Destination marketing. Typically when one hears or reads these words the mind conjures up images of white sand beached and turquoise waters or some other exotic destination. But destination marketing strategies and tactics can be applied just as easily to any town or city in the world. Every location has something unique and special about it that sets it apart from others and these small town unique selling propositions should be seized and leveraged to bring greater awareness and prosperity for those towns. In this piece, I am going to provide you with a number of different small town destination marketing strategies that should be implemented immediately. And remember, if you don’t have the time or the manpower, MarketingModo offers a full suite of marketing services geared exclusively towards towns, cities and communities. Here are five areas to start focusing on now to give your destination marketing a boost:
Get a Website NOW
In today’s online world a website is a requirement. In my own research many towns fall into one of two categories. They either do not have a website at all or if they do, it is extremely outdated, looks amateur and appears as if someone put it together in five minutes. Hardly the kind of first impression a town hopes to make. The first order of business is to get a website if you don’t have one or update your existing site. Take a look at some famous cities and towns and see how their websites are designed and put together and start developing your vision of what you want the site to look like and how you want it to function. Absolutely make sure you have your entire social media presence linked to the site through icons in either the header or the footer. You want to show visitors that you have an active social presence. Also, make sure your site is very visual. Use as many photos as you can. Photos that show people smiling and having fun are preferred as people psychologically respond better when seeing photos of happy people. They take on their moods which is what you want them to associate your town with. Keep residents and visitors informed about town events with an events calendar. You will also want to make sure that the site is 100% mobile friendly. Visitors and residents expect a responsive, mobile-friendly website mobile devices. If your website is hard to navigate on a smartphone or tablet, your destination is cooked because people will click away to something else. Lastly, if your town sells event tickets or souvenirs or town pride type items such as t-shirts, mugs, etc having an ecommerce functionality works well. It allows people to purchase these items from the comfort of their homes and brings more revenue into the town’s coffers. Take a look at these two pages. The one on the top is the website for Frederick County MD while the one on the bottom is the webpage for Luzerne County PA. Without question, the Frederick page is more visually appealing and grabs the attention of visitors the quickest. It is visual, it is dynamic and very user friendly as a visitor can without scrolling or anything else find everything that they could possibly need. The webpage for Luzerne County is the polar opposite. While nice, it is too texty and there is far too much white space. The eyes do not know where to go to first. Then you have the dual navigation columns on either side and you end up with a poor user experience and a website that doesn”t do the county justice. Which site gives you the better impression?
Another good set of examples are these two sites. The one on the top is the website for the Aspen, CO while the one on the bottom is the website for Thurmont, MD. Thurmont claims to be the “Gateway to the Mountains” but which site really seems to back up that claim? Thurmont”s page uses no imagery apart from the town”s seal while Aspen”s is heavily visual with images of a beautiful mountain landscape. Everything on the Aspen site screams mountains and nature. Thurmont”s page screams that it looks like a web design intern put it together over a weekend. This one is particularly sad for me as I live near Thurmont and can personally testify to the beauty of the town and its surroundings. The landscape views are breathtaking. This is a huge opportunity for Thurmont but unfortunately most town websites resembles theirs with a lot of text, little or no visuals, confusing navigation, poor user experience and a ton of white space. Most who know me know that I am incredibly proud of my school- Penn State so I just can”t help myself to show some State College love. In this case it is completely justified. State College”s website exemplifies what a town”s website should look like. It is visually appealing, easy to use and informative. They have followed every step recommended in this article. If you”d like your town”s site to be this good contact MarketingModo today!
Establish a Social Media Presence
Right off the bat you may be thinking why on earth does a town need a social media presence? The answer to that is simple. Nearly 30% of the global population is on social media and they expect their favorite brands and destinations to be on there with them. If they are not, studies have shown that they will be substituted for brands and destinations that are. Do you really want to pass that opportunity up? Don’t think you have to be on every social network out there- the big two- Facebook, Twitter will do. I would also recommend Youtube for videos of town events; Pinterest where you can share town photos and lastly Google for SEO benefits your site will get from it. The one thing with social media is to make sure you stay active. There is no point in having a Facebook page if you post once every 4 months. People will tune out and it would be the same as not having one at all so try to stay active with posts every day or every few days at least. For those with few followers and fans, do not despair. Facebook allows you to boost your posts. In layman’s terms it allows you to take a post and for a relatively small amount of money you can expand the reach of it. The idea here is to attract more attention and get more like for your page. You can also promote your Facebook page as well and can target people in your community. For example, my hometown of Pittston can promote their Facebook page to all those in the Pittston area, Luzerne county or even the entire country. This is a great way to pick up likes for your page. The same can be done with promoted tweets on Twitter and promoted pins on Pinterest. Have each of your social pages link back to your main site. The goal here is to drive traffic to your website. Don’t forget, you have a number of businesses in your town that would likely be thrilled at the prospect of you mentioning them on your social networks and would only be so happy to return the favor. If they have special events or promotions, post it on your page and have them do the same for you.
