Gathan D. Borden

Marketing guy working in the tourism industry, disguised under the title of "Director, Brand Marketing & Advertising" - I share my thoughts on a myriad of topics.

6 Ways To Become a Better Tourism Marketer

Having been a tourism marketer for 6 years, I’ve learned quite a bit of knowledge that I’d like to share with you on becoming a better marketer. Often times, we seek books or conferences to help us become better, when in actuality we can learn from people right under our noses. I felt the need to share my thoughts with you, as I have been asked recently how I do what I do - well here’s your answer, at least most of it: 
Understand the sales process. In order to market anything, you need to understand the sales process and what sales people actually do. One of the most valuable things I learned was from previous sales environments, and that is ‘sales people always need something’…like yesterday. Understanding the sales process for your organization, helps you better plan a strategy around your organizational goals and objectives. Sales efforts are tactical, whereas marketing should be more strategic. In tourism, you need to know what your convention and group tour sales people are doing and saying on the trade show floor and during client appointments, so that you can enhance their sales efforts. You need to know how long their sales process is from prospecting to booking, so that together you can set forth a winning strategy. You don’t need to be a sales person to understand how it works, all you need is an open brain and an open door.
Know your consumer experience. For any marketer, you need to know how a consumer will experience your product. From planning to purchase, you should know what the consumer is encountering on their journey to your product. In tourism, we know potential travelers visit 20+ sites before they make a decision to visit. We also know that they have numerous choices for where to book that trip. But it’s the in-destination experience that tourism marketers need to know backwards and forwards. That type of knowledge is vital so that you know where and when you want to send travelers when they are in your destination. Face it, every destination has a story that needs to told, and every destination has a story that needs to remain on the shelf. As a marketer, your job is simply to tell the best story - point, blank, period.
Invest in time management tools. Most savvy marketers have their hands in several aspects of the organization, such as analytics, creative design, project management, public relations and social media. In order for you to be an effective marketer, you need to be able to dabble in all of these areas and more, while still getting things done. Time management tools like Things or Evernote, are a great way to prioritize your tasks, write down ideas, save articles and store contacts. In tourism, we are all faced with increasing workloads and decreasing resources, so you should always look for ways to Invest in something that helps you do your job more efficiently.
Set aside time to daydream. Marketers are somewhat of an odd breed, because they don’t think like normal people. They should be able to see a product for what it is, and also for what it can be. It is essential that you set aside time to daydream about the ‘what if’. Schedule time for you to think about where you want your product to go, and how you’re going to get it there. (HINT: you can’t do that with people constantly in your ear or in your office). Block out time on your calendar once a month to just write down as many ideas as you can, or take a group of co-workers to lunch to brainstorm for 2 hours. I can tell you from experience, that good ideas are hard to come by, but if you produce enough good ideas you’ll make it look easy - and that can only be done if you set aside time.
Become a community resource. Marketing solves problems, period. Marketers should be a resource for whatever industry you are involved in. Offering up advice, provides trust and goodwill, and we know that no one purchases anything from people they do not trust. My friends always ask me for advice on where to eat and go in the city, and I love that. This type of resourcefulness is huge, because it puts a face to the city that they might not otherwise recognize. It also builds up community awareness to help make the destination marketing organization more relevant in the local community.
Allow industry colleagues to be your sounding board. I know this is sometimes hard to do in some industries because of competition, but this is one of the best tools for any marketer. Being able to have an open and honest dialogue with peers who are dealing with the same issues as you, and being able to discuss how to solve them is critical. While there is competition in tourism, through my experience, I feel that we all are working together for the betterment of the industry as a whole and not just for our destinations. Our open conversations lead to future successes for us, our organization and the travel industry.
Hopefully, these tips will help you become a better marketer, and if there is anything you’d like to add, I’m all ears.

