Why National Consumer Brands See Travel as a Solution to Driving Positive Change in the Market

Allison Schult - Principal, Mile Marker 630

Consumer behavior has been driving deep change in the market for top consumer brands and CPG (consumer product goods) giants. Ever since Millennials and GenZs started plugging in earbuds and zoning out, marketers have had to evolve. While traditional advertising methods haven’t resonated with either of these demographic groups (and for many, it doesn’t even reach them) they can be, however, heavily influenced by advertising if it’s done their way.

Scrambling to build loyalty from their customers and grow market share, national brands with enormous ad budgets and massive distribution channels are looking outside traditional mediums to form collaborative partnerships to reach and engage consumers who value the experiential purchase over buying stuff—their stuff!

Millennials comprise the world’s largest consumer group—set to surpass $1 trillion in spending power in less than a year. If you haven’t adapted to reach them in meaningful ways, you have serious mileage to make up.

There is power in numbers. 

Charles Darwin said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Collaboration is key. Working with trusted brands and influencers who have a genuine affiliation with you is the most efficient step in making inroads with this complicated and progressive demographic. Combining resources, knowledge and ideas—this is what gets your brand down the road faster, what ignites others to follow, and what keeps them following.

Opportunities for growth are often outside the confines of industry verticals. Consider Millennial travel trends and it’s not difficult to see that the travel industry is the dynamic solution CPGs are seeking. Creating strategic partnerships among aligned brands to amplify a collective share of voice and wallet maximizes impact.

Skift recently reported that 78% of luxury brands plan to collaborate in 2020. Premium auto brands are partnering with luxury hotel brands to promote upscale road trips—think, extended test drive meets mini vacation. They’ve figured out that when you share your wallet, your brand attributes and your customers with compatible companies, you can create a synergistic consumer experience that goes way beyond selling a product—they’re making cherished memories that consumers may want to repeat on a regular basis.

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To cross promote Pixar’s Toy Story 4 which follows Woodie and the gang on a road trip adventure (in theaters June 21), Disney developed collaborative partnerships with 14 consumer brands including Alaska Airlines, Best Western, Chrysler and Go RVing. Alaska Airlines has created themed planes featuring the film’s lead characters, and fans can follow the airline’s promotions on their Twitter and Facebook channels. Meanwhile, Best Western encourages families to vacation with the lodging giant and enjoy the summer blockbuster by rewarding loyalty members with a $20 BW gift card. Chevrolet’s integrated marketing has the gang celebrating in the perfect road-tripping vehicle— their family friendly Pacifica model. And finally, a themed RV provided by Go RVing is making promotional stops throughout the U.S. to promote the film and encourage families to build bonds on their own RV adventure. Learn more about how film inspires travel in my earlier blog entry.

 

Collaborate on your own level.

While these Toy Story 4 promotions might seem daunting and completely out of reach, national brands still find great value in scaled, regional partnerships that combine wallet, brand attributes and market share.

During my tenure as VP of Marketing at Visit Tucson, we participated in a break-out, far-forward, two-year (2016-2017) Visit Arizona campaign: Arizona Expedition. The program aligned a number of communities with national brands and celebrity influencers specializing in culinary, health and wellness, and outdoor—current megatrends in travel that also represent the best Arizona has to offer travelers. This video/story-driven campaign showcased celebrity influencers engaging in activities while using products that enhanced their experience—like professional baseball player Cody Ross using gear from Dick’s Sporting Goods during an excursion in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. 

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Not only did Visit Arizona leverage the Instagram influencers’ online following, the state tourism office also leveraged the assets of national brands (Lexus, Callaway and Samsung) along with major media channels (Bon AppetitConde Nast Traveler, Golf Digest, and The New Yorker). These cross-vertical collaborations provided Visit Tucson with exceptional video stories and generated more than 43 million print impressions and 29 million online impressions from our print media affiliates and 4 million social media impressions.