Search engines: be find-able or you’re lost
Search breaks down into two categories: SEO and Paid Search. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) allows increased organic or natural traffic coming to your site. For example, if I type in the keywords “civil war battlefields”, top of the list will be Gettysburg which people can click and be taken to the town’s website. This is organic traffic and the best thing about it is that it is free. Paid search on the other hand is when you pay for certain keywords that will show and ad at the very top or the sides of the search engine results page. Once again, say I type in “civil war battlefields Pennsylvania”, the results page shows a number of ads. One of which is a promotion for a battlefield tour. I click on it and am taken to the corresponding landing page. This is paid traffic. In the end, you will want both but you really want to focus on organic traffic. How do you achieve this? Well for starters make sure your site is optimized for search. Ask yourself what keywords do you want your town to show up for and integrate that into your site content. As mentioned in yesterday’s article, don’t go overboard trying to be everything to everyone. Pick a focus on stick with it. Reach out to local businesses and ask for a link to the town’s site to be placed on their websites. You can and should place links to their sites on yours. View it as a partnership where you are helping both increase awareness and visibility. Another good tactic and one that is incredibly important to SEO is the development of local content. Now most town websites do not have a blog so they cannot generate local content regularly but many organizations within the town such as the Chamber of Commerce or the local Historical Society certainly do. A small town should leverage that by asking that these organizations link to the website from this content. In terms of paid search, the results are much faster wherein SEO takes time.
Towns can leverage paid search by identifying why people visit the town. Is it because of a great winery? Perhaps a museum or one of a kind attraction? Maybe it is known for its scenic beauty? Let’s look at Scranton, Pennsylvania as an example. Scranton has many claims to fame such as the Steamtown Train Museum, the Houdini Museum, Coal Mind Tours and of course the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company from the hit television series- The Office. Scranton can use any of these terms for a paid search campaigns or in other words a heavy focus on the businesses and attractions in the area. They can use the keywords “coal mine tours Pennsylvania” or “Houdini museum” or “train museum” or any other number of keywords. Something else they can do is go more generic and by that I mean using broad keywords such as “Pennsylvania cities” “northeastern Pennsylvania” “thing to do Pennsylvania”. All of these will generate awareness for the city in paid search.
Don’t Ignore Traditional Advertising
Ask your modern marketer what he/she thinks of traditional advertising such as brochures, commercials and newspapers and you will likely be given a look of disgust. In the minds of many, the old ways of marketing are dead but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As people pour into the online media world it is becoming more crowded and harder for your message to come across. This leaves an incredible opportunity in the traditional methods. A good traditional method for towns to investigate is the good, old brochure or visitor’s magazines that are often found in rest stations across the nation. Don’t underestimate the power of these brochures. I should know, I have a collection of them myself from my travels. Here quality is everything. Don’t put out an amateur looking booklet or brochure. Create a high quality, very visual creative. Make sure to include your website address as well as your social networks. Even better would be to include a QR code in the design so individuals with smartphones can scan the code and be taken immediately to your website. I can tell you from personal experience that I would have bypassed many interesting locations had it not been for these brochures. The same can be said for billboards and TV/radio ads. These are especially great for events. Place a billboard promoting your event in a highly trafficked area and you may be surprised by the results. Newspapers are another often overlooked medium. Local newspapers are great at reaching local audiences but you also want to make sure you try to gain a few mentions in national publications as well. This is where press releases come into play. Using
services such as PRNewswire, you can effectively distribute your news to journalists and papers across the county. As many small towns are reinventing themselves and are pulling themselves back from the brink of economic downturn there are many heart lifting stories of communities turning around and coming together. These are perfect for a press release to larger newspapers. This will not only generate more awareness of your small town but the links those online articles contain will be a great source of traffic for your site.
Destination Marketing is a Partnership
Destination marketing is a partnership. Many businesses and residents have a vested interest in seeing their town succeed and grow. Work with your local businesses and organizations to spread the word about your small town. They can send out emails to their customers or have special promotions on days of town events. They can post event flyers in their windows. There are endless amounts of ways you can leverage this fusion or partner marketing. The end goal is to attract more visitors to your small piece of America. The suggestions outlined in this article are merely scraping the surface of what can be done. I assure you there are many others. It is a daunting task and many towns do not have the manpower to accomplish all of this on their own. This is why many turn to agencies such as MarketingModo that have the expertise in marketing small towns and communities. They say home is where the heart is. Let us help you increase the number of those who call your town home.