wonder how to successfully tell the world their community exists and that they are worth a special trip. Should they use advertising or Public Relations? Or maybe a combination of both?

    We believe you should do both, but PR clearly takes priority over advertising. Here are the five reasons PR should be the top priority:

    #1 - Your brand is built through PR

    A brand is what people think of you. It is your unique selling proposition. When you tell people where you’re from, what do they say? What is their perception? Whatever their response, that is your “brand”—the perception they have of you. And that perception is formed by what other people say, what they read about your community, and what they see on social media or in the news.

    Social media is a BIG part of public relations. PR includes print (articles written about you), broadcast (what is being said on television or radio), and social media (blogs, vlogs, online reviews, photo sites, and conversations on social media sites).

    Public relations should be priority number one when it comes to promoting your unique selling proposition—what you want to be known for. 

    #2 - PR provides a BIG return on Investment

    For every dollar you spend on public relations you'll see $3 in earned media. Earned media is what it would cost if you were to purchase that space in the form of advertising.

    #3 - Articles versus ads

    Articles are read more than four times that of ads, whether in print, online, or on any other media. People will generally look at an ads for only a few seconds, but they will spend several minutes or longer reading an article about you; particularly when it’s from a third-party viewpoint providing an honest, unbiased opinion. 

    #4 - Social media speeds up the brand-building process

    When it comes to brand building, what used to take 20 years or more can now be accomplished in just three to five years. That is the power of social media in this “always on” world. We can find anybody, anywhere, instantly online, and so you have the power to create widely available content and stories that will build and promote your brand—what it is you want to be known for.

    #5 - People trust third-party recommendations

    The problem with advertising is that it's self-proclaimed. When you're marketing your destination or business, you tell people how great you are. Only 15% will believe that what you say is actually true, but when it comes from a third-party, it’s believed 85% of the time. This is why the third-party reviews posted to TripAdvisor have made it the most used travel website in the world. Travelers want to know what others think of you. That’s PR.

    The bottom line: Public Relations should be your top marketing priority whether you have a staff person dedicated to the effort or you contract it out. And remember, this is “public relations,” meaning both social media AND traditional media.

    All the best with your public relations journey!

  • Do you market your location or the experience your location offers? see more

    The Internet has changed the world. These days if we want a horseback riding experience in Northern Texas, we’ll Google “horseback rides + ‘Northern Texas,’” and within a third of a second we’ll get 74,000 responses. People now search for the experience first, and the general location second.

    If we’re visiting Vancouver, British Columbia we might search for:

    • Best restaurants, downtown Vancouver
    • Greek restaurants, North Vancouver, BC
    • Job opportunities, southern BC
    • Downhill skiing, British Columbia
    • Ferry schedule, Vancouver to Victoria BC
    • Things to do, Victoria, BC
    • Wildlife viewing, British Columbia
    • Apartment rentals, Langley, BC
    • “Best hiking trails” + “Canadian Rockies”

    To be successful, you must market the experience first, and THEN your location. But the key is to make sure the experiences you’re promoting differentiate you from everyone else in your market. Every place has “outdoor recreation” and “unique shops and restaurants.”

    Have you ever gone anywhere because it was a county? And yet, county-wide marketing usually promotes the fact that they are a county, before they ever give you a reason to want to visit.

    To win you must answer this one question: What do you have that the people you are hoping to attract can’t get or do closer to home? Whatever it is, you need to hang your hat on that. You simply can’t be “all things to all people” and win in this new age of branding.

    The surefire way to kill your marketing effectiveness is marketing your downtown, town, city, county or region - your geographic location - BEFORE experiences, the things to do that make you worth a special trip, even if it’s just a ten minute drive to your downtown from the suburbs.

    So QUIT marketing your location first.  And quit marketing your organization—it should be the very last item in any ad or website. Visitors (even local residents) don’t care about the actual organization when they are trying to find things to do, places to eat, and places to stay. Sell the experience first, and then the location.


    1. Google your community name. I’ll bet you’re right at the top of the list.

    2. Now Google your top activity. If you’re an equestrian destination search for “horseback trails” and then the general area “Western Washington.” Do you show up? If not, you have some work to do. Try another primary activity such as “Micro-brew” and “Metroplex” (the Dallas/Fort Worth area and a dozen other communities). Does your website show up on the first page of search results? Try some others as well.

