Effective Rural Tourism Marketing – How Much Should It Cost?

by Joanne Steele on November 15, 2010

Does engagement marketing require the same huge budgets needed in the past, or can we do effective rural tourism marketing with less money?

Hilton Head South Carolina homepage

Over coffee this morning I read the two part series at The Island Packet about increasing funding for tourism marketing in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (For those of you from truly rural communities, don’t even look at the size of their current budget. You’ll faint!)

I looked carefully at their website and Facebook presence and here are a few thoughts on the issue – they’re really important for everyone, so read on.

Today, marketing is about speaking directly to the your customer’s needs and desires. It’s called engagement or long-tail marketing.

Any other marketing strategy will cost big money with diminishing effectiveness.

That means you have to know your customer like you know your family members.  To do that nowadays takes more TIME than MONEY, which is leveling the playing field for rural destinations.

What I saw on the Hilton Head website is luxury, high-end ambiance, beautiful people between the ages of 25 and 35 or 40, and dense content on their blog about food and cooking. What I read in the Island Packet was that their market was middle class families.  The images and offerings on their website shouted, RICH!! It will no doubt attract “wanna be richies.” But what about the truly middle class families who want time together to reconnect. Who want to pack in a little learning with their fun. Who want to spend some time doing what locals do. Those images and messages are missing.

A more focused message wouldn’t cost nearly as much as hosing more of the world with advertising in hopes that a few more wanna be richies will connect and visit.

On the Hilton Head Facebook page I learned what regular people interested in history, culture and local fun find in Hilton Head. The Facebook page should be driving traffic to their website and it’s like two completely separate messages.

In a world where authentic experience is what is drawing people to vacation spots, Hilton Head is missing a vital opportunity. Sometimes having a large budget keeps a region focused on old marketing  models, when the world is retooling for the new paradigm shift.

I also came across this article today, Mastering the New Five P’s of Marketing by Tom Patty which talks about this amazing paradigm shift we’re experiencing. It’s worth wading through Tom Patty’s automobile industry examples for the clear and focused message about how we all need to change the way we market.

Hilton Head, I hope you get the money you need. I’ve written in the past about the vital importance of government funding to rural tourism marketing. But I’d suggest that you retool for the new marketing paradigm. You might find that you didn’t need all that additional funding after all.

Stay tuned in… I’ll be starting a new series on the New Five P’s of Marketing for rural tourism destinations late this week.

1 Niki November 18, 2010 at 7:47 am

I love this post. Besides their HUGE budget, a size that we can only dream about in my area, I had to chuckle at the mixed messages. It’s one thing to target different groups, but quite another to have completely mixed up messages. The image I have of Hilton Head is that I can’t afford it – and visiting their website really only reinforces that. Looking forward to the New 5Ps!

2 Joanne Steele November 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Hi Niki, Wouldn’t it be fun to use what we know about effective marketing to spend 2.8 million! I’d create a great, effective economical website with clear messages that is updated daily by a staff person with good writing skills and exceptional knowledge of the area. Then I’d spend lots of the rest training every tourism business in town how to do exactly the same. How would you spend that money??

3 Mindi Crabb November 17, 2010 at 8:15 am

Joanne, the Hilton Head case is a perfect example and reminder to us all to rethink and retool – thanks so much!

4 Joanne Steele November 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Hi Mindi, I just asked Nici Davis from Talk Tourism what she’d do with 2.8 million, knowing what she knows about marketing. How would you spend that money, as you rethink and retool?

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