Contrary to popular belief, marketing is not merely getting the word out. The foundation of marketing depends on finding out what people want and providing it; letting people know what you have to offer; and following up with good customer service. No amount of advertising or public relations will bring people back if your event, program, exhibit, or tourism site is not interesting, lively, and informative. And visitors will never return if they receive poor customer service.
A Few Words about Branding
You’ve probably heard about an organizational or personal “brand.” What is a brand and how does it relate to marketing?
A brand is the association of an idea or image of a product or service that identifies the organization (or person) with its audience. A brand usually contains elements of the organization’s name, logo, slogan, or design. Marketing promotes the brand through various aspects of advertising, public relations, social media, print, and online information.
For example, The Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) brand promise incorporates these elements:
Enriching lives through history
The THC’s highest calling is to help the past touch the present—to enrich individuals’ lives by bringing them face to face with history.
Saving the real places to tell the real stories of Texas
Ultimately, the THC is in the story-telling business. Of course, the THC preserves buildings, structures, ships, sites, and material culture. But we never forget that preservation is not an end in itself. It is a means to an even greater end—telling the stories of Texas, and enabling those stories to spring to life where they actually took place.
Engaging. Creative. Passionate. Balanced.
Within the preservation community, the THC is perceived as knowledgeable, professional, dedicated, and supportive. We want our public persona to reflect additional attributes that we possess—the types of attributes that will make us distinctive from other state agencies and organizations.
You may notice the THC’s logo on our websites or in printed materials, and our brand slogans on our social media pages or in press releases. You may need to hire a designer or find people within your organization to help identify and create a brand for your group or project.
Getting the Word Out to a Wide Audience
Developing media relations and social media are a cost-effective ways to get the word out about your event or site to a wide audience. Unlike advertising, stories and articles in a local newspaper or magazine have the advantage of a third-party endorsement. Using social media for publicity and glimpses behind-the-scenes allows “buzz” to build before the happening.
Follow these recommendations for effective media relations:
- Send press releases to news organizations when you have specific information you want the public to know about (i.e., funding news, new exhibits, public programs).
- Write press releases in journalistic style. Always make your most important point first. All pertinent information should be in the first one or two paragraphs of the release. Avoid exaggerating and flattering phrases. State the journalistic “who, what, when, where, why, and how” for the public.
- Keep press releases simple—one double-spaced page if possible.
- Maintain a current list of media contacts in a database. Include newspaper, radio, and television contacts as well as local trade magazines and other publications.
- Identify a contact person at each news organization. Contact this person to develop and maintain a personal relationship.
- Find out how local media prefers to receive press releases and in what format, such as electronic newsletter, email, mail, or other. Be as accommodating as possible. Include release date, contact names (preferably two), and phone numbers. Specify for immediate release or for release on a particular date. Some organizations have online community calendars where you can enter your specific information as well.
- Distribute a press release in advance to allow a publication to publicize it.
- Always follow up to make sure a release was received and to see if there are any questions.
- Develop a good relationship with your local media representatives before you need them to do a story. The reporter for the local weekly may become the next editor of a major news organization.
Using Social Media
Use social media to engage the online community to create or join a conversation about you, your brand, your product, or organization. Social media can take numerous forms from blogs to sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, or Instagram. You can create an online newsletter to distribute to local media, then post newsletter excerpts on a Facebook page or send a Twitter message (Tweet) about it. You can also reuse information in blog posts. Effective marketing campaigns repurpose content to share across all of an organization’s social media platforms. Social media has opened new worlds for spreading a message, organizing events, and reaching new audiences.
A success marketing campaign should include some aspect of social media. Start small—you will be surprised how quickly your audience will grow.
Developing a Website
Establishing a website is a great marketing strategy—if you have a good site. Be sure to give your audience up-to-date information they want and need. Keep your website simple and easy to navigate. Include your web address in all your marketing efforts and on your business cards and letterhead. Register your website with popular internet search engines so people can easily find it.
Numerous books and magazines contain information on developing websites. You will need training, a computer, and a software program to develop a website. You can do-it-yourself with programs available on the web, or you may find it easier to hire an experienced professional to create the website for you.
Consider the following when developing a website:
Navigation (how people will get around in the site)
- Decide who your audience is and what they would look for on your site.
- Determine the important topics for your site. These probably will be the main buttons or topics for the home page. Use familiar terms the audience will understand.
- Include keywords to help users find information on your site.
Structure (the organization of the information on the site)
- Map out your site with flow charts or diagrams to show relationships between pages and topics (how things will link).
- Create a file folder system for the site before you start making pages. This system can be derived from the charts you created.
- Include a site map or site index to help users search your site.
Layout and design (how it will look)
- Create a template with a header and space for content. This ensures that every page will look consistent.
- Keep the page clean and uncluttered. Remember, people are coming to the website to find information. Try not to put everything on the main page.
- Use brand graphics that represent your organization. It should be subtle so that the information on the page stands out—not glitz and programming gimmicks.