Why Engagement Is The Most Important Thing I Measure

It’s budgeting and strategy planning season, and I’ve been having conversations with lots of people about what they are planning to do with their brands in the social space for the coming year. I’ve been in numerous conversations with people about what they want from social media. And surprisingly, more and more people are hung up in the numbers. And by numbers I simply mean, the number of fans or followers a profile has on a social network. They are simply focused on spending dollars to get fans and followers so they can look good. They aren’t worried about if someone will buy something, share an experience, have a conversation with them or repeatedly visit their page. They aren’t worried if people will come to their page just to hear what they have to say - even if they can’t use the information at that particular point in time.

No, no, no, they want fans - “SHOW ME THE FANS!”

I like to use the analogy of thinking of social media as a retail store. For a retail store, they want foot traffic and lots of it. They are in hopes that the greater the foot traffic, the higher the sales. But what good is the traffic into the store if you don’t give the customers an experience. Prime example, I try and stay away from Walmart because of one reason, and you all can probably guess what it is - THERE ARE NEVER ENOUGH LANES OPEN!!! So when Walmart comes into my consideration set, I start thinking about what that experience is going to be like, and then I may make alternate plans, even if that alternate plan takes me to a more expensive store that is out of my way.

Let’s look at this from another angle:

My wife hates it when she walks into a store, and no one speaks to her - drives her crazy! And for her, it’s not about her really wanting help, it’s about the fact that she wants to know someone can help her if she needs it. It’s about someone taking the time out to engage with her in conversation and not treat her as another statistic under the category of foot traffic.

What good is foot traffic if the in-store experience doesn’t meet the needs of the customer? What good is a large fan base if you don’t engage with your community? I am not disapproving of spending advertising dollars on social networks - nothing wrong with that, as long as it is part of the overall strategy to share content and not buy fans or followers.I am just a strong believer that in the long run, engagement will grow a stronger fan base than advertising. Now it might not happen as fast, but in the end, you’ll have the fans that want to hear what you have to say - thus creating the community that brands need.

What do you think is more important, the numbers or the engagement?

The ONE Thing I Learned at #SoMeT13US

I just spent four days at the Social Media Symposium for Tourism in Huntsville, AL. Four days with some of the world’s brightest minds in social media and tourism. Four days of meeting fellow colleagues in the tourism industry. Four days of Huntsville Hospitality - and I only learned one thing.

Normally when I go to conferences, I aim to walk away with 3-5 new ideas that I can implement in my or my co-worker’s daily performance, but not this time. This time I came with one thing, and here it is…

Brands need to give up control and give it to their communities.

As a marketer by day, I can attest to the fact that we as brands no longer own our brand identity. Despite all the research we do as a destination, our visitors are what define us as a destination. Our brand is no longer what we’ve manufactured behind our boardroom doors, but it is now what the visitor has either heard about us or experienced with us, no more no less.

While relinquishing control of the brand can be scary, allowing visitors (fans) to control your brand actually arms you with a large sales force. A sales force that you don’t have to pay. A sales force that works nights and weekends. A sales force that is honest and shares insight into aspects of your brand that you haven’t even thought of. A sales force that is viewed as more reliable than you - the brand itself.

So, while I walked with one thing, it was a big one thing. I’m going to challenge myself to develop marketing concepts that put our visitors in control of our destination, and then we as the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) move from marketing our destination to managing our destination.

Here’s to the challenge!

13 THINGS DESTINATIONS NEED TO BE READY FOR IN 2013

Right on time to kick-off 2013, I made a list of 13 things that I think destinations need to be prepared for. DISCLAIMER: These are not sure-fire predictions. Think of these more as tiny morsels of information to keep in your brain.

1.  The evolving role of communications/marketing staff. Press releases, story pitches and travel writers are no longer the main focus of marketing communications departments. Now we’ve got social media, website management, in-house graphic design and creative direction, just to name a few, that our communications departments are responsible for. In this ever-changing media world look for more staff members to become chameleons.

2. Consumer confidence increase. By all reports I’m reading, everyone is predicting that 2013 could be a record travel year. Consumers are feeling more confident now, and are willing to make that trip. Whether that trip is out of town or a staycation, the good thing here, is that they are spending money again – money that you want spent in your destination.

3. Government meetings decrease. Despite other market segments of travel seeing a rise, the government market segment is heavily scrutinized for its spending. Expect to see lesser government meetings in your neck of the woods. This now opens the door for you to pursue another market segment that you may have been neglecting.

