Part 2 – Creating Authentic Experiences to Brand your Small Town

by Joanne Steele on August 11, 2009

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In Part 1, I talked about “branding” your town by figuring out what your community does best and marketing it together. You’ve probably heard about programs like Michael Shuman’s “Local First” and the importance of creating “regional flavor”.

Today I want to look in more depth into how “regional branding” relates to you and other small town tourism businesses in your area.

“But..”, your thinking, “I just want to sell more adventure trips, (or rooms or gifts, or meals)!”

In today’s Experience Economy, you’ve got to STOP thinking about selling, and START thinking about being a part of a regional experience. THAT is what people are paying for these days.

In 1998 a brilliant educator, author and business visionary, Jim Gilmore and his associate, Joe Pine published an article in the Harvard Business Review,  “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” which outlined the evolution of economies since the time of the Industrial Revolution. They have since written a book about and lecture extensively on the Experience Economy. Read more

Today we are moving away from a Service Economy, with a focus on goods and services. We are in an Experience Economy, which has matured into an economy that is trending toward Authentic Experiences. People want more than Disneylands and Rainforest Café’s and Niketowns. They want something REAL – THAT’S US!

If you want to learn more about the evolution of the Experience Economy, google James Gilmore.

The point is that there is a reason for businesses in small towns to band together to create those experience economy or regional flavor networks.

People are now looking for authentic, transformative experiences when they travel, and for the most part, one store plus one restaurant plus one motel plus one adventure company alone have a hard time providing the kind of immersion experience people are craving and willing to pay extra for and return to again and again.

They can provide good service, but a town can no longer build a tourism economy on a bunch of businesses doing their own thing, even if they’re doing them well.

Call it “Regional Flavor” or “local first networks” or any other kind of small town business network. The reality is if a town wants to be successful in attracting visitors, they need to work together to create a total experience.

The first step is to figure out who you are as a town. That’s what we talked about in “Creating Small Town Tourism Success Part 1, Branding”

This is a hefty undertaking in small towns where folks are often very independent thinkers. The information today is presented to underscore the vital importance of getting this done. Experience Economy networks can start small and grow. Here’s how you might proceed, for the good of your own tourism related business.

1. Start by finding two or three other interested businesses in your town or region.

Plan to add more as other business owners hear about you and get excited.

2. Get a better idea about the Experience Economy and intuit the value of regional branding by reading about  Jim Gilmore’s Experience Economy.

3. Change your thinking about yourself and the other members of your network.

We’re purveyors of experience, not sellers of commodities and services. We provide the information that people need to be able to have the experience they desire, and develop the connection to our town that will make them part of our continuing economic success.

4. Talk about yourself and your network partners to your customers.

Add their information to your marketing and brochure programs. It’s more than referral, it’s giving your customers the true experience of your network.

4. Ultimately, use the Internet to market the experience your network is creating.

Get linked with your network partners, and consider starting a new network web site that together you can populate with information. With one of the new blog style formats, you can create and populate your own site without having to pay a web master to keep it current.

5. Keep adding new partners to your network until you encompass your whole town or region!

Let us know how you’re doing, and ask questions. We’d love to hear from you.

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