    Fact: 86% of search engine users never go past the second page of search results. Do you?

    3. Look at your introductory text. Does it mention the one, two, or three best activities that really set you apart and make you worth a special trip? This is where search engines get their keywords – that opening paragraph.

    4. Rewrite your introductory text to promote the top one, two or three things that really set you apart. Then reread the previous two articles to make sure you’re complying with those rules. Then post it on your home page.

    5. Consider purchasing a “pay per click” program through Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. If you have to buy your way onto the first page, then do it until the search engines pick up those key words. No one is going to find you if they look for “horseback riding, western Washington” and you’re listed on the 64th page of search results!

  • Article
    We’re exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day – far more than the mind can absorb. see more

    I was working with a group of people in Wisconsin who really put me to the test. The idea was to create a print ad that would actually get the attention of the reader and would pull them in.

    Our previous two blog posts have listed the words and phrases to avoid in your marketing efforts, followed by a checklist of what ads need in order to “close the sale.” Now it was time to actually put these rules to use.

    The group was tasked to come up with a corny saying, a funny quote, or something just ridiculous, and it was my job to turn it into a compelling ad. It was to be a third page print ad you’d see in a woman’s magazine, or a travel publication.

    After a few minutes one of the gals in the room jumped up and shouted “I’ve got it!” The line she gave me started with “One out of four people in this country are mentally imbalanced…”

    I’ll reveal the rest in a minute.

    I had 15-minutes to come up with something good. This quote was going to be tough to work with and my palms were getting sweaty under the pressure. I decided to use the quote to market a spa that was just down the street in Wisconsin Dells where we were working. I had just seen one of their ads, which featured the boring, overused header “Beyond Expectations.” Would that get you to go online or call for an appointment?

    The first thing I did was put the saying at the top of the ad. Then I went to and purchased a stock photo of a woman who looked a tad unbalanced, which would be the attention-getter. Then I purchased a second photo of a woman relaxing at a spa.

    Here’s the initial draft ad I was working with.















    Using these two photos and the zinger of a headline would certainly get the ad noticed. The famous ad guy, David Ogilvy once said that “on average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents of your marketing dollar.”

    I knew I was on the right track here, particularly since the audience was thinking “where’s he going with this?”. Then came the closer—the body text and call to action.

    Here’s what the ad said, starting with the headline and the rest of the quote I had to work with:

    “One out of four people in this country are mentally imbalanced. Think of your three best friends. If they seem ok, then you’re the one.”

    I concluded with:

    “Perhaps it’s time you found YOUR balance. Book a spa stay at the incredible Kalihari Spa’s “Sanity Retreat” this May. Bring your three best friends and save 30%. Book it right now while you’re thinking clearly. Only in Wisconsin Dells.”

    When the audience applauded, I knew that this was an ad that would get some attention. In fact, several women were ready to make reservations on the spot.















    Sure beats “Beyond Expectations.” Did you notice I mentioned the spa retreat for May, just before Mother’s Day?

    Are your ads getting noticed? Is there a compelling call to action?

    If this was easy, everyone would be doing it but the bottom line is that you must command the reader’s attention. We’re exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day—far more than the mind can absorb. To win you must reach deep and command attention. Sometimes it takes shock and awe. This one was a tad more subtle.

  • How to get the best use out of your billboards. see more

    Nothing creates more impressions, locally, than billboards—if they’re done right. When travelers, even commuters, see a message seven times, they remember it, whether it’s on television, radio, in magazines, online, or on billboards.

    While we're not big fans of billboards, particularly in scenic areas, if you’ve got them, and they’re in great locations, then take advantage of them.

    They are a great way to either catch the attention of drivers passing through your area, or they can provide ideas to visitors looking for a reason to stop. Either way, to create big visibility along the freeway, you need to use a BIG sign.

    The most important message to convey with a billboard is a Call to Action! Tell drivers why they should take the next exit. Give a specific reason for people to stop (not an event or a ‘welcome’ or ‘friendly’ service promise). It can be as simple as what Little America does along Interstate 80 in Western Wyoming with multiple billboards, each with a single teaser: “50¢ ice cream cones—Little America” and the next one: “Spotless restrooms—Little America.”