4. Mobile takes over the travel experience. If you can remember one thing, it’s this, “Mobile is the needle. Social is the thread.” Our lives, in particular our travel experiences, are woven together by the use of social media, and mobile is the tool that starts and ends the process. Mobile usage is on the rise, and will continue to be so in 2013.

5. Your website is your life and blood. How many times are we going to experience the wrath of Edgerank on Facebook, privacy setting changes or the complete shutdown of a social network site to understand that we don’t own that land. Don’t allow outside networks to influence your marketing success - it’s only rented property. Build up the assets that you do own, and that is your website.

6. iPads are the new black. We live in a time-strapped society, where our sales people only have a small window to influence a planner or tour operator to book the destination. iPads have breathed new life into sales presentations, that don’t require Wi-Fi, plugs or a screen. Make sure you’ve got your sales materials loaded on the iPads in an easy-to-use interface for your staff so that they can effectively sell the destination.

7. Get personal with your visitors. In the marketing world, we are so inundated with mass communications, that no one takes the time to write us a personal note. Ditch the mass e-blasts and try one-on-one communications again – we’ve seen great success in it, with the ability to connect to our potential visitors in a more personal way.

8. RTOs are worth a shot. Regional Tourism Organizations are a great way to bring a collective group of people together to promote a niche market that everyone can benefit from. Look around and see what you share with other communities within your state/region and develop a plan to capitalize on that experience so that you can dominate that segment of the market.

9. DMOs need to be the expert. While we are the tourism expert for our respective destinations, DMOs need to go one step further, and become the expert in particular fields. Our hospitality partners need our support and providing them with expertise in terms of marketing, planning or some other business aspect will result a team-wide effort to win business for the destination.

10. Don’t create, curate. Social media has opened the door to allow anyone to become a content creator, so odds are, what destinations want to create someone else has already beaten you to it. Just because DMOs are the authority on the destination, doesn’t make them the authority on destination content. Some of the best stories are told by those who have no affiliation to the DMO, so reach out to those people and use what they have instead of reinventing the wheel.

11. Local bloggers are the new media. If your local bloggers are not on your media list, then you are missing the boat. Bloggers are just as credible, if not more credible, than your traditional journalists nowadays. And given the importance of reach and social media, bloggers have wide networks that allow for your message to be seen by more than just the local media.

12. Direct mail is not a bad thing. Snail mail is back on the rise I tell ya! Because of the increased number of digital communications options consumers have a hard time sifting through which emails to read and delete. Take the time and craft a direct mail campaign that allows the end user to touch and interact with your message for your destination. Go one step further and make it personal, and I guarantee you it’ll be a great sales lead.

13. Niche can make you rich. Every destination has a story, and every destination has something unique. A niche marketing strategy is specific to one product. As the DMO, your goal is to uncover that one thing and market the hell out of it. In turn, that niche market can lead you to rich content that makes you a “top places to visit”.

Are any of these things are your list to do for 2013?

3 Mistakes Businesses Make On Social Media

One thing I love about my job, is that I get to do what I love everyday in an industry that is ever-changing. I love marketing, period. I also love to observe situations and provide tips on how to turn problems into solutions. All businesses have problems…especially when it comes to social media, and here are three mistakes that I see businesses making on social media:

1. Not knowing your story. Every business has a story, and every business has a customer. Know who you are and who you are for. Knowing your story goes hand-in-hand with your social strategy and your plan to get your name out to the world. Blanketing the masses is very expensive, so it’s vital that you know how to tell your story in such a way that people are compelled to listen, share and react.

2. Hogging the conversation. No one wants to be in a one-sided conversation. The best businesses are those that can get people talking about them, so they don’t have to do it themselves. The greatest compliment a business can get is to have someone refer another potential customer to them. Arm your social fans and followers with content that is share-able so you don’t have to do the heavy-lifting.

3. Not responding in a timely manner. I am blown away at the amount of comments and responses that businesses ignore on their social networks. All comments, both positive and negative, should be taken seriously – after all, they lead to further conversations. And conversations lead to relationships, and relationships lead to conversions…THE ULTIMATE GOAL!