Visit Myrtle Beach has been in the victory lane in its ability to forge relationships with national brands. This DMO is focused on creating new marketing channels to effectively communicate and distribute their value proposition to grow tourism. National and regional brands deliver the results they seek. From big box retailers, partnered with CPG’s, there’s a different and innovative way to amplify exposure to new potential travelers. The current Summer of Fun program to drive excitement and interest for summer travel is the latest collaboration between Visit Myrtle Beach, Skippy’s, Sara Lee and Walmart.

Visit Myrtle Beach and Entenmann’s partnered to reward moms over Mother’s Day.

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For many destination marketers, the challenge is knowing how to identify the right brand affiliates; then, how to connect with them; and finally, how to sell them on the partnership. That’s where Mile Marker 630 comes in.

At Mile Marker 630, we highlight relevant research that supports the proposition (including the challenging conditions within our industry that are driving the need to develop extraordinary solutions). We identify opportunities for destinations of all sizes to integrate with national brands and CPGs—underscoring the value it creates for generating new business across all market segments, including sports tourism and group sales. We multiply the exponential value of those collaborations through shared narratives, thus elevating the travel effects of tourism on our local and national economies.

I may not be a mathematician, but when it comes to formulating successful marketing partnerships, our formula is 1 + 1 + 1 equals much, much more than 3. Allow us to put our formula to work for you. To start a conversation, please contact me at Allison@MileMarker630.com.


 

Films Inspire a Profound Desire to Travel

Fireworks explode above the glittering night skyline of Singapore—obviously a metaphor for the burst of passion between the lead characters of Crazy Rich Asians—but that wasn’t the end of the fireworks. Another explosion would occur after this film’s release in August of 2018 as the internet spiked with travel inquiries to its location—Singapore.

According to Carey Malloy, Orbitz’s director of brand marketing, in this article from The Wrap, “They are significant increases… When you’re able to sit back and watch a story come to life it makes you want to go there and have the same experiences.”

Tourism Australia knows this well after experiencing what the Crocodile Dundee franchise did for them. To recreate that hype, they created a trailer for a fake sequel film and promoted it during Super Bowl in 2018 which led to 38.5 million social media impressions, an 83% increase in intent to book, and an 11.5% increase in tourist visas as reported by AdWeek.

Need more proof? Consider how Game of Thrones has affected tourism in its shooting locations.

I didn’t need these recent examples back in 2016 when Team Two Entertainment, the production company behind successful films including Ambush at Dark Canyon and critically-acclaimed music videos for country music artist Randy Houser, Like a Cowboy and We Went, approached me at Visit Tucson to support their short film, Common Threads. I had only to sit back and watch a film or a TV show with a strong sense of place to convince me that narratives reach a consumer on a more profound level than promotional marketing videos.

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In the 21-minute, award-winning, period western, Common Threads, old west Tucson is as much a character in the narrative as its lead characters. Straight out of the gate, the location is front and center. In the opening scene, a weather-worn wooden sign lets viewers know they’re in Tucson.

Filmed on location over three days, this emotionally provocative short film offers an authentic glimpse into Tucson’s past (satisfying romanticized notions of the Old West) while also confronting social issues that people care about today—opioid addiction, child abandonment, race relations.

 Here’s what director, William Shockley had to say about the script, “We did not want to make a ‘Western’ per se, but more of a ‘Period Piece’ that happens to take place in 1887 in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Films depicting the American Old West are typically laden with bullets, booze and bravado. Our intent was the exact opposite. We wanted to explore a parable of family, fortitude and faith in humanity.” The main characters are female.

 Following a standing-room only premiere at Tucson FilmFest in October, Common Threads continued on the festival circuit and won multiple awards. Of course, I wasn’t shy about putting Visit Tucson’s name on the project, as seen here on the promotional poster.

