April is upon us, and in the US, along with spring showers and May flowers looms budget planning for the coming fiscal year.
The Congress is still squabbling about the 2011 federal budget. States are hacking away at employee salaries and benefits.
Counties and cities are quaking in their boots wondering what unfunded mandates will trickle down to their level.
And small rural communities are trying to figure out how to cobble together some kind of a marketing budget that will bring visitors to town to help THEM solve their financial problems.
In this post I’ll give you some suggestions for how to approach creating a marketing budget. In the second in this series, I’ll talk about ways to sell your proposed budget to your public funding source – a town or county council.
What to Cut and What to Keep in Your 2012 Marketing Budget
We are in a transitional time. Older visitors still love paper visitors guides, and friendly staff at visitors’ bureaus.
Younger visitors use the internet for trip planning, and their smartphone to search for local information once they arrive at their destination.
Step 1 – Who is your customer?
Does your destination service a large number of traveling retirees?
Are you an outdoor recreational destination with hiking, biking, water sports, and skiing?
If you have a visitors’ bureau now, have your visits held steady or only slightly declined during this recession, or did they drop off a cliff?
Does your town cater to occasional soft adventurers and shoppers or avid hobbyists who live to fish, bird or train watch?
Once you know who you are serving, find out, don’t guess, where they go for travel information. Ask visitors. Contact larger visitor operations serving a similar population and ask them.
Ask the businesses that serve these visitors. As county director of tourism, I learned from our rafting companies that their customers had turned to the internet for information well before the general population had.
Step 2 – Get over your “But we’ve always done that!” mentality.
Drastic times require dramatic change. If a careful, focused look at your customer indicates that you’re spending money in the wrong place, kill the sacred cow.
Give up that cute little visitor kiosk.
Stop putting money into a visitor guide that is getting harder and harder to pay for.
Change hours in your visitors’ bureau to reflect the needs of your visitors rather than the convenience of your staff.
Step 3 – Do not, under any circumstances give up your internet marketing efforts!
Here’s the biggest problem facing rural communities. Our internet marketing is not keeping up with our customers’ usage. Older people are embracing the internet in ever increasing numbers. Younger people are driving the rise of new internet and cell phone technology.
We, on the other hand, have tended to transfer our “spray and pray” theory of marketing to our internet marketing efforts, and when we don’t get results, we say, “The internet doesn’t work!”
Step 4 – Focus all your marketing on the places where your customer goes for travel information.
No matter what, the internet will be your first best option. But time, energy, knowledge and expertise are required to FIND your customer online, and focus your online actions there and only there.
If your staff and volunteers are not tech savvy. spend your money on training before you spend it on increasing staff hours.
If you have an old clunky html website, produced 5 years ago by someone’s nephew, spend your money to get help creating a new simple to update WordPress website.
This should cost you under $1000 to do – we regularly do it for under $500, and will soon have an online training program to teach you how to do it yourself for a measly $5 a month!!
If you still have a robust visitor center, look at your hours and recraft to be open during peak visitor hours. When we visited Revelstoke, B.C. the visitors’ bureau was open at 8pm at night, but not mid morning. Why? Because the streets were packed in the evening and empty in the morning.
Don’t, I repeat DON’T spend a dime on print advertising. That is “spray and pray” at its finest. And cut back on work to attract articles in print publications. Here’s why. Print publications are looked at once or twice and are tossed.
That is all we had in the past. Now we have internet publishing with travel sites and blogs and e-zine article sites and press release services, where everything is indexed and available forever. In researching for this post I read articles that were years old – still coming up on Google searches and still valuable.
If you want to attract writers to write about your town, attract travel bloggers and travel site contributors. Their content is nearly permanent.
Now that you’ve sorted through your options, write that marketing budget plan, and next week, we’ll talk about how to sell it to your town council.