The good thing about social media, is that no one is perfect at it - there are just others who are doing it better. Think about what you are doing wrong, and then come up with a plan to fix it. All of us who have done great things, have fixed a problem.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PYRAMID: Three (tions) of social media

The Social Media Pyramid

How are you gauging your brand presence on social media? I’m not talking about the likes, followers, fans, etc, but more about your actions on social media – actions that are broad enough for us to understand, but yet narrow enough for us to focus on.

Let’s look at a pyramid real quick. Pyramids are triangular in shape, with sides that converge to a single point at the top, with the majority of the weight at the base, which is the foundation. Strong foundations are the main reason why pyramids are still standing today, and have lasted since ancient civilization.

We can take this same pyramid, and use it as an analogy for social media. There are three action levels in the social media pyramid for brands, and quite frankly there are three social networks that align perfectly with each of these strategies. While some of us are at different levels, we should all strive to be doing all three – to get us to the top.

LEVEL 1 = INFORMATION.

This is your base, and probably the greatest strength of social media. Information is key, right? We already know what a simple internet search will provide us with, but social media is now giving us that same information without having to search for it. We can open up any number of social networks now and get breaking news, current affairs and other updates. Consumers are spending so much time on social networks that brands need to understand the importance of sharing information as opposed to waiting for a consumer to search for it. So at a minimum, you should be sharing information.

BEST TOOL: Facebook

LEVEL 2 = CONVERSATION.

What brands like the most about social media is using it as a way to converse with consumers – and by all means, they are correct. It’s one thing for you to share information, but it’s another thing for you to have conversation. At level two is where most brands fail, as they forget how to communicate with people. How many times do brands forget to respond to comments – both positive and negative? That is a killer. Conversations lead to prospects, prospects lead to purchases, and purchases make them customers. I always tell people to follow the 80:20 rule, 80 percent communication, 20 percent information. If you follow it, it forces you to have conversation.

BEST TOOL: Twitter

LEVEL 3 = INSPIRATION.

Now we are at the top, and this is the newest phase of social media – one that is taking off rather quickly. If you’ve figured out the art of sharing information, and mastered the craft of conversation, then inspiration is where you can get consumers to make that purchase. Social purchases are still not widely adopted, as consumers still make that final purchase in the store or at another time on an e-commerce website. But, I believe those times are changing with the rapid adoption of sites like Pinterest and Gentlemint that are built around inspiration – which in turn can easily link to a transaction page on your website. The group-buying sites Groupon and Living Social are good at this, and pretty soon brands will figure out a way to do it too.

BEST TOOL: Pinterest

Where are you at in the pyramid of social media?

4 Travel Apps You Should Be Using

In my line of work, I am fortunate enough to travel all over the U.S., and with that luxury, I am always looking for new ways to enhance my travel experiences. One of the ways I like to do that is through apps, whether they be on my iPad or my iPhone. Seeing as though I am in the travel industry and I am a marketer, this falls right into my alley. And since I like to share stuff, thought I’d share these with you. Here are four travel apps that I use frequently, and urge you to download and use on your next trip or vacation:

Taxi Magic (https://taximagic.com/)    

Taxi Magic 

When I am out traveling, I don’t always feel 100% comfortable catching public transportation in some cities, so I take a taxi. But nothing is more burdensome, than finishing a meal or event somewhere, and then having to walk and find a taxi. In comes Taxi Magic, which will bring the taxi to you. It’s not available everywhere yet, only in your bigger cities. However, if they don’t have the electronic booking system available, they’ll publish the phone number of the local taxi company for you to call yourself. So back to the app – I used it in Seattle last month, and here’s how it works: (1) Enter in your pick-up location, of which you can ask them to come now or pick you up later. (2) It will then tell you where the taxi is coming from, who the driver is and provide you with a Google map so you can track the taxi’s progress. (3) You can pay in advance or when you get dropped off (4) It will give you an e-receipt for all you “go green” people and (5) you never have to walk anywhere.

