Destination British Columbia (DBC) understands that delivering consistent and high-quality experiences is essential in inspiring word-of-mouth recommendations, and that advocacy drives visitation. In fact, the organization has focused much of its corporate strategy on advocacy and has set for itself a bold objective to become the most recommended destination in North America. Recognizing that the marketing landscape has shifted from mass to niche focus, DBC has adapted its approaches to product and promotion and puts community, content, distribution and partnerships first as it seeks to increase meaningful one-to-one conversations on a larger and more effective scale.
As DBC’s social agency of record, we welcomed the organization to Destination Think! Forum 2016 in New York City. In advance of the event, we asked Leah Poulton, Acting Director, Global Marketing Channels, to provide her perspective on the organization’s growth, challenges and her views of the future of destination marketing.
Destination Think!: Beginning with your early role in social media at DBC, how has your career progressed? And how has DBC evolved?
Leah Poulton: I was the first full-time social-media employee at Destination BC. When I started, in 2011, we had one Twitter account, one Facebook account, and very little strategy – social media was still an afterthought, a box to check off once we’d finished producing a campaign.
In 2012, we ran a successful – and fairly innovative at the time – crowdsourced blogger tour, which kick-started the #exploreBC hashtag. That created some momentum for our social strategy. In 2014, as part of a bigger campaign, we conducted a targeted social listening/”surprise and delight” test in San Francisco that validated a grassroots, one-to-one approach to reaching consumers in a key market. These projects in particular helped demonstrate the power of social platforms, peer-to-peer advocacy, and influencer tactics to colleagues both inside and outside the organization. And as we grew all these platforms, and social tactics moved towards the core of our marketing efforts, we added to our team.
Today, we have five full-time social-media positions (four on the marketing team, one on the industry team). Hashtag use is reported to our board, along with visitation numbers and advertising metrics, and advocacy is one of our key corporate strategies. The organization overall has undergone a big shift: we are now fully invested in digital. Innovation and new ways of thinking are valued and encouraged. For example, we’ve undergone a major reorganization to create our first in-house content team, so that we can function as a publisher within this new digital-content-marketing landscape. I now head up the distribution team, which includes social media as well as email and paid digital marketing.
What advice would you give to CEOs of destination-marketing organizations trying to determine their role in the future and understand how they can add maximum value?
The landscape is now so competitive, and the path to purchase so frenetic, that we can’t possibly be everywhere and everything to everyone; we need to focus. One solution is partnership – with the top digital publishers, with non-traditional partners, and with industry. We can work together to each determine our role in the larger tourism-marketing landscape, and focus on providing maximum value to visitors at a particular point on their travel-planning journey, as opposed to just scratching the surface along the entire path to purchase.
What advice would you give to other destination marketers who want to help their organization move forward?
Go for incremental gains. Small wins. An entire organization isn’t going to change overnight – pick one area that could be better, a small change in direction or a specific goal, and make it happen. No funding for an entirely new program? Do a small pilot, or look for partnership opportunities with your stakeholders. No resources to create all the content you need to tell your destination’s stories? Work with local ambassadors and influencers. Then share your successes, as widely as you can, throughout the organization and the industry. If you can align your small wins with organizational or industry challenges, they’ll be even more powerful. If you can demonstrate progress and value. internally and externally, you can rally others for further change. Keep at it, and you’ll eventually gain the momentum you need.
You’ll be participating in a global gathering of leading destination marketers at Forum in New York City this October. If you could come away from that event having solved or addressed one problem for your destination, what would it be?
What exactly is the DMO’s role in this wildly disrupted digital landscape?
Gain more valuable insights from speakers, panelists and participants from Destination Think! Forum, where the world’s leading destination marketers gathered to address their greatest challenges. Read interviews with Forum’s Leading Thinkers.