20 Mar 2012

Understanding hyper-local activity space is the key to successful destination marketing strategies

Understanding hyper-local activity space is crucial to developing destination marketing strategies that bring visitors back again and again. 

At regional levels, marketers need to think about destination advertising. At local scales, marketers need to treat opportunities as integrated components of hyper-local, neighborhood economies. Here are four keys to understanding and exploiting rich hyper-local markets.

Key 1: Understand Activity Space

While a DMO is obligated to market an entire region, visitors build activity spaces around things as small as a favorite hotel or a street corner festival. Visitors don’t see destinations the way destination marketers do. In fact, visitors don’t even see destinations the way that other visitors do. Each activity space is unique in that it comprises a collection of personal discoveries emanating outward from a geographic or psychological hub.

Moreover, activity spaces grow, but rarely change at their epicenters. Over time, the epicenter becomes a home away from home—a place from which a traveler ventures out toward an ever-growing activity perimeter. Destination marketers cannot grow the perimeter by force. Perimeters grow through serendipitous exploration. What the destination marketer can do is seed the perimeter with glimpses of landscapes outside the visitor’s mental map. That is to say, build-out from the known into the unknown. She can also inform the visitor of opportunity depth within the visitor’s existing activity space. This is the promise of fee-for-marketing technology—to allow visitors to build their own activity containers and then pour informed content into their bowls.

Key 2: Build-outwards by Thinking Hyper-locally

The future of successful destination marketing won’t be involved with promoting destinations at a single large scale. Successful marketers will inform visitors with content and technologies strategies that build-out from intimate geographic hubs as they simultaneously build-in from areas outside the visitor’s hyper-local activity space.

Key 3: Think Beyond Memberships

A war is raging between fee-for-marketing services vs. membership pricing. Even if a DMO isn’t part of it yet, it will come to find them because irresistible market forces like Google and OTAs (gorillas in the room) are drawing lines in the sand that put DMO interests and theirs in separate quadrants. Gorilla fee-for-marketing activities will prompt reappraisals of the DMO value proposition in that businesses will start to ask how they can justify paying for organizational memberships when the fee-for-marketing gorillas offer better and more nimble capacities for free.

The battle will surround very simple issues like how to differentiate local businesses in ways other than listing them, among all other businesses of their kind, on page 87 of a typical DMO website. Fee-for-marketing service providers bring the battle to the street corner vis-à-vis local and targeted advertising that engages visitors in self-defined activity spaces. If the destination marketer can’t replicate this sense of engagement, offering members a chance to be a footnote listing in a large regional awareness strategy may not justify a hefty membership commitment.

Key 4: Emphasize Performance

The new marketing battle between fee-for-marketing services and membership pricing won’t be won. It will be negotiated. The optimal marketing model will be a mix wherein the marketer continues to inspire travelers to come to a destination while facilitating them at the hyper-local level through technology and informed spontaneity. At the larger scale, traditional performance models like web traffic will still predominate as demonstrations of marketing value. At local-levels, market technologists will rely on hyper-local mobile and analytical frameworks that demonstrate value to members that pay to be seen as valuable opportunities within activity spaces. These hyper-local frameworks will not be based on shear volume. They will be based on locally calculated ROIs that reflect pinpoint geographic targeting. For example, a local pizza shop printed a QR-code offer on the back of a hotel door key card. Within a week, the pizza shop went from 10 to 300 pizzas sold in the hotel. This is an example of pure hyper-local marketing within an activity space. There are hundreds of similar strategies involving single and/or neighborhood business groups. 

Give me a holler if you would like to know more. Until you do, the main take away is this. Hyper-local marketing is real and there will be winners and losers. The only question is who will benefit from marketing to hyper-local destinations? Will it be the gorillas in the room or will it be traditional destination marketers that have come to grasp and embrace the concepts of hyper-local activity space.

This is a guest article from Mark Mattson of TravelTools. Mark  is a developer of agile destination and product software. His company is Cartonova.