    Here are rules to use when designing your billboard campaign:

    • Use no more than 12 words on a billboard—people have only four seconds to read a sign while they are driving at highway speed. Make it simple with a single message (including the name of the business or attraction).
    • Choose locations for your billboards that are attractive, free of litter, and not close to rundown buildings. If you put your billboard in an area full of trash, it will automatically detract from the appeal of your message.
    • Use contrasting colors and only one simple (one color) graphic so that your billboard is easy to read from a distance.
    • The best color combo is yellow text on a dark background. Yellow pulls the eye. Don’t include a phone number, address, or website URL that people will not have time to write down. All information on a billboard needs to be simple.
    • Including ‘Next Exit’ or ‘Exit #’ to help direct drivers is perfectly fine—but no specific information they can’t absorb in a few seconds.

    The examples shown here are terrific samples of how to design and use billboards. They should NEVER look like print ads! Simple, short, to the point, with the reason WHY we should stop (or stay).































    If you’ve got billboards, use them effectively!


  • Why should you want to be known as a great destination for multi-generational travelers? see more

    Why should you want to be known as a great destination for multi-generational travelers?

    No traveling family group spends more and stays longer than multi-generational travelers. And this group spreads the word about their plans and experiences via social media faster and more frequently than any other set of travelers.

    By 2020 there will be 90 million ACTIVE grandparents in the U.S. and Canada alone. And, more than ever, grandparents are making time with their grandkids their top priority—including vacation trips, shorter day-long excursions, and weekend getaways.

    Typically, the grandparents and their kids select the destination, and then grandma does the bulk of the planning. You can guess who’s footing the lion’s share of the bill.

    When you cater to this incredible trend (which will be around for the next 20+ years), here are some rules to use in your marketing and product development efforts:

    • Make sure your experiences are kid-friendly. These travelers want unforgettable adventures for the entire family to enjoy together.
    • Outline kids’ activities by age group: age 2-5, age 6-8, age 9-12, and age 13-17.
    • Opportunities to learn something needs to be a key factor in what you offer.
    • Make it easy to plan with customizable, multi-night itineraries, package deals, and most importantly—“All Inclusive” options.
    • Brainstorm itinerary ideas like river or lake cruises, adventure trips—rafting, ballooning, jeep tours, fishing, interactive science exhibits or wildlife safaris. The more detailed the itinerary, the more likely you are to immediately close the sale.
    • Offer different lodging options—grandparents may want upscale resort amenities while parents might need condo or AirBnB type facilities.
    • Provide bikes, rafts, canoes and other recreational equipment at lodging facilities.
    • Create photo and video libraries geared to the kids.
    • Your website should include “while you’re here” itinerary suggestions, links to accommodations/restaurants, and activity duration estimates.

    It takes a lot of effort, schedule managing, and coordination of individual preferences to plan a multi-generational trip. The easier you make it, the more effective your success will be. Check out the Road Scholar website under Intergenerational to get ideas to help create effective itineraries.

    Start your multi-gen marketing efforts by developing these “transformative” experiences and formulating itineraries for each season. Build excitement by developing short videos and photography showcasing the primary activities. Work with your local businesses to develop packages (with a range of options)—make sure pricing is transparent.

    Give those who visit your website a “Chat Now” or “Live Chat” option to assist with travel planning, especially during evenings (at least a few days a week) and weekends when most planning is occurring.

    Multi-generational travelers spend more, stay longer, accommodate more rooms, and tell more people via social media than any other travel group. And, in the process, they also introduce a new generation to you so that when THEY grow up, they can take THEIR kids and grandkids to the places they remember from their youth. A true win-win.

  • Are your tourism ads good enough to close the sale? see more

    If you start your tourism ad with your logo and tag line, who you are, where you are, or what it is you are trying to promote, your tactics are dead wrong. The problem? You haven’t told us WHY we should buy from you or visit you, nor is there a call to action. No wonder 97% of tourism print advertising is ineffective!

    Below are two sample full-page tourism ads with seven numbers on them (Number three is missing on the second one) and each number is in order of importance.
































    #1. The first and most important element is one single signature illustration (or photo) that will evoke an instant emotional response: fear, awesomeness, radical, a “wow” moment, or sublime. It tells the reader “ Wow! I want to go there!” or “I want that!” or, at least, a “What?” pulling them further in.