Gate Guru (http://gateguruapp.com/)

Gate Guru

I refer to Gate Guru as the Foursquare of airports. It offers check-in capabilities to where you can check-in to airports and gates. But that’s not the real benefit. Gate Guru has a comprehensive list of all of the airport amenities in each gate, sortable by shops, food and services. So now when you’re in the airport and trying to find something to eat, which is what I use it for, Gate Guru will tell you what food options are in which gate for any airport that you are in. How’s that for customer service?!?

Flex-Fuel Station Locator (iPhone and Android) My truck runs on flex-fuel, so it’s cheaper that gas…but the problem lies in the fact that there are not many flex-fuel stations around. This app lists all of the flex-fuel stations across the U.S. and I can sort by finding the closest ones to me when I’m traveling, and I can plan my stops accordingly. The list also includes prices at each station, so I can choose the best, and the app integrates with Google maps to provide me with turn-by-turn directions.

Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) Most people are already using Yelp and other food locations services, but what I love about Yelp, is the ability to make reservations for where you want to eat. If you’re the type of person who likes to plan their meals, then this is perfect for you. How many times have you been at a conference starving, and all you could think about was food? Well, Yelp will occupy your time with photos of food from the various establishments, and allow you to make reservations, thus cutting down on your waiting time – which is key to me, because you never know how crowded places are when you are not a local.

What other apps are out there that you are using for travel, I’m always open to try to something new.

12 WAYS TO CHANGE YOUR SOCIAL STRATEGY IN 2012

We’re two months into the new year, and many of us are two months into our social media strategies, or we are two months into planning our social media strategies. Whatever side you are working on, I’ve got 12 tips that may help you in changing, organizing and planning your social media strategies. I like to call it my “12 for 12” plan, 12 things you can do to improve your social media in 2012.

DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY. If you or your company are in the social space, and do not have a social media policy, you are setting yourself and your brand up for a whole heap of trouble. Your policy should provide guidelines on how to use the various social media networks, how to interact on these networks and address the use of what you should share on these networks. The policy protects you and anyone else who uses social media on your brand’s behalf.

DO NOT LINK FACEBOOK TO TWITTER. I see many people who make the mistake of linking what they share on Facebook to Twitter, or vice versa. While both of these communities are the most popular, the audiences are totally different, the way you interact on these sites is totally different, so your messaging should be totally different. The activity stream on Twitter is very active, and the average tweet lasts about 30 seconds. Utilize shorter and concise messages here, and save your richer content for Facebook.

START USING FACEBOOK INSIGHTS. Most people have heard of Facebook Insights, but most of us are not using it right. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, and it is FREE. Use the insights to gain an understanding of the engagement of your posts to see what works and what doesn’t work, and adjust your strategies accordingly.

DO NOT TWEET LONGER THAN 140 CHARACTERS. Twitter has a limit of 140 characters for a reason…don’t go beyond that. Matter of fact, try and keep your tweets to about 100 characters if you can. This will allow for someone to share your tweets with something more than the normal RT. Nothing drives me more crazy than to see the that “tl” at the end of a tweet, I never click on that link to finish reading a tweet.

DEVELOP A CONTENT SCHEDULE. Ever been sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs wondering about what earth-shattering news you can share to drive up likes or RTs? STOP DOING THAT! Take some time and plan out a content schedule. Look at three months out and break it down month by month, then week by week and then day by day. This schedule will allow you to post relevant content and keep you from wasting time trying to find irrelevant things to post.

HIRE A COMMUNITY MANAGER. If your brand is really struggling on tackling social media, then you should explore hiring a community manager. Having a knowledgeable person to take the lead on the social media efforts for your brand is pivotal to its success. Don’t put the fate of your brand in the hands of the IT department or an intern.

DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM. No one person can do it all. Create a social media team from colleagues across various departments. The social media team can help “divide and conquer” on various tasks to implement in the social media plan. This type of team will also aid in the company buy-in process to using social media.

START A BLOG. Because of the popularity of Facebook and Twitter and other social media networks, blogging can sometimes take a back seat. If you don’t have one, develop a blog. It will allow you to develop some very rich content, while also creating web traffic for your brand website and social media sites. Your blog allows for long-form content that cannot be expressed correctly on social media sites.

