Of all the human attributes at our command, it is storytelling that holds the power to transform and excite.
That was a core message offered during the keynote address delivered by destination marketing evangelist William Bakker at the Thursday general session of the 2017 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism, May 10-12.
Bakker, dressed in muted earth tones, roamed the stage at the Salem Convention Center, spreading ideas and observations as if he was seeding a lawn in spring. By the end of his hour-plus talk, some seeds had already sprouted for the engaged audience.
Bakker’s wide-ranging talk encouraged tourism professionals to uncover, understand and exploit the “place DNA” of destinations by studying their history, economy, culture and people.
“Place DNA is different from a brand,” said the well-traveled consultant and chief strategist at Destination Think!, a tourism marketing firm based in Vancouver, B.C. “Place DNA is the truth of a destination, and that can include the bad stuff. In a word-of-mouth filled environment, you can’t hide it.”
As an example, he cited how Cleveland took a head-on approach to combat those who depicted it as the last place anyone would want to visit. “They had a small reputation problem,” Bakker said, generating laughter.
But a we-are-who-we-are campaign showcasing the civic pride of local residents – crowned by a defiant metal-rock video of the “Cleveland Anthem” – provided a hard-driving antidote to negativity. In all-caps letters superimposed on party heart city scenes, the message was clear: “WHILE THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT US WE WEREN’T LISTENING.” It told a simple but memorable story about Cleveland as a destination for people who don’t follow the herd.
“Destination promotion happens through destination stories,” he said, offering a model supported by twin towers of effort: developing experiences and communicating experiences.
Bakker, a native of the Netherlands, suggested to attendees that they leverage the pride of local people to generate positive word of mouth, one sure path toward communicating experiences to potential tourists. “Your residents are very powerful advocates, and you need to turn every storyteller into an advocate,” he said.
Bakker brought knowing nods to the audience when he discussed the “insane amount of information” that swirls around consumers and the steady accumulation of information extracted by online transactions. “Google knows more about you than you know about you,” he said. “At some point, Google will know where I’m going on vacation before I do.”
The “Experience Economy” is the operative phrase in Bakker’s view of how to overcome information overload.
He reminded attendees that it was here in the Northwest where Starbucks “embraced the experience economy, turning coffee into a metaphor.” By designing spaces where people could linger and by employing non-traditional, almost exotic terms to describe size selections (tall, grande, venti and trenta) and the hired help (baristas), “Starbucks turned coffee into an experience, and people are willing to pay for it.
He encouraged destination marketers to care less about the broad segment of consumers who make decisions based on price, not loyalty. Instead, “focus on the smaller slice of people who love a destination and align your niches with your place DNA.” As an example, he cited the passionate few who will descend on Oregon in August for the “once in a lifetime” experience of witnessing a solar eclipse.
They’ll no doubt return home with stories to share.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Here’s a link to William Bakker’s destination marketing blog: http://www.wilhelmus.ca/
Here’s a link to the Cleveland Anthem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbjxcmdvvdI
And here’s a link to the cheeky campaign called Iceland Academy, which features instruction videos on topics such as “How To Avoid Hot Tub Awkwardness” in the land of ice and fire: http://inspired.visiticeland.com/academy
ROOM FOR CREAM?
By now, we all recognize the nomenclature of Starbucks, but few know the number of ounces associated with each size options. Should you be chosen to appear on Jeopardy! and choose the category JOE MOMMA, know that Tall is 12 ounces, Grande 16, Venti 24 and Trenta 31. You’re welcome.