Imagine marketing a company that doesn’t sell anything, but has a global audience. Or selling a brand that doesn’t produce anything, but demands discretionary income to consume. And imagine doing it so successfully that you’ve demonstrated a decade of consistent growth without cutting resources, and through a recession when all your industry peers were cutting back.
These challenges may seem insurmountable to some, but for VISIT DENVER, the city’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, it’s a labor of love for the residents and tourists that make Denver what it is today. Justin Bresler, VP of Marketing and Business Development, answers some questions about what it takes to market the Mile High City locally and beyond.
What do you consider your primary role on the team at VISIT DENVER, and how has it changed in the last 8 years you’ve been there? As a brand steward for the city and all it has to offer. But also to manage the functionality of the various levers we can pull. There are more channels available to us than ever before. We’ve had to figure out how to incorporate how to use these channels as they come online. There are unique challenges and opportunities with each. It allows us marketers new opportunities to show success and to reach new people.
Speaking of reaching new people, who are the audiences you are trying to reach? And, how do you find them? Our international efforts and domestic efforts are two different sales efforts. Internationally, there are a lot of intermediaries like travel agents and tour operators, who are still vital because of their clients’ unfamiliarity with a foreign country. We work to add Denver and Colorado vacations to their product catalog.
Domestically, we market nationally, but focus on key target markets for media spend. We have a media philosophy to go deep in fewer markets than broader in more markets. New York City sends a lot of people everywhere. But you can blow $5 million in a month there. We are in markets that have a history of sending visitors to Denver with great flight access, or a great drive. Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Diego are markets where we attract a lot of visitors. We have secondary markets as well.
And as for who we are trying to reach – as long as you are of a certain age with discretionary income, we are going to try to find you. Our tactics include are offline, TV, digital and video. Study after study shows the impact of video, which can be expensive to produce. Luckily, technology has given us lots of other places to place that. And, we still have a place for certain print placements.
Nowadays, you have to be everywhere. And digital advertising is great because it’s trackable, but it’s more of a cold medium. It’s hard to inspire someone using a banner ad.
We layer on top of our paid media a lot of other things – outbound PR. Social media effort reaches not just existing but new audiences. That’s been huge for us. We are getting more and more into sponsored content, taking advantage of online publications and their reach. There are a couple of mainstays in our marketing strategy – search is always on, social is always on. But from a marketing standpoint, we are campaign-driven throughout the year. Every time we have a new campaign, we have a fresh media strategy and campaign strategy and vendors that we use.
How do you track the interactions and ‘success’ you have reaching your audiences? We are moving to measure engagement. A lot of our engagement comes from the website or the social media channels. But it can be equalized across channels. We look at the level of engagement visitors have, determine where they came from, and decide if it’s worth it to keep that channel going. It happens internally with our agency partners. They report to us, we put it thru our data machine internally and we feed back to them and say these are vendors that we feel are performing well.
You mention strategizing with your vendors. How do you decide when to partner with a vendor and when to build an in-house team to handle your marketing? We really wait until a channel is fairly well developed before we bring on staff. We had social media contracted for a couple of years before we brought on a staff member. Not because we thought social was going away, but because didn’t really know the criteria required or the skill set to staff it. We are a little bit conservative in that way. Because we are a tax-funded organization, we have to be conscious about the investment we make in new platforms and spending in new areas.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to market either themselves or their company? I would say more than anything today, stay on brand. Your brand is your friend. But be flexible with your tactics because they change so frequently now. Today you need to be well rounded and you need to tell stories. People are going to engage with your stories more than your advertising and it’s always going to be that way. Unless you’re selling toilet paper and just waiting for the next coupon. If those stories are true to your brand, you will be able to differentiate yourself.