PROVE THE ROI TO MANAGEMENT. Everybody wants to know what the ROI is on social media. And my answer is always the same, “I don’t know”. What I do know is that if we’ve got a social presence, then we’ve got followers/fans that represent potential buyers. If I engage with them, and get them to view my content and drive them to my website, odds are, I have a shot at making a conversion. Management loves e-mail, but probably doesn’t question its ROI. Social media should be viewed the same way, as they are both electronic messages that give content and provide links back to your website. What’s the ROI on that e-mail you sent out last month?

TIE IN YOUR OFFLINE MARKETING EFFORTS. Bridging your online and offline marketing efforts is essential to the success of any overall marketing campaign. It extends the life of your message and provides other avenues in which to share content and drive web traffic. Use your social sites to deliver behind-the-scenes content as an extension of your print, radio or TV advertising.

STAY RELEVANT AND ON TOPIC. Nothing is more of a turn-off than when the brand or person you are following drifts on topic and doesn’t focus on the core message. I’m not saying that you cannot talk about current affairs, but find a way to tie them back into your brand so that your followers are consistently hit with your message.

DON’T BE EVERYWHERE. New social media sites are popping up all the time, but just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you need to go sign-up. When new sites arise, sign-up with a dummy account and test it out before you put your brand on there. If the new site doesn’t bring any additional value to your brand that your other sites are already delivering, then don’t wast your time.

WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT, THE “SOCIAL” OR THE “MEDIA”?

We are now in the times where the social space has taken over our daily lives, everybody is doing it! But not all of us are doing it right. Now before you read any further, I am no social media guru, I simply like to share my honest view and opinions on the subject.

So back to what I was saying – I see many companies, organizations and people not utilizing their social spaces effectively. Let’s talk about these athletes for a second. I’m a huge sports fan, but I am blown away by the amount of information that athletes wish to share on their social pages. Taking videos of themselves saying inappropriate things or tweeting out “secret” or proprietary information? Where Dey Do Dat At? Most people are quick to blame Facebook, Twitter or any other social site for the downfall, but I don’t think that’s the issue. People have been doing and saying dumb things for years; however, our mediums have changed and expanded across the years, thus making it easier and more accessible to publish information.

So to answer the question, what is more important, the “social” or the “media”?

Well, my profound answer is, they are both equal. Some people may say one is bigger than the other, but I say they have to live together. I think everyone knows what it means to be social, although most of us don’t use it correctly in our social media plans and strategies. I think we tend to downplay the word media and not fully understand its importance. I count all media, i.e. TV, radio, print, social networking, etc. as equals.  Now granted each of these forms has a different reach, but they are all still forms of media available to the public. Treat your social media pages just as you would an advertisement and/or news interview. If you wouldn’t put it in an advertisement or say it in an interview, then don’t publish it to the world.

Is Foursquare the New Travel Guide?

So I’m in on vacation this week in Destin, FL, experiencing sunshine, the beach, the family and a little sunburn. One of my biggest joys about vacation and traveling, is getting out and exploring my surroundings. So when I was looking for places to eat and things to do, I ditched the visitors guide, and went straight to Foursquare!

Because I work in marketing at a tourism organization, my goal of introducing Foursquare to our social media mix was to be an extension of our visitors guide. Being able to connect and communicate with people exploring our city in real time is key, and being able to give them recommendations and tips makes the experience even better.

So back to Destin… I’ve been to several new restaurants and attractions in my week here all based solely on what I found through Foursquare. I will admit that I used Twitter and Urbanspoon to reinforce my decisions, but Foursquare is where it all began.

The new updates in Foursquare, under the ‘explore’ tab have a wealth of information. From places offering specials to food and nightlife, Foursquare became my mobile visitors guide. And to make the experience even better, when I checked in to places and posted it via Twitter, surrounding businesses decided to strike up a conversation with me.

So I guess to answer my own question, yes, Foursquare is the new visitors guide…at least that’s my opinion, what do you think?