Storytelling: The Secret to Travel & Tourism Marketing

Posted on May 18, 2016 • Written by Ben Smith

Companies in the travel and tourism world have the unique advantage of marketing something that people naturally long for – to get away, have some fun, relax or have an exciting experience. Just about every destination in the world has something people can come to see and do.

That reality is both a help and a hindrance. Those marketing travel and tourism have the benefit of a natural draw, but there’s also a lot of competition. You need to find a way to rise above the noise and stand out in people’s minds as a worthwhile place to visit.

The most successful travel and tourism campaigns don’t push experiences, they create a story and invite the viewer to become a part of it. These brands are embracing storytelling marketing as a key cornerstone of their content marketing and digital marketing strategies. Storytelling marketing rises above the noise of traditional advertisements and positions the destination or travel service as a must-have experience worth travelers’ time and investment.

Storytelling Marketing & Why Stories Work

Hearing and telling stories is a fundamental way that people process and retain information. That’s why generational storytelling traditions are so strong in many cultures, why important life lessons were turned into folk tales and why children seem to constantly be chattering stories to themselves about the world around them and their new experiences. If you want someone to process and retain the information you tell them, putting it into a memorable story is one of the best approaches.

Commercials have long told short 15, 30 or 60 second stories that are meant to give viewers something to relate to (and thus a reason to buy the product or service being advertised), but how often do you remember a specific commercial. Particularly funny commercials may come to mind, but can you remember what it was actually advertising? These “stories” are more akin to jokes – something that makes you chuckle, but that you rarely think about going forward. That’s because they don’t engage us on a deeper, emotional level.

Impactful stories capture our attention and help us process information best when they engage our emotions and when we hear the message over and over again. Good storytelling marketing taps into something deeper than amusement – for travel and tourism, that deeper need could be a desire to not miss out, to give into wanderlust, explore new places (near or far) or simply enjoy life while we can.

Tell that story over and over again, in slightly different ways that all feed into the same base story and emotion, and you’ll eventually get into travelers’ minds … if you do a good job of telling the story.

Real World Adoption & Success

We’ve seen several state tourism bureaus adopt this approach – with beautiful and eye catching results that have translated into more real-life visitors.

Texas Tourism began embracing vivid storytelling in its marketing around 2013. The overarching message that connects all their marketing efforts is that there are still places to explore and things to discover, you just have to visit Texas. This particular message meshes well with Texas’ reputation of being a HUGE state that embodies the spirit of the Wild West. It also works well because it fits Texas’ wide array of offerings – from cities renowned for live music to off-the-beaten-path outdoor experiences. Texas is speaking very specifically to people who feel like the world has lost its sense of excitement and wonder. This underlying emotional pull can be felt throughout the campaign.

The storytelling has paid off. In 2012, Texas saw a little over 220 million domestic visitors to the state. In 2015, that number had swelled to an estimated 255 million visitors. The state also reported that it’s now tracking an ROI of $6.08 for every $1 spent on tourism promotion.

Michigan has been at it even longer, releasing its “Pure Michigan” storytelling-focused commercials back in 2007 (pretty early for YouTube). The same premise applies, the commercials catch your attention with gorgeous images and makes you wish you were there … before you ever even know where there is. The overall feel of the campaign encourages viewers to take the time to enjoy life and the simple pleasures and experiences it offers.

Michigan set a state tourism record in 2014 with over 113 million visitors (a 3.8% increase over 2013). The Pure Michigan campaign was specifically singled out as a driver of success. From Michigan State University Extension:

“National awareness of the campaign rose from 39 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2014, while the return on the investment in the out-of-state elements of the campaign reached $6.87. This latter figure clearly demonstrates the value of national Pure Michigan advertising in terms of generating new income for the state.”

When done right, a storytelling campaign achieves all the hallmarks of successful marketing:

  • It captures (and keeps) attention
  • It makes the product (in this case a destination) stick on consumers’ minds
  • It ultimately drives action and conversion

And storytelling marketing is arguably doing so more effectively than more traditional marketing approaches – because not everyone is doing it, or doing it well, yet.

Applying Storytelling Marketing

A fundamental part of marketing is deciding what’s going to be most memorable and compelling to your audience and marry that with the message you want to send. There’s several exercises you can go through with your marketing team to pinpoint your ideal message and the emotion it plays into. Once you have that information, you can being translating it all into a story.

When telling a travel and tourism story, you want to make sure you have chapters that speak do different types of visitors. How does your fundamental message and emotion translate for families, older travelers, people seeking culture, nightlife, food, the outdoors, etc. The key is to start with a message and emotional play that’s all-encompassing enough that it easily translates into stories for different people without losing its core.

Once your idea is defined and your sub-ideas are roughly storyboarded, you’re ready to start telling your story in compelling and memorable way.

Ready to start telling your story?

Ben Smith

Written by Ben Smith

Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition, specializing in Google's Algorithm changes. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s search algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.

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