    #2. The “header,” or primary headline, is next. Here’s how tourism print ads work: the viewer will notice the photo or primary graphic in a second, and if it catches their attention they will read the header next – usually in the following second or two. The header, like the photo, must be enough to grab their attention. You have three seconds to pull them in. Just three seconds.

    #3. Now that you’ve grabbed their attention, you move them to the “sub-head” or follow-up sentence. This is the call to action. The goal: to make the reader want to know more. At this point you’ve held their attention for a whopping four to five seconds. The graphic image, the header, and sub-head MUST be good enough to pull the reader into the body text – your main paragraph.

    #4. The body text must get to the point in the first sentence. It must tell the reader WHY they need what it is you have to offer. Don’t tell me WHO you are, WHAT you are selling, or WHERE you are. Tell me WHY and that will pull me further into the text. The goal is to get the reader to log on or call for more information.

    #5. Now that you’ve pulled them into your ad, here is where you say, “by the way, here’s who we are” – and that’s where your logo is placed.

    #6. THEN you tell them WHERE you are: your location, or how they find you: a website address or phone number or physical address.

    #7. And last on the list is your tag line – the “anchor.” The few words that cement ownership of your brand – what it is you want to be known for. For BMW it’s the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” That’s the tag line that makes up the final exclamation point.

    Are your tourism ads good enough to close the sale?



  • In this new digital age, here is how your marketing dollars should be spent see more

    We are going to hit you with another sad fact: 88% of destination marketing organizations spend more on printed materials than they do on the Internet. Is this you? If so, you have it backwards. In this new digital age, here is how your marketing dollars should be spent:

    45% on digital marketing:
    Your website, social media, online advertising, digital guides, apps, search engine optimization, website updates, e-newsletter, video content, pay per click advertising, etc. When you plan your personal travel what is your number one resource? We’ll bet it’s the web.

    20% on advertising
    The goal should be to drive people to your website, which must be good enough to close the sale.

    20% on public relations:
    You build your brand on PR, advertising is used to maintain your ownership position of your niche in the marketplace. What is said about you is far more important than what you say about yourself. For every dollar you spend on public relations, you’ll see a $3 return in “earned media” – what it would cost if you paid for that space. Publicity is a third-party endorsement, and that carries a lot of weight! Think about the power of good reviews on TripAdvisor.

    10% on collateral materials:
    This includes your Activities Guide, other brochures, maps and printed materials, including distribution costs.

    5% of trade shows and signage:
    This includes trade shows, fairs, billboards and reader boards and other forms of marketing.

    This is a general guideline, and your destination may require some tweaking. What worked in the 1970s doesn’t work today, so break out of that mold.


    1. Take your last year’s budget and categorize your marketing as I have shown above.

    2. Then compare it. What can you do differently?

    3. Redevelop your budget so it fits into these parameters. Of course content is what closes the sale, but this will help you put your valuable resources into the right pots. Over this weekly series I’ll help you narrow these down into specifics. But the big takeaway is to spend your most precious resources on the web, not creating print guides and brochures.

    We’d love to hear from you. How are you doing with your budgets? If you have questions, let us know!

  • These days, consumers are looking for things to do, not just places to go. see more

    We’ve been saying for years, we’re in a new age of marketing. When we posted about The Dinosaur Marketing Tactics Communities Won’t Let Die, we got some questions about “Visitor’s Guides” versus “Activities Guides.” It is definitely something worth elaborating on, and a lot of communities aren’t sure where to go with this type of marketing piece. Do we still need printed guides? What’s the point in calling it an Activities Guide? Is it simply the same thing with a new name?

    These days, consumers are looking for things to do, not just places to go. They want experiences rather than landmarks. Part of the reason for changing to an “Activities Guide” is simply because people respond better to the title. It tells them the guide is focused on things to do, which is primarily what they are looking for. The name tells a potential visitor that this guide is going to answer their question, “What can I DO there?”

    Within the guide, the focus remains on the available activities. Instead of structuring the guide around locations, or listings of hotels, restaurants and amenities, the content should be focused on TYPES of activities. This groups things for people to DO (remember – they want experiences) according to potential categories of interest. Chapters or sections might include:

    – Kids and family

    – Sports

    – The great outdoors/recreation

    – Photography and wildlife

    – Culinary experiences

    – Girls weekends (shopping, dining, spas, nightlife)

    – History

    – Nightlife and entertainment

    – The arts (performing, visual, artisans in action)

    Think like a travel writer! Millions of people subscribe to travel publications because they provide specifics, while communities often market themselves by providing generic lists of “things.” People are looking for experiences – things to do – so provide sample itineraries, with specific places to shop or stop for lunch or dinner, and how much time to spend at attractions. The easier you make it in this age of convenience, the more likely you’ll be to close the sale. Itineraries are huge now – as long as they aren’t too structured and allow for flexibility.

