Music Videos Inspire Travel…
The quandary facing every travel brand is how to get beyond the noise and resonate with consumers. The access consumers have to information offers both challenges and opportunities for marketers searching for innovative ways to cut through the clutter to reach, engage, and convert their best prospects.
To grow market share and satisfy visitor demand, Visit Tucson, the destination marketing organization (DMO) charged with driving regional economic development via tourism, consistently conducts market research that yields key insights on travel behaviors—identifying Tucson’s top feeder markets and their zip codes with the highest concentration of visitors, booking windows by market and season, length of stay, top visitor activities, traveler attributes, and more. Then, when deploying and positioning the brand, Visit Tucson develops innovative ways to reach savvy consumers with an appetite for authentic storytelling. Finally, they assess distribution channels in which to place content that attracts, engages and converts new hubs of consumers.
When I led the marketing efforts at Visit Tucson, I saw real opportunity in accomplishing these goals by tapping into non-traditional forms of advertising—specifically product placement and celebrity influencer marketing—and in leveraging YouTube, a powerful social media channel and search engine with a strong record of tracking conversions to sales.
In 2014 we put product placement in country music videos to the test to connect with the powerful and fiercely loyal online community of country music fans. Although the target existed outside a pure travel vertical, country music fans matched Visit Tucson’s visitor profile and aligned with key destination drivers. Visitor inquiry research completed in 2013 revealed that nearly six out of 10 of Tucson’s visitors chose the destination based on its culturally rich, western experiences.
Fans of country music comprise a massive and influential cultural segment. According to Forbes, this demographic consists of 102-million individuals with household incomes of $75,000-plus who are passionate and devoted supporters. Country music reigns number one for music listeners aged 18-54. Moreover, country music listeners travel—the Music Record Industry (MRI) reported that country music fans accounted for nearly one-half of all U.S. travel spending in 2010.
Meanwhile, influencer marketing has a very positive effect on purchasing decisions. Because of their real or perceived authority, knowledge, position, relationship, or relatability influencers—in this case, the big-name country music performers and the rising stars who follow—consistently score very well in the most important attributes (trustworthiness, likability, and breakthrough) that contribute to consumers making a purchase. Essentially, consumers pay attention to what the celebrities are saying.
Understanding that influencer marketing should be about well-developed relationships between brands, Schult, we set out to cultivate an authentic partnership with chart-topping country music artist Randy Houser. Visit Tucson and Houser collaborated on two of the artist’s critically-acclaimed music videos, Like a Cowboy (released June 2014) and We Went (released August 2015), which were filmed entirely on location in Tucson and ranked number three and number one respectively on Country Music Television’s (CMT) Hot 20 Countdown. In each video, Tucson is intrinsic to the visual narrative and features top visitor attractions.
In the 1870s western-themed music video Like a Cowboy (filmed at Old Tucson), the DMO strategically placed a vintage “Welcome to Tucson” sign within the set to orient viewers and provide an authentic sense of place to the romantic ballad. The official video, released as both a standard music video as well as a seven-minute cinematic short, beautifully illustrated why Tucson and southern Arizona have been popular locations for dozens of classic western movies starring A-list actors since 1939.
In the fast-paced music video We Went (a modern-day story of “a Good Deed Bandit” with a Bonnie-and-Clyde-meet-Robin-Hood spin), Visit Tucson collaborated closely with Houser’s production team to choose locations to feature. This included heroic shots of Mount Lemmon’s Windy Point (inside Coronado National Forest), the legendary Tap Room at Hotel Congress, the historic St. Augustine Cathedral, and Casino del Sol. Additional Tucson-branded product placement included fictitious local news reports from an on-camera anchorperson clearly identifying Tucson as the location of the story’s mahem.
As Houser’s songs and videos moved up the airplay and streaming charts, Visit Tucson amplified its investment by keeping the destination top of mind with engaged fans through contest activations promoted across digital and social platforms, YouTube’s commercials that ran before Houser’s chart-topping videos, and native advertising on news and entertainment sites that motivated more than 20,000 curious fans to further their interest in Tucson by reading inspirational stories and educational articles from the DMO’s website (visittucson.org).
Moreover, with Houser’s more than 1.7 million social media followers and channel subscribers, the artist tweeted and posted genuine content about Tucson that increased the destination’s reach and motivated fans to like and follow Visit Tucson’s social sites; he called into radio stations in the DMO’s feeder markets to give testimony to Tucson’s cool vibe and encourage his fans to visit; he referenced Tucson in interviews with publications and blogs, including Taste of Country, Music Row, Country Weekly, and Rolling Stone.
To date, the official and behind-the-scenes videos for Like a Cowboy and We Went have generated more than 13-million online video views and countless millions more on Country Music Television (CMT) and Great American Country (GAC) television. In front of hundreds of thousands of fans, Houser played video from We Went as a backdrop during live concert performances. More than 200 stories with more than 434-million online/offline impressions have been generated. The estimated publicity value, according to Meltwater, a site that tracks and calculates the value of media, exceeded $4 million.
To demonstrate a complete embrace of Houser’s connection to Tucson and continue to build loyalty with this audience, the DMO executed a two-year licensing agreement with the artist for usage of Top of the World, a song on Houser’s number-one album How Country Feels. Top of the World became the soundtrack for the DMO’s destination video, Top of the World in Tucson. Houser, in turn, has two cameo appearances in Top of the World in Tucson, which depicts the underlying motivations as to why people travel—to relax and get away, to explore and experience different cultures and cuisines, and to enhance relationships and quality of life. With behavioral and contextual targeting, Visit Tucson reached enthusiasts of country music, outdoor adventure, food, and luxury travel.
As a result, the DMO’s 2016 peak season “On Top of the World” marketing campaign delivered the strongest year-over-year results since the rollout of its 2013 “Free Yourself” campaign. Top of the World in Tucson generated more than 1-million video views on YouTube, outperforming all previous videos uploaded to the DMO’s YouTube channel. Measurements for ad recall, click-through rates, time on site and page, sheer volume of growth in web traffic, and social media reach year-over-year were further indicators of the campaign’s success. To evaluate engagement, a critical metric for the DMO, Visit Tucson looked at the quality of content and audience involvement to measure success in paid and earned media across all applicable digital and social channels. According to Google Analytics, VisitTucson.org’s average time on page is less than two minutes, yet the Houser-branded content pages averaged between five and 11 minutes.
Evoking strong emotional connections in the hearts and minds of travelers is paramount to create inspiration and drive new demand. Strategically applying Tucson-specific research with the latest consumer insights and trends underscored the development and execution of this fully integrated, non-traditional brand campaign with a celebrity influencer. Visit Tucson broadened its share of voice within a new vertical with minimal financial investment. Visit Tucson found that aligning its brand to Randy Houser inspired new audiences and opened new and lasting markets of opportunity.
Product placement is an untapped media channel for travel brands and music is a powerful way to move audiences. The emotional response that a song elicits is forever tied to how a customer feels about a product. By adopting the celebrity-endorsement strategy, Visit Tucson dramatically accelerated and elevated its travel brand to reach and resonate with fan-based consumers. Visit Tucson succeeded in creating destination awareness in a new vertical and expanded its digital and social footprint for the region. This top-of-the-funnel activation demonstrates that once destination awareness and familiarity is achieved, the consumer’s level of interest and likelihood to visit increases.
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