At the Nebraska Travel Conference, Shannon Gray of North Star Ideas presented a session on how towns and communities can better know themselves in order to better market themselves to tourists. It involves some work and some research to do properly, but it does not have to cost a lot of money. Here are some of her suggestions and ideas.
|Alan Weinkrantz and Jeff Pulver touring|
downtown Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
How big of a gap is there between what you think you are, and what your potential visitors think you are?
Spend a day doing visitor intercepts. Ask people what brought them there, what they think so far. Don’t take more than 5 minutes of visitors’ time.
A perception study means asking, “What did you think before? What do you think now?” This is qualitative research, seeking qualities.
Put your qualitative research results into Wordle to get a “picture” of what visitors thought. From Twitter, @Copywrote also suggested Tagxedo. “Beyond analysis, it also makes a really effective presentation tool.”
Pay attention to what people from different areas think about your place. Target people in different areas differently based on this.
Towns can “claim” attractions, even if locals don’t feel like the attraction really is “theirs.” For example, I think it was Grand Rapids, Michigan, that isn’t right on Lake Michigan, so they hadn’t ever promoted lake activities. But when they did perception studies, they found visitors from the south associated them with “going to the lake.” (Now, I realize this can be a source of irritation for small towns, especially when bigger towns or cities start “claiming” your attractions. But do find out what people are thinking about you, even if it’s not inside your own city limits.)
Think about the new and cool associations to your heritage. Claim those qualities to revitalize your image.
Sit and watch your visitors. How do people act when they come out of your attraction? Where do they go next? That gave me the idea of checking Foursquare user trails, based on their public tweets. Where do they check in next? What patterns can you find?
Focus groups can be as informal as inviting a group in for pizza and discussion. From Twitter, @rayhemman suggested putting the detailed notes from focus groups through Wordle (or Tagxedo) “to catch ‘ahas.'”
By watching search terms, you may find you have a ready market for something. Looking at searches for “Vicksburg” online revealed many people consistently searching for ghost tours, so they created some.
When you talk to visitors, you pick up on patterns. Mississippi found visitors often used the phrase “The True South.” To balance the good and bad associations, Mississippi used “Find your True South.”
If you have some negative history, don’t ignore it. Embrace it, and let visitors make up their own minds. Muriel Clark said, “plus, embracing negative history can help others learn from your mistakes, and show that you have learned as well.”
Dublin, Ohio, found people expected an Irish heritage. So they went with “Irish is an attitude” campaign. Businesses got involved and picked up on the Irish theme. Irish food started appearing on menues. Irish culture, like dancing and cooking, started to be included in events and tourism offerings. Five years later, 65% of Dublin, OH, residents know the brand. (very impressive) Also, they’ve seen a big increase in visitors.
Thanks to Muriel Clark, aka @NebraskaOutback, who sat next to me in the session and provided valuable feedback and discussion. And thanks to Twitter friends who listened in and added their feedback as well.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.