In the afterglow of that cinematic experience, we decided to step it up a notch in May 2017 with Team Two Entertainment to support You’re Gonna Miss Me, a feature also filmed on location in Southern Arizona. Directed by Dustin Rikert and starring John Schneider, Kix Brooks, Morgan Fairchild, Eric Roberts, Leo Howard, Justin Deeley (many of whom walked Visit Tucson’s red carpet premiere at Old Tucson), is a present-day road trip comedy about a family coming back together.

Road trip films are an excellent way to showcase the diversity of a destination without it seeming “promotional” and once again, Southern Arizona was front and center. In addition to the ongoing promotional benefits to the region, the film production contributed more than $6 million in direct spending to the local economy. And, ticket sales for the local premiere which included an on-stage Q&A with cast and crew as well as a live performance by Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn) benefitted the Arizona-Sonora Western Heritage Foundation. A big win on many levels.

You don’t have to wait for a feature movie to be filmed in your destination to get in on the action. Short films of less than 10 minutes are highly effective—arguably more effective. According to this article on HubSpot, video comprises one-third of all internet activity, and while users respond to video content, 73% of them want the video to entertain them. And what’s more entertaining than a movie?

Destination marketers have hours and hours of promo videos, but how captivating are they when they all seem to showcase drone shots of landscapes, beautiful people dining out or browsing upscale shopping centers, and seemingly enjoying outdoor adventure? It’s everywhere you look. As MMGY Global brand maven Stewart Colovin likes to say, “If no two destinations are alike, why do they all look alike?”

“There’s a lot of clutter in the marketplace,” said Geoffrey Campbell, senior director of content and production at WPP-owned media firm MediaCom, in this piece from PRWeek. “If you want to have a human connection with the consumer and you want them to share it, you need to create something more relatable and authentic.”

BMW has been producing short, action films featuring their cars for decades, but other brand marketers have recently jumped on the bandwagon (or make that sports coupe). Marriott’s 17-minute, short action comedy Two Bellmen, which released in 2016, was so popular they’ve already spun off two sequels featuring other locations. Lyft’s seven-minute animated narrative, June, has more than 7.8 million views on YouTube. The list of innovative marketers blurring the line between advertising and entertainment goes on.

In recent years our industry has adopted stronger content strategies that have produced more authentic storytelling. Bravo to Travel Oregon and long-time advertising partner Wieden + Kennedy, for successfully conspiring to create a standout animated series Only Slightly Exaggerated with animation by Psyop and Sun Creature Studios in the anime style of Studio Ghibli (a genre much celebrated by Millennials). By using animation, Travel Oregon has stepped beyond the contested and cluttered marketplace by offering a unique perspective to viewers that visualizes the emotional experience of visiting Oregon.

An estimated 43 million Americans traveled during the recent Memorial Day weekend and an estimated $226 million was raked in at the box office. Put the two together and you’ve got fireworks. Let’s start a conversation and ignite your business. Contact us at allison@milemarker630.com.

Readers Go Places

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― St. Augustine

The majority of Americans (76%) would like to travel, but unfortunately, they either can’t afford to or they feel ill-equipped to venture out. In 2017, due to finances or an inability to take time off, 43% of Americans took no summer vacation. Some Americans (10%) have never even ventured outside the state where they were born.

These astounding statistics from a 2018 study conducted by OnePoll deeply sadden me. For more than 15 years, I’ve enjoyed a successful career working alongside amazing destinations to promote them. When we track our results and learn that thousands of new travelers visited these places (thanks in part to our marketing efforts), I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride.

Now I find out that we’re marketing to a minority, and that’s not good enough. Three of four people who see these destination promotions, and thus aspire to travel there, will not be able to do so. I mourn for the personal experiences they’re missing—not just for the activities and attractions that represent a vacation but mostly for the memories, the moments, and especially the well-being that comes from getting away and seeing something different.

