In 2014 Peter Bowden, President/CEO of the Columbus, GA Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCVB), commissioned Randall Travel Marketing (RTM) to conduct a research study to help determine future marketing opportunities. The CCVB supplied the research to several agencies to feedback on and to provide insights from the data. With Stamp’s experience in marketing for Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and access to this research, we were able to present ideas during a competitive agency review and then once selected for this assignment, able to further refine the campaign based on more research and in-depth observations of the market.
Research for DMOs is important for a number of reasons:
- To determine how well your location delivers on visitor expectations
- To understand the primary reasons people visit your city
- To analyze behavior as visitors explore the destination
- To identify visitor profiles and demographics
- To help identify areas for improving the destination or key services
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, “research efforts help Georgia Tourism develop its marketing strategies. Research provides vital demographic information on Georgia’s visitors. It also helps monitor the strength of the tourism industry and determines both what current and emerging markets should be further developed.”
According to Judy Randall of RTM, “Walt Disney said it best. ‘You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.’ This is the essence of research-based marketing.” Scientific, reliable research is logical and guarantees results. “No more gambling. No more guesswork. No more wasted marketing money. It just simply works,” continued Randall.
Data generated from research is valuable to destinations because it provides a glimpse into how the visitor perceives the brand. So ideas spawned from research are often the most effective because they resonate with the desires of each target audience. In a few areas of RTM’s Columbus, GA study, the results stood out and started to follow a pattern or develop a theme: Previous visitors were asked what new activities, facilities and experiences they would like to see in the market. From the research, the key elements that visitors said they wanted were:
- 60% shopping/entertainment along the river
- 54% river excursions
- 54% zip line over the river
- 53% festivals
- 49% riverside lodging
We started to see a a common theme of outside adventure and activities.
Next, the research survey asked visitors “what makes Columbus unique?” Responses were:
- Fort Benning
- Whitewater Rafting
- The River
- The RiverWalk
- Downtown/Uptown Columbus
While the number one thing mentioned was Fort Benning, all the other items listed had an outdoor theme as well. But one on the most compelling data sets was the results of visitors being asked if they participated in outdoor activities during their visit to Columbus:
- 42% of business travelers
- 71% of leisure travelers
- 52% of meeting/convention travelers
- 44% of military travelers
- 48% of sports travelers
- 42% of overall travelers
Randall confirmed that the % of visitors participating in (or perceiving they participated in) outdoor activities across all travel segments was higher than in most of the similar market studies that she has conducted. And by digging into the preceding 12 months of the VisitColumbusGA.com website analytics, the second highest visited page after the home page was devoted to outdoor activities.
The challenge for a DMO is to embrace a theme that encompasses all stakeholders including attractions, accommodations and restaurants. Even though the research and analytics were leading us to an “outside” theme, there are a number of world-class museums, entertainment, dining venues and attractions in Columbus that are not outside. So for Columbus, we broke “outside” into two words: “out” & “side” and then thoroughly vetted numerous word combinations. We all agreed that a visitor can “Go Out” to a museum or restaurant. And likewise, if a visitor goes “All Out” while attending a meeting, riding the rapids, watching a show or visiting an attraction, it connotes performing at their best or enjoying whatever activity they are participating in to the fullest. So, this combination of these two phrases led us to: “Go All Out” in Columbus, GA.
Through the development of a destination Marketing Action Plan or MAP, we identified all of the target groups that affected the success of the destination. Working collaboratively with the client through the MAP process, we identified each target group (the who) that would influence the success of the destination, each target’s role (the what) in the success of the destination; the beliefs that each target needs to have (the why) in order for the destination to be successful with them and then outlined processes (the how) that would get the desired results. This last column (the how) is the marketing plan – but we are also clear and in agreement on the who, what and why, which helps ensure that our marketing program will succeed.
Using the research in the plan development, the MAP ultimately had a core belief statement that: leisure travelers wanted an adventure destination adjacent to an urban core where they can find fabulous food and exciting nightlife.
For the creative development to support the “Go All Out” theme and this belief theme, we keyed on one of our original phrases: “All Out” and then combined it with images and headlines relating things you could do in Columbus, GA. For example, we paired “All Out Thrills” (whitewater) with “All Out Chills” (dining), and “All Out Zip” (zip line) with “All Out Hip” (concert), and “All Out Glory” (military museum) with “All Out Story (arts and theater). Because we truly understand the role the DMO plays in economic development, we deployed this AM/PM strategy of messages that included outdoor “adventure” activities in the daytime paired with fun, late-evening activities to encourage overnight stays. Then to develop our media delivery plan, we identified the feeder cities where visitors were likely to come from to visit Columbus, GA but were also more likely spend one to two nights .
The “Go All Out” Columbus, GA campaign launched in July 2015. In the first 4 months of the campaign, traffic to the website increased by 21% year over year. We also developed a custom landing page to provide easy access to top pages – attractions, accommodations, dining and events. The custom landing page allowed 1) the visitor to easily find information, 2) the CVB to track the ROI on the campaign and 3) the visitor see the same creative as the print campaign creating campaign continuity.
Combining digital and print, the campaign achieved over 6.3 Million impressions and 36,386 people visited the landing page in just four months.
Landing pages routinely increase conversions by minimizing distractions for the visitor. We also created custom landing pages for Facebook ads to promote outdoor activities, such as whitewater rafting and zip lining. With a modest budget, one Facebook ad generated over 11,000 visits in just one month. The Facebook pay per click advertising and Google pay per click advertising exceeded expectations generating a 1.8% click through rates (CTR) in the first four months of the campaign.
The creative was informed through research and effective because the campaign focused on what the visitors indicated they wanted. A strong media plan was implemented to attract like-minded visitors, thus increasing the ROI.