With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, many tourism businesses are discovering it’s not business as usual and that their tourism marketing strategy is more important than ever.
But what does ‘marketing strategy’ even mean?
To many, it’s something like this: “we need to spend more on Facebook ads and improve our presence on Instagram”. That’s pure tactics, NOT strategy, and basically useless without first understanding the fundamentals.
What is Tourism Marketing Strategy?
This is the essence of what marketing truly is. You need to answer four basic questions: What is the problem that you solve? Who exactly do you solve it for? (ideal client or clients) How do you uniquely solve it? (market and competitor differentiation) And finally, how does that benefit your ideal guests? Only when you truly understand those things should you even think about Facebook, Instagram Ads or the plethora of other digital marketing tactics out there.
Understanding Your Ideal Clients
One of the best places to begin is with your best guests. Really think hard about who they are. In marketing speak, the goal is to create something called ‘personas’. These are fictional characters who represent your best guests, and allow you to plan marketing around their demographics, likes, dislikes and the ‘problem’ you solve for them. The characteristics you should be looking for are the guests who ‘repeat’ and ‘refer’, (and they should also be people you genuinely like working with.)
In the luxury adventure tourism market, they tend to be the group leaders, who come back year after year, and bring a group with them. What you want to do is interview them. The right questions are key here. How did they decide to book with you the first time? What competitors have they booked with? How do they compare? When they refer you to others, what exactly do they say? If you need help with this, consider hiring a tourism marketing agency.
Doing this customer research, we often notice clear trends after we’ve made about 8-10 of these calls. And here’s the thing: often the reasons they’ve chosen a particular operator are NOT the same as the business owner thought. Next, do an audit of all reviews and testimonials, looking at what past guests are posting on your Tripadvisor, Google My Business and Facebook pages. Look for certain keywords and trends here that support the customer interviews. By the end of this process you should have a very clear picture of your ideal guest.
How Do You Differentiate?
Once you’ve talked to enough of your ideal clients, and heard what they say, you likely have a good idea of what you do that your competitors do not. But that isn’t enough. Here’s a good exercise: on your web browser, open up tabs of all your competitors and your own site and use some post-it notes to cover the logos and urls. Then ask your staff if they can tell who is who? Quite often, you see every competitor in the same niche saying exactly the same thing. If your staff can’t see those points of differentiation, how do you expect your prospective guests to see them?
Then make a list of those things that are most important to your ideal clients that no one else does but you. What is the benefit of those to your guests? Those are your key differentiators.
Create Your Core Message
Now that you understand who your guys (or gals) are, the problem you solve for them and how you differentiate in the market, it’s time to create new core messaging. Here’s where some copywriting skills are important. Consider hiring a writer if you need help here. You want that core messaging to be at most one or two sentences in length (shorter is better), knocking off all those key points and be above the fold (in the viewable area that your website visitors will see first).
Have that copy over an intro video that literally ‘shows’ what that core message says. If your ideal clients are wealthy 50+ adventure travellers, who choose you for ‘intimate wildlife and premium culinary experiences’, build that into a story that shows your guests as ‘heroes’ and you as the guide helping them succeed.
Map Out Your Customer Journey
The next step in marketing strategy is understanding the way your guests move through your buying process from prospect to customer to raving fan. Most tourism business owners are already familiar with the marketing funnel and its ‘awareness-consideration-buy’ stages. We use the Duct Tape Marketing System ‘hourglass’ which maps out 7 stages of the customer journey: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer. The goal here is to fully understand each of these stages, how they apply to your particular business and tourism niche.
And here’s the thing: those last two stages, Repeat and Refer, are the most important, so start there, and work your way backwards. Go through and really audit each of these stages with your staff or marketing agency. Talk to your guests and brainstorm all the ways people are currently moving through each stage of your journey, then plan to improve each step.
Develop Your Content Strategy
Content has often been called ‘the voice of strategy’ because it is literally the ‘stuff’ you’ll be using in every one of your marketing channels, from website and social media to paid ads and tourism PR. So go to work planning and creating the content you know your ideal clients will love and that positions you as an expert in your niche and differentiates you from your competitors.
This is also a great place to do some deep keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO) to plan out content around what you know your prospects are currently searching for on Google to find you.
As content creation is generally the most time consuming (and expensive) part of any tourism marketing program, it makes sense to schedule (and budget) it out in a 6-12 month calendar.
Select the Right Marketing Channels
Wheww…that’s a lot of stuff, and most (but not all) of what’s involved in developing a successful tourism marketing strategy. Now you’ll know who your ideal guests are, the problems you solve, the things they love about your business, your uniqueness in the marketplace, how guests move through your buying process, the types of content they love, and the places they hang out online and offline. So select the right marketing channels and tactics and be confident your marketing dollars are being invested wisely.
Wouldn’t that be a lot more valuable marketing strategy than ‘let’s spend money on facebook and Instagram’?