- Break up long pages or make several pages for a topic with a lot of information. Use photos whenever possible.
- Label all your images and graphics for accessibility.
Developing an Effective Brochure
Creating brochures involves having a good designer, plus time and money, so it makes sense to ensure all the elements of a good marketing campaign or product are in place before developing a brochure. However, some of the best brochures are not necessarily the ones that cost the most. A two-color brochure can have a larger impact than a more expensive one if it has a clean design and lively text.
Here are a few suggestions for creating a great small brochure:
- Place the information you most want to convey on the top one-third of the brochure cover. The brochure likely will end up in a rack, so you want people to identify it immediately.
- A 4" x 9" vertical brochure fits easily into most brochure racks.
- Make the cover simple, preferably with one image. Don't put everything on the cover.
- Make sure you include contact information. This includes a phone number with area code, as well as name, address, website, and email.
- If developing a brochure for a tourism destination, include a map on how to get there once the visitor arrives in your city.
- Use action words in the brochure to excite the reader and entice them to visit.
- Keep the copy light.
- Do not include the entire history of the program or site. The brochure should encourage the visit, not replace it.
- Exchange brochures with other tourism organizations for display.
- Send brochures to chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, travel information centers, schools, local businesses, etc.
Get Out and Meet People
A good way to connect with your community is to give talks to local clubs, service organizations, and professional groups about your event, program, or heritage tourism site. This gives you the chance to take your message directly to local audiences and provides the perfect opportunity to begin building relationships.
In addition to speaking in your community, you can meet people at the local convention and visitors bureau, Texas Main Street Program, chamber of commerce, regional tourism council, Rotary Club, Junior League, and regional visitor information center.
Where Is the Museum?
Signs can be your site's most important marketing tool. They are also the most neglected. Signs serve two purposes—they direct visitors to your site and advertise it to others.
Place signs near heavily traveled areas, such as highways or interstates. One sign on a busy interstate can be seen by thousands of people. If tourists can’t find the way to your site or event by using your existing signs, you need to create and place additional ones.
Catch the traveler's eye and keep it simple. Travelers do not have time to read a tremendous amount of information when driving by.
Put Your Message Where Your Travelers Are
Minimize the impact of a small (or non-existent) advertising budget by advertising to captive audiences. Think about the last time you stayed at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast. You may have read the information provided about local attractions. Be persistent in negotiating with individual hotels and bed-and-breakfasts about a promotional presence for your site in their rooms. After all, you are providing a service to their guests.
Collaborating with other organizations or sites in your community can boost the marketing budgets of small sites and increase exposure.
Here are a few examples:
- Exchange brochures with other tourism sites and display them in a lobby brochure rack.
- Allow hotels or bed-and-breakfasts to offer discounts on admission to your site to their clientele.
- Promote your exhibits at shops with a related topic. For example, one heritage tourism site in the region held an antique linens and lace show. A Houston linen store helped promote the show by displaying information at its register. If shops have a newsletter, ask if you can be mentioned in it. If a club has a specific interest in your event or organization, ask for the club’s mailing list to distribute information.
- Create a walking or driving tour brochure or mobile app that features several sites to visit in the vicinity. Provide it to the local visitor centers. Display the brochure at each sites’ brochure rack.
- Create a coupon book with discounts to several sites in your area. Promote this coupon book through visitor centers, hotels, websites, and regional media.
- Create cooperative brochures that highlight several sites in a designated area, or several similar sites in a larger region. For example, a single brochure featuring several painted churches would help increase tourism in the communities that feature these sites.
- Create ticket packages to be sold by a local visitors center that offer admission to several sites for a discounted rate. The ticket packages will encourage people to visit more than one site, therefore increasing traffic to all participating sites.
- Cooperate with other nearby sites to buy advertising that promotes all participating sites. Cooperate with a bed-and-breakfast and another site to offer a packaged weekend and promote the weekend in your advertisement.
Enhance the Visitor Experience
Some considerations to improve relationships with your visitors and make them want to return:
- Annual events—Create at least one annual event that can be promoted and grow over time. Annual events can be very time consuming, but they are an excellent way to promote repeat visitation.
- Restroom availability—It may sound obvious, but tourists expect restrooms at tourism sites. Make restrooms available and keep them tidy.
- Audio tours—Record information about particular items in a museum exhibit (free or as a rental) to help enhance the museum tour. If exhibit items are donated from a private collection, ask the donor to record personal information about the pieces.
- Gift shop items—Offer items in your gift shop that are personalized with your site’s name. Remove outdated or poor quality items that may leave a negative impression. If space is limited, offer just a few items and make sure they are high quality.
- Rotating exhibits—Continuously rotate exhibits to encourage repeat traffic. Promote each new exhibit.
- Interpretation—Is your site's interpretation easily understood? Does it tell a story, rather than just identify an object? Good interpretation can make a huge difference in the visitor’s experience.