How far will YOU go?

It was three years ago now that I attended a training on group facilitation. I learned a lot at the training, but one of the things that stuck with me the strongest was something one of the other participants said in their mock session. This particular man worked in the tourism industry in Michigan on the very successful Pure Michigan campaign. For those of you not familiar with the campaign, it is a series of advertisements voiced by native Michigander Tim Allen of television’s Home Improvement fame. His distinctive voice touts the many attractions of the Great Lakes State from coast to coast. It features small towns, big cities, and everything in between, each ad highlighting what specific locations had to offer. The ads were then played on radio and television both in and outside of Michigan. In 2013 the campaign attracted more than 4 million non-residents to that state up north who spent $1.2 billion while they were there. Put another way, for every $1 spent on the marketing campaign, $6.66 was spent by tourists visiting the state.

Fuller for 2016-05-12 #4The success of that campaign made me wonder what the secrets were. That became even truer when I started working in rural areas. After all, Pure Michigan highlighted small towns and big cities alike. So what were some of the things that enabled the campaign to attract people to out-of-the-way destinations?

One possibility was that the marketing was centralized, including a centralized webpage that had links to different attractions across the state. People searching the website then had a chance to stumble onto other things they wanted to attend or try, important for smaller towns that probably do not have a large, well-publicized visitor’s bureau. In this day and age, the importance of a strong, mobile phone friendly online presence is paramount. Staying on-trend with social media platforms is essential. If people don’t know about it, they cannot come to it! Ideally, you are attracting people to your event or place of business from outside the area so that their money can flow into the local economy as well.

It is also important to be realistic about what the attractions are. In the same presentation where I learned about the success of Pure Michigan, I also learned that on average, people want to have four hours’ worth of things to do at their destination for every hour they spend traveling to get there. This is important to consider when investing those advertising dollars. If you are going to promote an event that requires traveling to attend, make sure it is going to be worth the time it takes to get there!

Finally, be strategic about your campaign. If you have a multiple-day event, promote those days when there are a lot of things to do and try to group your activities to appeal to people with similar interests. Draw a circle around your town and figure out how long of a trip it is to get to your location. For example, say you have a two-hour show and want to draw a bigger crowd. Pair it with dinner and advertise within an hour’s drive so it is worth people’s time to commute. Another way to make it worth the effort is to band together within a community and set up a tour of attractions. Pick a theme for your campaign and then spend some time considering who would be interested in that. Most of all, think regionally and work together for maximum effect.

(Submitted by Laura Fuller, County Extension Educator, Noble County & Buckeye Hills EERA)

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