    Do you still need to print guides? Absolutely! Just not as many as in the old days. People do get much of their information online, but still like having a printed piece. We like having that booklet or brochure in our laps while we cruise in the car and explore the area. And there’s nothing quite as fun as getting a requested guide in the mail – something we can look at over dinner, in the bathroom, at a restaurant while we’re not “plugged in.” Most people don’t consume ALL of their content via a computer screen, although it’s headed that way.

    Overall, make the focus of your marketing the experiences people can get in your community (especially those things they can’t get closer to home!) Focus on what there is to DO and you’ll be speaking the consumer’s language.

  • Article
    Attracting more visitors hasn’t always required such emphasis on being unique. see more

    Before she met the wizard, Dorothy lived with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in a black and white Kansas. When a tornado dropped Dorothy – house and all – into the Land of Oz, the dust settled, she opened her front door, and the world was suddenly brilliant Technicolor. Dorothy scooped up her dog and said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!” There was no mistaking that you were now in Oz—it was as different from Kansas as Disneyland is from, well, Kansas.

    Any community trying to attract more visitors needs to be a little like Oz. They need to take visitors over the rainbow to a new place, providing them with activities significantly different from what they can find closer to home. They need to tell the world how they’re truly unique and worth a special trip. That image, the vision that sets one community apart from all others, is its brand, and branding a community is critical to its success in creating an outstanding downtown destination and increasing tourism spending.

    Attracting more visitors hasn’t always required such emphasis on being unique. What’s brought us to this situation is three-fold: a change in the international psyche, the state of the economy, and the plight of travel.

    International Psyche

    As we grew up, most of us went on vacations to the places our parents took us: camping in the great outdoors, Grandma’s house, locations with scenic beauty, destinations they’d heard about, read about or saw on television. It was the age of the two-week vacation. Kids were packed into the station wagon and the luggage strapped to the roof. For the most part those days are long gone.

    The Internet has changed everything, opening our eyes to new places and adventures we have never heard of before. We don’t even need to know where we want to go to find a great vacation destination—all we need to do is search for the activity we want, and a wealth of opportunities in different locations is instantly available.

    By simply typing “horseback riding South Dakota,” into your favorite search engine, you’ll find nearly every horseback riding opportunity in the state in just seconds. The same applies to fly fishing, antiquing, concerts, wine trails, farmers markets, boating, and just about any other activity you can think of. For the first time ever, the destination is now secondary to the activity. Locations travelers have never heard of before are now on the first page of search results alongside well-established destinations. And since more than 216 million Americans have immediate Internet access (71%), the web is, by far, the number one resource for travel planning. The playing field has been leveled.

    State of Travel

    Since deregulation of the airline industry in 1978, air travel has grown five times faster than the population. We have enjoyed inexpensive travel, more direct routes, and air travel has become the norm, rather than a luxury. Well, the bubble is bursting. 2007 was considered the worst year in aviation history in terms of customer satisfaction, and this year is projected to make last year look good. Some airlines are filing for bankruptcy, while others are merging so they can reduce options and routes. Nearly every airline is increasing ticket prices, adding fuel surcharges, and adding charges for third bags, meals and entertainment. Airports are overtaxed with antiquated equipment and over-committed space. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 45% of all air travelers say they are less likely to fly this year because of rising fares. With increasing delays, cancellations, over-bookings, cramped quarters, and overall aggravation, who wants to fly anymore?

    For those planning to drive instead, fuel prices are going through the roof. According to the Travel Industry Association, the “breaking point” for consumers, where people will start to cut back on travel, is at $4 a gallon. Ninety-six percent of leisure travel in North America is by private vehicle, and higher fuel price fluctuations could hit most drive-to destinations hard.

    The Economy

    With rising travel costs, tighter credit, and a sagging economy, many people are second-guessing the value of extended road trips or booking flights for vacation getaways.

