Before the pandemic hit our industries, recent trends in destination marketing and management included sustainable development and action, the use of big data to shape content creation and the development of more personalised, one to one messaging. Collaboration was one more important trend which I talked about recently in my Musketeers article; I believe it must be the foundation of every future destination marketing strategy. We have not talked about passing along the message to potential customers yet. For that reason, I interviewed one of the most innovative thinkers and doers with questions on digital marketing. What better way to do this than to base our discussion on a recent case study (The Digital Trip to Stavanger) and talk to its instigator and creator, my good friend Heidi Legein.
Heidi, in light of your destination marketing consultancy, you’ve been recently talking to a lot of convention bureaus and doing research on how they are currently promoting themselves. What were your key findings?
First of all, I can see a huge gap forming between destinations with, let’s say, an archaic structure and those who have been on the forefront of innovation, flexibility and rapid adaptability to market trends and changes in requirements for years. There are those who talk a lot, do a lot of analysis and are always a few steps behind, because their process is equally long as rigid and those who have their eyes and minds open for opportunity, even in difficult times and act upon it immediately. The key difference between the two is that the first are waiting for travel to resume and things to go back to normal and the second have understood the future is hybrid and adapting to it now is key.
Besides a long process and perhaps an outdated structure, do you see any other obstacles for destination marketers to move forward? Some DMOs are just small entities with a closely knit meetings industry community, others have much larger structures and headcounts.
One of the most recurring issues I’ve seen is that CVBs often have too many partners handling their marketing with too little interconnectivity. They have content creators for social media accounts that are not synced in terms of mindset or approach. Many suddenly built a studio for broadcasting, because that’s what everyone seems to be doing from tech suppliers to hotels. Several try to repurpose in-house meeting- and webinar tools for a whole new set of goals. What most fail at is seeing the bigger picture. Understanding that the way you need to present yourself now has dramatically changed is the first step. The fact that you need a different type of unified approach is seeping in too slowly. Because there is now a new sense of urgency to reinvent and prepare for the years ahead. And the most crucial of all; you need to work out from objectives, rather than mix and matching bits and pieces of all kinds of things that have not been adequately implemented.
One of the ways convention bureaus, DMCs and DMOs used to attract business was with so-called FAM trips and site inspections, inviting potential buyers to discover the destination in hopes of bringing their business there. What are destinations doing now, during this period where travel is either not allowed or not advised?
Unfortunately, there is a lack of inspirational activity at the moment. You will find numerous webinars where people are invited to interact with numerous destination partners. Some don’t even offer that, but are filled with one-sided, slow-death-by-Powerpoint presentations. You have your occasional venue visit, thousands of broadcasts from studios and your typical one-hour experience type scenarios from zoom breakfasts to quizzes and filmed excursion type activities to a wine tasting or cooking class. DMC networks will have plenty countries in one event and roll out presentation after presentation with, if you’re lucky, perhaps the odd entertainment in between and attendees will in most cases be forced to go talk to partners they might not even be interested in talking to. Neither of these singular components are necessarily bad, but you need to elevate the overall experience and give people an intrinsic desire to attend, rather than think “oh God, another one of those”.
So what do you think DMOs & CVBs should rather be doing then? Are we just talking about a new trend to get out of the present situation or will we go back to what we considered normal after that?
Do things properly from the beginning, but fast enough to take a lead. The destinations that prove to be most innovative now, are the ones who will get the biggest rewards right after this pandemic. You need a proper digital strategy moving forward, not just for the coming months, but the coming years. You need a unified message no matter which audience you are trying to target, so your overall goals don’t get lost in lots of failed trials.
So how different is what you are suggesting from traditional destination marketing techniques?
Very. At The MICE guru, we’ve been doing all the trial and error and we are constantly re-evaluating what works and what doesn’t, which developments are on the horizons and what are must haves and nice to haves. We kept an eye on the international market and will keep on educating and pushing boundaries for a better understanding of where we are headed. From where we started as a DMC for Norway, we now offer consultancy in digital strategy including all components from social media marketing to audience engagement, community building, producing innovative and immersive virtual- and hybrid events that make people say: “OMG, did you see what destination X did? That was awesome!”. An example of that is our “The digital trip” concept; a destination deep dive that actually makes people feel they are travelling, mingling and enjoying the learning so much, they immediately want to start organising in-destination events.
And the actual event is connected to campaigns over several months, building community and used as an industry example of how to market a destination more creatively. That is how you want to be profiling yourself. It’s about surprising and exciting and allowing for serendipity to happen digitally. And best of all, we get you started quickly, because rest assured, there is no more time to waste.
Buyer audiences are changing dramatically and a traditional client database might suddenly not be worth much anymore because a lot of talents have left the meetings industry community as they have been furlonghed or dismissed from their jobs. Some companies have ceased to exist. How do you think one should reconnect with potential buyers?
The entire landscape has changed indeed and so has the way people do business. This pandemic has brought us back to a much more human-to-human approach, rather than a b2b, or a seller-buyer relationship. As buyers, similar to their personal lives, are looking at a more direct connection (as in buying local from local enterpreneurs and producers) they, for business purposes are more interested to connect on a much more personal level.
We must move to a more niche approach, one that delivers change with a lot of personal care and understanding. People are much more eager to work with a trusted brand (read: person) who has been there for them in difficult times, rather than a company with big overall ambitions. They like to work direct within a shorter circuit. That is why a new type of community building is important; one where you support, inspire and collaborate with your own community more than ever before.
We have been very active in developing micro tribes; small niche communities of event planners who are extremely supportive of one another and build very strong relationships by being there for each other through anything. They listen, ask for advice, collaborate and support. There is now much more value in your core 1% audience, who are so connected to you that they literally become your brand ambassadors by choice. We’re back to your ‘musketeers’ principle actually!
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