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The Customer Journey, Part One: Awareness and Activity

Destination Marketing Customer Journey

I have a lot of travel coming up over the next couple of months, so this would be a good time to talk about another kind of travel – the kind that your potential and current visitors are doing.

Yes, I’m talking about the customer journey: that imaginary path that we expect our visitors to take when researching, booking, visiting, and – hopefully, talking your destination up to their buddies when they get home. We all take the customer journey into account at some form or another when working up marketing plans but only a few really formalize it. Even fewer find ways to improve it. And they miss out on some awesome growth opportunities along the way.

To improve the customer journey for your city or town, you need to go well beyond things like wayfinding signage and social media. In this two-part series, I’m going to go over some tips to improve each of the five key stages of your customer journey: awareness, which is how you get their attention; activity, otherwise known as research; action, which can be booking, visiting, or simply contacting you for more information; adoption, or repeat visitation; and advocacy, the cheerleading of your destination to their friends and family.

It’s a lot, so as I said, this’ll be a two-part series. Today, I’ll cover the first two phases: awareness and activity, or in other words, the steps that lead up to a booking or other conversion action.

Customer Journey Phase One: Awareness

First, you need to need to narrow down who your visitors are – by segment. I’m sure everyone listening has done that to some degree: one audience may be tour operators within an hour’s drive, another may be families with small children within two hours and an interest in antiques or whatever. You get the idea – everyone targets audiences that way but let’s take a minute to see how we can get to know them even better, and there are a couple of ways.

The simplest and most common is just by filtering your website traffic data in Google Analytics or whatever tracking platform you use. With a couple of small adjustments in Google Analytics, you can find out what those parents two hours away are looking at on your website, what websites they came from, and with a small bit of customization, the websites they went to next. That amount of information can inform your content strategy on social and the creative direction of your advertising to that audience.

You can do this with every segment to better learn your audiences and close the gap between what they want and what your destination offers.

Another way to learn more about them is through customer observation, and you can do it at scale. One approach can be hashtag tracking so you can get more dimensions around the topic your audience is interested in – for example, youth sports or craft beer. You’ll get insight into what those audiences find to be important, and your content can best reflect those values.

A more sophisticated approach is often social listening, where you use an online platform to scour the internet for mentions of certain keywords, hashtags, or brands. That may sound a lot like just using Google but here’s where it gets awesome.

You can filter all of this conversation by sentiment: so, you can easily see the positives, negatives in their own little buckets. It also picks up social media posts, which traditional search doesn’t do. And depending on the platform you go with; you can get alerts and even recommendations on influencers in a particular niche that may be able to get you additional exposure.

Customer Journey Phase One: Activity

There are many other ways to learn more about your visitors, but this episode is about more than just the first stage. Let’s move to the second stage in the journey: the research phase. Now, this isn’t limited to a phase where they’re researching your destination – they may be checking out everywhere in your state – but you’ll want to be the most prominent.

And what’s the quickest way to be prominent in search? That’s right – advertising. And before you turn off this episode, hear me out. Search advertising works, but too many marketers expect it to do more than it actually can, so they don’t see the return on it and decide it’s not for them. Or maybe they shy away from it because they think it’s beyond their budget. I’d like to help with those concerns.

To address the lack of results you may experience from Google advertising, try these out. First, make sure you’re tracking as much as possible – that means throwing a Facebook pixel on your site, setting up your ads account for remarketing, and so on. If you do this, your analytics will help with retargeting (or showing personalized ads to people based on what they visited on your website).

If it seems confusing, you’re right – it can be. But it’s important to get as much information as you can so you can bring people back to your site. Remember: your website visitors are in research mode, so they’re not just checking out your website; they could be looking at dozens of sites in order to plan a trip that works best for them.

Before I get to the second issue, I wanna make sure I emphasize the importance of carrying over the segmentation you’ve already done into your ads account. That applies to Google, Facebook, wherever. I’ve seen a lot of budgets wasted by marketers creating general ads and seeing very little result from them, and the reason is that while they know who their customers are, they’re not being specific enough in their targeting and ad design. Ok, now off my soapbox.

The second issue with Google ads is often related to the budget. And I get it – with the budget you get, you can’t waste any part of it, and search ads can feel like gambling. So let’s make that budget work harder. Consider running display ads versus search ads, or an 80/20 mix of display versus search. By Display, I mean the ads that show up on related websites, and by search, I mean the ones that show up in Google search results – I just wanna make that clear.

The reason is that display ads cost far less per click. Your clickthrough rate may be lower than search ads but the costs often work in your favor.  If someone is reading an article about top fall festivals in whatever state you’re in and boom – your ad is on that page, that can be far more powerful than hoping someone types “fall festivals in whatever your town is” into Google.

So, to recap improving the research phase with regard to advertising, yes, do it, but make sure that you’re tracking so that you can remarket to your website visitors, and you’re maximizing your budget with a mix of display and search ads.


In our next episode, I’ll go over the action phase, and dive into how to enhance the customer journey while they’re visiting so that they’ll ultimately become raving fans. Anyway, that’s it for this episode and I’ll be back in two weeks.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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