    While all this sounds like gloom and doom for the travel industry, the fact remains that people still want to travel. Travel is seen as a necessity now, not a luxury. We love our cars, we love new adventures, and we’re reluctant to give those up. What has changed is how we decide where we’re going. And this is where the importance of branding becomes paramount.

    With the Internet at our fingertips, let’s go back to planning that horseback-riding getaway in South Dakota. We search for the activity, but when we see the results and start looking at websites and the location, two powerful questions surface:

    1. Could I do this closer to home?

    2. If I can’t do it closer to home, is this experience so great it will be worth the extra cost and the hassle?

    While 94% of web-enabled people use the Internet to plan their travel, 70% are frustrated in their planning efforts. Why? Because most communities haven’t yet learned to market activities and experiences. Instead, many still focus their efforts on counties, cities and geographic locations. They also insist on promoting themselves as having “something for everyone.”

    This all-things-to-all-people mentality does nothing to set a community apart from the competition. It causes as much as 97% of advertising to be ineffective.

    Travelers won’t go someplace because it has something for everyone—they go places because there’s something specifically for them. And every town has “unique shops and dining”—so what is it that makes your shops different? Worth a special trip and the added cost to get there?

    With the wealth of options and information on the Internet, travelers are able to find places that cater to their specific desires. They don’t want to go to a place that bills itself as“all things to all people.” The generic approach of being“unique, just like everyone else,” simply doesn’t work anymore.

    Savvy communities know they need to offer something specific—to fill a niche—or they’ll be left behind in the flurry of developing destinations. Every year another 1,500 communities in the U.S. and Canada are coming online in the tourism industry. Competition has never been this fierce. Creating and promoting a primary attraction that sets you apart from everyone else will make your community worth a special trip, repeat visits, and an extended stay.

    Welcome to the era of the brand. Simplified, branding is the art of differentiation, finding that one thing that sets you apart from everyone else. Your community’s brand is the image or perception that people have of you, and the experiences they can expect when they visit. We are now in the “age of specialization.”

    Nevada in particular is making impressive progress towards helping its towns become distinctive destinations. When someone mentions Nevada, your first thought is probably Las Vegas, the most successful of the “age of specialization” cities. After 48 out of 50 states legalized some form of gaming, Las Vegas took the brilliant step of removing the gaming focus from their marketing, and branded themselves“the playground for adults.” They put together the most successful branding effort in history with tag line and ads promoting “What happens here, stays here,” a perfect fit for “sin-city.”

    The results have been jaw dropping. Since visitors can go to many casinos closer to home, Las Vegas took the focus off gaming and put it on entertainment. As a result, gaming revenues hit a record high of nearly $41 billion in 2007. The city hosted 39.2 million visitors in 2007, second only to Orlando with 48 million visitors. The 137,000 hotel rooms are seeing a 90+% occupancy level, a full 27 points above the national average.

    But what about all those rural towns scattered throughout Nevada? How can they attract visitors? Here’s a look at what a few of these communities have done.


    A town of only 2,500 residents, Hawthorne adopted the brand and tag line of “America’s Patriotic Home.” While not unique across America, the brand is unique to the region, and you’ll see the largest American flag west of the Mississippi, visible from several miles away, flying proudly above Hawthorne. The town is developing patriotic pole banners and decorative crosswalks, while the tops of buildings will be adorned with stars and strips. The museum of modern weaponry is not to be missed, and their Veterans Day parade is spectacular. There’s still much more work to be done to “own” the brand, but they’ve made great progress.


    About 90 miles east of Reno, Lovelock is a town of about 3,000 residents, and the community recently adopted the ancient Chinese custom of locking one’s love on a never-ending chain—a perfect draw for a town with the name Lovelock. Go to Lovelock to forever lock your love. Once in town, visitors can buy two heart-shaped locks, have them engraved with their names, and lock them together on the never-ending chain that will eventually wrap all around the county’s round courthouse and throughout town. Then post your love story on their website. Buy an extra lock for your rear view mirror or for your office desk. How cool is that?


    Here’s one struggling mining town that turned a negative into a positive. With its remote location and extremely high altitude (nearly 7,000 feet), Tonapah has an exceptionally dark night sky and nearly 340 days of clear weather. The clear, thin air gives visitors a stunning view of the stars, with the Milky Way easily visible as a shining river across the sky. Tonapah is developing a terrific brand as the “Stargazing capital of North America.”