When we encounter something, or someone, different from what we know, we develop understanding and we grow as human beings. In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain’s 1869 book about his travels through the European Holy Land, he wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 

Unfortunately, I can’t put money in people’s pockets or set aside time in their busy schedules to make travel accessible to them, but what I can do is help put a book in their hands. For those who cannot afford to travel, reading a book can be an escape. Reading gives you a strong sense of place—and getting lost in the pages of a great tale in a far-away place can be nearly as good as going there.

It is my strong belief that Destination Marketing Organizations and others in the travel industry have a responsibility to improve the social foundations of not only their communities but also those of tomorrow’s traveler. One way they can do this is by supporting literacy and partnering with organizations like Coaching for Literacy (whose Fight For Literacy Games encourage children to read through the influence of sports coaches and players) or brands like Pizza Hut (whose Literacy Project works with FirstBook to ensure children in need have books to read) both of which I’m proud to represent.

But, first, we must read.

Readers Go Further

Another of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, said, “The more that you read, the more things that you’ll know. The more things that you know, the more places you’ll go.” For 32 million illiterate adults in the U.S, there’s little escape. And there’s even less for their children, since most children of illiterate adults have no books at home to access.

“Reading at grade-level by the end of 3rd grade is one of the largest factors contributing to success in a person’s life,” says Norma Nelson, executive director of Readers 2 Leaders in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that 64% of American 4th graders are not reading at grade level, and kids who can’t read are in danger of their world becoming quite small. As small as a prison cell for some, since 85% of youth who cycle through the juvenile court system cannot read.

As illiterate children become illiterate adults, they are likely to continue on this downward trend—graduating not from college, but to violent crime offenders and living in poverty. Only 4% of literate adults live in poverty, while 43% of illiterate adults live in poverty. You might think the effects of illiteracy are limited to the ghettos, but we all pay for it. Illiteracy costs business and tax payers more than $225 billion per year, and it adds more than $230 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs.

We can change these alarming statistics.

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Put a book in a child’s hands at a young age, and they’ll develop a love of reading. When they read well, they’ll write well; they’ll perform better in school; they’ll become better employees and perhaps even employers; they’ll contribute more significantly to society which makes the world a better place.

Research has proven that reading increases vocabulary, improves memory and concentration, and boosts brain power. Likewise, it improves your writing and ability to communicate effectively. It enhances your imagination, and Albert Einstein argued, “Imagination is more important that knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Reading makes you more empathetic and reduces prejudice and bigotry. It even helps you sleep, reduces stress, and contributes to longevity. Aren’t these also many of the same benefits to traveling?

Readers Go Beyond

Reading can create an urgent desire to visit the places from a story—an opportunity to walk in the shoes of a character. Furthermore, reading about a place where you’ve already been can reaffirm your emotional connection to that place and create a desire to revisit.

But according to Pew Research Center, 26% of American admit to not having read any book in the past year. So, let’s get back to reading books (find out how what happened when this woman committed to reading one book per week for a month)... and, let’s get to traveling.

The Allure of a Song for Creating a Sense of Place

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Ever wake up at two in the morning with a song running through your head? Or, maybe you’re humming the same tune all the livelong day. Earworms (also known as “musical imagery repetition,” “involuntary musical imagery,” or simply “stuck song syndrome”) take over your brain, and they’re confirmation of the emotional and mnemonic power a catchy song can have.

Using mnemonic devices like lyrics that provoke imagery, sounds that suggest a certain style, and tones that set the mood, songs have the capacity to idealize the essence of a place, which can create an emotional desire to experience that place firsthand—an effective marketing vehicle for travel destinations.

 Additionally, songs have the power to instantly access implicit memories. Unlike explicit memories (which are actively recalled), implicit memories exist outside the conscious, making them more durable and emotionally driven. That’s why hearing a certain song can effectively transport a listener to a time and place relative to the song and immediately evoke emotions associated with that memory. For a destination, this means recalling memorable vacations, getaways and locations which likewise motivates a desire to return there.

