We spend a lot of time around conference tables coming up with compelling hooks that will stir potential visitors to book vacations at one of the destinations that our agency represents. But what if consumers created their own hooks and told us in their own words why they wanted to visit the destinations?
A campaign developed this winter for the Arizona Office of Tourism shows the possibilities of microtargeting individual consumers. The targeting was all the more powerful because potential visitors themselves defined the most effective pitches. As personalization increasingly becomes the driving force in tourism marketing — both for destination organizations and individual properties — the Arizona Office of Tourism campaign shows the way.
Here’s how it worked: Winters in Chicago and New York City can be long and brutal. Many people aren’t fans of winter, and they often vent about it on social media. Arizona, meanwhile, has about 313 sunny days per year.
The challenge of the Arizona Office of Tourism was getting Arizona sunshine into the minds of residents of New York and Chicago, who were focused on complaining about winter. The office’s social media campaign, dubbed “Sunshine to Share,” was powered by those complaints. YouTube videos targeting the two big Northern markets contrasted sunny outdoor recreation in Arizona — swimming pools and yoga in the desert — with scenes of big-city traffic snarled in snow.
But here’s the twist that made this campaign noteworthy: The Arizona Office of Tourism encouraged viewers to vent about winter with posts on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag#AZSunToShare. And the tourism office rewarded participants with things like food-delivery gift cards, resort stays, airfare vouchers and more.
More than 225 folks vented about winter weather at #AZSunToShare, and their observations captured attention. At last count, the campaign had generated 9.7 million impressions and nearly 4,000 engagements.
What’s most notable about this campaign is that it allowed the Arizona Office of Tourism to connect with potential visitors on a personal level. No matter how many millions of potential consumers are in the market — any market for any product — the buying decisions will likely be made one at a time by individuals.
And no matter how many potential buyers may be gathered together somewhere close to the top of the sales funnel, each one expects to be addressed individually. Each potential visitor is moved by a distinctive mix of aspirations, worries and dreams. Successful marketing addresses those individual needs.
Nowhere is this more true that tourism marketing. In fact, personalization is becoming imperative in the travel sector. Respected travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt has made the case that consumers who are learning to expect customized experiences at banks, restaurants and retailers will expect nothing less from their travel experiences.
The proliferation of big data — or even medium-sized data from a destination’s own database — can provide the insights to begin personalization. Marketers know about consumers’ incomes, the number of vacations they plan each year and the types of destinations that they typically visit.
With even the most basic data, a destination organization can personalize a pitch. A winter resort in a mountain town that’s a few hours outside of San Francisco, for instance, can recommend a restaurant-focused stay for foodies during a weekend when life in the big city is going to be hectic.
Data points are by their very nature factual, but travel decisions are heavily influenced by emotion. Travelers aspire to experience vacations that will be among the peak experiences of their lives. They worry that their dreams will fall short. They fret that a vacation will fail to deliver on its promise.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to build a personalized experience around emotion is by creating a one-on-one relationship. Long ago, the owners of mom-and-pop motels at summertime destinations spent their slow winter months sending personalized holiday greetings to each of their guests from the previous summer. The work may have been tedious, but it recognized guests as individuals. That, in turn, opened the door for personalized conversations and planning when guests called to make reservations for their next visit.
Social media may have replaced handwritten holiday cards, but the strategy remains unchanged: Reach out to potential visitors, build relationships and start conversations.
And how can you learn what emotions are driving potential visitors? As the Arizona Office of Tourism showed, you can ask them. Online review sites demonstrate that consumers are eager to share their opinions if they’re provided an opportunity.
Destinations can follow Arizona’s lead and build social media campaigns that allow consumers to share their dreams. You also can build personalized relationships through email contact generated by your web presence. Perhaps you could enlist a cadre of volunteers to act as knowledgeable locals in personalized conversations with potential visitors.
“How did you get interested in visiting us?” “What do you hope to experience while you’re here?” “What would make this a perfect visit?” These questions aren’t difficult to ask. The key is listening carefully to individual potential visitors, no matter what platform they’re using to contact you, and helping them shape the experience they desire. Success is less about communication platforms and more about the creation of an organizational culture driven by the desire to help.
Once potential visitors have told you what’s on their minds, it’s not difficult to build a personalized experience that can fulfill their every dream.