    About 90 miles east of Reno, Lovelock is a town of about 3,000 residents, and the community recently adopted the ancient Chinese custom of locking one’s love on a never-ending chain – a perfect draw for a town with the name Lovelock. Go to Lovelock to forever lock your love. Once in town, visitors can buy two heart-shaped locks, have them engraved with their names, and lock them together on the never-ending chain that will eventually wrap all around the county’s round courthouse and throughout town. Then post your love story on their website. Buy an extra lock for your rear view mirror or for your office desk. How cool is that?


    A town of about 30,000, Pahrump is undergoing its branding process right now, although it already has a strong “brand” among RVers. From Las Vegas, RVers head “over the hump to Pahrump,” which has one of the highest-rated RV parks in the U.S. The town is conveniently located just an hour from Las Vegas and an hour from Death Valley. While they want to work to becoming more than a just a hub location, it’s a great beginning, and the town already has a strong brand among high- spending RV travelers.

    About two and a half hours east of Reno, this ranching community is home to about 20,000 residents. A successful Winnemucca High School graduate is investing some of his wealth back into his hometown by developing a $50 million classic car museum. Sure to be one of the most spectacular car museums in the west, Winnemucca, soon to become “Hot Rod Heaven,” will be a major destination for auto enthusiasts from throughout the west.


    The remote drive from Salt Lake City west towards Winnemucca takes you through the small town of Wells, which embodies “Life on the Frontier.” A resting stop for many pioneers of yesterday and weary travelers of today, Wells is working with local merchants to become a “Must Stop” destination for homemade pies and coffee. And while there, take a look around town and see what life was like on the frontier.

    Virginia City

    For a true taste of the wild, wild west, Virginia City is a must-see destination. Within an hour’s drive of Reno, this popular town was once Mark Twain’s home, and still embodies the rough and tumble days of the 1860’s gold rush era.

    Carson City

    Just down the road from Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Virginia City, Nevada’s capital city is now an outstanding golf destination. The nine golf courses in the Tahoe, Carson Valley, Carson City area banded together to form a strong branding partnership dubbed“The Divine Nine.”For $395 you can buy a “Ticket to Paradise” and play all nine courses. While there, Carson City’s restaurants provide some of the best dining in the state. The Divine Dining in Carson City sets it apart from everyone else.

    Each community in Nevada is working hard to come up with something that sets them apart from everyone else and makes them worth a special trip. If you love classic cars, the old west, patriotism, stargazing, romance, golf, or great food, there’s a town in Nevada that can “deliver on the promise” – the basis for a successful brand. Just “pick your passion” and you’ll likely find a town that fits the experience you are looking for.

    When Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz, they experienced something dramatically different from life back in Kansas. They met interesting characters and had adventures unlike anything they could have had closer to home. What sets your community apart from the rest? What is that one thing that makes you worth a special trip? Find your niche and promote it like crazy, so that your community can be part of the new age of tourism.

  • Article
    Why focus groups are not the way to choose your winning brand. see more

    You NEVER build a brand using focus groups. Period.

    If creative services come into your local focus group and “sell” you on a logo or slogan by explaining what makes it so great, are they going to be there to sell it to everyone who ever sees it?

    If a logo, slogan, or key marketing message has to be explained, toss it. If it’s generic, toss it. If it’s more than seven words, toss it.

    Focus groups invariably come up with slogans that are generic and designed to make everybody happy. “We have some- thing for everyone.” And, by the way, you cannot do branding by public consent. Period. You will never reach a consensus.

    This is why you build your brand on feasibility, not just local sentiment. Isn’t the goal to separate yourself from the other 60,000 communities in North America? You can’t do this by being all things to all people. You MUST find your niche and promote it like crazy.

    How to do this? You ask locals what they think the brand should be (once they understand what branding is) and then you run those ideas through the “Feasibility Test.” (See Feasibility article) This takes the politics out of the branding process and bases your brand on feasibility. At the end of the day, isn’t your brand about marketing your community? As a great place to live, work, or visit?

    Beaumont, Texas uses “Rich With Opportunity” as their brand tag line. While this might make locals feel good for a week or two, does it say anything about Beaumont that doesn’t apply to virtually every other community in North America? Isn’t your community Rich With Opportunity?

    Simply say no to focus groups and “feel good” slogans and tag lines.