Beware bad KPIs: Your DMO may not be reaching its full potential

Rodney Payne

10 March 2017

It’s time to get specific about success. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) need to focus all of their efforts on goals that help them solve problems for their industry, residents and visitors. Then, they need to measure the right results. How else will they know whether their marketing is working?

Too many destinations are focused on the wrong KPIs. In our experience, when destinations fail to perform to their maximum potential, these two strategic problems stand out.

Problem #1: Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) based on broad reach

It’s simpler to measure and report large numbers high in the funnel, and the industry expects them. As a result, many marketers and tourism boards focus on measuring KPIs high in the awareness stage of the path-to-purchase funnel.

It’s easy to stand in front of a giant screen at your industry meeting and say something like, “We reached two million people with our campaign.” It sounds impressive, and is bound to make more than a few people feel that dollars were well spent. But what impact does that awareness have? How long will you be able to continue reporting in this way before stakeholders question the value? Will awareness truly cause visitation? Will it encourage your most valuable market segments, or niches, to visit? Does the increased awareness help your destination retain visitors? Which DMO growth engine does an awareness KPI support? So many questions.

It’s hard to draw a business case that correlates awareness to business impact these days. To be effective, you need to get specific with what you’re measuring. High-level KPIs lead to non-specific blanket solutions, which causes stakeholders to question the relevance of the DMO.

Set the wrong KPIs, and you’ll send your whole organization (and investment) down the wrong path, which leads us to the second problem.

Problem #2: A focus on awareness leads to a channel-driven approach

This problem is related to setting bad KPIs. In our experience, when destinations measure success at the awareness stage of the funnel, they default to allocating budgets according to channels. If your goal is to increase awareness, you are likely to spread your budget across multiple channels to diversify your investment portfolio in social media, digital marketing, outdoor advertising, magazines, television, print media, etc. This strategy doesn’t maximize your chance for impact on consumers.

How can you avoid these pitfalls?

Ensure that you focus on customer journey mapping in your strategic planning.

  • Understand your destination’s niche experiences. (See Visit Flanders for inspiration.)
  • Understand the granular profiles of who will travel for those experiences. Turn those profiles into visitor personas.
  • Then map their end-to-end customer journey.
  • Invest your budget at the right point in the journey to have an impact.
  • Choose your media mix based on that objective.

You can discover where the particular consumer persona struggles in their journey and figure out the best way to solve that problem.

Then, instead of tackling every problem with a communication solution by asking, “What kind of creative idea do we need for our advertising?”, you can examine how your potential visitors behave. How do they consume information, and which voices do they trust? For example, if your mountain biking target market isn’t aware of the experiences that your destination offers, maybe you need to host influencers from the mountain bike community or engage them in some other way.

After you determine the real roadblocks your visitors face, you can measure success based on the specific point of the path to purchase that you’re trying to affect. There are opportunities everywhere to go beyond awareness.

Looking for an example? Regional Tourism Organization 4 (RTO4) in Ontario, Canada did this in a spectacular way by improving a key tourism operator’s online user experience, setting KPIs that had a measurable impact in the community.

This is real marketing and real destination leadership. Put all this together, and you’ll add immense value to your destination.

This is how we work with destinations to ensure they’re investing in the most valuable places.

At your next meeting, ask your team this question: What does success look like?


Want to improve how your DMO measures success? Destination Think has customized design thinking techniques that engage the tourism industry and residents to help solve problems for your target markets. Learn how Australia’s Gold Coast Tourism has done it, then contact us to find out how we can help your DMO.

Featured image credit: darkday, Flickr

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