Verse 1

Licensing a song to represent your brand is marketing 101, so why don’t more destinations do it? Limited funds can be an issue, but if you know how to create meaningful, symbiotic alliances, money becomes moot, or make that mute.

 In fact, for the inspirational soundtrack of their “Top of the World in Tucson” destination marketing video, Visit Tucson managed to license the song “Top of the World” from chart-topping country music artist Randy Houser for a small fraction of what it would normally have cost. How? During my tenure leading the marketing team, we had spent two years building a mutually supportive partnership with Houser while he shot two music videos, “Like a Cowboy” and “We Went” in and around Tucson. So, when it came time to make a deal that benefited both parties, the arrangement was already fine-tuned. Learn more.

In this case, the song was the inspiration for the destination, but what about when the destination is the inspiration for the song? Such as Bruce Springsteen’s recently released Tucson Train or up-and-comer Grace Kelly’s latest release “San Jose” — a love letter to the town where she grew up.

No matter how the song originates, destinations benefit for years to come from the sense of place they create in listeners’ minds.

Verse 2

 Jingles, or mini-songs, written specifically about a product is perhaps marketing 102, but why not amp it up by having a song written about your destination?

 That’s exactly what Visit Tucson did when we commissioned musical duo Shockley & Fields to write a ditty about Tucson. Again, we accomplished this by leveraging our connections—this time with William Shockley (actor, writer, director, producer, and singer/songwriter) who was involved with the Houser projects. Tommy Fields, the other half of Shockley & Fields, brought years of experience not only as a songwriter and performer but also as a feature film composer to broaden the song’s horizon beyond basic commercial advertising, which it did (see You’re Gonna Miss Me below).

 The result of this creative collaboration, aptly titled “Tucson,” is an up-tempo, country rock tune about a wandering troubadour who lands in Tucson, a mountain desert town where he finds the magic he needs to free himself from his restless life and settle down. Its lyrics are relatable, its rhyme and rhythm memorable, and it conveys Tucson’s hip vibe with a shot of the old west—a rugged, magical, wide-open place where you can feel free to live your life.

 Available to stream or download on multiple music platforms, “Tucson” was used in television advertising conservatively generating more than 49 million impressions in New York City alone which resulted in a 370% positive lift in travel consideration and 713% lift in recall of brand message. The song is also included in the soundtrack and promotional trailers for the 2017 feature film You’re Gonna Miss Me (filmed in Tucson and southern Arizona).

 The Chorus

 Like Visit Tucson, other destinations are singing from the same songbook.

 It rings true that Austin, the live music capital of the world, should lead the group. In 2014, they created their own theme song, and you can bet that music continues to be at the core of their visitor marketing. More recently, Brand USA, the marketing organization that promotes travel to the U.S., jumped on the bandwagon—giving the lyrics from one song to five different artists with distinctly different musical styles to embody five iconic American destinations (Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Portland, and San Juan, Puerto Rico) for their “Hear the Music, Experience the USA” campaign. Arkansas Tourism engages multiple artists from their state to create original music for their videos. And, Visit Myrtle Beach professionally commissioned two theme songs to evoke stronger emotional connections among travelers to its brand. They also capitalized on the serendipitous mention of Myrtle Beach in the Dan + Shay hit song “19 You + Me” by ensuring the duo filmed their music video in Myrtle Beach and sponsoring free ticket/trip giveaways when Dan + Shay toured nationally with Blake Shelton.

Need further proof that songs are an excellent vehicle to get deep into the heads of potential travelers? Listen to Sinatra sing about a city that never sleeps, a place where he’s “a number one, top of the list, head of the heap, king of the hill…” then consider how its melody and it lyrics permeate your brain, how it makes you feel, and especially, how it brings this place to life in your mind not just for the rest of the day, but when you think about it, forever.