Mason County, Washington is the natural marvel and under-trodden gem of the Pacific Northwest. It’s situated between the eastern edge of the Olympic National Park and Hood Canal, the largest natural fjord in the continental United States.
Even with all Mason County has to offer, in a noisy tourism marketing arena, it simply couldn’t project.
That’s when Mason County’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee began the search to find an RDMO (Regional Destination Management Organization) partner and we stepped in. We crafted a brand from scratch, built full-blown marketing strategies, and created timeless collateral and assets from 2015-2017 at which point we handed the reins to a local shop.
Before we stepped away, though, we ran the data. We were able to earn a 10% increase year over year for the county lodging tax—a true reflection of increased tourism and health of the travel industry in Mason County.
Wanderlust is a serious affliction among millennials. When paired with their insatiable curiosity for exploring off the beaten path, and social media know-how, our strategy began to shape itself.
Seattle and Portland breed the type of travelers that are up for poking around the hidden nooks of Hood Canal. Adventuresome college students, military families, and millennials abound—once we nailed down this target audience, it was all about building a campaign just for them.
The short story: the traditional visitor center is dying. Instead of driving an extra 10 miles to peruse a rack of brochures, people are visiting social media, hitting up Google, and finding tourist websites to help craft their itineraries.
We built a simple, information-packed website centered on lodging (with a back-end that could be easily handed off to a local marketing team). Once the site—replete with monthly blog, video, and event updates—was complete, we reached out to top site referrers in an effort to bolster link building and foster SEO and referred visitors.
Our main consideration was mobile optimization. After 18 months, more than 70% of all traffic was originating on a phone or tablet and ExploreHoodCanal.com had driven more than 1,300 clicks per month to local lodging provider pages—a strong indication of visitors’ intent to plan a stay.
Results: Site traffic increased by over 10% from 2016 to 2017.
Event Marketing & Promo Materials
Tourism, in essence, is about experience. So to bring the Explore Hood Canal brand into the nearby metropolitan areas, we created a colorful, interactive event booth including stickers, t-shirts, koozies, and a spinning prize wheel—an addition that was wildly popular at local events.
Seeing as one of Hood Canal’s grandest claims to fame is their world-class oysters, as the cherry on top of the hyper-local advertising, we commissioned the creation of a handmade oyster mascot costume. Lovingly named Shuck, she left a lasting mark on every event she attended.
We represented Mason County tourism at the 2017 Outdoor Projects Summer Block Party series at their Portland and Seattle locations. We were able to reach and educate an entirely new audience segment and drive hundreds of potential lodging bookings while collecting email addresses.
Local Business Outreach/Support
In the end, no outside marketing effort is successful without internal adoption. We made personal connections with an array of local businesses in order to ensure they were enjoying the fruits of our labor just as much as the local government was.
In-person training, webinar training sessions, and content and social media strategy coaching comprised the core or our efforts. We made a concerted effort to fortify personal connections in order to make sure local businesses felt supported, heard, and successful within the larger fabric of our strategy. The collaborative spirit was alive and well with small and large local groups, like Union City Market, Alderbrook Resort & Spa, The Ridge Motorsports Park, and the Skokomish Indian Tribe.
~ Justin Waters, All-Waters Fly Fishing & Guide Service
Content Strategy & Video Storytelling
Storytelling makes far greater waves in the long run than sales pitches. The core of our strategy centered on telling stories from the mysterious, verdant, and sometimes idiosyncratic corners of Hood Canal.
Owned and earned media are among the most trusted ways to advertise. Because the blog told authentic, engaging stories, Google ranked it first in organic search results. This is validation that our strategy and audience needs sharply align.
We created two major content platforms:
From the towering peaks of the Olympics to the mysterious depths of the fjord, Hood Canal is full of adventure, mystery, and people who call it home. We published rich posts monthly that fit neatly into three categories: Events, Stories, and Travel Guides. Each highlighted underrepresented local gems and carried strong calls to book lodging.
Results: Average time on page for the best-performing blog post was 6:00 minutes. The best-performing blog post had 1,924 page views.
The Wild Side Explorer Series boosted brand awareness, fortified partner connections, and gave our audience a true peek into the down and dirty of an adventure in Hood Canal.
Social Media & Online Advertising
After taking over the minimal Twitter and Facebook following, we established Instagram and Pinterest galleries and worked towards growing targeted audiences with highly-engaging content on all platforms. We posted with a cadence derived from the desires of the audience and leveraged our growing library of stories and visual assets while broadcasting messages about contests and sweepstakes. Additionally, paid advertising was used to reach the desired target audience based on age, location, interests, and other demographic attributes that helped us get our content in front of the right people.
The two facets of organic and paid social worked together to grow a near-zero audience base to a Facebook audience over 38k in two years time. Video views soared beyond the 100k mark and we were able to interact with interested travelers in real time.
Sweepstakes and Partnership Marketing
A rising tide floats all boats, and that’s certainly the case with the partnerships we formed with like-minded brands in the travel and outdoor recreation industries. We worked with The Clymb, Slingshot Sports, Hydroflask, TREW Gear, and a number of other respected brands to craft contests and sweepstakes campaigns featuring Hood Canal adventure. Each partner promoted our efforts to their sizeable audiences.
Together, we accomplished myriad goals:
1. Lodging bookings
2. Social following growth
3. Email growth
4. Product placement
The extra bonus was the mutually beneficial exposure we were able to bring to key partners while fortifying relationships with brands our core audience respects and admires.
To bolster our online advertising, social media presence, blog content creation, and event promotion efforts, we created a monthly email marketing campaign and implemented a number of tactics across myriad touchpoints to grow the email list.
With a sharp focus on overall success metrics, we featured lodging options alongside travel itineraries, event marketing, and various different cross promotion tactics.
Results: 417% YOY increase in email subscriber growth. 15% average click-through rate.
~ Terri Drexler, Mason County Commissioner, District 3